Tech

Ray-Ban Stories review: A look at the future of smart eyewear

Ray-Ban Stories are the result of a collaboration between the luxury sunglasses brand and social media giant Facebook, fusing that signature Ray-Ban look and feel with smart features, including dual cameras, headphone-free music playback and access to Facebook’s branded virtual assistant.

The question is, are they worth the £299/US$299 price tag, or is the tech yet to mature? I’ve been donning the Ray-Ban Stories for the past few weeks and here’s what I think. 

Design and features

  • Look and feel like regular Ray-Bans
  • Embedded 5Mp cameras and micro-speakers
  • LED recording light isn’t obvious enough

Ray-Ban Stories are, essentially, a pair of Ray-Bans with slightly thicker arms than you might be used to and that’s pretty impressive considering the tech packed into the frames.

These smart glasses sport all the hallmarks of a pair of Ray-Bans, including the Ray-Ban signature and initialling on the arms and lenses, and it’s available in three distinct Ray-Ban designs too; Wayfarer, Round and Meteor. Combined with six colour options, as well as the option to select either clear or transition lenses (the latter at an additional £80/US$80), you can essentially style Ray-Ban Stories to your tastes and needs. 

Those who need glasses on a daily basis can opt to get prescription lenses fitted, but this has to be done via Ray-Ban, and it’ll cost you an additional £219/US$209 on top of the already-expensive £299/US$299 base price for the Stories. 

Where you’ll begin to notice differences in design is when it comes to the smarts, with Ray-Ban Stories sporting two 5Mp cameras on the left and right edges, along with a single button on the top of the right arm used for activating the camera. When you’re taking a photo or video, you’ll see a small white LED on the inside of the frames, just on the periphery of your vision, and there’s a second next to the camera to indicate recording status to those nearby too. 

Look more closely at those thick arms and you’ll likely notice micro speakers embedded into the bottom which play music, as well as various chimes indicating different actions, without the need for earbuds or headphones. 

You can control volume and playback via a series of taps and swipes via a touch-sensitive surface on the right arm of the Stories. The sensitivity of swipes to adjust volume can take some getting used to, but it’s a handy feature to have when listening to music on the go.

I just wish there was a sensor that detects when the glasses have been taken off and disables the touch panel; I’ve already lost count of the number of times I’ve accidentally started playing music, or adjusted the volume when the Stories have been in my hands and not on my face. 

Ray-Ban Stories review: A look at the future of smart eyewear

Though practically unnoticeable, there’s also a three-microphone array that lets you take calls via the Stories and allows you to perform certain actions  – like taking a photo or recording a video – via Facebook Assistant. With a simple ‘Hey Facebook’ wake word, the Stories will chime and begin listening for your request.

The glasses pick up on the phrase most of the time, though it does struggle in loud environments, and it’ll action your request impressively quickly, even without an active internet connection.

There are only a handful of camera-related actions available right now, and it’s only available in English but that could expand in future. The only disappointment is that you can’t also access your phone’s virtual assistant via Ray-Ban Stories.

Ray-Ban Stories come in a leather-clad, Ray-Ban-branded hard carry case, that doubles up as a charging case, holding additional charges to keep the glasses powered for extended amounts of time; there’s also a soft pouch to store them in too. 

The tech inside Ray-Ban Stories – the dual 5Mp camera setup, in particular – is subtle and only really noticeable if you’re actively looking it. While that’ll be appreciated by those that want connected glasses that don’t look like wearable tech, this approach clearly raises privacy concerns.

Ray-Ban Stories review: A look at the future of smart eyewear

Ray-Ban Stories feature a single white LED on the front – next to the lens – to indicate that you’re taking a photo or recording a video, but it’s easily missed, especially in bright environments. It relies on people understanding what the light means beforehand for a start and it’s so small that it’s easy to cover up if you were so inclined.

I’d prefer something more akin to Snapchat Spectacles, with a flashing LED ring that circles the camera when recording, making it unquestionably obvious that the camera is active. It’d not only make me feel more comfortable wearing them in public areas, but it’d help give those around me peace of mind that I’m not sneakily recording them.

