Smart glasses without displays are surprisingly useful


Smart glasses without displays are surprisingly useful

Image: Mixed

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I was skeptical but found I really enjoy using the latest smart glasses from Meta, Amazon, and Solos that have audio and digital assistants but no displays.

Audio smart glasses are surprisingly useful in daily life and much more comfortable than display smart glasses. By omitting bulky optical components and screen hardware, the designs are slimmer and lighter.

There are many similarities between models: long battery life, surprisingly good sound quality in speakers and microphones, and touch controls and buttons on the earpieces. I can pair any of the smart glasses to my iPhone or Android phone to make calls, listen to music and get help with various questions and tasks.

The most significant differences among audio smart glasses are the virtual assistants and AI capabilities.

Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses include a voice assistant worldwide and Meta AI in the US, with plans to expand to other regions. Amazon Echo Frames use Alexa as a digital assistant and will gain AI capabilities in the future. Solos AirGo3 uses ChatGPT for AI interactions and includes a translation mode and fitness tracking features.

Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses

Meta partnered with Ray-Ban to make its latest smart glasses. They have no displays but feature great audio, an excellent camera, and Meta AI in the US. Meta AI is a good, fast chatbot based on LLaMA 2. It is quite similar to the free version of ChatGPT, but quicker and available at no extra cost if you own Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses (Amazon).

After waking the glasses with “Hey Meta,” I can ask many different questions about general facts. I can also give Meta AI tasks like writing poems, performing calculations, and helping with science and math problems.

For example, I asked help with calculating the height of a tree based on its shadow. My glasses told me I needed to know the length of the shadow and angle of the sun. When I supplied those measurements, Meta AI calculated the height using trigonometry.

Ray-Ban Smart Glasses can access Meta AI in the US.

Ray-Ban Smart Glasses can access Meta AI in the US. | Image: Mixed

That’s already impressive, but it will get even better. Meta announced that these Ray-Ban smart glasses will gain multimodal input soon. That means I’ll be able to ask the glasses to describe what I’m looking at and possibly other details that aren’t apparent, like the ingredients in food and the prices of products.

In addition to Meta AI, the Ray-Ban smart glasses can respond to voice commands to take photos or start and stop video recordings. I can ask for the battery life and tell the glasses to turn off to conserve power when I’m not using them.

While Meta AI doesn’t have access to up-to-the-minute data, the glasses assistant can tell me the time and date in my location or any other time zone.

Local weather is another exception to the real-time data and weather around the world. I can also ask for specific meteorological information such as wind speed and whether it will rain or snow.

Tasks that require recording data don’t work. I can’t start a timer or set a reminder with Meta’s smart glasses. I was surprised, however, to find that the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses can temporarily save grocery lists. I tried a to-do list and that also worked. When I checked those lists the next day, they were gone.

Some skills are undocumented. Meta’s website shows a very short list of voice commands.

Having instant access to a powerful AI helps answer many questions without the need to take out my phone and do an internet search. With the great hands-free camera and upcoming multimodal AI, I consider the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses a must-have device.

Amazon Echo Frames

Amazon sells a variety of brands, including a growing selection of its own products, including Echo Frames (Amazon). These audio-only smart glasses are powered by the same Alexa voice assistant as Echo smart speakers.

If you own Amazon Echo speakers, hubs, displays, or earbuds, that’s an extra incentive to consider Echo Frames, since many Alexa settings are shared across devices. While Alexa isn’t a chatbot, it’s a good digital assistant that gets better as I discover more features.

Amazon Echo Frames have the handy assistant Alexa.

Amazon Echo Frames have the handy assistant Alexa. | Image: Mixed

Its utility approaches that of Google Assistant with the ability to control smart home devices, set up routines for programmed actions, and more. It’s not as impressive as interacting with smart devices by pointing, but voice commands work well also.

Alexa can set timers, alarms, and give reminders. With the press of a button or a simple, “Hey Alexa” or “Hey Echo”, I can create shopping lists, to-do lists, and song playlists.

While Echo Frames don’t have generative AI yet, that’s planned for the future. A preview video on Amazon’s website suggests it will be conversational, have access to real-time information, and make all of Alexa’s current skills easier to use.

Solos AirGo 3 Smart Glasses

Solos AirGo 3 launched months earlier than the latest smart glasses from Meta and Amazon yet come with similar features. I can take calls, play music, and interact with a voice assistant while wearing these lightweight frames that look like regular glasses.

Solos includes ChatGPT for AI interactions at the touch of a button. No subscription is needed, and your text is sent to the mobile app for use elsewhere. It’s hard to beat ChatGPT as an AI assistant, but the standard glasses assistant is disabled while using this feature.

With Solos AirGo 3, ChatGPT is just one press away.

With Solos AirGo 3, ChatGPT is just one press away. | Image: Mixed

There’s also a unique translation capability that could be useful when traveling. After setup, I can hold a button on the earpiece to translate from a language I don’t understand to English. This is currently one-way translation, but Solos announced multilingual translation within a group at CES 2024.

Solos also gave the AirGo 3 fitness tracking and posture monitoring capabilities. There’s also an audible coach option to guide you through various stretches and exercises. My Apple Watch does the job for me, but it’s worth mentioning this feature.

Still smart, even without screens

Before testing audio smart glasses, I had a bias that displays were necessary for glasses to be useful. Earbuds could offer similar benefits, and Amazon Echo Buds have the same Alexa features as Echo Frames.

I don’t like to have something in my ear for hours at a time, so the glasses form suits me better. It’s particularly convenient if you were already going to wear prescription lenses or sunglasses. At medium volume, all three smart glasses have good sound quality, but are inaudible to people around you.

Meta adds an extra incentive for its audio smart glasses by including a high-quality camera. Hands-free video recording and livestreaming with Ray-Ban smart glasses from a first-person perspective makes it possible to capture shots that I would have missed with my phone.

If you’ve dismissed smart glasses that lack a display, it might be time to have another look. AI capabilities make audio a more useful way to interact with technology.


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