When Meta demoed its Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses, it touted the ability to livestream, record video, and play music. Then, at its recent Meta Connect event, it unveiled one more thing. You can speak to it a conversational tone and the AI will fetch you answers to your questions.
Now that’s pretty nifty. In some ways, this will make us even lazier. Now we won’t even have to reach for our phones to do a search or sit in front of a computer to use a chat AI. The glasses hit the market for $300 and up starting today.
Of course, there are other ways you can do some of the same things that these smart glasses can do. If you had Air Pods on, you could ask Siri a question on your iPhone to get an answer. You could do the same with your smart watch.
But these smart glasses are better than the previous generation of glasses, and they make me think they might be a contender for a next-generation device that is better than what we’re all carrying around now. If Moore’s Law progresses and this tech keeps getting better, it’s going to be pretty cool.
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But is it worth it now at $300 minimum? That’s a tough one. After all, it is still a little bulky, as the electronics in the side frames make it bigger and heavier than normal glasses. I wore it and it wasn’t that heavy on my nose. It’s certainly much better than AR glasses that I’ve worn with wires attached to them.
But while these glasses are smart, they shouldn’t be mistaken for augmented reality glasses, as they have limited functionality. The lenses are ordinary, and all you can do with them is record video, take snapshots, answer phone calls and play music. You can also livestream with them.
Said like that, it seems that I’m really pissing all over these glasses because they can’t work electronics miracles yet. But they are really quite amazing at what they do.
In an update next year, the glasses will have the voice chat built into them. Tapping Meta AI, the AI can answer your questions, a lot like ChatGPT can, when you ask questions. But while it can recite facts to you, it can’t do the kind of things that science fiction promises us.
For instance, you can’t use the glasses to look at someone and see their name pop up on the lenses. As noted, this are just lenses. They’re not displays. On the privacy front, this is a good thing. And Meta said it wouldn’t create such an app as I described due to its privacy concerns.
Of course, while you wear the glasses, you can film other people. You tap the right-side frame top button once and you can take a picture. If you hold it down, you start recording a video. You tap it again to stop the recording. But while that sounds creepy because you can do this secretly, there is something that gives you away. While you are recording, a white LED goes off on the right camera lens. Anybody who is close enough to be filmed would probably notice that. If it were a red light, it would be obvious they were recording, but I suppose Meta decided not to make it that obvious.
You can cover the white light with your finger or even a piece of tape, but if you do that, the camera won’t record anything. In that sense, this is the case of privacy being designed into the product. And that’s a smart thing, given the reputation of Facebook (now Meta) when it comes to privacy matters.
The actual product
I’ve talked a lot about what this product isn’t. But here’s what it is, per Meta.
The overall idea for the glasses is to enable you to capture life’s best moments with an upgraded 12-megapixel camera and five-mic system. You can livestream your view of life’s best moments to Instagram and Facebook. You can stay connected with hands-free calls and messages and listen to your favorite tracks through built-in speakers. And you can do all that while keeping your smartphone in your pocket.
The AI update part is the most interesting part that makes this device seem futuristic. You can get access to “hands-free AI wherever you go,” said Mark Zuckerberg on stage at Meta Connect. Again, this part of the product will come to life next year.
The previous generation
Meta’s previous smart glasses were the Ray-Ban Stories, built as a collaboration with EssilorLuxottica, the owner of the Ray-Ban brand. Announced in August 2020, the glasses debuted in September 2021.
The device had small red light indicating that the users was recording what they were seeing, and that led to some controversy about privacy invasion.
Rivals at the time included Snap’s smart glasses, as well as the more advanced AR glasses from companies such as Nreal (now Xreal). The Xreal devices have real AR displays.
But Meta’s glasses were merely smart, able to record video and play music. But they did not have augmented reality lenses, where you can look through the lenses and see a combination of physical reality and 3D-animated overlays.
As noted, these new glasses still don’t have AR lenses, and so Meta is careful not to call them AR glasses.
The smart glasses collection
There will be a wide variety of Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses in the form of a collection, available for preorder now from Meta.com and Ray-Ban.com. They will be available for purchase today from Meta.com, Ray-Ban stores, LensCrafters, Amazon, Best Buy and more.
The glasses will be available in the following markets: U.S., Canada, UK, Ireland, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Australia, Germany, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden. The starting price is $299 for the standard lens, with polarized lenses starting at $329. Transitions lenses start at $379 and prescription lenses will vary in price.
Stylish design: Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses will come in the classic Wayfarer design (standard and large sizes), and a new Headliner style. The collection will be available in a range of new colors, including transparent, which offers a glimpse of the technology packed inside the glasses, and lens options, such as sun, polarized, clear, Transitions, and prescription. You’ll also be able to mix and match the frame & lens combo on the Ray-Ban remix platform so you can make it your own. There will be over 150 variations – something for everyone, said Li-Chen Miller, vice president of smart glasses, in a press briefing.
Capture: You can capture with the ultra-wide 12 MP camera and five-mic system. Take high-quality photos and 1080p videos, and livestream to Facebook and Instagram. It’s like a GoPro camera without the camera. You can livestream for about 30 minutes before the battery runs out.
