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The glasses, which start at $299, let users take photos and record videos with voice commands or by pressing a button on the right temple of the glasses. They also have small speakers that turn the smart glasses into headphones for listening to music and podcasts via Bluetooth from the smartphone they’re pair with. And they include microphones, so you can talk on the phone through them.
It’s the latest example of Facebook building new hardware, and they represent another step into a future where Facebook envisions people wearing computers on their faces, whether they’re Oculus virtual reality headsets or something more normal looking like sunglasses.
The glasses were first reported by CNBC in 2019, but Facebook is hardly the first company to roll out a pair of smart glasses. Social-media rival Snap launched its first Spectacles devices in 2016, and the ill-fated Google Glass devices launched way back in 2013.
The Ray-Ban Stories go on sale Thursday and are available at Ray-Ban stores and on Ray-Ban.com in the U.S., U.K., Italy, Australia, Ireland and Canada. The device will launch through more retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, Sunglass Hut and LensCrafters, on Monday.
I got to try out Ray-Ban Stories for a few days prior to their launch. Here’s what you need to know.
Facebook’s glasses look fashionable, not dorky, and aren’t obviously equipped with technology. That’s a big achievement for pair of smart glasses sold by a tech company. Just look at Snap’s latest version of the Spectacles. Good luck not getting laughed at with those on.
Facebook’s glasses are available in three of Ray-Ban’s popular glasses: the Wayfarer, Round and Meteor models. You can customize the glasses by choosing different colors and different types of lenses, including sun, prescription, polarized, gradient, transition and clear. I tested the black Wayfarer model with clear lenses.
Facebook picked the right partner. The glasses look exactly like what you’d expect from Ray-Ban. You won’t realize they’re special Ray-Bans unless you’re looking specifically for the two cameras on the corner of the device’s frames.
Facebook’s logo isn’t anywhere on the device or its case. The only trace of the Facebook brand is on the product box. It’s smart when you consider how much mistrust people have in Facebook these days and if you recall just how negatively people reacted to the Google Glass devices, which also had a camera.
Facebook and Ray-Ban told CNBC their goal was to build glasses that allow users to capture what they see while staying present in the moment. You’re faced with a conundrum when you use your phone to take pictures. You either witness something awesome and live in the moment, or you pull out your phone and try to focus on photographing or recording the event. The Ray-Ban Stories solve that problem.
As someone who doesn’t normally wear glasses, the clear lens Ray-Ban Stories felt a bit awkward for me during everyday moments, like walking through San Francisco to a coffee meeting or wearing them at dinner with friends. But they were perfect for sightseeing.
I took the glasses for a spin on a nine-mile bike ride in Yosemite National Park where I found them useful for snapping pictures. Riding through the valley, there were moments where the trees would open up and reveal incredible views of the granite cliffs. Without the glasses, trying to shoot photos or videos of the views with my phone would have required that I ride dangerously while pulling out my phone, or that I slow down my entire group and stop to take pics. The Ray-Ban Stories made it possible to capture the views while continuing to ride and looking up at the cliffs.
The photos and videos show up in a square format within an app called View that Facebook developed for the glasses. Users can download pictures into their phones’ camera roll or share the media directly to other apps, including Facebook rivals TikTok and Snap.
You can take photos and videos one of two ways. I was able to say “Hey Facebook, take a photo” or “Hey Facebook, take a video” and the glasses understood me. You can also short press a button on the top of the right temple of the glasses to shoot a video or press and hold the button for a photo.
I found myself using the button more than the voice commands. I didn’t want to draw attention to the glasses by saying the voice commands out loud, and I felt awkward doing so. The button was much quicker than saying a voice command and waiting for the Ray-Ban Stories to register the command and act on it.
Facebook says the glasses have six-hour battery life. They charge when you set them in the carrying case, which Facebook says gives three full charges. I never got close to running out of battery.
Augmented reality features, which let you overlay digital content on top of the real world, are notably absent. You don’t see anything different when you look through them. Facebook had previously warned that AR capabilities would be missing from the Ray-Ban glasses, but the lack of AR feels like a disappointment, especially after Snap added AR to the latest iteration of its Spectacles in May.
The two 5-megapixel cameras don’t take the best pictures or videos. Modern smartphones come with multiple lenses that offer zoom or wide-angle capabilities for fitting more into a picture, and most have a sharper 12-megapixel resolution. But the glasses were good for quickly capturing moments on the go.
A white LED lights up on the top right of the glasses when users take a photo or video to indicate the glasses are shooting a photo or video. It’s good that Facebook took steps to make it clear when the glasses are in action, and the company sought feedback on how to best do this from several organizations, including the Future of Privacy Forum and National Consumers League. Despite the focus on privacy, most people might not even understand the light means the glasses are recording.
Facebook and Ray-Ban are also playing up the Stories’ audio features. The glasses include two speakers at the bottom of each temple, but they’re not great.
The audio quality is nowhere near that of earbuds or headphones. If you’re someone who needs audio quality to be top-notch, you’ll be bothered by how poor the Ray-Ban Stories sound. And although the speakers aren’t very loud for the user, they’re loud enough that others around you will be able to hear what you’re listening to, whether it’s a private phone call or your most embarrassing Spotify playlist. That means wearing the glasses and listening to music on the bus or at the grocery store is out of the question, at least for me.
Still, the speakers came in handy while I was riding my bike. The sound was fine for the bike ride when no one was around me. As I cruised through Yosemite Valley, I got to listen to music and some podcasts while keeping my ears uncovered. This made it possible to hear my friends and any cars passing around me.
The glasses also aren’t water-resistant, so you’ll need to be careful if you’re wearing them on the beach or by the pool.
The Ray-Ban Stories are a fine first attempt at smart glasses by Facebook. It’s great that the company teamed up with a brand people will actually want to wear.
But the glasses lack AR features and are more like a point-and-shoot camera with speakers and lenses attached instead of real smart glasses. The pictures aren’t as good as what you’d get from a smartphone while the speakers don’t match what you’d expect from a set of AirPods. That’s a lot of sacrifices to get a camera on your face.
The Ray-Ban Stories might make for a cool birthday or holiday present for a loved one, but for now, they aren’t much more than a fashionable toy.