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Facebook took a pretty big gamble launching the Ray-Ban Stories, and not because of the technology, which largely builds on what’s been done before in smart glasses.

To put it politely, the words ‘Facebook’ and ‘privacy’ don’t usually spark the most enthusiastic of conversations. So launching a set of smart glasses that can take photos and videos of whatever you’re looking at was, to some extent, only ever going to fan those flames.

Facebook has done some work to address those concerns by using a specific app, Facebook View, for pairing to the glasses as well as tutoring users on privacy principles, but it’s abundantly clear that many will dismiss them immediately on privacy concerns alone.

The Ray-Ban Stories are fine at a technical level as semi-smart glasses. But they’re also clearly a version-one attempt, with some rough edges that could be improved in future models. Their price point will likely mean that they’re very much a niche product – which is exactly where most smart glasses sit, anyway.

Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.NetDesign & Build Quality

Unsurprisingly, these new smart glasses don’t reinvent the mold when it comes to what we expect from a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. Available in either Wayfarer (the ones we tested were just the clear, not prescription lens model), Round or Meteor styles, there’s also a range of actual lens colours and options for prescription lenses as well if that’s what you need. This is a huge plus because so many other smart glasses – I’m looking at you, Snapchat and Google Glass – go for a more “techy” look that just ends up looking dorky.

Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.NetCloser inspection shows the changes that Facebook and Ray-Ban have implemented to take them from a regular pair of style sunglasses into a set of ‘smart’ glasses. Above the side of each eyepiece, there’s a single camera lens used for its photo and video functions. On the right-hand side, there’s a button used for manually capturing video and stills.

Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.NetThat right-hand armature also houses a side-mounted touch-sensitive panel for play/pause/answer and volume controls, although this isn’t evident visually in any way. As such, it is possible to pick up the Ray-Ban Stories if they’re already playing music and inadvertently pump the volume all the way up to maximum if you’re not careful.

One impressive feature in design terms here is that Facebook says that all the extra tech in the Ray-Ban Stories only amounts to a miniscule 5 grams of weight compared to the same model of actual Wayfarer glasses.

Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.NetThe other important design feature of the Ray-Ban Stories is the way that they handle privacy and making it apparent to the user and the wider public that you’re using them to do more than just keep the sun out of your eyes. This is done with 2 small lights on the right-hand frame.

On the inside, there’s a multicoloured LED that shows pairing, resetting and recording status, while a similar white LED on the outside is meant to impart that you’re taking a photo or video. You can’t disable that external LED from the glasses or software, but it’s not 100% obvious what it’s doing, so maybe a flashing red LED to represent the cameras are recording might have worked slightly better.

Performance

Unfortunately, the Ray-Ban Stories require an all-new app, Facebook View, to operate. The fact that there’s a standalone app dedicated to controlling and interacting with these new smart glasses can been seen as Facebook’s way to make them seem less threatening from a privacy standpoint. You can’t live stream straight to any of Facebook’s platforms from the Ray-Ban Stories glasses at all. Instead, you’ve got to pull your photos and videos off the Ray-Ban Stories into Facebook View and from there share them as you will.

One nice added benefit here is that you’re not limited to Facebook’s platforms in terms of where your content ends up, although you do absolutely require a Facebook account simply to set the glasses up.

Set-up is an interesting process that should be seamless for most first-time users. Having testing the Ray-Ban Stories across both Android and iOS platforms, I’ve become aware of one way that they’re distinctly a first-generation product – it’s an annoying chore if you have to pair them to a new phone.

Facebook View App | TheEffect.NetYou’ve got to wipe the glasses by putting them into reset mode, which involves holding a tiny switch on the left arm while pressing the shutter button down about half a second after you push the switch. Then you’ve got to release just the shutter first and then the switch when the internal light glows orange. Get the timing right, and it’ll clear the glasses (and all storage on it). Get it wrong, and you won’t know. Then when you try to pair they glasses, they’ll tell you that you have to go through the whole process again.

Facebook View App | TheEffect.NetThere’s also a new Facebook Assistant which can be controlled by your voice to capture photos and videos which actually worked quite well in our testing with audible cues and tones to confirm your requests.

Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.NetWhile that’s a limited subset of activities for a smart assistant, you can use your phone’s inbuilt assistant in the normal voice-activated way once the Ray-Ban Stories are set up.

The other limitation here is that while you can take shots and video of what you’re looking at, it’s a very different proposition to using a smartphone. For a start, you’re shooting with 5MP sensors, so quality isn’t superb and, unfortunately, that’s especially true in low lighting.

Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.NetThe odds are that you’d wear sunglasses while it was bright outside, so you should have decent lighting, but you have no real way of telling the precise framing of your shot. Tilt your head a little, and you’ll get an oddly angled shot, and you won’t even know that it’s that way until you offload it.

In decent lighting conditions – outside, predominantly – you can get fair photos and video, but just about any recent smartphone will shoot rings around the Ray-Ban Stories, allowing you to properly frame while doing so. Here’s some sample shots to give you an idea of what’s possible.

Sample photo from the Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.Net

Sample photo from the Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.Net

Sample photos from the Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.Net

The View app does a decent job of getting shots off the glasses and onto your phone, but it does so by setting up an ad-hoc wireless network. That means your phone or tablet will have to drop off any other network it’s on to manage that, and you’ve got to agree to join the network each time.

The Ray-Ban Stories also have an audio component, with downwards firing speakers in each arm that direct sound towards your ears. For nearby people, it’ll be clear that you’re listening to something at lower volumes, and at higher ones, you can make out lyrics or people speaking too. Audio quality in general is decent but not mindblowing, taking calls works well but you may need to speak up that bit more to allow the in-built microphone pick up your voice in louder environments.

Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.Net

Where the Ray-Ban Stories compare poorly against the Bose Frames is in audio quality when listening to music. The Frames can’t compare to a good set of true wireless buds, but they delivered a richer and more complete sound at all volume levels. Comparatively, Ray-Ban Stories had a weaker profile, dropping detail and sounding just a little more hollow. You’d only spot that during a comparison; however, and it’s not as though you wouldn’t be able to make out what you’re listening to on the Ray-Ban Stories. Still, if the audio component matters to you, I’d go for the Bose Frames every time.

Battery Life

Facebook’s claim for the Ray-Ban Stories is that they should be good for around 6 hours of playback time for audio, although clearly if you’re also taking lots of video shots at the same time and firing up Wi-Fi to offload content that could drop.

My own tests over a week and a half of using the Ray-Ban Stories tend to bear that out, although 6 hours is probably an optimal case scenario. The charging case gives you 3 additional charges via a magnetic connector, although that does mean that if you lose or break the case, the Ray-Ban Stories are going to be useless.

Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.NetThe other power issue here is one of remembering to switch the Ray-Ban Stories off. Perhaps it’s my fault for getting used to most true wireless buds that switch off after a while if they’re not in your ears, but there’s no such feature on the Ray-Ban Stories.

Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.NetConclusion

There’s little doubt that the Ray-Ban Stories are a lightweight offering in the smart glasses space mainly because Facebook didn’t want to go in heavy with a fully-speced out set of AR glasses tied directly into the Facebook platform. They’re an easier and possibly more socially acceptable entry point for this kind of device, however.

At a technology level, and for their price, the Ray-Ban Stories are a bit of a novelty item but still offer some impressive tech features given their compact and lightweight form factor.

Pricing & Availability

The Ray-Ban Stories start at €329 on Ray-Ban.com and are available in the official Ray-Ban store on Grafton Street, Dublin and Arnotts on Henry Street.

Ray-Ban Stories | TheEffect.Net

REVIEW: Ray-Ban Stories Smart Glasses
  • Design & Built Quality
  • Performance
  • Battery
3.8

Summary

At a technology level, and for their price, the Ray-Ban Stories are a bit of a novelty item but still offer some impressive tech features given their compact and lightweight form factor.

John Reilly

John is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheEffect.Net. His favourite gaming series is Uncharted and his favourite film is Interstellar. He is also known to quote 'Father Ted' and Keith Lemon more than is normal. John@theeffect.net