I’m a smart glasses skeptic. Not because the technology is impossible but because I’ve tested several pairs and even dove deep into the category for a two-part mini-documentary a while back. So when I say I was impressed by the $299 Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses, it’s not just that mine came with rose-colored lenses.
To be clear, nothing about the Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses is revolutionary. The Google Glass Explorer Edition first introduced us to modern-day smart glasses in 2013. Several other companies, big and small, have since jumped on the bandwagon, including Snap, Bose, Razer, Epson, Amazon, and the now-defunct Focals by North. Most were underwhelming, with potato cameras, washed-out displays, useless voice assistants, and middling mics. I had a hard time imagining the average person liking them enough to own a pair.
I know multiple people who have already bought these.
I get why. These glasses look good. They officially come in 150 style variations across two frame styles, seven colors, and multiple lens options (including color, prescription, and transitions). The camera has been upgraded from 5MP to 12MP. Photo resolution has improved to 3024 x 4032 pixels, while videos are now 1080p at 30 frames per second. There are now five mics instead of one, so you sound better on calls. The speaker quality has also improved. It’s louder, with more bass, less audio leakage, and spatial audio support. They stuffed some AI in there, and you can now livestream to Facebook or Instagram. These are significant updates.
It’d be one thing if Meta failed to deliver, but like I said: I’m impressed. But that, in turn, has raised a lot of questions that I don’t have answers for. All I can say is whatever you think of Meta, these are a turning point for smart glasses.
Glasses fit for Bond (Or Eggsy)
I’ve only seen a handful of Bond flicks, but even I know two things about Agent 007. James Bond looks good, always, and the spy gadgets Q gives him are discreet. The Meta glasses are both and, in many ways, feel like they belong in a spy movie.
The thing about smart glasses is that you’ll never wear a pair if they make you look like a low-rent Warby Parker model. Aside from the original Bose Frames, I’ve never really liked the way I’ve looked in smart glasses so far. That’s why it matters that these are Ray-Bans and come in more styles than typical smart glasses. While Wayfarers are considered to be universally flattering, rounder frames look better on me. Most smart glasses come in tortoiseshell or black, and I’m tired of both, so I was happy that I could pick a round, transparent blue frame with pink lenses. They’re more my style, and while I wish the colors were more noticeable in darker lighting, I dug the extra pop of color in sunlight. I wore these in various scenarios: dolled up for a wedding, clad in functional but hideous running gear, bumming it in sweatpants, and rocking leather jackets. You name it — it goes with everything.
On top of looking good, no one will know you’re wearing tech on your face unless you walk around saying “Hey Meta” at the top of your lungs. Nobody knew I was listening to EXO’s EXIST album on my commute. You can hear some faint audio leakage when you’re at full volume, but that’s only necessary when trying to block out the squeaky rails of the New York City subway system. Your fellow commuters likely won’t notice because they’ve got AirPods in or the ambient noise is louder. More troubling, no one batted an eye whenever I took photos and videos in public or private areas.
All this made me feel like Eggsy from Kingsman: The Golden Circle — another high-tech spy film. There’s a scene where Eggsy takes a call through the glasses during an important dinner. To everyone else, he looked like a dapper gent with some snazzy frames about to eat some fancy food. But because of his glasses, Eggsy was able to hear (and see) things they couldn’t. My experience wasn’t exactly the same. (I had no imminent bombs to defuse.) But the point is I spent a lot of time wearing these in public doing and listening to things that people looking straight at me weren’t aware of. It doesn’t get more incognito than that.
That comes with pros and cons. I’ll get to privacy in a bit, but if you’re worried about looking like a total jabroni, like this pic of me wearing the Bose Frames Tempo, fear not.
In the name of content creation
I have my priorities straight. As soon as I unboxed and paired these glasses, the first thing I did was take a photo and a video of my cats Petey and Pablo. I uploaded them to The Verge’s Slack and sent the video to my spouse and friends. My tech-savvy co-workers found the quality to be surprisingly good for smart glasses. My friends and family thought it was something I took on my phone. Several times during this review process, our own video team remarked that the quality was better than they’d expected.
If you’re into photography, you’ll be able to suss that the quality doesn’t match up to the latest and greatest phones. But it’s good enough to match a phone from a few years ago and, therefore, shareable on social media and in the group chat. That’s a Big Deal.
