Smartglasses and augmented reality gadgets are considered the next big breakthrough for wearables - and the early iterations of many devices are already here.
Each has slightly different aims, but, in essence, a pair of smartglasses tends to focus on putting useful connected features in front of your eyes. And, as you'll discover in our list of tested picks below, some are more unobtrusive than others in achieving this.
Interestingly, the smartglasses concept - first thrust into the spotlight with Google Glass - is now being developed by both startups and tech giants alike, too, with options from the likes of Meta/Ray-Ban, Snap and Amazon all available to buy.
If rumors are to be believed, Apple is working on smartglasses, as well, and Google itself may return to the consumer smartglasses space in the coming years after acquiring promising startup North back in 2020.
As this is still a fairly unknown area of wearables, we've done our best to round up only the very top options worth considering right now. Let's dive into our picks.
- We were promised AR smartglasses: the state of play
- Meta's AR glasses push: Project Aria explained
- Best audio glasses and sunglasses to buy
What are AR smartglasses?
When we talk about augmented reality smartglasses, we're focusing on eyewear that has the technology on board that merges what you see in the real world with virtual information, usually overlaid on one of the lenses.
That could be recreating the kind of screens and features you'd find on your smartphone, like navigation for maps or flashing up notifications.
Vuzix Blade Upgraded
Best AR glasses
Buy now: vuzix.com | $799.99
The Vuzix Blade Upgraded replaced North Focals as our top pick some time ago, since the latter is now no longer available to buy.
The Blade uses waveguide technology to project a full-color HD display over the right lens. They are the first pair of really useful commercial AR glasses that actually look like a pair of glasses, in our view. They're not Oakleys or Ray-Bans, but they don't scream "Look at me, I'm technology" like some other smartglasses do.
The best way to describe them is that they're a lot like the first generation of smartwatches. They're a good first step at getting a lot of advanced tech in a decent package, but there's still work to do.
The new upgraded version sticks to largely the same design but adds in an 8-megapixel camera, speakers and Vuzix's voice control support.
When we first got to try the standard version out, the Vuzix app store wasn't exactly brimming with apps. We got to try out things like music control, a camera, an image viewer and some games. Since then, some high-profile names have turned up. There's now Netflix, Zoom, Amazon Alexa and even support for DJI drones.
The display is really good and even the photos look crisp and vibrant. There's also 4GB of storage to fill up with what you want. As for battery life, we were able to get around three to four hours.
The Blade AR is one of the best moves toward mainstream AR glasses we've seen yet. The best bit? Vuzix has worked to lower the price down to well below $1,000/£1,000, just like it said it would.
The Blade has recently been joined by the Vuzix Shield, too, which are specs firmly aimed at enterprise customers with micro LED projectors, wireless connectivity with smartphones and the ability to control by sound and voice.
The Blade, though, remains the pair that are a little easier to get hold of - and they're more affordable.
Wareable verdict: Vuzix Blade review
There's no AR here - it's a mix of what we've seen on Snap's Spectacles and a host of audio sunglasses that have surfaced over the last few years. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that the Ray-Ban partnership is destined to yield AR specs in the future, as part of Project Aria.
The Ray-Ban Stories pack in 5-megapixel cameras, which are activated by a button that sits on the side of the frame. A single tap records up to 30 seconds of video, while a tap and hold will snap a picture. There are also hand-free controls, letting you make use of onboard microphones to say, "Hey, Facebook, take a video," if you don't want to reach up to your specs.
When you're recording or taking pictures, a small LED situated near the camera illuminates to indicate to those around you that you are in recording or snapping mode. There's a switch to turn them off too, which will also turn off speakers and microphones.
On the listening front, the Stories feature two open-ear speakers to handle listening to audio playing from your phone or handling calls.
All of that tech is being wrapped up in some familiar Ray-Ban frames, which include the iconic Wayfarer, and should only add 5g over a non-smart pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer glasses. There are 20 style variations, and they also support prescription lenses.
There are also additional Round and Meteor frames available, too.
Amazon Echo Frames (2nd Gen)
The Echo Frames are Amazon’s Alexa-on-your-face play, putting the voice assistant into a regular pair of specs.
