Bose Frames mix sleek sunglasses with superb sound quality for solo listening

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Mon February 11, 2019

Story highlights

  • Bose Frames combine sunglasses and headphones for about $200
  • They'll last for around three hours of playback before needing a two-hour charge

While tech has revolutionized the phone and changed the world with computers, what's been going on with eyewear?

There have been plenty of attempts at high-tech glasses, like Google Glass or Snapchat Spectacles, but they've all focused on putting just one thing, or too many things, into a pair of glasses. And they weren't cheap -- Google's smart eyewear was invitation-only and cost more than $1,000. Snapchat's Spectacles go for around $245 and are incredibly hard to find.

This latest entry in this somewhat-niche category is as sleek as it is surprising. Introducing Bose Frames -- yes, the speaker and headphone company is now making sunglasses. They don't strive to do a lot of things, either, but to do one thing well: They have high-quality headphones built into the frames.

Most importantly, Bose Frames cost just $199.99 for this hybrid of sunglasses and headphones -- two of the most common purchases by any consumer. I've been testing Bose Frames for about two weeks and here's how they shape up.

The design sticks with the basics

Sunglasses haven't changed too much over the years. Sure, we get wild and wacky designs, with lenses of all sizes, but there haven't been fundamental changes. Bose has stuck with the trusted and true design form for glasses.

You still get two legs or arms that extend over your ears and connect to the lenses in the front. Frames come in Rondo or Alto, the first being round and the second being rectangular with curved edges.

Any model of Bose Frames will have the same speaker, battery and connection tech packed into the frames of the sunglasses. You'll notice the legs are a bit thicker to hold the speakers and other tech needed to power them. After a few hours of wear, you likely won't notice the thicker build.

People on the street won't do a double take when they see them. Bose Frames look like your average sunglasses, and that's a good thing.

The sound is surprisingly good

The actual sound tech is quite impressive, and it's what you'd expect from a company like Bose. The Frames don't have hidden earbuds that magically pop out to go in your ears, and there isn't any bone conduction tech. Instead, speakers face the ear on the legs of the sunglasses. Think of it is a small setup that is on par with the company's soundbars and speakers. For the most part, the sound on Bose Frames is surprisingly good.

When I'm sitting at my desk, commuting on the train or walking down the street, the volume produced is pretty enjoyable. There is less bass than I would like on some tracks, probably because providing fuller bass would have made the frames thicker. It has me wondering why Bose didn't try bone conduction, although the latter can cause some jaw and face pain due to the vibrations. I don't think you'll notice it too much, but if you're big into electronic dance music and heavy bass tracks, these might leave you wanting more.

Additionally, since the music goes into the ear and isn't in a closed space, there will be some leakage, as there is with other headphones or earbuds like Apple's AirPods and Bose's own QuietComfort 35 II. At 100% volume, which is needed for a noisy street or on the train, those around you will be able to hear the music.

I found that depending on the music source, 40% to 60% volume will be in the safe zone, where you are the only one who can hear the tracks. At that volume, you'll likely still enjoy the listening experience.

Siri and Google Assistant support

Whether you're an iPhone or Android user, you'll want to use the personal assistant support that's built into the device. Bose Frames will support Siri and Google Assistant right out of the box.

Via the one control button on the right side of Bose Frames, you can start either Siri or the Google Assistant. There are microphones hidden in the temple of Bose Frames, and they pick up the user's voice well. It's a simple enough integration that should please fans of smart assistants.

Good for short listening moments, not all-day jam sessions

Bose estimates that you'll get 3.5 hours of listening time and that the Frames will take two hours to get a full charge, so don't go into these thinking you'll get all-day battery life. In my few weeks of testing, I topped out at around three hours of listening, and if the volume was really low, I was able to squeeze out 3.5 to four hours. I also found the two-hour estimate for charging to be accurate.

I found them handy for listening while at my desk or on a walk, but these are best used for short duration listening times. It's better to pull out a traditional pair of headphones or earbuds for extended sessions.

Bose's first wearable performs well

At $199, you're getting a hybrid of headphones and sunglasses that performs well. Bose beats out Snapchat, since those Spectacles are just a novelty wearable for snapping photos. Frames will protect your eyes from rays, look great and let you rock out to some tunes.

Sure, I wish the bass were a little fuller, that they contained the audio a bit better, and that the charge lasted longer. But for a first-generation product, Bose did an excellent job, and they're also relatively affordable.

For now, there is no prescription option, and finding replacement lenses can be hard, so you'll need perfect vision or contacts to use Bose Frames. The company says a solution for those with corrective lenses will arrive in the coming months.

I don't think you'll be disappointed with Bose Frames, especially if you're annoyed by headphone wires and hate wearing earbuds. These offer a reliable solution to audio just for you in a sleek, fashionable and affordable format.