Road test: driving in the Alps to test light-adapting glasses

We could probably have tested these round the M40, but sod it, let's go to Austria

My eyes are fairly rubbish. If I don’t have glasses on or contacts in, I can’t see my own feet. Which means I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the optician’s chair over the years, trying fruitlessly to determine whether that’s an N or an H.

Despite this, I’d managed not to realise that Transitions, as in “Transitions lenses,” are a brand and not just a type of lens. The name is sufficiently category-defining that, like Hoover, I’d assumed it referred to them all.

Not so. Transitions have quietly been making those lenses that go dark when it’s bright and clear when it isn’t, for more than two decades. Their latest product, Transitions XTRActive, is the first lens with a light-activated tint that still works behind a windscreen. To give it a try, we needed to get on the road – and not just any road. Transitions took us to the Alps.

This isn't really the view, I'm just projecting The Sound of Music on my windscreen

Did someone turn up the sun?

We couldn’t have asked for better weather to test the light-activated tint on the lenses. It was blisteringly hot in Austria, with a clear blue sky and fierce, fire-breathing sun glaring at us. I tried to take a picture without sunglasses on and my very unsexy squint should give you some idea how much they were needed:


Since Transitions make lenses and not glasses, they brought a huge range of frames for us to try. Their lenses are available in just about every optician in the UK, in all kinds of frames. Naturally, they brought some of the more interesting (read: expensive) ones for us, including these kickass ones with legs for arms:

Frames by Face Ă  Face (about ÂŁ270)

There are three different colours of XTRActive lenses: grey, graphite green and brown. When the Transitions folks said colour, I assumed they were going to be old folks-ish light brown lenses, but they actually only have a faint tint when you’re not in bright light – they look like normal specs. The grey and grey-green give the truest colours, whereas brown adds a bit of a cast but acts more like traditional sunglasses. Obviously, since normal sunglasses are dark brown, they change the way you see colour a lot. Overall, I liked the graphite green lenses I’m wearing in this photo the best. Colours look like they do when you’re not wearing sunglasses, and to everyone else, they look clear. You can only see the green if you tilt them a lot, as with anti-reflective coatings.

Even when the tint was darker, the XTRActive lenses felt pretty different from wearing my normal sunnies. For one thing, you could see my eyes, unlike my usuals:

That made it a LOT easier to talk to people with the glasses on – we’ve all felt the weirdness of trying to have a proper conversation with someone when all you can see is your own face reflected in their Ray Bans.

You also don’t notice the lenses getting darker or lighter, at all. It wasn’t until I looked in the mirror that I realised they’d even changed. It’s very seamless.

Inside the car, the lenses darkened and lightened just as they did outside, which is XTRActive’s point of difference from other lenses. Windscreens block UV light, so previous adaptive lenses wouldn’t have changed inside a car – even though you clearly need protection when you’re driving towards the sun. Transitions’ lenses react to lower-spectrum visible light as well as UV, so they still darken, up to a category 2 tint. The AA say this is fine for daytime driving, but shouldn’t be used at night.

Our verdict

I’ve always been more of a fan of contact lenses than glasses, and have never bought prescription sunglasses because I’d be walking into walls as soon as I took them off. Transitions’ lenses are a good solution to that, because they’re glasses and sunglasses in one pair, and they really are completely clear when you’re indoors.

That said, I’m still a contacts girl – I feel like I’m talking to someone through a window when I have glasses on. But I did appreciate how the Transitions lenses let people see a lot more of my face than my sunglasses, and the seamless colour change is really impressive. Also, it really would be nice to never get caught without sunnies again (love you, ever-changing British weather).

If you’re a glasses person, give Transitions XTRActive a try – especially if you drive.

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 291 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.