Amazon is entering the glasses market. More than a year after announcing Echo Frames within the “Day One” invite-only program, they’re now available for anyone to purchase. Essentially, Amazon’s tucked four speakers and a plethora of microphones into glasses. The result? You can use Alexa anywhere and everywhere — hands-free.
We’ve spent over six months with the invite-only model and a week with the Echo Frames (boasting better battery life and improved sound than the former) to see if they’re worth the $249 price tag.
The who, what and how
Who they’re for: If you’re looking for a way to bring the Alexa smart speaker experience on the go, Echo Frames will do just that. By pairing with your smartphone you get hands-free Alexa and the ability to control some core phone functions all with your voice. They’re not cheap at $249, though, and prescription wearers will have to shell out even more money to make them fully functional.
What you need to know: Echo Frames provide instant hands-free access to Alexa, the ability to play music and take calls, among other tasks. You can just ask with your voice; no more need to pull out your phone. Speakers will push sound to your ears, and microphones will pick up your voice. It’s an open-air experience, and the sound isn’t concealed. At higher volumes, it’s safe to assume that others can hear them as well. You can swap out the standard nonprescription lenses for prescription or blue-light lenses as well.
How they compare: Echo Frames go a bit further than other smart wearables. Bose Frames are designed for audio playback in an open-ear format but offer minimal smart assistant controls. Snapchat Spectacles don’t provide playback, but they allow you to capture first-person photos and videos. Echo Frames go further than both, with a full smart assistant and deeper integrations with your phone.
A design that doesn’t intrude
First and foremost, the Echo Frames look like normal glasses. You get your pick of horizon blue, modern tortoise and classic black in a rectangle frame build. Though comfortable, you’re stuck with that sole design as your only option.
The tech powering Echo Frames is mostly hidden in the thicker-than-normal arms, which are home to the batteries, connectivity, processor, speakers, microphones and even storage. The right-hand side is home to an action button, the volume rocker and the charging port.
There’s nothing forward-facing screaming that these are smart glasses, though. While we were testing, most co-workers and friends didn’t even pick up on a difference when wearing them on video calls versus our normal specks.
The most surprising thing is the somewhat flimsy feel of these. Amazon is employing the seemingly right materials — carbon fiber, aluminum and a TR-90 plastic. It all makes for a lightweight build, but these have more flex than a pair of Warby Parker or Ray-Ban glasses. You can also flex the sides to a pretty strong degree. Shaking them around does deliver an audible creak at times as well — not the most assuring sound. Luckily, once on your head and in wear, they gain some structural stability. We haven’t had any major issues with construction, even after dropping them and accidental bumps during the day.
Since glasses don’t really take a day off, you’ll be pleased that these have an IPX4 rating against water and sweat. We didn’t wear them in a pool or in the shower, but walking in a light snow flurry or rain presented no issues.
Like most glasses, these come with nonprescription lenses out of the box. They’re a standard lens, and you can easily pop them in or out — which, in our case, made it easy to swap our prescription lenses in. It was a simple pop and snap to get them out and then in. You can bring Echo Frames to an optician to get prescription or blue-light lenses and they can make some adjustments for a more comfortable experience. In our case, we adjusted the ends so they wouldn’t rock off our heads.
Amazon does include a hardshell carrying case for Echo Frames. You’ll charge via the included cable, but there’s no way to charge these in this case, a feature we’re hoping Amazon adds in the next version. For now, though, it’s not the end of the world, and the battery should get you through the full day — even if it’s one filled with music playback and a lot of calls. In our testing, we put the Echo Frames on at about 7:30 a.m. and didn’t get a low power alert until about 9:30 p.m. You can easily charge them during the course of a day and overnight while sleeping.
Alexa, how do our glasses look?
We discovered a weird truth after using Echo Frames for several months: We don’t need Alexa in our glasses every moment of every day, but she’s surprisingly helpful and it becomes a want. And that’s the main appeal of these — instant access to Alexa.
You can use Amazon’s smart assistant to hear messages, build out a to-do list, listen to music and even make calls. And we’ve been testing all of this while at home with minimal outside world interactions. We can walk around our apartment while wearing these and chat it up with Alexa. It’s easier than reaching for a phone at times — especially when multitasking.
She’s just as responsive as on Echo smart speakers and other devices. Faster than both the Google Assistant and Siri while also knowing more random facts. You can get her attention by saying, “Alexa” or engaging with the action button on the right side.
Echo Frames get a connection via your smartphone and are, in fact, tethered to that connected device. They can’t do much — or, really, anything — when not connected. You’ll set up Echo Frames via your Android or iOS device, pairing through Bluetooth. If your phone has internet, the Echo Frames have connectivity. And it’s all managed via the Alexa app on that phone. Setup took no more than about 10 minutes. Our iPhone 12 Pro, 12 mini, Pixel 5 and Note 20 Ultra were able to find Echo Frames in just a few seconds.
We really like that it’s a fully hands-free experience. As we were cleaning out the refrigerator, for instance, we were able to have Alexa make a list and add the groceries we needed to it. We can ask Alexa to call Mom so we can check in as we’re doing some cleaning. And with these audible responses or commands, she’s quick and mostly accurate.
Echo Frames feature an open-ear speaker system that directs sound to your ears. The speakers are visible and located on the sides. It’s an average sound experience that’s pretty balanced but is noticeably lacking a strong bass. If you want a pair of glasses that excel with audio, look at Bose Frames. Since this is broadcasting audio, there will inevitably be some sound leakage. When playing a song at average to higher volumes, people around you will hear it. Most Alexa responses, notification readouts and calls are at whisper levels, though.
Alexa is also smart enough to pick up the command on the Frames versus on a nearby smart speaker. You can also turn off the microphone on Echo Frames at any time. There’s even a small LED indicator above the right eye (facing the wearer), which glows blue when Alexa is listening or red if the microphone is muted. It took a few days to get used to the glowing effect, and it didn’t prove to be a distraction after that.
You also get some control over what notifications hit the Echo Frames. After all, you don’t want Alexa chatting it up in your ears all day long. During setup, you can choose if you want stuff read aloud or even engage a VIP Filter. You can choose which apps will be read aloud. The other option is all your notifications coming through — every email, game update and stupid ping. And when notifications do come through, you can swipe to dismiss them via the right side.
Echo Frames aren’t for everyone. As gadget lovers, we’re on board with them as a fun device that presents you with a test of the future. It’s kind of like a smartwatch — the tech is there if you want it, but if you don’t they still function as a pair of glasses.
Having Alexa anywhere and everywhere is really nice, but at $250 you’re clearly paying a premium — plus the cost of prescription or blue-light lenses to make them fully functional.
If you’re in the camp of connected tech, we think the Echo Frames are worth a look. Same if you’re a big fan of Alexa, as this is the easiest way to incorporate Amazon’s assistant into your everyday life.