We’re used to having sunglasses in a couple of categories: the cheap ones that you just lob into cars and onto tables because they cost basically nothing and you don’t care if they’re scratched. And then there’s the expensive stuff, that you bought in the hopes that you’ll stop losing/breaking/scratching the cheap ones by spending a whole lot more on a pricey set. If you wear glasses, you can add prescription versions to the list as well.
The Bose Frames, though, have added a new category to our lives: sunglasses that double as wireless headphones. Each arm has a titchy little Bose speaker system that fires right into your ear-holes and just about nowhere else. No broadcasting your music tastes to all and sundry. How about that? There’s a multi-function button that does just about everything physical you could possibly want, and a 9-axis motion sensor.
The Frames also are the first product to feature Bose AR, the audio company’s augmented reality (AR) platform. There are a few apps available thus far but Bose hopes to increase their number and usefulness over time. That’s quite the lofty aim but it hasn’t happened yet. In the meantime, we’re taking a look at this audio-spewing eyewear on its current merits. The Bose Frames: Are they worth your time and money?
It doesn’t matter how many features your smart shades have if you don’t mind folks seeing you wearing them. And smartglasses often look more like they belong on a sci-fi film set from the early 2000s than a South African beach.
Happily, Bose has gone minimalist for the Frames. There are two styles: the more rounded Rondo and then the Alto, which share a few design similarities with Ray Ban’s Wayfarers. Both block up to 99% of UVA and UVB rays and both share scratch and shock-resistance. Like most sunglasses, you’d benefit from trying them on before turning over cash. Unlike most sunglasses, you’re probably going to have to take a chance and order them blind. They’re not available in retail stores in SA, yet. More on that later.
There’s a bunch of stuff er… stuffed into each of the Frames’ arms but the whole unit only weighs in at 45 grams. The added thickness in the arms is definitely visible, but you’re not going to notice the weight. The matte plastic does feel a little cheap, and cheap is something that the Frames most certainly are not. The gold-plated hinges are a hint in that direction. The fact that they’ve got audio and AR capability is another.
As far as lenses go, there’s an option for a Blue Gradient, non-polarised lens (for both the Rondo and Alto) or a polarised option — Mirrored Silver in the case of Alto and Mirrored Gold for the Rondo. We found the review lenses to be a little too transparent but that won’t bother everyone. If you’re hoping for a prescription lens option, you’re going to have to keep waiting for now. Bose hasn’t said if that’s going to be a thing, either way.
In terms of physical interface, there’s just one bit — a gold button beneath the right arm. We’ll get into how that functions in a few minutes.
Throwing some shade(s)
The Bose Frames are an attractive concept, on paper and in practice. The open design means you can catch up on your listening (be it playlists or podcasts) without isolating yourself from the world at large. That means fewer close-calls with high-speed traffic.
Instead of using bone conduction, the Frames feature a teeny l’il 16mm speaker in each arm. Bose’s acoustic system directs the sound right up into your ears, with almost no noise leakage. Nobody has to know exactly what Spotify has kicked up in your Discover Weekly unless you really crank the Frames up. Even then, Bose reckons you shouldn’t lose more than 1% of the audio to the world at large.
For all that these are unlike standard headphones, you’re still going to have a few similar issues. Cranking them up over 80% makes it difficult to catch everything aural thrown in your direction. And since you’re obviously not wearing headphones, it’s easy for onlookers to think you’re just being unpleasantly blank. That was an interesting round of apologies on our part.
Connection should be obvious. The Frame will pair with your smartphone, just like any other Bluetooth ‘phones, and you can stream your audio from your device. Calls can be taken through the specs, and you can chat to Siri or Google Assistant, depending on which side you favour. The Frames can be used for navigation, provided your phone’s GPS plays nice with the smart sunnies.
Like the States at the moment, everything is controlled through the gold button. Unlike the States at the moment, the Frames work as intended. A single press turns them on, another will resume whatever was playing last. A third press will pause, a double press will skip, and a triple will skip back. Hold the the gold button down and you can summon your chosen voice assistant. It’s streamlined as all heck, but we’d have appreciated a volume rocker as well.
Pop the sunglasses upside down on a table and they’ll turn themselves off after a few seconds. That saves on the battery life, happily, but sadly the Frames don’t auto-pause. At all. If you’ve got AirPods, you might feel a little slighted.
The Frames do something else — they take direction from Bose’s AR platform. The features aren’t exactly high-end or essential yet but you can add apps though the Bose Connect. There are options for audio navigation and interactive experiences that take advantage of the Frame’s accelerometer and gyroscope. There’s also a golf app, which syncs with a GPS offers up shot advice based on which way your head is facing. Like we said, not essential, but there’s some definite potential here.
All in your head
There’s something really cool about being able to listen to music wherever you are without having something in or on your ears but the Frames aren’t quite the headphone replacements we’d like them to be. It’s not that audio is terrible. That’s not something we’re very forgiving of here. We’re actually quite taken with the acoustic system Bose put together for these sunglasses.
The problem comes in when it comes to volume. Volume and bass. Sound turns to mush when you push volume up over the 80% mark and then there’s the bass problem. There isn’t any. And that’s a problem.
Which means that you’re not going to be bobbing your head to some thumping Prodigy but it does make the Bose Frames ideal for podcasts. And a few other functions as well. It’s neat being able to open videos and voice notes on WhatsApp without first popping in some headphones.
Bose reckons the Frames will last about 3.5 hours on a charge, a figure we found is rather accurate. If you forget to top up, you can get an hour’s use from a 15-minute charge and if you want to get the whole battery filled you’re gonna need to connect for two hours.
Something that the Frames don’t prepare you for as phone calls. Call audio is decent enough but since you’re just wandering around with your high-tech shades on, prepare for some folks thinking you’re talking to them. Or, worse, yourself. We know better, though, don’t we?
Bose Frames Verdict
It’s one thing to give the Bose Frames a rating — it’s quite another to compare them to something else. That’s a tougher proposition, since there isn’t much competition out there. We’re going to give it a shot anyway, though. The Bose Frames are a fairly stylish set of outdoor eyewear that just happen to play music. As far as efforts go, they’re pretty damned decent for a new concept. So much so that it’s almost a shame that you probably won’t wear them inside. Unless, you know, you’re one of those folks who never takes their sunnies off.
Having your ears exposed and able to catch what’s going on around you, traffic- or conversation-wise, while still being able to catch up on podcasts or samples some tunes, is quite a liberating experience. It’s just a shame the Frames won’t do your music library many favours but we’ll pass that up for the added safety.
Of less interest right now is Bose AR, but it’ll be great to see what devs come up with should Bose’s idea here take off. We can imagine these acting as an audio tour guide of sorts — but then, we can imagine Google’s Glass doing the same thing.
The biggest factor you’ve got to consider with the Bose Frames? Besides the price (which’ll get close to the R5,000 mark when you include shipping), you’re looking at buying these from overseas at the moment. If they appear in local retail, at closer to the $200 (R3,000) price tag, the Bose Frames definitely deserve at least some of your attention.