Ray-Ban and Meta have teamed up to bring wearable tech to a trademark pair of iconic Wayfarers (plus a few other models) — and the result is actually pretty good.
We still have a ways to go until we reach the augmented reality that science fiction has promised, with notifications popping up in our wearable heads-up displays and a connectedness that flows almost naturally from tech to wearer. But efforts like the Ray-Ban Stories are a fascinating first step into seamlessly (well, almost seamlessly) finding ways to gracefully add useful technology into everyday items.
We all use sunglasses, right?
Put simply, the Ray-Ban Stories are a pair of shades that include open air speakers that basically fire music and phone calls into your ear (there’s also a microphone for phone calls, etc.), as well as a pair of 5 megapixel cameras discretely mounted on the front, taking advantage of the usual empty space in the top corners without adding anything gangly or all that noticeable to the look. It adds useful function to a basic form factor, though, as polished as it may be, this still feels like a proof of concept for how these ideas can work in the wild. That’s not a bad thing at all, but worth keeping in mind.
For controls, there is a touchpad built into the side of the glasses, a button on top for taking photos and videos, plus a very basic Facebook voice assistant (which can pretty much only take photos or videos on demand). It’s not the most intuitive interface (you hold the button to take a photo and click it to start a video, which just seems backwards in execution), but it works fine once you get the hang of it. You can use the touchpad to pause and skip audio with swipe motions, which works well for the most part, though an occasional accidental swipe or over-swipe can accidentally skip or pause by accident. The proprietary voice assistant also feels like a missed opportunity, though it makes sense why Meta wouldn’t want to incorporate something like Amazon’s much more full-featured Alexa into its product line.
But the big question is, do these look like sunglasses and not something silly when they’re on your face? For the most part they check that box. At a glance, you’d never realize these are anything other than a sharp-looking pair of Ray-Bans. That is definitely the biggest hurdle, and Stories clears it beautifully. It is worth noting they (understandably) weigh a bit more than an average pair of sunglasses, clocking in at around 49 grams. But they’re well-balanced, and though a bit heavier, you don’t feel it and they don’t come off as hefty or thick. It’s a testament to the engineering and design that they were able to fit it all in without getting bulky.
I put a pair of Wayfarer Stories through the paces for a long week at my son’s baseball tournament, the perfect “in the wild” setting where you have a lot of stuff to record and photograph, plus plenty of downtime to use those audio features. The Bluetooth audio functionality was one of the most useful pieces of the puzzle for me. Instead of grabbing AirPods and sunglasses, I was able to drop the headphones and just use the Stories, which worked wonderfully. The audio is obviously a bit weaker than what you’d get from straight-up headphones (since those are actually in your ear), but the Stories provided plenty of volume for music and podcasts, as well as streaming video. if you’re using it for phone calls, the mics were a bit jumpy and weak when compared to AirPods. Still very useable, but worth noting it may not be the best replacement if you’re looking to dive into some marathon phone calls.
The photo and video functions were also handy, and it’s almost surreal to have a camera recording wherever you’re looking — no pointing or angling with the phone required. The quality is solid for the specs, and the shutter button to start and stop worked fine, though, if you don’t hear the shutter sound due to noise and it’s a bright day that makes it harder to see the recording light, it’s easy to get confused on whether you’re stopping or starting recording when you tap it. But for concerts, or sporting events, it’s still a very cool way to capture a unique angle. As for the specs, the glasses have 4 GBs of flash storage, which can hold around 500 photos or 15 60-second videos. There’s a companion View app to download photos and videos to your phone, which is simple and works well to bridge the interfaces, though I sometimes had to quickly reset the glasses to get them connected when it didn’t automatically click.
The design team also made some great choices on the charging solution, with the glasses featuring a discrete, magnetic charging end that seamlessly snaps into the case (which holds a few charges, like a battery pack to keep you going throughout the day). To charge the whole rig, you plug the case itself into a USB-C charger. The glasses will work for a few hours of constant use, but of course, even once the battery dies, they still function as sunglasses. So still functional, even when the juice runs out.
Considering a basic pair of Ray-Bans cost around $170-$220 on average, it’s not a gigantic leap to spend around $299-$329 on a pair of Stories. If you’re looking to drop the cash anyway, you get all the perks of Ray-Bans, plus all the smart features. It’s also a question of how much do you want to be on the cutting edge of subtle wearable tech (and not looking to go all-out with something more ostentatious like Snap’s new Spectacles), and how much use you’ll get out of having speakers and a couple of cameras on your face. If that sounds cool to you? Stories are a great way to do it.
Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, and freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.