Zenni Photochromic (Transitions) Glasses Review

Getting the best value for your money when it comes to eyeglasses, sunglasses, eye exams, and contact lenses.

Postby george » Sun Jan 29, 2012 11:50 pm

I had ordered glasses from Zenni back in 2009 and I was very happy with them, especially for the cost. (See original Zenni review here). Since my insurance only pays for new glasses every other year, I decided on this off year to purchase another pair from Zenni. I also had been wanting to try out the photochromic lenses which darken when you go outside.

I rarely wear sunglasses, but my eye doctor did recommend I wear them when exposed to bright sun, so I figured photochromic lenses be a good option. I don't like carrying a second pair of glasses around, or having to worry about having a clip-on handy wherever I am.

I had done some reading on photochromic lenses. The most popular brand is Transitions, and most people refer to photochromic lenses as Transitions even if they are made by another company. The biggest advantage, as I explained above, is that you basically have everyday prescription glasses and prescription sunglasses in one pair. So I don't need to get a second pair of prescription sunglasses, and more importantly, I don't have to carry a second pair (or clip on shades) where ever I go.

While UV protection is often mentioned as an advantage, almost all glasses now provide excellent UV protection, even those that are not tinted. I wouldn't get them thinking that you are somehow better protecting your eyes from ultraviolet rays. You get adequate protection with regular eyeglasses.

The main advantage for me was to avoid squinting that happens when you are in the sun. For me, I was concerned that squinting was adding to eye strain and eye fatigue. Also, I was hoping that I would be able to see more clearly when I'm in the bright sun.

There are a few drawbacks / limitations I had read about with photochromic lenses. First, and most important for me, was that they do NOT darken in the car. Most of my sun exposure is while driving. I'm glad that I knew this before I ordered because I would have been disappointed. The lenses get darker based on exposure to UV light. Car windows are treated to block most UV light.

For people who want self-darkening glasses in the car, there are some options but they tend to be more expensive and have other limitations. Transitions brand offers a product called XTRActive lenses. XTRActive has a slight tint indoors and is the darkest photochromic lens outdoors. It has a moderate tint behind the windshield. It seems like it is really designed for people who spend most of their time outdoors, but want to have glasses they can wear indoors (the opposite of most people who choose regular Transitions lenses). A moderate tint in the car may or may not be sufficient. Also, most people are not going to want a light tint all of the time when indoors. There is also a lens by Younger Optics called Drivewear. As best I can tell, they combine a unique polarized lens along with the Transitions SOLFX technology. These lenses will also have at least a slight tint when indoors. I didn't think any of these lenses that darken in the car were good options for me, as I wanted something clear indoors.

I decided to order the glasses from Zenni Optical because of their super low prices. I could add a photochromic option to a basic single vision lens for only $19. Since I last ordered from them 2 years ago, they've changed a few things.

First, their prices start $1 less at $6.95. They also have more lens offerings. They now offer a 1.50 index single vision lens along with their 1.57 single vision. Interestingly, I can't find out what material their 1.57 index lens is. They used to promote it as a "polycarbonate composite", but as I said in my initial review, polycarbonate lenses are typically 1.59 index. Zenni now also offers a 1.59 index lens listed specifically as polycarbonate. The 1.59 index lens is an extra $9. There are multiple other options as well.

As for photochromic lens options through Zenni, they have several. On the 1.57 mid-index single vision lens included in their basic price, the photochromic option is an extra $19. You have the option of grey or brown tint. This is the option I ultimately selected, in grey.

They also offer genuine Transitions IV on the 1.50 index lens for $69, 1.61 index ($139) and 1.67 index ($169) all in grey tint only. You can order a generic photochromic option on their 1.59 polycarbonate lens for $66 ($9 for polycarbonate + $57 for the photochromic option). It's interesting how much more expensive the photochromic 1.59 lens is over the 1.57 lens. They offer similar options at a slightly higher price for progressive lenses. Interestingly, they only offer lined bifocal lenses with 1.50 lenses and no photochromic options.

You also have an option to add an anti-reflective coating for $4.95. Since I received my glasses, they now also offer an oleophobic fingerprint resistant antirefective coating for $15. Unfortunately, until someone orders both coatings and compares them, there is no way to know how much better the $15 option will be.

The first time I placed my order, I did NOT select the anti-reflective coating. As I've said in other threads, I really didn't think I noticed a huge benefit when I first got an anti-reflective coating on my glasses compared to my first pair of glasses without the coating. After receiving my glasses, I completely changed my opinion on anti-reflective coatings. I will never order glasses without them again. Part of this may be that I have now gotten used to having no glare and reflections on my glasses. I didn't appreciate the difference when I changed from plain lenses to anti-reflective lenses. After wearing anti-reflective lenses for several years, going back to plain lenses was noticeably different.

