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Braving the Cold with Muji’s Touchscreen Gloves

Ok, so gloves aren’t really travel gear in the strictest sense, but when you want to be texting in freezing weather, what is a girl to do?

It’s probably from all the time I spent in Asia, but I have a soft spot for Muji, a Japanese retailer known for their “brandless” products. So when I happened to be browsing one of their retail stores in New York City, I stumbled across a pair of touchscreen gloves. Besides keeping your hands warm, they also enable you to use your touchscreen device while wearing them without taking them off.

Though it may be hard to find a local store, the gloves can be bought from Muji US for $19.95 or Muji UK for £9.95 (~$15.33), where they also have a longer version. If you’re heading over to Asia in the relative future and don’t need them right away, you can probably save a few yen by picking it up there. The added bonus by doing that is that you can save yourself the import taxes.

The gloves—which are unisex—come in a pretty wide selection of colors and in some pretty basic striped versions. Though some people may not be keen on it, I actually like the fact the gloves are pretty generic-looking and come in a wide array of neutral colors. This is pretty much in keeping with the entire brand’s minimalistic aesthetic, which is responsible for its cult-like following of customers (including myself).

The only parts of each glove that are touchscreen-responsive are the thumb, index finger and middle finger. This is indicated by delineating the tips with another color. My solid dark grey gloves have the tip shown as black; the most inconspicuous ones, the black gloves, have a darker shade of black on the fingertip. How well your hands fit the glove will depend on how big your hands are. My hands, which are pretty proportional to my 5’3 frame, still fit relatively fine.

I’ve owned the gloves for about a month now. In that time, I’ve tested them in various situations using an HTC One S and an iPhone 4. Without too much difficulty on either device, Google Maps navigation and basic texting are pretty feasible with the help of auto-correct. (I have even sent out short e-mails!) If I’m in a rush and multitasking, I tend to make more errors, but I suspect that’s more of an attention thing. About 85-95 percent of the time, I could make an action on my touchscreen phone without having to repeat it.

In the video above, you can get an idea of what it was like to use the gloves. This is obviously a lot different from real-life usage, like when I’m running to catch the subway and text at the same time. For the majority of the time, I didn’t have a significantly hard time doing most things. However, you can clearly see that it took me a few tries to even type in my own name.

For better or for worse, the fingertips themselves aren’t overly sensitive but aren’t overly blunt to most capacitive touchscreens. At least a small modicum of pressure has to be applied for the glove to register against the screen, which is fine, since you don’t want to be butt-dialing or purse-dialing anyone. While I’d prefer for the gloves to be slightly more sensitive, this is just a rather minor observation I’ve made while using them.

In fact, if anything, there were some build quality issues that had me concerned. After a couple of full days out in 25°F (-3.8°C) weather, the gloves started developing significant “fuzz” with random bits of threading coming loose. I snipped a loose thread with some scissors and while they more or less have retained their functionality, I was a little bummed that the gloves lost their luster and sheen fairly quickly. The care instructions indicate to clean them with a lint roller; this helped a little bit, but not much.

What looks like may be quality issues.

What looks like may be quality issues.

I don’t know if this has anything to do with the fact that the gloves are made with a special blend of acrylic, wool, polyester and polyurethane. Regardless, what basically differentiate the gloves from normal gloves is that you need some conductive threading in the fingertips for the touchscreen to register the finger press. (I actually imagine it wouldn’t be too hard to make a DIY project out of it if you had the time.)

Look, there’s absolutely no practical reason that you feel compelled to buy Muji-branded touchscreen gloves. A quick glance on Amazon shows that these Agloves and Tapp Collection gloves will probably do a sufficient job of getting it done. These also both retail approximately for $10. I just happen to be partial to owning Japanese gear and have a strong design aesthetic.

Did they keep my hands warm? Well, they did the job if that’s what you’re asking. I wouldn’t bring these into heavy-duty cold areas like northern China where we’re talking about below 0°F (-17.8°C), but if it was in temperatures around 32°F (0°C), these would suffice. Look Ma, no gloves? Yeah, forget about that.

Update: These gloves seem to work with personal devices only. They didn’t seem to fare as well with other touchscreen devices, like touchscreen-enabled vending machines. An experiment with a NYC MTA subway machine was deemed to be a big fail.

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