Camera performance

  • Impressive photo and video capture in ideal conditions
  • Decent electronic image stabilisation
  • Quality decreases rapidly in dark conditions

Taking pictures and recording videos using Ray-Ban Stories is easy, though the slightly counterintuitive setup might take a bit of getting used to. Pressing the capture button on the right arm begins a 30-second video, while pressing and holding the button for a second or so will trigger a photo. Many would assume it’d be the other way around but it’s something you get used to within a few days of use.

You’ve also got the option to activate the camera using the Facebook Assistant. Just say “Hey Facebook, take a picture” or “Hey Facebook, record a video” and it’ll action that request almost immediately. 

Ray-Ban Stories review: A look at the future of smart eyewear

Before I delve any deeper, it’s worth noting that you shouldn’t expect the same quality of images as a high-end smartphone or digital camera. The dual cameras are only 5Mp, offering photo capture at a maximum 2592 x 1944, with a 105-degree field of view and video capture caps out at a square 1184 x 1184, at 30fps. There isn’t a way to adjust exposure settings or anything else either; it’s all handled on the fly by the glasses.  

With that being said, the camera performance on offer from Ray-Ban Stories is actually quite impressive. 

In ideal conditions (outdoor, in well-lit environments) the Stories take impressively sharp, crisp photos, with well-balanced colour and plenty of detail, for close enough objects, anyway. That’s where the limitation of the 5Mp sensors come into play, with far-away objects – like a city skyline – becoming difficult to make out, especially once zoomed in. Still, it’s good enough for posting on the likes of Facebook and Instagram; arguably the main environments the specs were designed for. 

Ray-Ban Stories camera test

Video is equally impressive in well-lit conditions – with decent exposure and colour balance – though there is a bit of a reduction in overall detail compared to still photos, likely due to the reduced resolution on offer. The electronic image stabilisation works hard too, steadying the shudder from steps as you walk, producing something relatively smooth and stable at out the other side. 

It has to be said that low-light performance isn’t quite as impressive, with noticeable levels of noise (especially in videos) but that’s to be expected with such small cameras. We’re only now getting to the point where smartphone cameras take decent night photos and we’ve had camera phones for 15+ years. 

So, how do you get the videos and photos captured on Ray-Ban Stories from the glasses and onto social media? It’s all handled by the dedicated Facebook View app for iOS and Android. Completely separate from the main Facebook app, Facebook View allows you to import recent captures via Wi-Fi Direct. You’ll get a preview thumbnail of all your new shots quickly but depending on how much there is to transfer, the process can take a few minutes.

From there, you can edit your content  – including cool parallax-esque effects made possible from the dual-camera setup – and save it to your phone’s photo library or simply upload it directly to social media. It’s worth pointing out that the content stays locally on your smartphone, with no data sent to Facebook’s servers in the process. 

Audio performance

  • Pleasant audio experienced focused on mids and highs
  • Could use more bass
  • Sound leakage issues at high volume

The concept of smart glasses that play audio streamed from your smartphone isn’t new. There are already connected specs like Bose Frames and Fauna Audio Glasses, that focus on audio playback, though Ray-Ban Stories are one of few pairs of smart glasses that combine audio and camera tech into a single package.

And while these smart glasses suffer from many of the same issues as others in the same product category, the Stories actually sound pretty impressive. 

Ray-Ban Stories review: A look at the future of smart eyewear

They sport stereo speakers set into the arms, designed to direct music downwards towards your ears; allowing you to listen to your favourite tunes or podcasts while still remaining fully aware of your environment. That means you can bop your head to a bit of Billie Eilish while chatting to a mate, or simply stay aware of your surroundings while getting directions when riding a bike. 

It’s an interesting experience hearing music without the need for headphones, especially if music is already playing on the Stories when you put them on. Going from no sound to the sound of music within a split second is quite impressive, especially without the traditional feel of headphones over your head or buds in your ears. The downside, of course, is that the outside world can be distracting at times, particularly on a busy city street during rush hour. 

It should go without saying that you’re not going to get the same audio quality as if you were donning the AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM4 but sound quality is more than enough for a casual listening experience. It’s crisp and surprisingly detailed in the mids and highs, though the severe lack of bass means it’s better suited to acoustic tracks and vocals than bass-heavy Dubstep tracks.

That’s not necessarily an issue specific to the Stories though; it’s a complaint of most audio glasses available right now. 

