Tue. May 21st, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • True AR glasses aren’t available now. Instead, we have smart glasses with various features inching closer to true AR technology.
  • Current smart glasses have advanced screens and audio capabilities.
  • Meta’s smart glasses use AI for audio assistance, translating text, and providing information, approaching the concept of AR glasses.

We’re just now entering the age of consumer virtual reality, but companies are already looking beyond enclosed headsets to tout an augmented reality future. We’ll get there, but I promise you, there’s no AR revolution happening yet.

Can You Buy True AR Glasses in 2024?

Person wearing an Apple Vision Pro sitting on a chair
Tyler Hayes / How-To Geek

To be clear, augmented reality glasses aren’t here yet. At least not the kind that science fiction promises with information popping up over real-life items that only you can see through fashionable frames. You can’t go buy that product yet.

We’re more in the “smart” phase of our glasses. Plenty of frames have speakers or cameras in them, and some even have screens attached, but not all those pieces are working together as the movies indicate.

One of the best examples of what companies pursuing AR glasses are building towards is Apple’s Vision Pro. When I put on the headset, I can see my room and then when I open a Safari window, it displays a shadow on the ground or coffee table or whatever is underneath it. The digital window is reacting to my real furniture and environment.

Of course, with the Vision Pro, I’m not actually through a piece of glass to see my room and that digital window. I’m viewing everything through cameras. The same thing is true for the Meta Quest 3 headset. Each of those devices is a laptop-class computer, of some degree, that is processing video feeds to augment reality.

What Kind of Smart Glasses Can You Buy Now?

The Vision Pro is a good example of where the cutting edge is today. It’s a $3,500 headset that uses 12 cameras and lots of sensors to make it feel like you’re looking right through a screen, into your room. Apple is taking a top-down approach to hopefully bring the cost of that technology down so it can eventually fit inside a normal-sized pair of glasses. Until then, we’re left with different products tackling different pieces of the full AR sum.

Smart Glasses That Work Best For Video Games

Display visible through the XReal Air 2 Glasses
Sergio Rodriguez / How-To Geek

One of the first pairs of glasses I tried that were packed with advanced technology was TCL’s Nxtwear G. The video, or projection, glasses embed tiny screens inside and then use mirrors to angle what’s being shown to appear as if it’s right in front of your eyes.

Since I tried those in 2021, this area of smart glasses has improved dramatically. I tried the TCL Nxtwear S and the Xreal Air 2 in 2023 and was impressed by the advancements. For one, the physical size slimmed down a bit. The comfort, through flexible materials, has increased.

The other big improvement in recent years is around display technology. The Air 2 glasses use Sony micro-OLED screens to get a bright and robust picture to view content on.

However, even with the newer glasses, as with the first Nxtwear G ones, I still needed to connect the Air 2 directly to a phone or laptop using an integrated USB-C cable. There’s no battery or processing power to speak of inside the unit. It’s like wearing a computer monitor on your face.

Person using the XReal Air 2 Glasses to play on a handheld gaming console.
Sergio Rodriguez / How-To Geek

Xreal does advertise AR capabilities, but that mostly means that it can put a computer window in your room, in front of you. The Xreal Air 2 performed fine for a product pushing the limits of screen technology and still coming in under $500. These types of projection glasses are good for playing handheld consoles on a bigger screen or using a laptop with more privacy in public.

Audio Glasses to Replace AirPods

Lucyd Lyte audio glasses sitting inside their case
Joe Robinson / How-To Geek

More basic than the projection glasses with screens inside are ones with only speakers in the stems. Razor, Soundcore, and even Amazon make glasses like these. Often these types of products get called smart glasses because they have a Bluetooth connection or some other minor connectivity included. The truth is, however, that these types of glasses are essentially open earbuds—or headphones that don’t go inside your ears.

I’ve tried the products mentioned above, as well as audio frames from Bose. There’s absolutely a place for audio glasses, but, in general, and by default, they are fancy headphones. I liked using the sporty Bose ones for running so I could be more aware of street noise. I also didn’t need sunglasses and earbuds. The convergence factor is real.

