The original Ray-Ban Stories didn’t catch on quite like Meta had hoped. According to a recent report, the company managed to sell a bit over one-third of what the internal 300,000 unit goal it set for the first seven months the device was on sale. Perhaps even more damning is a section from the same report suggesting that around 90% of owners had already abandoned the hardware.
As always, there’s a lot at play here, but I suspect a big part of the disappointment can be traced back to the system’s limitations. For one thing, the Stories couldn’t stream video — a pretty key feature one hopes for when it comes to sunglasses with embedded cameras.
I certainly won’t go so far as to suggest that the forthcoming Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses are destined to be a runaway hit, but I will tell you that at the very least its creators addressed the biggest issue with their predecessor. Unveiled this morning at Meta Connect in Menlo Park, California, the new sunglasses are capable of livestreaming video to (naturally) Facebook and Instagram.
The systems come in the standard classic Wayfarer design, along with a new Headliner style. They look like standard sunglasses (or eyeglasses, depending on the lens), save for two round modules on the side of either eye. On the right is a 12-megapixel camera that can take stills and record video in 1080p. The other side — that looks more or less identical (for symmetry’s sake) — is actually an LED light that flips on to alert others that you’re recording.
It’s a nice feature, given how relatively inconspicuous these things are. Without a light, it would honestly be pretty easy to record people without their knowledge (please don’t do this). While Meta says they didn’t receive any reports of the small group of people who bought the glasses uses them for nefarious purposes, it’s instituted a fail-safe here. If you cover the light with, say, black tape, you’ll get a message telling you to remove it. Also, the system won’t take photos or record in this state.
The Ray-Ban Meta features open-ear speakers (not bone conduction) that are capable of getting 50% louder than their predecessors. We got our hands on some pairs at a recent Meta event, and I can attest to the fact that they can get to a comfortably loud volume. Something worth caveating all of this, of course, is the fact that we tested them in ideal conditions.
I point that out because, while open-ear headphones are better in terms of situational awareness, there’s no passive cancellation. That means they’re competing with a lot of ambient sound and can be difficult to hear in loud environments. Unfortunately, there’s no way to, say, pair some AirPods directly to the glasses. Instead, you’ll have to rely on the built-in hardware to listen to music and take calls.
There are more than 150 design combos possible, when you factor in all of the different design options, including frame color, style and lenses (including sunglasses, clear, prescription, transitions and polarized). There’s also a transparent option for the frames, offering a peek at the technology behind it. Perhaps we’re due for a see-through tech comeback, on the heels of Nothing’s devices.
The Ray-Ban Meta are up for preorder starting today in the following markets: U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Australia, Germany, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden. They go on sale October 12 from Meta, LensCrafters, Amazon and Best Buy.
The price starts at $299 for standard lenses. Polarized run $329 and transitions $379. Prescription lenses are on a sliding scale.