I Can See Clearly Now, and It Only Cost $20

By Alex Johnson
amjohnson@lc.edu

If you wear glasses you’ve probably received some targeted ads for impossibly cheap frames and lenses from an app. I, personally, have always been tempted by these. I usually get a similar style frame every year; glasses are pricey and right on your face, I don’t want something I’m going to dislike after a few months. Especially since a replacement pair could easily be $100 or more.

That’s why I decided to try out Zenni, which frequently advertises “Glasses + Lenses from $6.95”. Right away I knew that wouldn’t apply to my prescription, which for most frames requires a thinned lens (an option that I usually pay around $30.00 for). But hey, that means the worst-case scenario is I pay $36.95 for glasses. Right?

So how was my Zenni experience? Before I go over the details, I want to clarify a few things; Zenni has not paid me for this review and will not see it beforehand (or most likely at all). My prescription (you must bring your own prescription to Zenni) came from Total Eyewear Outlet, who also has not paid for this review. The phone I used for the test is a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 on Android 9.

 

The App
The app itself is okay, it uses a basic but familiar layout. If you got hooked on Wish before the pandemic the interface will be familiar. There are plenty of categories and filters and the search is surprisingly powerful.

Entering your prescription information is fairly easy too, a step I fully expected to give up on by the way. The app guides you through your prescription sheet rather well, although I did have to Google a couple of abbreviations that my eye doctor used.

Unfortunately, I found the app a little sluggish at times, my phone is a little older but by no means slow. I also felt they should have a prescription filter; I came close to purchasing a few frames only to find, upon adding them to the cart, that they were not the right shape/size for my prescription.

 

The try-on feature has a slight uncanny valley effect but gives you a decent look at the frames, assuming you followed the steps under ideal conditions anyway.

Virtual Try-On
Virtual try-on is just what it sounds like, but a little more. It lets you try on frames, as you would expect, but it also lets you look around with the frames on to see how they fit at different angles.

The try-on is both easy and frustrating. To do the virtual try-on you need to record a video looking left and then right and take a photo holding up a credit card above your forehead, the app walks you through this with on-screen and spoken instructions (since you can’t wear your glasses for the process.) It’s not complicated but…

I had to do this five times. 

Here’s a hint, emulate the ambiance of a mugshot. White shirt, white walls, and light blasting in your face; and if you have long hair, put it in a ponytail, tucking it behind your ears doesn’t work.  

After four attempts I actually gave up and just ordered the frames. I thought I had a good enough idea of what they looked like, even if they were at a 30-degree angle in the preview. But I wanted to give the app a fair chance for the sake of the review, so I went back and, under absolutely ideal conditions, found I was able to get a pretty convincing effect and a real look at what my frames were going to look like on.

 

The Cost
There actually are quite a few frames that are priced at $6.95, way more than I thought there would be. If you’re willing to go up a few dollars, there are tons of options under $15.00. I ended up picking a pair of the $6.95 frames; a slightly thick, 80s style, mint green pair.

As I stated above, I knew I would have to pay more than the base price for a thinner lens. I was happy to find that the upcharge was only $9.00. I also decided that, since I already ordered a pair of standard glasses from the eye doctor, I would get my Zenni frames as sunglasses. The upcharge for an 80% tint was only $4.95. That brought my total to about $21.00.

There are a number of lens options beyond just sunglasses too. You can get blue-light-blocking, extra strong, extra thin, etc. The standard array of choices. The prices for options range from about $4.00 to $30.00 depending on what you need/want.

There are some things to keep in mind with that low cost, though. If your glasses come in with issues, Zenni only offers a 50% cash refund or (if you want a full refund) store credit for 60 days. Zenni also does not have a warranty beyond the initial 60-day exchange period. That means, unlike most glasses you get from an eye doctor, you have no protection if you should scratch or break your glasses. Considering the low cost, I feel that’s a fair trade. Just keep in mind if you need replacements it could take two weeks whereas a brick-and-mortar store usually gets repairs done within a couple of days if not the same day.

 

All Zenni frames come with a case and cleaning cloth. The case is thin and kind of cheap, but it’s sturdy enough. The cloth is very large and surprisingly nice.

The Glasses
My glasses arrived exactly two weeks after I placed the order. Under normal circumstances, that’s the timeframe Zenni gives, however they note that, due to COVID, it could take longer. They came in a thick, bubble-envelope with a somewhat cheap, but gets-the-job done glasses case and a pretty big cleaning cloth.

The frames are obviously on the cheaper side (they were less than $7), but they don’t feel fragile. I’d say they’re comparable in quality to department store reading glasses or sunglasses; the kind you get off a rack for around $15-$20. The plastic is hard and almost toy-like, but it doesn’t creak or bend easily. I don’t know if these frames, in particular, would stand up to daily wear for a normal duration (one to two years), but I think they’ll make great sunglasses. I also think these would be good for a backup pair of glasses, ones you’d wear in more “high-risk” situations like playing sports or going to a concert (if we ever get to go outside again).

The lenses are very good quality; surprisingly good actually. They’re crystal clear and I didn’t notice any major distortion in my vision. They’re fit into the frames nicely with minimal overhang on the inside of the frames. The tint is extremely effective. I opted for a green tint (to match the frames) and I’m happy to say it’s not overwhelmingly green, but it’s definitely noticeable.  If you want to add a little color to your world, I would go for it since color tint isn’t any more than a standard sunglasses tint.

 

Final Thoughts
If you want a pair of prescription sunglasses, if you want to try out a new style of frame you’ve always been too nervous to try, or if you just want something that you can use to occasionally change up your look, I think Zenni is a great choice. If you need your glasses, it’s probably best to get a pair from your eye doctor for daily wear and a pair of Zenni frames for backup or even just for fun.

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