I initially ordered frames that were similar to what I had ($6.95) plus photochromic lenses ($19) plus $4.95 for shipping and handling. The total was $30.90.

Twelve days after I placed my order I receive an email saying that my package was shipped and five days after that I received my new glasses.

The glasses are shipped in a similar plastic protective case to what I had gotten 2 years ago. Along with the glasses is a nice Zenni microfiber grey cloth (as opposed to a generic green one I got 2 years before). They also now include a little template to hold over your eyes to measure pupil distance. While it would be helpful for placing new orders for other family members / friends, it doesn't do as much good after you have received your glasses. What they should do is make a template available to print at home to use.

I immediately tried them on. I liked how the frames fit and looked. The prescription seemed very accurate. Wearing them in a bright room, I immediately noticed a subtle (but distracting) cloudy appearance just below my vision line. I cleaned the lenses and when I would look at them off of my face, nothing unusual was there. The lenses looked very clean and clear. Indoors, I wouldn't even notice they were photochromic lenses. I figured maybe it was just something I'd have to get used to.

I wore the glasses for two days and I frequently would notice the hazy cloudiness just below my vision line. It wasn't anything I could see when my glasses were off. The photochromic lenses seemed to work well, darkening within a few minutes of being outside, and lightening within a few minutes of coming indoors. As I expected, they did not darken when in the car.

After two days of wearing the glasses and not getting used to the hazy/cloudiness, I realized I couldn't wear the glasses. The cloudiness was just too distracting. I knew that Zenni had a 30 day return policy. They would refund 50% of the price no questions asked, but I wasn't sure if there was something defective about the lenses. I figured it was worth a try in case there was something defective.

I reviewed the return policy on the website. The website says you need a return authorization number to include with the return. I sent them an email at 11pm at night explaining why I wanted to return the glasses. Approximately an hour later, they replied with return instructions, also informing me to include a copy of my prescription with pupil distance. I put everything I received from Zenni back into the original packaging, along with the return authorization number and a copy of my prescription.

I brought the package to the post office to return it. After waiting in line at the post office, the lady at the counter said that I couldn't use their packaging tape unless I paid for priority shipping. She said I could go buy a role of package tape for $3.50 and I'd also need to buy an address label which they sell for $1.00. On top of that I'd pay for first class shipping and tracking which would total around $7.00. Or, I could get priority shipping with tracking for $7.95. At that point, I didn't really need the packaging tape and I didn't want to spend more time than I needed to. I went with the priority shipping. If I had known in advance, I would have taped it shut at home and taped a self-printed address label on the package myself. I could have then returned it first class with tracking for around $3.00. The only reason I was being stingy about the price is because I realized that if Zenni felt there was nothing wrong with th glasses, refunding half of the price would net me almost no money. The cost for the glasses and lenses was only $25.95, so I would get back around $13. After spending $8 on shipping them back, I'm only going to get $5 for the hassle of sending back the glasses. I'm sure Zenni does this to discourage people from returning glasses they don't like. Since I knew I wasn't going to wear them no matter what and I was already at the post office, I figured it was worth the $5.

I then spent some time deciding what I was going to do for new glasses. One option I had considered before was getting new lenses from Eyeglasslensdirect.com. I had my original frames from Lenscrafters which are in good shape but have an old prescription. I put them on to check the frames, and I noticed the lenses had a very similar cloudiness/haziness like on the Zenni glasses I just returned. I realized that the annoying fogginess was most likely just light reflections appearing just below my line of vision. I checked several times between different glasses I had, and the only ones with the problem were glasses that did not have an anti-reflective coating.

I decided I would give Zenni one more try, as there probably was nothing at all wrong with my glasses. I placed another order for a new pair of glasses, with photochromatic lenses, but also with the optional anti-reflective coating. I noticed with the pair I returned, the lenses were not very tall (a small vertical height). I had commented on that with my original pair of glasses from Zenni, noticing that when looking down I would often see below the lens instead of through it. I spent a lot of time with my last order to pick lenses that were similar dimensions to glasses I already own and like. The figured it was worth a few extra dollars to get frames with bigger lenses. I ultimately found a pair of frames I liked that had a lens height of 36mm. The pair I had returned had a lens height of only 31mm. The extra 5mm makes a big difference for me. The new frames were going to be $12.95, plus the photochromatic grey for $19, plus the anti-reflective for $4.95. This time, I also decided I would get the polarized clip on sunshade for $3.95 to use while driving. Add in the $4.95 for shipping and the total came to $45.80. While this is more than I had spent on earlier eyeglass orders, this still seems far cheaper than comparable glasses anywhere else. Especially now that I know I need to get the anti-reflective coatings.

