Smartglasses are something of a hot topic right now, with rumors that Apple is working on a head-worn device, but Amazon has played its hand with the Echo Frames, a pair of glasses that put Alexa on your face.
Before we go any further, we should say that there is no visual component – well, aside from a blue light on the inside of the frame that blinks when Alexa is listening – but rather they're totally audio.
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These are smartglasses, in a sense, but like the Bose Frames they're more of a hearable. They come with Alexa built in and connect to your phone, meaning you can talk to Amazon's assistant anywhere you go – and all responses are given through tiny speakers on the stems, above your ears.
But we're perhaps getting ahead of ourselves: the Echo Frames are what Amazon is calling a 'Day One' product, meaning they'll be available by invitation only, and are envisioned as something for real tech enthusiasts, rather than the mass market.
But having had a demo, we can say we're suitably impressed with what Amazon has pulled off here, even if there's really hugely "new" here. What's most impressive is that Amazon has made a pair of smartglasses that look, well, like a pair of glasses.
In fact, it's only the chunky stems that give the game away. The luxury of not having to pack in projectors and other visual elements – a la North by Focals – means that it's easier to keep everything slim. And that's what you want, right?
Alexa is always listening on the Echo Frames, so you can beckon the assistant with the familiar "Hey, Alexa" (or whatever you chosen wake command is). When you do, a small blue light appears above the right eye to signify Alexa is listening – it's a nice touch.
But weirdly, only Android users can use the Echo Frames for now, with Amazon telling us iOS isn't supported. We say weird because iPhones work perfectly well with the Echo Buds and Loop (as far as Amazon claims, anyway), so what gives?
Each stem has two directional speakers, and we struggled to hear Alexa clearly in the bustling press showroom.
Battery life is kinda meh. A rep told me the Frames will last for a four-hour day that included 45 minutes of music playback, 20 minutes of phone calls and 90 notifications. I don't think anyone would want to use these for music.
I'm also not sure they'd do as good a job at preventing sound leak as the Bose Frames, but we'll have to wait and see.
One fear I have with smartglasses is that they risk making all notifications inescapable, as they're beamed directly into my eyes and ears. That's why the Echo Frames have a feature called VIP Filter, which lets you select key apps and contacts you want to hear from – and it will ignore the ones you don't.
Alexa can read out notifications, but you can also check your "tray" by swiping the side of the right stem. There's also a button underneath that can mute the mic for when you don't want Alexa listening in.
So that leaves us with one question: who are these for? If you wear prescription glasses, Amazon tells me you'll need to take the Frame to an optometrist to have lenses fitted, as it won't do them itself. Same with sunglasses lenses. But of course, you'll be able to wear them with the transition lenses they come with, should you like.
Amazon is smart to explicitly position the Echo Frames as an early-access product. It says it will use feedback to shape the product, before eventually – maybe – launching them to the masses. They do look good, but battery life and speaker quality are our biggest concerns. We'll really need to take these out into the world to get a better sense of how well they work in practice.
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