Best smart sunglasses with tech to upgrade your eyewear game

·15 min read
 (Razer)
(Razer)

You might not realise this, hell, you might not even realise that you don’t realise this, but there is a colossal, gaping void in your life.

A void, an abyss, a chasm – call it what you will, it is unquestionably there, yawning epically before you like the event horizon of some supermassive blackhole. And just where is this unbounded gulf of ceaseless emptiness? Why, right there, right on your actual face…

Narrowing it down a tad more specifically, it is located in what face-doctors call the ‘sunglasses region’ and the undeniable evidence of its existence can be measured by the sheer absence of smart technology that adorns that facial region. Wait, hear me out!

Okay, I may have gone in a bit hot on the dramatics there, but in an age where you either have a smartphone or don’t exist, and now also quite often outsource the work of that smartphone to the smartwatch strapped to your wrist, why would you not want to up the tech ante of those other everyday accessory necessities, your sunglasses?

Obviously, I’m not talking about going full Tony Stark with sunglasses capable of launching a tactical drone strike when you’re in a bit of a ‘mood’ or Clarkson levels of hangry, but wouldn’t life be an exciting blend of both simpler and better if you could take and make calls, listen to music, record video and take photos, or even play games and watch TV/movies all from the sun-shielded comfort of your eyeballs? I’ve long thought so and so, it seems, have the boffins with the ability to make such stuff reality. But being boffins, and therefore not cool enough to be allowed out of the lab in direct sunlight, they turned to me to test-out their face-tech.

As such, prepare to be dazzled and then have the dazzle deflected as I suit up with six pairs of the sexiest smart-glasses available in the UK today…

Fauna Audio Glasses

Best for: Impressive audio come rain or shine

Fauna might not be a name you’re overly familiar with when it comes to merging the worlds of eye-protection and kick-bottom audio - if, indeed, you are at all familiar with any names in this relatively new tech-sector (tector?).

But I wanted to kick-off this review round-up with a set of smart sunnies that has already picked up two prestigious awards. Yep, Fauna’s Audio Glasses – seen here in the review-model Spiro format – went to this year’s Mobile World Congress event in always-sunny Barcelona and strutted out of there with Yanko Design’s ‘Best of MWC 2022’ gong and also Billboard’s ‘Best of MWC 2022’ for ‘Best Personal Audio Product’.

So, what makes Fauna so eminently award-worthy? Well, available if four stylish form factors and as either blue light or sunglasses, your charged-up Faunas of choice come packing a pretty slick combo of twin mics, 2x woofers, 2x USound MEMS (Micro ElectroMechanical Systems) speakers for superior sound and a control touchpad all built into the arms.

All you have to do is connect them with your smartphone over Bluetooth and suddenly you have hands-free on phone calls, can listen to music on the move and even create reminders via voice assistant as your stroll carefree down the street.

Controllable with a tap or swipe of the touchpad built into the arm or incommunicado with your voice assistant, audio on calls is clear and crisp and music playback is pleasingly powerful and balanced with surprisingly decent bass.

Then there’s the case. Not just your standard, run-of-the-mill glasses case, the Fauna case is the protective cocoon in which the sunglasses charge, via USB (included), with an array of lights showing you how much juice is in the tank. What’s more, the case itself also charges, meaning the internal battery can then go on to fully recharge your Faunas up to four times when you’re out for any length of time.

One full charge will give you earfuls of audio for up to four-hours and the built-for-business ZEISS lens can be replaced quite simply with those of a prescription persuasion. What’s more, if the British summer suddenly takes a turn for the worse, as it is prone to, then your sweat- and water-resistant Faunas will let you carry on chatting/rocking in the rain as the heavens empty around you.

Will you look a bit bonkers talking to yourself in public with no hint of a phone? Absolutely. I know I received more than the usual amount of concerned looks while conducting a conversation as I walked through my local park. Should you care? I know I didn’t!

Buy now £250.00, Amazon

Soundcore Frames

Best for: Interchangeable chatting and tunes

Whenever I’m asked to do group-reviews, I always go out of my way to seek out products that have a USP to ensure things stay interesting and my reviews don’t just turn into a series of overly repetitive statements. Or, indeed, a series of overly repetitive statements.

Which is all well and good, but when you’re covering tech that is unique all in itself, such as smart, wireless audio-equipped sunglasses, that can get a tad tricky. However, Soundcore has imbued its own smart-specs with a crackingly unique selling point, in that all the techie bits – dual microphones, 4x speakers, custom audio processor and tap and slide temple controls – are all based in the detachable arms, meaning that you can buy extra interchangeable Soundcore frames, in a range of styles and with sunglasses or blue light filtering lenses, to chop and change with your mood and/or sense of style.