Unlike Google Glass, they’re not AR, so you don't see anything, but they do provide Alexa feedback via four directional speakers built into each stem. You can talk to the smart assistant if you want to control your smart home, get notifications, make calls or listen to music – all without the people around you hearing the responses.
What's more, in 2021, Amazon updated the range to include blue light filtering and polarized options. The glasses themselves are made from carbon fiber and titanium, which make them a lightweight pair of glasses to wear, and they're also rated IPX4 for fending off sweat and water and are splash-resistant.
The second-gen Echo Frames can adjust the volume of content and feedback based on the ambient environment, too, and battery life has also been upped by 40%.
That means roughly about 60 minutes of music, 30 minutes of phone calls and 120 incoming notifications over a 14-hour period. There's now even an auto-off feature that turns the frames off when they're placed upside down for three seconds.
Hands-on: Amazon Echo Frames review
Snap Spectacles AR (4th gen)
Price: Not for general sale
Snap Spectacles AR is a bit of a different beast from what we've seen before from the company, and it sees it jump from smartglasses to AR specs for the first time.
Under the hood, there's Qualcomm's Snapdragon XR1 processor powering performance, which is designed for AR devices. The field of view is just 26.3 degrees, but the Snap Spatial Engine allows for six degrees of freedom, which enable you to move around and the visuals overlay in your space.
There are also two RGB cameras and a touchpad on the arms, and it weighs just 134 grams. However, you only get 30 minutes of battery life.
The Snap Spectacles aren't going on sale to general customers, and are instead being offered to developers and Snap creators to figure out what they can best be used for. Well over a year since their initial arrival, though, and we've not heard anything significant about them.
Lenovo ThinkReality A3
Buy now: lenovo.com | Price: $1,499.99
These Lenovo smart specs were unveiled way back in January 2021 and are made to be on the faces of people at work, whether that's in a lab or in a shop.
When connected to a Motorola smartphone, the chunky-looking A3 glasses project stereoscopic 1080p resolution displays and can offer support for working or viewing up to 5 virtual displays. That's all powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon XR1 platform to deliver that augmented experience.
The frames on the glasses can be modified to make them better suited to working environments where you need a more robust design and it also finds room for an 8-megapixel RGB camera for shooting video. There's a pair of fish-eye cameras to offer 6DOF (six degrees of freedom tracking), which means it can track head movement and rotation. It also offers room-scale tracking here too.
If you want a pair for enterprise purposes, you're going to have to spend a sizeable $1,500 to get them on your face.
Microsoft HoloLens 2
Buy now: microsoft.com | From $3,500/£3,349
Microsoft's holographic, augmented reality wearable is more of a headset than a pair of smartglasses, but it's arguably the device that has stirred the most buzz about a bright AR future.
Into its second generation, Microsoft has switched its focus to the workplace, pairing the visor with large high-definition lenses that use a projection system to create multi-dimensional full-color images at up to 2k resolution with low latency.
The field of view is now 43 x 29 degrees, too, a big improvement on the original HoloLens, offering an immersive experience similar to what's offered by the Magic Leap 1 (below).
It's also packed with advanced sensors, like ambient light and four environment-sensing cameras that can figure out what you're doing and what environment you're in. All of that information is processed by the second-generation version of its custom HPU (holographic processing unit), mapping everything out in real-time and with 6DoF tracking to offer precision room-scale tracking.
There are also microphones and cameras to capture video and audio, and the tech onboard can also track hands and eyes to make for a fully immersive experience. Microsoft also includes its Mixed Reality Capture feature to take images that capture both augmented and physical worlds in view. Like the first generation, it's fit to run for 2-3 hours off a single charge.
Over the years, Microsoft has showcased a host of different use cases for its high-specced AR headset and we wait to see if it has any intentions to make this one for the masses.
Right now, it's one that's fully made for the workplace.
Magic Leap 1
Buy now: magicleap.com | From $2,291/£2,000
The startup raised big investor bucks, pulled in high-profile investors, and, after finally launching its Magic Leap 1 AR goggles back in 2018, it's now followed Microsoft in focusing on enterprise customers.
The Magic Leap 2 has now also been released, but it's the Leap 1 that's easier to get hold of.