You can quickly transfer the video and pictures to your smartphone using the local Wi-Fi network, which you can easily pair. To do the transfer, you have to have the glasses on. You start the app and then tap the import button to transfer new videos and photos. You can delete the ones you don’t like. The media will transfer via Wi-Fi and it’s pretty fast.
Livestreaming: To initiate a livestream on Instagram, you wear the glasses while paired. You open the Instagram app, tap + to create a post and then select “live.” It takes you to a livestream screen. The default point of view is from your phone’s camera, and you can press the capture button twice to stream. While you’re recording video, the white light will be visible in the corner of your eye and that tells you to remember to turn it off when you’re done.
Audio: The open ear speakers, which are 50% louder than the previous Ray-Ban Stories, deliver greater clarity, deeper bass and directional audio for less audio leak, which gives you a rich listening experience
even in noisy or windy environments – so you can listen to your favorite tunes or take calls. Miller said it has a universal nose fit.
Miller noted that someone next to you can’t hear your open-ear audio. I tried this out and I could hear the audio loud and clear, but the person next to me couldn’t hear them at all. That was pretty interesting given I didn’t have any ear buds. The microphones take the form of little holes in different parts of the frame. While wearing the glasses, I opened the Spotify app on my iPhone.
I started playing Ed Sheeran and he started to sing in my ears, with sound coming out of the open-ear speakers. You can turn the volume up or down by swiping on the side of the glasses frame. The audio is pretty good, and that’s one of the main attractions of the glasses. Sheeran sounded great belting out “The Castle on the Hill.”
Companion App: You can edit and enhance everyday memories captured on Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses
using the Meta View companion app and share them one-off with family and friends, or across
the Facebook family of apps. The app is pretty easy to use. Once you get an app to your iPhone, you can send it around and eventually use desktop editing tools on it if you’re serious about editing. But for the majority of users, I’d doubt you’d want to get that fancy.
Charging Case: A redesigned brown charging case mimics the classic Ray-Ban case from before. But it’s 32% lighter so you can easily fit it into your bag or carry-on and take it with you on the go. The charging case helps preserve and extend the battery life of your glasses while you’re on the go and gives you up to eight additional charges for an additional 32 hours of battery life. The case has a spot where you attach the glasses, so they charge. And the button on the case lights up green if the glasses are fully charged.
Overall, the glasses have 21 different versions and can be ordered with prescription lenses. The Wayfarer weighs about 48.6 grams, the large Wayfarer weighs 50.8 grams and the headliner weighs 49.2 grams.
The camera has a default capture in portrait mode of 3024 x 4032 pixels, and videos are captured at 1080p and 30 frames per second (1440 x 1920 resolution).
It can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth 5.3 or Wi-Fi6. It has 32GB of storage, capable of storing up to 500 photos, and 100 30-second videos. And it’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon AR1 Gen 1 Platform. The rechargeable smart glasses last for up to four hours on a single battery charge. It takes 75 minutes in a charging case to get a full charge. They’re intended for people 13 and up.
When you’re talking to the device, you can choose what kind of voice you want to answer. Then you activate the chatbot by saying, “Hey Meta.” You can use commands like “Hey Meta, play” to startup some music. You can say, “Hey Meta, check my battery.” You can check the time, the weather, or initiate a call to someone on Messenger or in your contact list on your phone.
You can tell it to send a message to a friend on a phone or send a photo to someone on Whatsapp. You can get recommendations or ask for AI-generated poetry. You can ask it to generate an Instagram caption for your audience about your new smart glasses. I asked it to do so, and it said, “Rocking my new smart glasses, and feeling like a tech superstar.”
I asked it who the 45th President of the United States was, and it noted Joe Biden is No. 44 and there isn’t a 45th. You can ask for travel itineraries, recipes, poems, tutorials and more.
The Meta AI chatbot uses the Llama-2 large-language model to come up with answers. It’s a foundational LLM with 65 billion parameters. It’s a little slow to answer, but it’s no more annoying that way than Siri or Alexa. I had a brief conversation with the chatbot about Israel and Gaza. It gave me textbook answers.
One of these days, I would like to be able to use this kind of chatbot with AR glasses that are location aware. I could look at a place and ask what its history is. But that would require a smart display, the ability to recognize objects in the environment, and an idea of its whereabouts. It might be coming sooner than we think, but it’s not here yet.
Just like the recently announced Meta Quest 3, the Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses move the ball forward. They’re in the affordable range and they do things that just a few years ago seemed magical. It makes me glad that technology isn’t standing still. The AI functionality and open-ear audio brings a lot to the Jetsons feeling that your glasses are a whole lot smarter than they used to be. Now you can have a conversation with them. It’s not science fiction yet, but it is better that a few years ago and that makes me happy for the things that technology will bring us in the future.
Clearly, Zuckerberg is fed up with smartphones. Not everybody will ditch the functions on their smartphones for these smart glasses. But it is definitely easier to do some things — chatting via voice, talking on the phone, listening to music — without having to hold your phone. You can do these things with ear buds, but then you aren’t as engaged with the world around you.
If Meta keeps making this technology better and figures out how to add cheap AR display technology to this, it will feel like a more magical product.
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