Amazon’s Echo Frames have speakers and microphones built-in so you can listen to music with them, or use them for long video calls without fatiguing your ears. The company’s purpose for the product is not for music though, it’s to put its Alexa voice assistant on your face. And Alexa, in the Echo Frames, can do pretty much all the things your home tabletop Echo can do.

As it stands, an assistant on your face is mildly interesting, in the same way that Siri built-in to AirPods can be helpful. Even startups are trying to get into the space by integrating ChatGPT into your ear. The smaller companies face an uphill battle, however, trying to integrate into the iPhone’s walled garden.

Camera Glasses with Integrated AI Assistants

Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses sitting on grass
Tyler Hayes / How-To Geek

Where things get interesting with assistants inside glasses is with the expanded capabilities that large language models (LLMs) provide. More information is accessible with advanced chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Microsoft’s Copilot. This AI functionality is actually the secret to the well-received Meta Ray-Ban Smart Glasses.

When I reviewed Meta’s glasses in October of 2023 I was impressed with their audio capabilities as well as the responsiveness of the assistant. The speakers and microphones were phenomenal for a pair of glasses. The camera performed decently too, considering the form factor, and the whole package made for a compelling product.

More recently I’ve been testing early access to the “Look and ask with Meta AI” feature and I’ve become even more impressed with the capabilities of these smart glasses.

The feature works by looking at something and speaking a command like, “Hey Meta, look and tell me what this sign says.” It’s all hands-free. The frames snap a picture (you can hear the shutter) and then the AI assistant responds in your ear. There’s a few-second delay because of the capture process, but I didn’t think the speed was a hindrance to use.

With that specific command, I held up words in Spanish, on my phone in front of me, and the glasses identified the text and translated the message into English in my ear.

In another test, I held up a political flier I received in the mail, but the assistant refused to tell me about the person shown on it because it said it didn’t have access to personal information at this time. When I asked a broader question about what I was holding, it described the flier, read the person’s name, and told me who was endorsing them—as indicated on the flier.

The “Hey Meta” command, and needing to add “look,” is a little clunky. It never felt natural to say out loud. There are also some guardrails and limitations around the information offered, at least right now. But you can see where this is going, right?

If true visual AR glasses aren’t technically possible at the moment, then products like the Meta Ray-Ban Smart Glasses might be able to brute force their way into the space by feeding visual information around you directly into your ears. Look at a face and tell me who it is. Preemptively whisper information into my ear based on what the camera sees that I might have missed or not even known I needed information about.

When Will We Get True AR Glasses?

A physical keyboard with a virtual text window above it.

My real, physical, Magic Keyboard on a table with a virtual typing window above it inside visionOS.

That’s where we are regarding the state of shipping products that are inching toward AR glasses. Even though Meta is being aggressive with its face products, I think the actual best look at the possibilities of AR right now is Apple’s Vision Pro. The virtual reality headset launches right into a view of your surroundings and lets you place windows around the space.

If you use an Apple Magic Keyboard you get a predictive text box that automatically hovers over it as you type. If you open your compatible MacBook while wearing the headset a button pops up above the screen to connect the computer inside Vision Pro. These are just the first small native operating system-level flourishes too.

Using third-party apps you can place home automation buttons around your room so that pressing a virtual light switch turns on your home’s connected bulbs. There are translation apps to see speech bubbles as people talk for virtual captioning. Games can be placed on your real tables. Plus, this is still version one, only a month into the product’s life.

The problem is that there’s a huge technical chasm between the capabilities of Vision Pro and the size of optical eyeglasses. Ray-Ban has done a masterful job of jamming bassy speakers, touch controls, buttons, batteries, and microphones into its Smart Glasses stems. That doesn’t account for the invisible, see-through, screens that need to be embedded into the front glass, the processing power, or all the other technology needed to make true AR glasses happen.

Hold an iPhone 3G next to an iPhone 15 Pro and it’s clear that wild progress happens in the blink of an eye. True AR glasses are coming, it’s just a matter of time.

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By John P.

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