At the heart of the Android-based setup is something Magic Leap calls 'Digital Lightfield' technology. Similar to what HoloLens uses, the Leap One glasses can overlay digital 3D graphics onto your view of the real world via a headset with transparent lenses.
Images are displayed at 1280 x 960 resolution per eye with a 40 x 30 degree field of view, helping you feel immersed in that augmented world. The AR eyewear also includes four built-in microphones to support spatial audio to blend sounds from virtual objects and real-world objects.
The glasses attach to a computer attachment via a wire to a Lightpack that can be clipped to the back of your trousers or slipped into a pocket. Six external cameras are packed in to track your position and movement and a 6 DOF controller offers haptic feedback and the ability to track nine different hand gestures as well tracking finger movement.
There are currently Magic Leap 1, Developer Suite and Enterprise Suite options to choose from, and, unsurprisingly, it doesn't come cheap if you want to spend some time with the AR goggles.
As mentioned, there's now also the $3299 Magic Leap 2, which offers an improved 70-degree field of view. However, given that they've only just become available to consumers, and that
Buy now: engoeyewear.com | $397/£330
Engo might not be a household name in the tech space, but it's managed to build these sporty glasses for runners, cyclists and triathletes that are capable of projecting real-time stats onto an AMOLED microdisplay planted into photochromic lenses.
That data comes through the ability to pair it up to devices including Garmin watches, bike sensors like power meters, and smartphones. That can include distance covered, speed, power and heart rate. You can also tinker with data screens to make sure you see the data you care about most when you're out running or riding.
There are even gesture controls to let you change screens with a wave of the hand - all backed up by 12 hours of battery life and 100% UV protection to make sure your eyes are guarded when you're training out in the glorious sunshine.
Smartglasses with different smart ideas
The kind of glasses we've outlined above are very much about offering up displays in front of our eyes, but there is also the emergence of other connected specs that have different ideas.
Some want to replace your camera or your fitness tracker. Here's the best of the bunch.
Snap Spectacles 3
Snap has 4th Gen specs, but it's much easier to get hold of its third-generation pair, which features dual HD cameras and 3D AR features.
Specs 3 come in two colors – cobalt (black) and mineral (rose gold), and there's also a charging case to keep the spectacles powered up in between your shooting.
Unlike previous glasses, there are dual HD cameras, as well, allowing you to take advantage of 3D filters, effects and lenses for your footage and photos. These photos will sync automatically to your phone and you can also take 3D photos.
The cameras will record 3D footage at 60fps, with 4GB of onboard storage storing around 100 videos or 1,200 photos.
At just shy of $400, these are a pair of smart specs that do not come cheap.
Buy now: vueglasses.com | From $179
Vue's prescription glasses and sunglasses are the product of a $2m Kickstarter campaign that was aiming to ship the smart glasses by July 2017, but backers had to wait until 2019 to receive them. Now the connected specs are now available in glasses and sunglasses form.
There's no AR here. Instead, they use bone conduction tech so you can use these instead of earphones, as well as a touch interface to control music and calls. They also handle notifications and the ability to track basic activity tracking.
Battery life is slated at five hours in continuous use and three days in standby mode, with the option to buy a charging case that will also store the specs.
Vue's new Lite 2 version swaps the bone conduction for directional speakers and ditches the fitness tracking and customizable controls, and they also come in cheaper and lighter than the standard Vue glasses.
You can read our Vue Lite 2 review (pictured above) to see how we got on with the more affordable pair of Vue glasses.
Oppo Air Glass
Buy now: oppo.com | Around $790
The Oppo Air Glass is currently only available to buy in China and takes a different approach.
Unveiled by Oppo at the back end of 2021, Air Glass is an 'Assisted Reality' device, as opposed to an augmented reality one.
The monocle-style setup fits a set of frames and uses waveguide display technology along with what Oppo's calling a Spark Micro Projector, which packs an exceptionally bright Micro LED chip to deliver a 640 x 480 resolution image onto that waveguide display.
There are no details on a launch outside of China just yet, but we imagine Oppo will be gauging the appetite for its assisted reality eyewear before it considers rolling out elsewhere.