Any time I go to a birthday party, on vacation, or to a concert, I pull out my smartphone to snap off a few dozen photos. And while I love having those pictures to look back at, I also realize that I’m not actually looking at the events unfolding with my own eyes. Instead, I’m watching my nephew blow out his birthday candles on my phone’s screen.
That’s why I was particularly interested in using Facebook (FB) and Ray-Ban’s new Stories. Available for $299, the glasses, which come in a variety of styles including sunglasses or as clear prescriptions, sport two built-in 5-megapixel cameras that let you capture photos of what’s going on around you, without actually taking your eyes off of the action.
Of course, the Stories have serious privacy implications, making it all too easy to surreptitiously snap shots and take videos of people around you. But unlike prior smart glasses, they’re about as close to looking like real glasses as possible. That means you’ll be able to wear them without looking like, well, a tool.
Normal glasses with extras
The Ray-Ban Stories are easily the best-looking smart glasses ever made. Yes, the idea of slapping a camera on a pair of shades has been done before by Snap via its Spectacles, but let’s be honest — those looked completely ridiculous. No one except for the biggest of Snap fans or early adopters would use them. And that’s pretty clear by sales. I mean, when was the last time you saw someone wearing Spectacles, if ever?
Google’s Glass, meanwhile, was more of an augmented reality phone that made it look like you were wearing the world’s laziest robot costume.
The Stories I used, however, looked just like my wife’s Wayfarers. And while they have cameras built in, they don’t stand out at all. If you saw someone wearing the Stories walking down the street, you probably wouldn’t even notice they were any different from any other glasses.
Despite their looks, the Stories pack a host of features. In addition to the cameras just outside of the lenses, they have built-in microphones that play an audible shutter sound when you take a photo or let you take calls and listen to music. The audio sounded surprisingly good, though it was also loud enough for a friend to hear what I was listening to while standing near me.
On the right arm is a touchpad that lets you turn the volume up and down, skip songs, and pause and play. The shutter button is just in front of that on top of the arm. Long pressing it lets you take a photo and quickly pressing it captures a 30-second video.
Photos and videos taken with the Stories are decent quality, though they’re not going to beat out anything taken with a modern smartphone. Shots looked clear in broad daylight, but take a picture indoors and the quality drops. Subjects look blurred around the edges, and low-light shots are a no-go.
Still, during a day at the zoo with my family, I was able to take photos while still staying in the moment. I didn’t have to reach for my phone to fire off snaps of my 3-year-old nephew feeding giraffes or when I wanted to take a photo while riding a mini train. And when you don’t have a free hand, you can say, “Hey, Facebook, take a picture,” and it will snap one off for you.
As for battery life, the Stories last about six hours. They also include a comically large case that doubles as a portable charger that can revive your shades if they die while you’re out and about. That said, the charging case is so large I couldn’t cram it into my pocket. My wife graciously packed it away in her purse so I could bring it with me. If your Stories do die, though, they’re still a solid pair of shades.
In terms of storage, the Stories can hold 500 photos or more than 30 30-second videos. To view each picture and video you take, though, you’ll need to use the Facebook View app. And to use the app, you’ll need a Facebook account. Facebook says this is to confirm you are who you say you are when you’re going through photos on the glasses.
But what about privacy?
That, however, brings us to the privacy aspect of the Stories. Facebook says the only data that’s collected by default is battery status, your login information to verify who you are, and Wifi connectivity. You connect the glasses to your phone via Wifi when transferring photos.
Anything else, including metadata from your photos and videos, is optional and explained in the setup process. Voice recordings from using the hands-free option can also be deleted at any time, and you can choose not to store transcripts entirely.
You also don’t have to share your photos or videos from the View app on Facebook or Instagram. You can simply upload them to your computer, save them to your phone, or send them to any other third-party platform you’d like. Information that you choose to share such as metadata from your photos or videos also won’t be used to serve up ads. In fact, View doesn’t have any ads included at all.
Of course, if you’re wary of Facebook’s data practices, then no amount of assurances will get you to try on the Stories.
While Facebook and Ray-Ban go to great lengths to explain the Stories’ privacy policies, the glasses can still be used to invade the privacy of people around you. The glasses have an indicator light that lets people know when you’re snapping a pic or taking a video, but it’s harder to see in direct sunlight. My brother didn’t even notice I was taking pictures of him at first.
And if you’re not aware that the Stories exist at all, as I’m sure the vast majority of non-techy consumers aren’t, then you won’t even know what that little white LED means. What’s more, the LED itself is easy to cover up. Facebook says that’s a violation of its terms of service. But for creeps trying to take pictures of unsuspecting people, that’s not any kind of deterrent.
Should you get them?
I love tech, but I’m also not the kind of person who would pay more than $20 for a pair of sunglasses. I’d rather get a pair from the rack in Walgreens than shell out for designer frames, so I’m clearly not the target audience here. Heck, my regular glasses cost me $90.
That said, if you’re the kind of person who loves the prospect of being able to stay in the moment and take photos of important events without staring at them through your smartphone’s screen, the Stories are a solid option — even if you can get a cheaper pair of sunglasses at the drugstore.
More from Dan:
Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at firstname.lastname@example.org over via encrypted mail at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.