They used to be considered the stuff of eccentric gadgeteers’ dreams. But smart glasses are becoming more popular in everyday life. Which ones are worth getting, and why? Here are three of the better ones we’ve reviewed.
Huawei’s Gentle Monster Eyewear II glasses are the best I’ve tested for audio quality. In other words, if you want to listen to the radio, a podcast or even some music, these are slightly better than rivals.
This is down to the cleverly-engineered upward-and-downward firing speakers that align with the way that the side of your face conducts sound waves, internally, along your temples.
This results in a far more even, balanced sound signal than I would have expected. I was also taken aback by how little the audio leaks out, relative to how this device is built. Remember – they’re upward and downward-firing speakers.
Shouldn’t that mean everyone around you can hear your tune or what the other person is saying on a phone call?
Surprisingly, no. I tested this with several people and, while some audio is discernible when someone else is wearing the glasses, it’s somewhat faint and only really detectable in a quiet environment.
That said, don’t expect this to compare to a pair of AirPods – you won’t get any kind of meaningful bass.
When dealing with calls, the built-in microphones give good, clear quality to whoever you’re talking to on the other end of the call. As for what you yourself hear through the speakers, it’s fine but – again – not as clear or as rich as you’ll get from earbuds or putting the phone speaker up to your ear.
There are some standard smart controls and sensors built in. You can adjust the volume, skip tracks or answer a call by swiping or tapping on either side of the frames.
When you take the Huawei X Gentle Monster glasses off, they will pause whatever song, streaming service or podcast you’re listening to. If you’re on a call, it will cut the audio connection between your phone and the glasses without cutting the call, reverting to the phone.
On a practical level, they’re quite light (44g) and the lenses are a medium black tint. I like the Korean fashion aesthetic too.
Battery life is not bad, usually lasting three or four hours between charges with mixed use.
Obviously, the nice thing here is that even with no charge, they’re not useless – they’re still nice-looking sunglasses.
2. Fauna Audio Glasses
Price: €199 from wearfauna.com
The main strength of Fauna’s audio sunglasses is that they look good, can be fitted with your own prescribed lenses and are by far the cheapest of the high-end smart glasses reviewed today.
They also have the nicest recharging case.
On the other hand, the audio isn’t quite as good as either of the main rivals mentioned here.
The nice aesthetic goes a long way to making up for the slightly lesser sound quality. Even if they ran out of power, you’d still be happy to wear them as regular, attractive sunglasses.
I don’t think I’m labouring this point too much – it’s important to a lot of potential buyers that they don’t look like some kind of gadget on your head.
My test pair was the ‘Spiro Transparent Brown’ model and I showed them to our fashion-conscious 18-year-old for a comparison check with other audio glasses I have.
She rated the Fauna pair best. It’s fair to say that her appraisal of such sartorial standards is superior to mine.
Pairing the glasses is relatively simple, being just a matter of opening the case with the glasses still in it and
waiting for them to appear on your device’s Bluetooth menu.
So you can be up and running in about 20 seconds from when you first open the box.
But that’s when you’ll feel the limitation. I wasn’t blown away by the audio quality on the Fauna glasses. It’s fine for calls, podcasts or talk radio, but it is quite wan and tinny for anything else.
To be clear, this isn’t a huge let down – it’s just not quite as good for audio as either Huawei’s or Facebook’s Ray-Ban glasses. And again, Fauna’s glasses are less expensive than either of those rivals.
As has become widespread now, you can control the music and volume, take calls or activate your phone’s voice assistant by tapping or swiping on the side stems of the glasses.
Battery life is up to four hours of music playback per charge (less if you’re also using it for calls) and you’ll get three to four full charges from the case between its own USB-C wall charges.
3. Facebook (Ray-Ban) Stories
Are smart glasses with built-in video cameras inherently creepy? Or are they simply a useful substitute for constantly holding your phone up to snap things? That is the central question around Facebook’s latest product, a pair of smart glasses it has designed in collaboration with Ray-Ban.
The Ray-Ban Stories glasses (€329) come with decent audio speakers and a microphone to listen to music, podcasts, radio or phone calls through your phone. But the main difference here is that they also come with two small cameras, one in each upper lens corner.
These can take 5-megapixel still photos or record 30-second video clips, either by tapping a button or through a voice command. These photos and videos are then transferred to your phone (via Facebook’s View app), where you can do with them what you like on any social platform you choose.
The only video restriction is that they cannot livestream.
The glasses also have speakers and a microphone, meaning you can use them for calls or for listening to music streamed from your phone. As well as a photo button, the side of the frame is touch-sensitive for controlling things like volume, calls and pause-play on music tracks. I’ve been wearing them for a while.
While the audio quality is surprisingly good (second only to Huawei’s Eyewear II glasses), I think there is a ‘creep’ factor to the cameras. From a technical point of view, the quality is fine, if modest. What you get is like something from a smartphone four or five years ago.
But when you take a photo or record a video, a small white constant LED light activates on the outside corner of the left lens frame. This is to let others know that your glasses are actively recording.
The thing is, it’s not really adequate as a warning. In low light situations, it’s noticeable enough. But in daylight, and especially outside, it’s very hard to pick up on. Even if you spot it, you wouldn’t necessarily conclude that it indicates recording; a red flashing light would seem much more illustrative.
If this doesn’t bother you, they are actually fairly well-priced for what you’re getting.
My test pair was almost identical in styling and shape to Ray-Ban’s regular Wayfarer glasses, which cost €229; €100 extra for the tech doesn’t seem exorbitant. You also have a choice of different styles.
There are three different shapes the glasses come in and each is available with either polarised (€359), transitions (€409) or prescription lenses. The baseline frames cost €329.
Battery life is around four hours between charges, if you’re engaging in a mixture of music, calls and photos. Facebook claims six hours, which you could get if you only use it lightly.