Thought Google Glass was enough of a fiasco that we were done with smart specs for good? Think again. Amazon has revealed that Echo Frames are heading our way. While there are some interesting points of difference that aim to make these a more practical, usable option, honestly we can't see these taking off.
Amazon announced the Echo Frames would be joining its range of Amazon devices (opens in new tab) at its recent Fall 2019 Hardware event, along with its own Airbud-bothering true wireless headphones (opens in new tab).
In terms of functionality, what's on offer here is much less groundbreaking than Google or Snapchat's ill-fated smart glasses efforts. The main feature is that these specs come with Alexa built in, so wearers will never be without their audio assistant. There's no AR overlay or camera here; the focus is on audio only.
Concerned about having a Amazon mic permanently strapped to your face? Well, unlike the Echo, for example, these aren't designed to be left switched on. Rather than activating Alexa using voice commands, you turn on listening via a button on the underside of the right temple.
Your spoken requests are routed via an app on a linked smartphone (Alexa relies on connection to the cloud, so they won't work offline). In turn, the specs get messages to you by announcing them via four tiny speakers near your temples. While early reviews report that they're plenty easy enough to hear, that does mean everyone else can hear your notifications, too.
There's a touch-sensitive area that you swipe to respond to notifications or tap to ignore. Is that enough functionality to make you want to buy a pair (and actually wear them)? We'll let you decide, but we suspect not.
Looks-wise, Amazon has gone a lot less space-age than Google did. From the front, at least, these look pretty much like a regular pair of thick-frame glasses. The arms however are noticeably chunky, so people are probably still going to realise something is up. At 31g, they're not much heavier than normal glasses.
The lack of screen interaction also opens up options for regular specs-wearers. Amazon also says buyers will be able to get their Echo Frames fitted with prescription lenses – normal or sunglass. However, it won’t be providing this service itself, for that you’ll need to negotiate with your local optician.
There's also the question of battery life. Amazon claims 14 hours with intermittent use (defined as a fairly intensive-sounding 40 Alexa interactions, 45 minutes of music, some podcast and music playback, and 90 incoming notifications). With constant playback, however, that figure drops to just three hours.
If you are sold on picking up a pair, you'll have to wait a little longer. The Echo Frames are part of Amazon's new 'Day 1 Editions programme', which means they're not on public release yet, and the design will be refined further before they're rolled out properly. Feedback will come from a select group of US customers that are being invited to purchase a pair for $179.
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