To take photos or videos, you can use the “Hey Meta” command or use the capture button on the top of the right arm. You press once for photos and long-press to start recording video. There are also accompanying audio cues and an LED in your right peripheral vision.
I’m not a camera expert, so I asked our resident camera expert Becca Farsace to weigh in. One thing Becca pointed out was the stabilization on the camera is surprisingly good. While there’s some wobbliness, it doesn’t look like garbage, especially when viewed on a phone. Low-light performance was also better than I anticipated. When you move from light to dark environments, you don’t really notice a massive drop in video quality. Color reproduction and details are also solid in good lighting.
I appreciated taking phone-free, hands-free videos in my day-to-day life. I now have so many videos of Petey and Pablo being adorable that would have been difficult to capture otherwise because both my cats get weird when they see my phone come out. They either refuse to look at the camera, leave, or — in Petey’s case — try to eat the camera. It’s also easier to film and interact with my cats when I have both hands free. Case in point, I have enjoyed partaking in the cat-twirling meme — even if it was quite the feat lifting a 19-pound Pablo.
Even if you aren’t obsessed with your pets, I can see this being a more discreet alternative for a GoPro. It’d be easy to film cooking instructions, parts of running or cycling routes, a scenic drive, or even capturing slice-of-life candids of your kids before they grow up too fast.
That said, there are quirks. What you see isn’t what the camera sees because it’s not actually in your eyeball. It’s in front of the left hinge. You have to remember that when framing your shots, or everything will be mildly off-center. This is also how I learned I often tilt my head like a confused puppy. Many times, I went back to photos and videos I’d shot to find they featured unintentional Dutch angles and wisps (or full chunks) of my bangs. Becca had issues with her hat popping up in shots as well.
Also, there’s a one- to two-second delay when taking photos. While walking, a lot of my landscape photos came out blurry if I didn’t stand completely still. It’d be easier if there was a way to preview images via your phone, but there isn’t unless you’re livestreaming.
Speaking of which, livestreaming was hard to test organically, mainly because none of my Instagram followers expect me to livestream. What I can say is that a glasses icon pops up automatically on the livestream screen in Facebook or Instagram. (Though, let’s be real — most content creators aren’t livestreaming to Facebook.) You can either tap the icon or double-click the capture button to seamlessly switch views between your phone camera and glasses. There’s a teeny lag between what you see versus what gets livestreamed, but nothing egregious.
Livestreaming is an example where Meta sort of shot itself in the foot as far as content creation goes. I have no doubt some streamers would love this if they could use this on TikTok or Twitch. But they can’t. Instead, they’re corralled into Meta’s services. It makes sense — Big Tech loves protecting its walled gardens — but from a broader adoption perspective, this is silly. It’s one of the reasons Snap’s Spectacles never took off. Meta’s mostly lucky that Instagram is still popular with influencers.
It’s also easy to import photos and videos from the glasses to your phone, even if you’re on the go. The glasses have their own local Wi-Fi network, and your phone just needs to connect to it with the Meta View app open. It can be a little slow if you have a lot of footage, but even then, it’s not too bad. For example, yesterday, I imported 143 videos and photos. It took a few tries to establish a stable connection, but altogether, it only took about five minutes. It’s a lot faster — maybe two or three minutes — if you’re sending 15 or fewer photos or videos.
One potential con is that videos max out at one minute. Meta says that’s to optimize storage and importing, which is a fair tradeoff in my book. These are clearly meant for social content, especially since all photos and videos are vertical, and there’s no landscape option. Generally, you’re not watching more than a minute-long clip on Reels, TikTok, or YouTube Shorts anyway.
Another thing for content creators to consider is battery life. If you use these lightly, you can get five, maybe six hours on a single charge. If you’re taking a ton of video and photos, that’s going to dwindle to three or four hours. Using the glasses as headphones in my 70-minute commute drained the battery by about 18 to 20 percent. I doubt this will trouble casual users, seeing as these are still a functional pair of glasses if the battery’s dead. But power users — folks who want to get through a whole day of meetings while using these as headphone replacements — may find this annoying.
