RESEARCH NOTE: Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses Review: Better, Cooler, and More Useful Than Ever

By Anshel Sag - December 4, 2023
A pair of sunglasses resting on a table
Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses with see-through blue frames

I was not the biggest fan of Meta and Luxottica’s first try at smart glasses, called Ray-Ban Stories. While that product was the company’s first foray into smart glasses, it felt like Stories didn’t do anything in particular better than other products in the market. At this point, however, with the new generation of Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses, I believe that Meta has surpassed the entire industry and now carries the flag for smart glasses in terms of day-to-day functionality.

While Meta’s own AR glasses seem to still be in a distant future—rumors say as late as 2027—I believe that smart glasses are the onramp to AR glasses. I’ve spent almost a month with this latest edition from the Meta-Luxottica partnership and have plenty of feedback to share, both about how they compare with the last generation and about how smart glasses are becoming more useful in general.

So, What’s New? Specs and More

First and foremost, the Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses are built on Qualcomm’s new AR1 Gen 1 platform, which is a huge improvement over the Qualcomm Snapdragon wearable chip that was in the first generation. I cited the limitations of the older Snapdragon component as a big reason why I believed the last-generation glasses weren’t as capable as they should have been. The AR1 Gen 1 is likely overkill for the new Ray-Ban Metas, but it leaves a lot of headroom for Meta to improve the glasses and add new features like they did with the first generation. Meta’s first generation mostly matched what Snap had achieved in its third-generation Spectacles glasses, but that didn’t really deliver much of a wow-factor. Snap’s Spectacles have been a spectacular failure since then as the company’s attempt at AR glasses went to developers only and never shipped to consumers.

One key feature of the Ray-Ban Metas that is possible thanks to the AR1 Gen 1 is the ability to use Meta’s AI to dictate messages or use voice commands to take pictures and videos. Some of that functionality is on-device, which means the glasses don’t always need to be paired to your phone to do basic functions such as recording videos or taking pictures. I have tested these functions and found no difference in experience running the glasses on their own without a smartphone. In the bigger picture, while there are no benchmarks available to compare these two chips, I can confidently say that they operate in two very different realms of capabilities and performance, and it shows. Meta also finally added IPX4 water resistance to the Ray-Ban Meta glasses, which is a welcome addition because there were times when I didn’t wear my previous smart glasses because it was raining.

A set of buildings in the background reflected in a body of water in the foreground
An unedited photo of San Diego’s Marina from the Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses

Getting down to the nitty-gritty on specs, the new Ray-Ban Metas have improved camera sensors capable of 12MP photos (compared to 5MP in Ray-Ban Stories) and 1920 x 1440 video, compared to last generation’s 780p video. (Ray-Ban Stories also had a different—square—aspect ratio, which did not lend well to social media posting.) Meta upgraded the new model to a five-microphone array from three in the first generation. Storage capacity was octupled from 4GB to 32GB, which was necessary, given the increased video resolution and photo size; the glasses can now store more than 100 separate 30-second videos or 500+ photos. Meta also upgraded the wireless connectivity from Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 5.0 to Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.3; this is quite important when you consider how often these glasses are going to communicate with your phone, because the newer wireless standards mean better performance, more stability, and better battery life.

Speaking of battery life, Meta doesn’t quote one for the glasses by themselves, but it does say that the glasses have 36 hours of battery life with the included charging/carrying case, which is 50% more than the previous generation. Meta also quotes a faster charging time, so that the glasses can be brought to 50% of charge in 20 minutes, compared to last generation’s 30 minutes. The battery in these glasses is a tiny 154 mAh component; for comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy Watch6 has a 425 mAh battery, which tells you how power-efficient the entire Ray-Ban Meta platform needs to be and why wearables like smart glasses are so hard to build. Everything is about achieving higher performance per watt without overdoing weight or thermals. That’s why lightweight AR glasses will be so hard to execute without a tether for power and why companies like Swave are building low-power holographic display technology specifically for that application.

We’re still years away from that being a reality at Meta, but I believe that Meta is planning many years ahead. After all, they did just announce a partnership with MediaTek to build custom SoCs for AR glasses, whenever that might be. Meta also recently reaffirmed its partnership with Qualcomm for XR chipsets, so we will have to see how MediaTek fits into that relationship.

Day-To-Day Use And Meta AI

One of the biggest problems with Ray-Ban Stories was that people simply weren’t using them daily or even regularly. I can confidently say that I have used mine nearly every day since I got them. Yes, it does help that I live in a place where it’s always sunny and I mostly have traveled to places where the weather is good, but my daily use is not exclusively indoors. I want to use the new model indoors and out as well; it’s a good indication to me that this is a great product because I want to use it more frequently and in more places. In fact, these new glasses are so good that I regret ordering them as sunglasses. Sure, Ray-Ban is famous for its sunglasses, but I implore people to think about indoor uses for the Ray-Ban Meta glasses before they default to purchasing them as sunglasses. Transition lenses might also be a good idea, especially because the live-streaming functionality of these glasses lends them to being worn at concerts, which have notoriously poor lighting.

