What are smart glasses?
Smart glasses include any glasses that contain electronic components and can do anything beyond correcting your vision or protecting your eyes. As you can imagine, it covers a wide range of devices that can do completely different things.
We can limit smart glasses to a few specific types, with some mix of features between them. Audio smart glasses have speakers built into the frame, allowing them to function as headphones. Augmented reality smart glasses use tiny projectors and lenses to display an image as if there was a screen in front of your eyes. Smart glasses focused on social media have built-in cameras so you can take photos and videos and live stream.
There are some rarer types of smart glasses as well, like Ampere’s Dusk glasses. They use liquid crystal lenses to provide an adjustable shade, switching from clear to sunglasses with a tap or via an app. Some AR glasses like the Viture One and XReal Air 2 Pro use a similar technology, but with less precise control, and their screens make them bulky and less intended for walking around.
Although strongly associated with computers and video games, blue light blocking glasses are not actually considered smart glasses. They have no electronics inside and simply rely on lens coatings to reduce the amount of blue light you are exposed to to reduce eye strain. They may be reassuring, but they’re not actually smart in the way we’re talking about here.
The best smart glasses for music and calls
Audio tech is undoubtedly the backbone of all smart glasses, as it is present in most models. Audio-equipped smart glasses are earphones in the form of glasses, usually with small headphone-like drivers built into the temples angled to project sound into your ears. Together with beam-forming microphones, they allow you not only to listen to music, but also to make phone calls and even use voice assistants.
Their sound quality is very limited due to the nature of acoustics and the way sound travels, which is why we’ve yet to find any exclusively audio-focused smart glasses to be very compelling. Since there is a large air gap between the drivers and the ears, bass is practically non-existent for these glasses. Mids and highs can come through well enough, but, as we saw with the outgoing Bose Frames Tempo and Razer Anzu, you don’t get much in the way of low frequencies. You also don’t get a ton of privacy, as audio can leak.
Given how expensive all smart glasses are, we prefer to see devices that can do something useful other than offer a medicore audio experience.
The best camera-equipped smart glasses
Social media is all about sharing, and for most shutterbugs that means keeping your phone out with the camera app open. Camera smart glasses let you shoot, record and stream whatever you see and hear without picking up your phone. The idea first caught on with the crazy Snapchat glasses, which have seen three iterations but currently appear to be dormant. Meta has taken off, first with Facebook and Instagram-friendly Facebook Ray-Ban Stories, and now with Meta Ray-Ban Smart Glasses on our list.
These glasses also have audio functions, so you can use them as headphones. However, it’s the camera aspect that really makes them appealing.
The best AR glasses
Augmented reality is technology that can project images over your surroundings, allowing you to see computer-generated information in the real world as your own personal holograms. It is a very promising, futuristic concept that is still being developed and requires several different components such as micro displays, motion sensors, cameras and processors to all work together. We’ve seen AR work in limited cases on phone screens in everything from Google Lens to Pokemon Go, and we’ve seen ambitious head-mounted displays like the Microsoft HoloLens offer very early implementations of the full AR experience.
Current AR and XR glasses (extended reality, mixed reality, or something in the blur between AR and VR) are something of a misnomer. They use tiny projectors and lenses to project an image in front of you, and with the help of some very shaky mobile apps or optional accessories, they can even use built-in motion sensors to fix a screen in a physical location relative to you staying there too if you move your head.
Here’s the caveat though: Without cameras or the ability to analyze your surroundings, they don’t provide true augmented reality. They cannot automatically display information based on what is around you. Instead, they just act as a head-mounted display.
Still, they are very useful if you can get used to them. They work just like USB-C displays, so you can connect them to almost any laptop, some Android phones, the iPhone 15 and (with an adapter) any device that can output via HDMI.
Fully functional augmented reality displays are slowly beginning to be adopted in commercial, educational, and industrial settings, but these headsets typically cost several thousand dollars and have very limited software suites designed for specific tasks. We’re still a while away from AR smart glasses that can, say, recognize a cafe you’re staring at and pop up its customer reviews. In the meantime, if you want a taste of true AR with apps and games you can actually use, Meta Quest 3 is your best bet. It’s a fully enclosed headset, so you shouldn’t try to use it in public, but its color cameras let you see around you well enough to throw images and 3D models around the room to play with.
Apple doesn’t make smart glasses, but its upcoming Vision Pro could very well be the most advanced AR/VR headset ever, with support for eye tracking, hand tracking, voice control and seamless mobile app integration, all in a streamlined package. Just like the Meta Quest 3, but you probably won’t want to carry it outside the house, and at $3,499, the Vision Pro is priced out of reach for most.