There are 10 frame options in total, so something to fit every face, and the arms simply clip into them without any fiddling about, connecting to your phone via Bluetooth and activating automatically the moment you bung them on your boat-race.

Sound quality is impressive and the ‘open surround’ nature of it means you can remain audibly aware of your immediate environment at all times while still enjoying some top tunes or on a call, all without the fear of becoming a sad statistic under the wheels of the number 49 to High Street Kensington. Also, that call function firmly in mind, a Privacy mode exists to stop nearby eavesdroppers earwigging in on private conversations.

Offering an almighty 5.5-hours of battery life between charges, Soundcore Frames are light, comfortable, free from the bulk associated with some other smart sunglasses and available to adorn your fizzog like the future of facial furniture that they are for only £150, with the additional interchangeable frames weighing in at just £33 each.

Buy now £150.00, Soundcore

Ray-Ban Stories

Best for: Big-brand on-face audio and images

I don’t like to think of myself as the kind of person who is easily influenced by stuff I see on screens, but ever since experiencing the shades-heavy, aviation-based adventure epic of Top Gun way back in the mists of the mid-1980s, Ray-Ban has been my go-to sunglasses brand. With designs cooler than 1000-MegaFonzies (also an 80s’ reference, kids), Ray-Ban has often been emulated by others, but never bettered in terms of timeless taste.

But how do you build upon being one of the world’s numero uno sunnies sellers in the luxury sector when the tech for filtering out UV and overly bright light has pretty much reached its pinnacle? Well, we know the answer to that: you add in audio capabilities for making and taking phone calls and letting owners listen to music too. But what if that alone is still not enough for the kind of enthusiastic eye-user who demands some element of social media also be factored in? This was clearly a point that was brought up and mulled over by some impossibly cool-looking people at Ray-Ban HQ and the solution, poor-quality pun fully intended, was staring them in the face.

Where do sunglasses go? On your face. What social media platform has a link to faces? And so it was, teaming up with Meta, Ray-Ban added to the twin open ear speakers, three-microphone array and touchpad control dual cameras capable of automatic light adjustment and stereoscopic photo depth that can take images up to 5MP in size and shoot video at a minimum 1184 x 1184px resolution and at 30fps. Yes, you read correctly, what’s more you can control all aspects via that aforementioned built-in touchpad or via voice control, with 4GB flash storage allowing for 500+ photos or 30+ 30s videos to be stored on the glasses themselves and/or transferred to your phone over Bluetooth of Wi-Fi using the Facebook View app.

They are available in Ray-Ban’s famous Aviator, Round and Meteor styles with a choice of sun or blue light filter lenses. Sound quality for calls is also crisp and clear and music nicely dynamic. And for those worrying about any privacy problems arising over sunglasses you can film or photograph people on the sly with, Ray-Ban has added in a light over the right camera that flashes, thus warning your subject as to your pictorial intentions, which is more than you get with smartphones (with flash turned off), so the Stories are actually more honest.

Giving around eight-hours battery life with mixed usage and about three of simple solid music play, the cool credentials of these Ray-Bans are beyond question and, coming complete with a charging case that can reinvigorate your Stories up to three times over, that cool just keeps coming.

Buy now £300.00, Ray-Ban

Bose Frames Tempo

Best for: Soon-to-be award-winning audio

Bose selecta! One of the big guns of the high-end audio world, Bose was quick to throw its hat into the smart sunglasses ring with its original Frames Audio glasses back in 2019, around the time the human race was taking some time off.

But now upgraded and available in both fashion and sport guises, having now spent a couple of weeks treating my ears to the incredibly precise, tight and crystal-clear music quality these spectacular sun-specs ooze out, I can quite categorically state that if I were to be mown down in the street by an electric car that I didn’t notice coming because I was too busy indulging in top tunes or taking a call on a pair of smart sunnies, the Bose Frames would be the ones I’d want bagged up at the bloodied scene by accident investigators afterwards. That’s how good they are.

They feature a dual microphone array, two specially designed but super-secret OpenAudio Bose speakers, a lightweight but tough, sweat- and waterproof build and polarised lenses.

Out of the three model options Bose offer, I ran with the sporting Tempo style, which came with three silicone nose pad options to help find the perfect fit and, once connected to my phone and the Bose Music app over Bluetooth, I was instantly blown away by the audio quality. As that often-overplayed Meghan Trainor song had it, it is indeed All About That Bass, and where most audio-offering shades can handle the high-end and mid-range with the skill you wouldn’t expect of sunglasses, the Bose take the bass crown without contest. Okay, the price you pay is chunkier speaker-housing arms at your temples, but I assure you that if you want to level-up your eyewear’s audio, the extra bulk is absolutely worth living with.