The inclusion of Meta AI (limited to the U.S. for now) has made these glasses far more powerful—so much so that I would say that if they had a display, I might not need to wear a smartwatch anymore. I believe that part of the reason Meta AI is so useful is that the five-microphone array catches your every word with great accuracy and the on-device AI processes it quickly, which makes sending text messages extremely easy. The audio quality when speaking to people is also outstanding thanks to the 50% louder speakers and deeper bass. There are even some nifty features such as Spotify Tap, which will play a random recommended song based on your listening tastes on Spotify.

I prefer these glasses instead of earbuds because I like to have better situational awareness when I’m walking my dog down the street. The same goes for driving, where it is technically illegal (in the state of California) to drive with earbuds in both ears or while wearing headphones. I really like that when I’m using the turn-by-turn navigation in Google Maps, I can hear those commands clearly through my glasses and the whole car doesn’t need to hear them. (This also seems safer than having turn-by-turn navigation on a smartwatch.) I also like wearing them to send text messages while driving since I can voice-activate them without needing to press a button like I must do on my phone or smartwatch. I also think the dictation is better, as is the sound quality, given that the glasses are much closer to my mouth than my watch or phone would be.

The speakers are also plenty loud, but don’t leak too much audio to people around you. It was only when I turned them up to the top third of the volume range that other people could hear my audio. The AI assistant still feels fairly limited in what it can do, so there’s still lots of room for improvement, but the experience so far has been solid.

Meta has done a great job with the minimum sound required for Meta AI’s voice activation. It isn’t quite whisper-quiet, but it’s just a bit louder than a whisper, which means that I get to choose how loudly I speak to activate the “Hey Meta” command. The voice controls work exceptionally well in noisy environments, which I have tested, and I believe this is another benefit of the five-microphone array. Whatever the reason, it comes in super handy when my right hand is already occupied with a dog leash or my hands are full, for example when recording videos of playing with my dog. That said, just like the last generation, there are still concerns about privacy, especially given that the wearer is bringing a high-quality video camera into places where that might not be welcome. I suspect there will be a point where these glasses become popular enough that more people become aware of the potential for misuse—with bans to follow.

A long shot of a beach
An unedited golden-hour photo of Dana Point from the Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses

The good news is that the photo and video quality of the Ray-Ben Meta smart glasses is incredible and feels like a multi-generational leap over the last generation. When looking through thumbnails in my phone, it’s sometimes hard to tell which came from the glasses and which came from my phone. Video stabilization is incredibly good and makes watching any video shot while walking or driving very easy and smooth. While I would love to see a 60 FPS frame rate, the current 30 FPS rate is ample. All that said, it does seem like there’s a slight shutter lag when taking pictures. I connect this to Meta’s decision to change long-press to video and short-press to photos. This means that sometimes you don’t really get the shot you’d hoped for, and it might incentivize you to turn on video instead. To be fair, this might be a power-saving feature, because having the camera sit in a sleep state waiting to wake costs power and might not be worth the battery drain.

I believe that the next natural step for Meta’s smart glasses, whether in this generation or later, is to add machine vision and object recognition. That could serve many purposes, including for people who have vision impairment, and might potentially enable real-time language translation when paired with the right AI models. Translation has been low-hanging fruit for many AR glasses I’ve seen so far. Meta could implement a display in its next glasses, but even without a display there are still benefits to having vision capabilities. I would also like to think that Meta will continue to improve on battery life, as the new glasses still have only a roughly three-hour battery life. I have regularly opted for using these glasses instead of wearing earbuds on short flights or long drives since I’m already wearing sunglasses anyway. Plus, they are comfortable enough to wear for hours on end—which leads me to their design and functionality.

Design And Functionality

The Ray-Ban Meta glasses now come in two styles, Wayfarer and Headliner. Both styles come in seven different colors, with three of those colors offering see-through frames. I opted for the blue “Jeans” frames with similarly blue-colored polarized lenses. I love clear frames and see-through electronics where you can see the components inside. It’s a look that most people have fawned over when I hand them the glasses. If needed, you can get a prescription version for anywhere between $160 and $300 extra on top of the base $299 price tag. The glasses also come in multiple sizes to fit different-size heads at no additional cost. You can also get non-prescription lenses with different colors and even transition lenses for up to $80 extra. Be warned, though, that not all lenses are polarized, so keep that in mind when you configure the glasses on Ray-Ban’s site.

This new generation is noticeably thinner and lighter than its predecessor, which I think further improves the user experience. Thanks to the new design, most people are completely unaware that I’m even wearing smart glasses—and shocked by their thinness and weight (only 48 grams). Astonishingly, this is a mere 5 grams heavier than traditional Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, which makes the capabilities of the smart glasses even more impressive. Something else that I didn’t give Meta and Luxottica enough credit for in the last generation is that the design is so welcoming and inoffensive. People find the glasses to be good-looking and, unlike Snap’s third generation Spectacles, they aren’t too “in your face” in terms of design. I had a friend whose wife made him swap out his Spectacles for the first-generation Ray-Ban Stories because she couldn’t stand looking at him while he was wearing those futuristic (and uncomfortable) glasses.