Another issue prevalent on most smart glasses is sound leakage – a given considering the micro-speaker nature of Ray-Ban Stories and co – though it’ll depend on your volume output. When at around 50% volume, you can listen to music or podcasts without those around you picking up on the sound but the open-ear nature of the glasses means you’ll often want to crank the volume up beyond the halfway point.

It’s when you do this that the sound leakage becomes apparent, especially at 100%, at which point output is clearly audible to everyone nearby. This essentially means you can’t use Ray-Ban Stories in quiet, enclosed spaces, without risk of annoying those around you. This shouldn’t be so much of a problem in larger outdoor spaces.  

Ray-Ban Stories review: A look at the future of smart eyewear

Using the speakers in combination with the built-in mics, you can also use Ray-Ban Stories to take calls. With a double-tap of the right arm, you can answer calls via these smart specs, though I wouldn’t recommend it for anything longer than a brief chat.

The built-in microphones pick up a lot of environmental noise, which quickly becomes a problem in louder environments, not to mention incoming audio can intermittently cut out too. The latter is a particular surprise, considering there’s no such stutter when playing music, and it became so frustrating in testing that I simply gave up answering calls via the glasses, reverting back to either AirPods or holding the phone up to my ear.

So while the concept is great, the execution isn’t quite there yet. 

Battery life and charging

  • Facebook’s six-hour battery life claim is optimistic
  • Charges via charging case which holds an additional 2-3 charges

When it comes to battery life, Facebook claims that Ray-Ban Stories can last around six hours before needing a top-up via the carry case – which doubles as its charger. That’s not six hours of continuous use though; rather, that six hours is a combination of taking the occasional photo or video, and listening to music intermittently.

If you were to constantly record or listen to music, that quoted longevity can drop down quite substantially – the glasses dropped by around 50% after 90 minutes of music playback in my experience  – and the annoying part is that there’s no quick way to check current battery life. It’s only available in the top-right of the Facebook View app.  

Ray-Ban Stories review: A look at the future of smart eyewear

The hard case features a contact charging point on the left, which when aligned with the contact charging point on the glasses, will begin charging. There are built-in magnets in both the case and glasses that make this process almost foolproof, and the flashing LED on the glasses lets you know once they’re being charged.

Facebook claims that the case has enough juice for three full charges of the glasses, but that’s a bit optimistic in my experience, with the LED on the front of the case flashing red (to indicate a dead battery) after two charges. The case charges fairly quickly via USB-C though, with a discreet port on the rear to receive charge. 

Pricing

Here’s the hard part to swallow; Ray-Ban Stories start at £299/US$299, the price jumps up to £379/US$379 if you want transition lenses and a whopping £519/US$509 if you need prescription lenses.

That’s undoubtedly expensive for a tech product that won’t effectively replace your headphones or camera, but given the fact that Ray-Ban sunglasses come at a premium anyway, half the price is likely down to the branding. If you like Ray-Bans in general and want to experience the extra functionality of connected glasses like these, then Stories might be a great addition to your collection, but they’re certainly not for everyone.

If you are tempted, you can buy the Ray-Ban Stories via the Ray-Ban Store in the UK and the US right now. 

Verdict

Ray-Ban Stories aren’t the perfect smart glasses but given that we’re so early into the development of connected specs in general, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s one of the first to combine audio and camera functionality into a single pair of glasses, making them among the most capable connected eyewear available right now, and I imagine that progression will only continue over the next few years. 

Stories look like a pair of traditional Ray-Bans – rather than some experimental tech crossover product – with a lightweight form factor and comfortable feel on the face. The dual 5Mp cameras take great photos and videos – given the hardware on offer – and although there’s a lack of bass on the audio front, these are still great for listening to podcasts or acoustic-focused tunes on the go, without the need for headphones. 

The quality on offer isn’t quite good enough to ditch your dedicated camera and headphones, but if you like the idea of having easy access to those features, and you like sunglasses with that iconic Ray-Ban style, the Stories are a great step into the world of smart glasses. 

Specs

Ray-Ban Stories: Specs

  • Available in three designs with six colour options
  • Dual 5Mp cameras
  • 5Mp image capture & 1184 x [email protected] video
  • 2x micro speakers
  • 3x microphones
  • Facebook Assistant
  • Touch controls
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 ac
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Compatible with iOS and Android



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