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Amazon’s new Echo Frames can’t touch the Ray-Ban Meta

This April marked the 10th anniversary since Google released the first generation of Glass. It may be difficult to believe with a decade of hindsight, but the limited release “Explorer’s Edition” were coveted objects. For a little while, at least, they felt like the future.

The last 10 years of smartglasses has, however, been an extremely mixed bag. There have been more misses than hits, and it feels like we’re still years out from reaching any sort of consensus on form and functionality.

Google Glass never reached the kind of critical mass required to launch a commercial product, though the company seems content to give things another shot every couple of years.

The success of AR, meanwhile, has largely been confined to smartphone screens — though not for lack of trying. Magic Leap, Microsoft and Meta have all launched AR products with varying degrees of success, and next year’s Apple Vision Pro release is sure to move the needle on…something. But technical limitations have confined these solutions to significantly larger form factors.

Shrinking that sort of technology down to regular glasses size is a nice goal, but one that is a ways off. It’s telling that Meta’s recent hardware event saw the release of two head-worn devices. The first was the Quest 3, a VR headset that offers an AR experience courtesy of passthrough technology. The other, the Ray-Ban Meta, has no pretense of offering augmented reality, but it does manage to fit things into the standard glasses form factor.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Like the Snapchat Spectacles before them, the Ray-Ban Meta are all about content capture. A camera built into the frame lets the wearer shoot quick videos and livestream for social media. As far as content consumption goes, speakers are built into the temples, directing music or podcast audio toward the wearer’s ear.

Unlike the Ray-Bans, however, Amazon’s Echo Frames 3 don’t do video capture (you can practically hear the collective sigh of relief from privacy advocates across the globe). They do, however, offer a similar audio set up. The speakers are located in the temples, just ahead of the temple tips. The company has opted against bone conduction here, which is probably for the best (while neat, the technology is generally passable, at best).

Unlike most headphones and earbuds, they don’t cover the entrance to the ear canal. That’s great for situational awareness and less than great for immersive sound. If you want to stay focused on the world around you while you walk down the street or ride a bike listening to music, it’s not a bad option.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Given their proximity to the ear, they get plenty loud, and due to their directional nature, they’re hard to hear if you’re not wearing them (though not totally silent to others). The actual audio quality, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. They do in a pinch for music, but I’d rather not rely on them as a daily driver of any sort.

As their name implies, however, the real centerpiece here is Echo functionality. The Frames are yet another form factor for summoning Alexa. This makes enough sense on the face of it, a hands-free voice assistant you can take anywhere your phone gets a decent connection. You can play/pause, make calls and set reminders, for starters — all things you can do on a pair of earbuds with a connected voice assistant.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

There are five different styles: black square, black rectangle, blue round, brown cat eye and grey rectangle. Amazon sent the first, which look like your average pair of Buddy Holly/Elvis Costello glasses, albeit with a plasticky design and larger temples, owing to the electronics contained inside. They fit me well enough, and while they’re not exactly what I would have picked out at, say, Warby Parker, I don’t feel embarrassed wearing them publicly.

You can further customize the Frames with prescription lenses, blue light filtering or go in for sunglasses. All nice options to have, certainly.

The battery life is stated at 14 hours of “moderate” usage. With a standard amount of music listening, you should be able to get through a day on a single charge. That’s especially nice given that the charging dock is big and awkward relative to the glasses themselves. Included in the packaging are charging instructions (along with some short braille instructions — a nice touch on the accessibility front), which are necessary as the design isn’t intuitive.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

You fold the glasses and face the lenses up, so the charging points on the temples contact the charger. It’s a far cry from the Ray-Ban Meta’s extremely convenient and well-designed charging case. Amazon’s case, on the other hand, is collapsible. It’s not nice, but there’s definitely an added convenience in being able to fold it flat while wearing the glasses.

My feelings about the latest Echo Frames may well have been different had I not recently tested the Ray-Ban Meta. At $270, they’re $30 cheaper than the Meta glasses. If you’re attempting to decide between the two, I would say bite the bullet and spend the extra $30. Of course, it’s also worth factoring in that — as I write this — Amazon is currently offering the new Echo Frames for a deeply discounted $200.

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