The carrying case that comes with the Ray-Ban Metas may be one of the most welcome improvements to the design. Meta and Ray-Ban went from a clunky cylindrical case to one that could easily be mistaken as a case for a normal pair of sunglasses. The biggest giveaways are the LED light on the front of the case that indicates charge status and the USB-C port on the bottom for recharging the case. Meta says that it managed to reduce the total weight of the case to 133 grams—a significant reduction from 195 grams in the last generation—while delivering a case that charges faster.

A pair of cases for eyeglasses
The original Ray-Ban Stories case (left) next to the new one for Ray-Ban Metas (right)

One of the standout niche capabilities of the Ray-Ban Meta glasses is the ability to live-stream to Facebook and Instagram. Meta says there are limitations on how long the glasses can run, based on thermal conditions. The company officially gives this feature a 30-minute estimated run time, which depends on the ambient temperature being at least 5 degrees Celsius. That said, I was able to walk around my neighborhood and stream to Facebook for about 6 minutes, yet it ate up only about 10% of my battery life, so under the right conditions it seems that it could be possible to stream for an hour.

I had no issues running the livestream through my Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra phone on T-Mobile’s 5G Ultra Capacity network, and I will hopefully explore this feature more in the future. To use the feature, you have to turn on live-streaming in the desired app, then double tap the physical button on the glasses to verify that you want to stream from them. This might have privacy implications, given that live-streaming is forbidden in a lot of places by the ToS of many live-streaming apps. I could see this feature getting a lot of use on platforms such as Twitch, but I think Meta wants to expand live-streaming with this feature on its own platforms first. This feature is fairly niche for the average person and may be most interesting for influencers and people wanting to become online personalities.

The Meta View App

I had previously criticized Meta for creating an entirely new app to manage the Ray-Ban smart glasses, but I now see the logic of having a separate app to manage Meta AI and all the other features. Meta has made it easier to share content from the app onto social networks. It would be nice to have more control of certain things like video length (still limited to 30 seconds or a minute), and certain functions could be easier to find and enable/disable. Hopefully those refinements will come with time, and Meta AI will continue to make the smart glasses more useful and powerful, with the management app potentially even becoming a competitor to Google Assistant. Speaking of Google, that company completely blew an opportunity when it bought North, the startup behind Focals smart glasses, in 2020. Google probably could have delivered a product similar to or better than the Ray-Ban Meta years ago—with Google Assistant integrated. Yet here we are with Meta leading the way.

Value

The value proposition of Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses is strong. For starters, you are getting a pair of Ray-Ban glasses, which already retail in the hundreds of dollars. Then you get a pair of speakers that sound pretty good, along with a built-in, voice-activated Meta AI that can send and receive phone calls and text and WhatsApp messages. Combine all that with good-quality photo and video capture capabilities, and I think you have an exceptional value at $299. This is before we get to all the customizations available for added cost. Plus, if you end up wearing these glasses every day, there’s absolutely a huge return on the value they bring.

A bearded person wearing sunglasses and a green shirt; city streets and buildings are in the background
Walking around the neighborhood with the Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses

Conclusion

Meta is building a powerful platform for smart glasses, and if the next generation includes displays, we could enjoy some powerful AR experiences. I wear my Ray-Ban Metas every day, something that I could not even remotely say about the last generation. That means even more when you consider that the last generation had a serious stickiness factor for a lot of users. This new generation should top that experience for many more people.

Google could have launched a device like this years ago, but because it bought and killed North, Meta is now leading the charge. These glasses have graduated from a cool thing to wear on vacations and hikes to something that makes sense to wear every day. All-day battery life isn’t there yet, especially if you use these as your primary audio devices, but using the case helps keep them charged for about five charges, so you really don’t need to worry about it much. There is also still room for improvement with video frame rate being only 30 FPS, and I welcome the eventual transition to 4K, but the reality is that right now these glasses are nearly perfect, and I don’t have many notes other than the need to improve on the aforementioned shutter lag.

Meta has really hit a home run with these glasses, and I can easily say that they will make a great (albeit somewhat pricey) stocking-stuffer for your favorite person. With all the styles and colors they come in, just about anyone is bound to like at least one of the models. My only personal regret is not getting these glasses with transition lenses, because I want to use them more than I do now as sunglasses. As an analyst, I’m also going to keep a close eye on the privacy concerns that smart glasses like these can raise, especially as they become more popular. All in all, though, the Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses are a clear winner.

xxx

Anshel Sag
VP & Principal Analyst| Website| + posts

Anshel Sag is Moor Insights & Strategy’s in-house millennial with over 15 years of experience in the IT industry. Anshel has had extensive experience working with consumers and enterprises while interfacing with both B2B and B2C relationships, gaining empathy and understanding of what users really want. Some of his earliest experience goes back as far as his childhood when he started PC gaming at the ripe of old age of 5 while building his first PC at 11 and learning his first programming languages at 13.