I placed this new order about five days after I sent in the previous pair. I then sent an email to Zenni customer service telling them that they should have received my returned pair, but that I'd like to have them replaced with the new order I made. I did tell them that I thought the haziness on the original pair could be due to bad reflections rather than defective lenses. I sent this email at around 10pm and went to bed. I received a reply just after midnight saying they checked my returned glasses and they agree that there is an area of cloudiness on the bottom of the lenses. They said they will submit a replacement order for the original order I placed, and they will refund $1.65 of my shipping costs that I paid to return the glasses. The email said if I didn't want a replacement pair they would only credit me 50% of the original purchase price as per their policy. They asked if I wanted a replacement pair rushed out or the 50% credit, and they asked if I still wanted the new glass order I placed.

The next morning, I called the customer support number. I was surprised that I got a live person without having to hold. I explained my situation to the woman and wanted to know if I could at least add the anti-reflective coating to the original order if they won't let me pay for the difference to get the new order I placed. She said that the manager who can make that decision wouldn't be in until 9am Pacific time, but that I can leave a message on his voicemail and they will get back to me when they get in. I left a voicemail saying my first choice was to get a full credit for the returned glasses and apply it towards my new order. My second choice would be to see if they could order the replacement glasses with an anti-reflective coating and then cancel my new order.

I got a call back a few hours later which I wasn't able to take. The woman from Zenni left me a voicemail saying the manager was willing to let me get a full credit for the returned glasses since my new order was for more money. I was pleasantly surprised with this outcome! Based on what I had previously heard about Zenni's customer service, this was definitely not what I expected. They wound up crediting me the $25.95 plus $1.65 towards my return shipping.

Eighteen days after I placed the new order, I got an email saying the glasses were being shipped out. Three days after that I got the new glasses. I've been wearing the glasses for over a month now and I'm happy with the glasses.

The frames: The frames seem nice, especially for the low cost. They fit well and are generally comfortable. I did notice they were sliding off my nose a little when leaning forward, so I adjusted them by turning in the temple arms slightly. This made the frames fit much more snuggly and they were no longer sliding. Unfortunately, after several hours of wearing the glasses, it seemed like the skin behind my ears was a little tender. I made some more adjustments so it wasn't the ends of the arms pushing against my head but a slightly broader portion pushing against my head. That seems to have worked well. The glasses stay where they are supposed to, and they don't hurt to wear.

The lenses: The prescription seems very accurate. When I first put them on, I did need to adjust to the new prescription. After the first few hours, though, I haven't noticed any problems. The photochromatic properties seem to work just as I would expect. They do get dark within a few minutes of being out in the sun, and they clear up over about 10 minutes when indoors. Indoors, you don't notice any tint. When I compare them to other glasses I own, I can tell a very slight tint indoors. You would never notice the tint otherwise. As expected, they don't get dark when in the car am not someone who typically wears sunglasses, but the darkness of the lenses outside does not seem as much as a regular pair of sunglasses, but they definitely get dark.

The anti-reflective coating definitely made the difference to get rid of the cloudiness I noticed with the original pair. Everything is very clear and clean. I do notice the lenses getting dirty a little quicker than my Costco glasses. I know some of the higher quality anti-reflective coatings are supposed to be better at repelling dust and being easier to clean. It is not a dramatic difference, but I don't recall needing to clean my other glasses this often. I also think that oils and finger smudges show up more clearly on these glasses. I don't know how much of that is because of the anti-reflective coating, and how much is because of the slight tint on the photochromatic lenses making it more visible. Zenni does now offer the oleophobic anti-reflective coating which should make the lenses easier to clean, especially from finger oils. Without having glasses with both coatings to compare, it will be very hard to know if it is worth the cost for the quality of the coating they use.

The sunshade: it is a very cheap piece of tinted plastic with a clip. It serves it's purpose for me, but I only wear them in the car. They aren't anything I would wear when around others though. I do sometimes worry the clip may scratch my lenses, but so far it hasn't.

The bottom line: Zenni offers nice photochromatic eyeglasses at a very cheap price, probably cheaper than you will find anywhere else. Anti-reflective coatings are definitely something you want, especially if you've been wearing glasses with them already. There are higher quality options out there, but nowhere near this price.
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Postby KLM » Mon Mar 21, 2016 12:25 pm

Thank you, George, for taking the time to make these posts! They are helpful even years after you make them! :) I have ordered from Zenni once before and I am getting my second order in soon. I make so little money that for the last year I have had the cheapest glasses from them with no add ons. Not even the $5 AR coating! These $7 glasses have lasted me a good year but now I am excited to try something a little nicer on Zenni with the Oleophobic coating. Eventually I will make my way up to trying out the lens they suggest but it was going to be an added $30... Still, I've had their default lens, whatever that is, for a year now and other than the obvious halos and reflections I have had no issue.

I digress.

Mostly, thank you for being so informative and taking the time to write out your reviews for others to see!

Last bumped by Anonymous on Mon Mar 21, 2016 12:25 pm.

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