Control-wise, physical buttons on the right arm allow you to turn your Frames on, answer calls and control music, swiping back and forth along said same arm lets you adjust the volume and double-tapping will see your digital assistant of choice (Google or Siri) spring into life to deal with your demands.

With interchangeable lenses available for different sports and environments, there may be no fancy charging case available with the Bose, but around eight-hours of operation should keep you suitably entertained while still utterly alert to the world around you. Easily the best smart sunglasses for sporting types with an ear for extra-special audio.

Buy now £240.00, Bose

Razer Anzu Smart Glasses

Best for: Entry-level on-eye audio

The cheapest smart sunglasses by a country mile thanks to a dramatic price reduction from the best part of £200 down to £80, this is the first foray into advanced eyewear from the gaming gear giant that is Razor and a decent fist they’ve made of it too.

Light of weight and slickly stylish, you’d probably be hard-pushed to tell the difference between the Anzu and a normal pair of sunglasses from front on, whether you stick with the blur light filtering lenses that come fitted or switch them out for the (also included) polarised lenses.

Its round the sides that things bulk up as, as with all other most other models, things get all techie with open-ear downward firing speakers, an omnidirectional mic and a responsive touchpad interface making hands-free phone calls a delight. Music playback may lack a bit of oomph, but smart-glasses are not meant as a replacement for headphones or earbuds, but as a means to enjoying background music while still being able to hear what goes on around you, so if you’re expecting the Razer Anzu glasses (or, indeed, any other models I’ve covered here) to drown out the white-noise hell of other people around you, they won’t, but for some background listening while at home or out on a walk, you won’t be disappointed.

Available in two designs (Rectangle and Round), USB-charging and offering up to five-hours of use, the Razer Anzu glasses play well with both Android and iOS, connecting over Bluetooth to its own app and giving you access to your voice assistant.

At only £80, even if you remain your same old cynical self at the idea of audio eyewear, there isn’t that much to lose in putting that sceptical nature aside for a minute and giving Razer’s Anzu a go.

Buy now £80.00, Razer

Nreal Air AR Glasses

Best for: AR AV on the move

Okay, this just got serious. Recently launched in the UK through Kevin Bacon’s favourite British mobile network operator, EE, what Nreal has achieved with its Air goggles is true augmented reality glasses that actually look like sunglasses and not like some 70s’ Sci-Fi throwback or some attempted cyberpunk gone horribly awry.

What Nreal has also achieved is AR shades that, via connection to your phone, allow you to watch video content in Full HD1080p, piped over USB connection from your smartphone, onto twin OLED displays that fire down onto internal lenses to produce a 130-inch virtual cinema screen display that’s literally right in front of your eyes. This, coupled with high-fidelity open-ear sound, lets you watch movies, sport and, well, anything on the internet literally anywhere with Wi-Fi or a 5G signal.

Which all sounds very impressive, but does it work in practice? Hell yeah! With an unbridled cry of “the future is on my face!” that will have the neighbours talking for weeks, first the Nreal Air AR Glasses unleashed all their cinematic glory into my eye and ear holes They then went on to double dazzle by then letting me hook up an Xbox controller and head on into Xbox Cloud Gaming to indulge in some sizable Farming Simulator 22. Only kidding, although even online agriculture and virtual animal husbandry is made awesome.

All based around Nreal’s Nebula app, there are two modes to choose from, Air Casting that mirrors your mobile’s screen and MR Space mode which mixes things up good and proper. This allows you to open multiple browser windows simultaneously, control the windows’ size and position with absolute ease by using your phone to interact with the windows that, like in all the best modern Sci-Fi movies, float around your face in the coolest way possible.

With simple buttons built into the arm to switch on and off and change brightness levels, a weight that won’t leave you with a sore nose and neck, the ability to fit prescription lenses and a design that – as I may have mentioned earlier – makes these AR glasses actually look like real sunglasses, Nreal’s Air Glasses have firmly augmented my reality and the boring old ‘real’ world just can’t cut it anymore.

Buy now £400.00, EE

Verdict

The term ‘smart sunglasses’ can be a bit of a catch-all for any UV-light eye-protection equipment that comes with audio, visual or both enhancements and, as such, prices vary wildly.

As much as I enjoyed having the future firmly on my face with the Nreal Air Glasses and perhaps felt a little uncomfortable carting around the camera-carrying (but completely legal) Ray-Ban Stories, for those into sports, you’ll want the Bose Frames Tempos all the way.

For me personally, someone who just wants background tunes when wilfully ignoring the inane chatter of people in public and the ability to make calls without having to reach into my pocket, it’s a toss-up between the Fauna’s award-winningly impressive audio clarity and the Soundcores, also because of their sound quality, but also down to the sheer style that a choice of 10 optional, interchangeable frames allows.

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