There are a few mitigating factors. The charging case is a lot slimmer than the previous version, and it is easy to stash in a fanny pack, purse, and backpack. It charges via USB-C, and there’s a new indicator LED button that turns orange while charging and green when everything is full. (This is both for the case itself when it’s empty and for the glasses when they’re in there.) Charging is quick, too. The other day, I went from 15 percent battery after three hours of heavy use to 100 percent in less than an hour. I’ve also had these for a whole week, and aside from the initial charge, I haven’t had to plug in the case whatsoever. You do end up charging the frames multiple times a day because where else are you going to put them when they’re not in use if not the case?
The nice thing about these glasses is you don’t have to use the camera at all. They’re also a viable replacement for your headphones. Unlike the camera, the audio features works like any other Bluetooth headset in terms of what apps you can use, though there is one built-in Spotify integration you can enable.
You control the audio with a gesture control area on the right arm, just under the capture button. There’s a library of gestures in the app, but the most basic ones are tapping once to pause / play audio and sliding forward and back to control volume. Tapping twice will play the next track, while three taps will let you go back a track. If you enable Spotify Tap, you can tap and hold to play your automatic recommendations based on your favorites. On the left arm, right on the hinge, there’s also a small toggle that lets you cut the Bluetooth connection and power to the camera.
Audio quality for music and podcasts is on par with other smart glasses. Like other open-ear headphones, they’re not the best at reproducing thumping bass, but they are better than any ambient mode at helping you maintain situational awareness. Noise-canceling headphones, however, are much more effective at blocking out the world.
Calls are another story. These glasses trump the majority of smart glasses I’ve tested. I’ve taken a few calls from my spouse while on the go in loud environments. I had no trouble hearing them, and they had zero issues hearing me (provided I had good cell service). That’s likely because there are now five mics, one of which is in the nose pad. It made me sound clear in all my videos — almost like I was the main character in a first-person video game.
The lenses you pick can impact whether you want to use these as headphone alternatives. Because Meta sent me a pair of sunglasses, it was tough to see how well these would fare in my usual workday. My greatest regret was not getting these with clear lenses or transitions because sunglasses are limiting. I’m not trying to be one of those people who wears sunglasses indoors. I tried for the sake of this review, but it hurt my eyes after an hour or two. The Transition lenses cost $80 more and are the best option if you want to use these in as many scenarios as possible. As for prescriptions, you can order them directly from Ray-Ban or a participating LensCrafters if you fall in the -6 to +4 range. If you’ve got worse vision, like me, you may want to use them with contact lenses. Otherwise, you could take them to a local optician, but that would void the warranty.
The other neat thing is spatial audio. When you watch videos, you can hear where people were when it was recorded. Alex Cranz, managing editor of The Verge, crept behind me while I was recording at the office to say, “Victoria sucks.” When I replayed it, I could hear her trolling me from behind. Is it something you’ll make use of often? Probably not, but it’s fun nevertheless.
But is it really smart?
Not really. At least, not in the way you’ve probably envisioned smart glasses from sci-fi movies.
For example, the Meta AI and voice assistant? It’s nothing like Peter Parker issuing commands to EDITH via the smart aviators he got from Tony Stark in Spider-Man: Far From Home. While the Meta assistant sounds very natural, it can’t do a whole lot of stuff yet, and it takes a hot second to process commands. The most I used it for was taking photos and videos hands-free, listening to texts as they came in, as well as sending messages. But even here, the Meta assistant got tripped up because my spouse apparently has multiple entries in my contact list. While you can send normal texts, most of my contacts aren’t on Messenger or WhatsApp, and these don’t natively share to non-Meta apps. I imagine this will be more useful to you if these are apps you use frequently.
While AI features on the glasses are in beta, I can’t say that I was ever itching to use a ChatGPT-esque bot in the ways Meta suggested (i.e., writing raps and poems, generating excuses to get out of parties, etc.) However, down the road, audio AI bots could be a useful form of augmented reality. The first version of the Bose Frames tried to make audio augmented reality apps a thing but crashed and burned when third-party developers didn’t glom onto the idea. Meta’s approach is a bit different. In a future feature drop, you’ll be able to ask the AI to identify objects in your surroundings via the camera. That’s a cool idea, and I’ll be eager to see how it works if and when it arrives.
But all said and done, I’m glad Meta didn’t bother attempting a smart display. The tech isn’t there yet. When I tried Google Glass Enterprise Edition, Epson Moverio glasses, and Focals by North, trying to focus on the information overlays was hard on my eyes. That’s because these tend to rely on projection tech, which can get easily washed out by bright ambient light. And navigating screens usually requires some kind of physical control. It’s clunky, kills battery life, and introduces the problem of developing third-party app ecosystems.
