Facebook Ray-Ban Stories: Hands-on review
We go hands on with the Facebook Ray-Ban Stories sunglasses.
What happens when you combine the classic style of Ray-Ban with the AI-led smarts of Facebook? You end up with the Ray-Ban Stories sunglasses, a smart set of shades that tries to gently walk the path between privacy and functionality.
Facebook's latest hardware foray will initially be launching in the US, the UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia and Italy, with pricing starting at AUD$449.
Facebook sent me a pair to test out ahead of their launch today, and I've had just a little time to get to grips with what they can do.
This is by no means a full review, because I'd need more time to fully test out features such as battery life before making a final determination. I've had the Facebook Ray-Ban Stories for just a couple of days prior to writing this, which isn't enough time to run a proper Finder-level review.
What are the Facebook Ray-Ban Stories?
They're a set of sunglasses in iconic Ray-Ban styles. Facebook says they come in a total of 20 different styles, with "most styles" available to Australians according what Finder has been told. They will also be available as prescription glasses if that's something you need in your shades.
Ray-Bans themselves are of course nothing new, and the Facebook connection comes via the fact that they're also equipped with speakers, microphones and dual 5MP cameras for video and still photography. The onboard storage should be good for up to 500 still shots or around 30 video captures of up to 30 seconds each.
That puts them in direct contention to devices like the Snapchat Spectacles in the camera space, or Bose's Frames in the audio space for smart glasses.
Facebook Ray-Ban Stories: Early upsides
- Subtle style. Lots of high-tech specs have made the mistake of looking like they fell off the set of a B-grade sci-fi flick. You can't accuse the Ray-Ban Stories of that, precisely because they're Ray-Ban style. That's a taste matter for sure, but with the cameras only just discernible when not in use, you could totally wear these as regular sunnies without feeling awkward about it.
- Fair privacy focus. Yes, it feels deeply weird to mention "Facebook" and "privacy" in the same sentence given the company's interest in all of our private lives for its own financial benefit. Still, there's been some good thought given to how and where the Ray-Ban Stories might be used and how to make them obvious. When you're taking pictures or video there's a permanent light on the front of the glasses to make that obvious, as well as a recording click that cannot be entirely muted. You can opt to use the Facebook Assistant to capture a photo or video, but you'll have to say your commands out loud – and again, that's going to be rather obvious to everyone around you.
- Open air audio is comfortable. If you exercise, or hate the feel of true wireless buds in your ears after time, then this kind of open-ear headphone approach can work quite well. I've taken the Ray-Ban Stories for a local jog, and they worked well and were never at risk of falling off my head when doing so.
- Prescription options available. For someone like me who wears prescription glasses, being able to order a pair that matches my needs is quite vital. In Australia, that will be an OPSM exclusive feature.
- You're not locked into the Facebook ecosystem. It must have been tempting for Facebook to make the video capture and photo features exclusive to its own Facebook and Instagram platforms. It hasn't done that, so you can directly download your content to your phone and edit and share it wherever you like.
- Fair shooting quality. You shouldn't wear your sunglasses at night, and that does give the Ray-Ban Stories a bit of an advantage in lighting terms when taking shots. To give them a quick run through, I took a few sample shots around my house and at a local park, keeping current pandemic lockdown conditions and rules in mind, and got some fairly decent shots. They won't replace my smartphone any time soon, but I can see the appeal of being able to look, click and capture at will.
Facebook Ray-Ban Stories: Early downsides
- Needs its own app. You can already upload pics and video to Facebook and Instagram, but the Ray-Ban Stories require the new Facebook View app for offloading content. This is done via Wi-Fi, which is quick but kind of clunky, because you've got to connect to the glasses' own ad-hoc Wi-Fi network when you want to grab your pics.
- Can't review shots. Shooting with the Ray-Ban Stories feels incredibly like returning to the old film days, because while you get the audio click of taking a shot or video, until you do offload them, you have no real idea about focus or indeed wider framing issues. All you can do is look, click and hope for the best.
- Inevitable audio leakage. External speakers are always going to leak a degree of sound, and that's totally the case for the Ray-Ban Stories as well.
- You need to remember the power switch. So many Bluetooth headsets power down when you fold them up, and especially if you put them back in their charging case. Not so with the Ray-Ban Stories (at least at launch) which means it's vital to switch them off when you're done taking photos or video. Yes, I did learn this the hard way.
- Custom charging case. Yes, it's cool that it bears a Ray-Ban logo and doesn't look techy. However, it's also the only way to recharge the Ray-Ban Stories, because there's no cabled connection to the glasses themselves. Lose or break the case, and your new smart sunnies won't do much beyond keeping the glare out of your eyes.
Facebook Ray-Ban Stories: Early outlook
There have been so many attempts to make smart glasses a "thing" over the past 10 years. Google tried early with Google Glass, but clearly few were ready for the idea of eye-level smart cameras at that time, or for their eye-watering asking price.
Snapchat has had a few tilts with its Spectacles range, but many reviews note the lower quality of the actual frames and styles on offer. Bose's speaker-centric Frames have their place, but no onboard life capture capabilities.
Facebook may have just delivered a good mid-point between those approaches, as long as you're happy with Facebook's general policies of course.
I'll be putting the Facebook Ray-Ban Stories through their paces over the next few weeks before giving my final verdict, so stay tuned.