Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses hands-on: Techy sunglasses you might actually want to wear

I haven’t posted on Instagram in more than two years and I often find social media to be a bit of a chore. But after checking out its second-gen high-tech sunglasses announced today at Connect, officially called the Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses, it feels like Meta has transformed this line from a wacky concept for people who are terminally online into something regular folk might actually buy – even if they don’t plan on sharing a ton of your content.

The issue with the original Ray-Ban Stories was their somewhat clunky design and underwhelming specs. Photos topped out at five megapixels while videos were capped at a weird 1,184 x 1,184 resolution and just 30 fps. And to hold all your content, the glasses had just 4GB of onboard storage.

However, with the new Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses, you get a noticeably improved kit. In addition to a new 12-MP wide-angle camera and 32GB of storage (eight times more than before), you can also record videos at 1080p/60fps, though clips are restricted to just 60 seconds. That said, for people who want to capture longer vids, you can now livestream footage directly from the glasses to Facebook or Instagram with the help of a nearby paired device. And to my surprise, photos and videos both looked surprisingly sharp. Granted image quality isn’t quite as detailed or colorful as what you’d get if you used a phone, but it’s good enough for social media. The one caveat is with livestreaming, Meta’s redesigned View app automatically selects video quality based on the speed of your connection and a few other factors, so clips can sometimes look fuzzy.

As for audio, the smart glasses now feature five built-in mics that can record spatial audio including one receiver hidden in the nose to improve voice quality during calls. But, perhaps my biggest surprise, is simply how good the new speakers are. Meta says that not only are they 50 percent louder than before, they also leak less noise so people around you won’t be able to hear what you’re listening to. Regardless, they sound great with just enough bass to balance out sharper highs, while still letting ambient noises waft in from the outside world. Despite advancements with pass-through audio in recent headphones and earbuds, this is still the closest thing you can get to having a soundtrack for your life. And working in tandem with the mics, the speakers support spatial audio too, so there’s an extra level of immersion when playing back previously recorded material (though it's unclear if the glasses support spatial audio in streaming services like Tidal and Apple Music). 

Thanks to their sleeker design, Meta's second-gen smart glasses are rather easy to pass off as regular sunglasses.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

You can also use voice controls to start a livestream or even send content to contacts. At first, you’ll need to explicitly designate who you’re sending things to and what service to use (WhatsApp, FB Messenger, Instagram, et cetera), but after it learns your habits, Meta says the glasses can use AI to streamline and speed up sharing.

I also appreciate their updated design, which despite the glasses’ upgraded specs features thinner arms and a generally sleeker design while also sporting a larger touchpad that’s super easy to use. To control music, you just tap once near your temple to play, tap again to pause, or double-tap to skip to the next track. Meanwhile, adjusting volume is as simple as swiping forward or back. And when you want to record something, you can press down once on the capture button to snap a pic or press and hold to take a video. And to help make its glasses easier to use, Meta says it has completely redesigned the Meta View app with a new UI and features that are more discoverable.

The Headliner is the new frame style joining the line for Meta's second-gen smart glasses.
The Headliner is the new frame style joining the line for Meta's second-gen smart glasses.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Another major change is the addition of a second frame called the Headliner, which is a nice alternative to the boxier look of the classic Wayfarers. On top of the existing shiny and matte black frames, there are three new semi-transparent color options: jeans, caramel, and a smokey Rebel Black. The whole effect is that Meta’s latest sunglasses kind of just look like sunglasses. That might not seem important, but for people who want their tech to blend in, this goes a long way to prevent these shades from sticking out too much. And with the option to add polarized lenses or even prescription glass, there are way more options for customizing them than before.

On the privacy side, there’s also a new LED indicator on the left that’s brighter than before while also adding some symmetry with the camera on the right. The light turns on every time you record a picture or video, so there’s no hiding when you’re capturing content. But the clever thing is that Meta says that if anyone tries to cover up the light, it will block the glasses from recording altogether.

The last big upgrade is with the smart glasses’ case, which has gotten a makeover so that it looks almost exactly like a classic Ray-Ban protective pouch. The small difference is that there’s a handy LED indicator light in front that tells you when it’s charging and a USB-C port down below for topping it up. In normal use, Meta says its smart glasses should last for around six hours of mixed use (or four if you’re livestreaming), with the case holding around eight additional charges (for a total of 36 hours).

After using the new Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses, my biggest takeaway is that they finally feel like a complete product. The original Ray-Ban Stories sort of felt like a concept device meant to steal the limelight from Snapchat’s Spectacles than to address a specific desire. Photo quality was mediocre and even though audio was decent, it was a bit quiet.

The updated for Meta's second-gen smart glasses look just like a classic Ray-Ban case aside from the LED indicator light and the USB-C port for charging.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

But with the new model, you get way better image quality along with big mic and speaker upgrades, which makes them feel like better rivals for devices like Bose’ Frames. Then you factor in the ability to livestream and now it feels like Meta has made a much more well-rounded product. And of course with Ray-Ban in charge of the updated styling, Meta’s smart glasses look better than all of its rivals. So while I’m still not sure I need these in my life, Meta’s second-gen sunnies could make a convincing argument to some.

The Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses are available for pre-order today starting at $299, $329 with polarized lenses or $379 for transition lenses with official sales slated for October 17.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/ray-ban-meta-hands-on-techy-sunglasses-you-might-actually-want-to-wear-180852514.html?src=rss

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