Privacy: am I the glasshole?
It’s hard to think of smart glasses without remembering that time when a pair of Google Glass got ripped off a person’s face. How subsequently, the people wearing Glass were dubbed glassholes, and how some public spaces banned the device entirely.
But we live in a different era now. People are wearing Quest 3 headsets to coffee shops. Every time I open TikTok, I see normal people and content creators alike vlogging their lives. When I walk outside, people are having very private conversations out loud on FaceTime or through their AirPods. For better or worse, the smartphone has made us all very comfortable with the idea that there are cameras everywhere.
The problem is we don’t have the same social cues for smart glasses as we do phones. If you hold your phone up in a certain way, people know it means you’re recording. If you hold your finger up to the temple of your glasses, you could be adjusting the fit. To address that, Meta added an LED capture light to the original Ray-Ban Stories. Most people didn’t think it was enough. This time around, Meta has made it so you can’t disable the LED light, and it has a pulsing pattern that’s supposed to be more noticeable. When I polled my co-workers, friends, and family, it was a mixed bag. Some said it was easily seen indoors. Others disagreed. Most agreed that while you can see the light outdoors, it’s also easy to ignore or mistake for light reflecting off the lenses.
I took pictures and filmed many times in public, and no one ever noticed. Take from that what you will.
Meta has privacy guidelines and etiquette tips when you set the glasses up and a link to its privacy page in the app. It boils down to don’t be a glasshole. That’s nice, but glassholes are going to use this device however they please. The rest of us have to figure out how to not be a glasshole on the fly.
For example, these glasses are perfect for an outdoor wedding. I just so happened to be invited to one this past weekend. But while it’s normal to take photos and record wedding footage on your phone, would that apply to content taken on smart glasses? It felt wrong to make any unilateral decision, so I asked my friend for permission.
While it was weird to explain, she gave me her blessing. I got to protect my eyes from the sun, discreetly record the ceremony for the couple, keep my phone in my bag, and stay present in the moment. Afterward, my friend was happy to have that footage since there wasn’t a videographer. At the same time, you won’t find those photos or videos in this review because this was a private ceremony. I’m glad that was a conversation I had beforehand, but would anyone in 2023 feel compelled to do this with phones? I can’t count the times I’ve seen people take photos of weddings and post them directly to their own personal feeds.
Am I the glasshole for filming my commute to test these glasses?
This applies to so many scenarios. If I take concert footage, am I the glasshole? What if I’m house hunting and want to remember what a property looked like later? Do I alert the real estate agent? What if I’m wearing these as headphones, enter a public restroom, and somebody freaks out because they notice I’m wearing smart glasses? Am I the glasshole for filming my commute to test these glasses? Or is asking permission from my fellow commuters potentially opening me up to physical harm? Is wearing what’s essentially a face-mounted bodycam an invasion of privacy, or is it a safety tool? A co-worker told me they bought a pair of these glasses partly because if someone tries to murder them while walking the dog, they can grab footage of their potential assailant.
I have no real answers here. If everyone had a pair of these tomorrow, would I start to treat people wearing Wayfarers differently? A part of me wishes that I’d be the wary privacy stalwart. But the depressing reality is I already live like everything in my life is surveilled. What do a few hundred extra smart glasses cameras matter?
A turning point
I’ll say it again. Meta isn’t reinventing smart glasses. What it’s done is nail the execution. Culturally, I also think the timing is ripe. We’re more desensitized than ever to surveillance, and a lot of us are trying to look less at phone screens. If smartwatches can field notifications, then maybe smart glasses can replace the camera and take calls in scenarios where phones aren’t ideal.
Are good execution and timing enough? At heart, I remain a smart glasses skeptic. To me, this device appeals most to gadget nerds and content creators rather than the average Joe. But even if these flop, it’s set a new bar for what smart glasses can and should be able to do. Again, I’ve tried a ton of smart glasses, and until now, I’ve never had a pair that looks good, is priced reasonably, has multiple use cases, and delivers what it says it will.
I have no answers for my bigger questions. I won’t have them until smart glasses are a thing — if they’re ever a thing. But in the meantime, I’ll settle for taking more cat videos.