We're Not Ready for Smart Glasses Yet

Illustration for article titled We're Not Ready for Smart Glasses Yet
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

After the original Google Glass crashed and burned, consumer smart glasses were put on the back burner for a while. There’s no shortage of reasons why, which makes it a little baffling that in 2021, high-tech glasses have made a mini-comeback. Facebook, Apple, and even Samsung are all rumored to be working on a pair of mixed reality glasses, while Amazon and Bose have already put out open-ear audio headphones that also happen to be glasses. Razer’s $200 Anzu smart glasses are the latter, and I didn’t love the experience.

Advertisement

My tepid feelings toward these smart glasses aren’t Razer’s fault. Razer would’ve had to craft a revolutionary breakthrough in both miniaturizing components and augmented reality for the Anzu to really knock it out of the park. That’s asking a lot of a company that’s best known for its sleek gaming laptops, peripherals, and a penchant for RGB lighting. Razer’s also not trying to get you too hype about these glasses. They’re positioned as part of Razer’s growing portfolio of home productivity gadgets. Specifically, these are glasses meant to help you work from home by reducing strain on your eyes via blue light filters and providing discreet headphones for your calls. (That also means no RGB lighting, sorry.) If you take all that into consideration, the Anzu glasses are actually about as good as it gets for consumer-ready smart glasses right now. That’s not saying very much.

Warby Parker-Inspired Design

The Anzu resembles your standard pair of Warby Parker-inspired glasses. You can opt for either square or round frames—I chose the latter for my review unit. The lenses are coated with a filter that blocks 35% of blue light, and you also get the option of polarized sunglass lenses. The arms are quite thick, but that’s par for the course with these kinds of smart glasses. The main difference with these bad boys is, unlike some other smart glasses, they don’t run a wire through the hinges. This makes the arms super flexible, which is handy if you have a wider face.

The glasses are also compatible with low nose bridges. As I have both a wide face and a low bridge, I was appreciative that I was accommodated from the get-go. (Sometimes you have to pay extra, or have a smaller selection of frames.) I have terrible eyesight, so I had to wear contact lenses to test my review unit. However, you can use Lensabl to swap the default lenses for prescription ones. I can’t comment on the process, however, as I didn’t do it myself. This is typical for smart glasses, but that doesn’t make it less irksome.

Style can make or break a pair of smart glasses–and it’s one of the biggest reasons this particular product category has never taken off. So, it’s out of practicality here that Razer doesn’t provide more than two options. I didn’t hate how the round Anzu looked on me, a sentiment which was shared by my colleagues. My husband, however, wasn’t a fan. Another friend said I looked like a dweeb. No one said they absolutely loved the way they looked on me, so take from that what you will.

Advertisement
They’re not super terrible looking!
They’re not super terrible looking!
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

The Anzu was also comfortable enough for all-day wear, even with its large honking arms. I wore it for several 8-hour workdays and the worst I can say is the lenses get real smudgy. No matter how many times I wiped them with eyeglass cleaning solution and microfiber cloths, it always felt like I was looking through a haze. I found this annoying, but only mildly so.

Advertisement

How They Work

So did these glasses help me be more productive? Eh. Despite the marketing schlock, blue light-filtering glasses may not be much more than a placebo for digital eye strain. Anecdotally, I can say that colors looked mildly warmer with them on than off—but my eyes didn’t hurt any more or less than usual. One big obstacle to my productivity, however, was the touch controls. The Razer Anzu companion app technically walks you through setting them up and programming the controls to your specifications (e.g., a double-tap on the right arm could pause a song, etc). It even lets you practice. But it didn’t matter how much I tried, I could never get the hang of all the gestures. Double-tapping was fine, as was a single press. Triple-tapping only worked a quarter of the time, long presses never launched Siri, and lord, I never did manage the “triple tap and hold the last tap for two seconds” command on either the right or left arms. In any case, frantically tapping your glasses is ridiculous and earned me some judgmental looks from my husband and pets.

Advertisement

As for sound quality, you can tweak EQ settings in the Anzu app, but to be honest, it’s never going to sound that great. You definitely don’t want to use these to listen to music, though the Anzu’s audio is fine for calls, or situations where you may not want to disturb an officemate. My husband appreciated not having to listen to my TikTok breaks and said he couldn’t hear sound bleeding from them. As for microphone quality, my coworkers said the audio quality was “fine.” One noted that while he could tell it wasn’t my laptop’s microphone, he had no trouble hearing me. Granted, these are all things you can already do with a pair of ANC headphones with ambient mode so you really don’t need $200 glasses for this.

Thick arms! The touch control area is right by the Razer logo.
Thick arms! The touch control area is right by the Razer logo.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo
Advertisement

I was pleasantly surprised by how well the glasses automatically paired with my computer, however. While other smart glasses I’ve tried sometimes require you to press a button to enter pairing, these just do it automatically once you unfold the arms. When you take them off or place them upside down, they power down. They do this when you’ve got them on for a while without listening to audio as well. (That can be a little cumbersome since you have to take them off and “wake them up” the next time you need them.) This is also great for battery life. In the two weeks I’ve been testing the Anzu, I haven’t had to plug them in beyond the initial charge up to 100%. Both arms still have about 70% battery left. That said, I don’t love that each arm needs to be charged because it necessitates yet another proprietary charger—and this one is certainly more finicky to use and harder to replace.

Are the Anzu Worth Buying?

Overall, I didn’t hate the Anzu. They’re just simply a reminder that the smart glasses everyone envisions definitely aren’t here yet. Glasses like this do provide the benefit of discreet audio without sacrificing your situational awareness—but positioning these as a WFH tool is a corny marketing move. These things are not infinitely more useful than a good old pair of headphones, and frankly, the expectation for productivity-focused smart glasses is a lot higher than “headphones that are also glasses.” The Echo Frames, for better or worse, at least give you built-in Alexa. The Bose Frames deliver better sound quality and are focused on outdoors situational awareness, which is a use case where the glasses form factor makes way more sense. The Tempo version is also excellent for running. The defunct Focals by North delivered holographic notifications, supported text replies, had Alexa, and could order you an Uber. The Anzu barely counts as smart by comparison.

Advertisement
Not in love with this proprietary charger, but battery life is decent!
Not in love with this proprietary charger, but battery life is decent!
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Again, it’s really not Razer’s fault. Without investing a ton into research and development, this is about as good and as affordable as you can expect smart glasses to be. Believe it or not, these are on the cheaper end for audio smart glasses. The Echo Frames are $250, as are the Bose Frames. Focals by North? Those were a whopping $600 and required a whole process to even procure a pair. That’s the problem—even though something like the Anzu is as good as a company can produce at a price point the average person might buy, it’s just not compelling enough. There’s no killer use case. It’s not a particularly beautiful pair of glasses. It’s also not a great pair of headphones. Every which way you turn, you’re compromising on something. Maybe a pair of smart glasses from Facebook, Apple, or Samsung might be worth the splurge, whenever it is these rumored devices launch. We’re just not there yet.

Advertisement

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

DISCUSSION

rvincent1960
Times up, time to leave!

Best review line I’ve seen in a while, “They’re not super terrible looking!”

Just what I need, sign me up!