At £199, the Bose Frames aren't exactly 'value for money', but considering how much people pay for designer sunglasses, which usually offer much less at a higher cost, we think they are worth every penny.
Stylish, audio quality better than expected, a great novelty.
No volume control, a tad bulky.
US AUDIO GIANT Bose is best known for its noise-cancelling earphones and Bluetooth speakers. However, over the past few years, the brand has been shaking it up a bit - innovating within spaces outside of its usual remit. Take for instance its Sleepbuds, which the firm launched last year to help people sleep better in noisy environments with specially-designed, noise-masking tones.
Now, the company have gone and developed a pair of sunglasses called Bose Frames, which have a unique speaker tech in them so you can listen to your favourite tunes without having to bother with earphones, all while still hearing what's going on around you. And the best part? Only you'll be able to hear the audio that's pumped out of them.
But are the Frames practical for use IRL, or simply more of a novelty? Well, that's exactly what you're about to find out.
Design and fit
First things first: the Frames come in two styles: Rondo - round-ish frames that are a bit more retro in style, and Alto - square-ish frames that are similar to Ray-Ban's Wayfarer sunglasses. We reviewed the Rondo, which we think have a more stylish edge to them. Tech journalists can be stylish, too, you know.
Whichever model you choose, the frames only come in black. The lenses themselves, however, can be easily popped out and replaced for a different colour, although choices are currently limited to a mirrored silver for the Alto and a rose gold for the Rondo. Nevertheless, this is a boon for those who are prone to dropping their sunnies and scratching the hell out of the lenses (which also block 99 per cent of UVA/UVB rays, might we add).
In terms of the overall design, they look pretty much the same as any other pair of sunnies, except for one thing: they have some charging pins on the right arm which power up the built-in speakers. As a result of these special audio capabilities, you'll notice the Frames are a tad bulkier than your typical sunglasses, especially at the arms where the speakers sit. However, this is a necessary compromise considering all the stuff going on inside; it's where the batteries, motion sensors, microphone, speakers and Bluetooth circuitry are stored.
The good thing is, even with all this tech, the Frames don't look out of place on your face, nor do they feel too heavy at 45g. This is the truly impressive thing about them; you'd expect them to not look or feel like conventional shades, but they do. They look the part and they feel super comfortable, and so the bonus audio feature really does give them the wow feature.
There isn't just a pair of speakers on the Bose Frames, as the company has also thought about what else it can incorporate without taking them into Google Glass territory. There's no camera - thank god, but there is a mic so you can take calls and speak to your mates without pulling your phone out of your pocket. This can be activated through a tap of a small gold button located underneath the Frames' right arm.
This button can also be used to pause and play audio. However, it doesn't allow you to change the volume, unfortunately. To do that you'll have to use your phone. There is also an AR feature which lets you hear Google Maps insights through a simple double tap on the arms, but more about that in the Features section.
So how do the Bose Frames work? Well, they are able to provide some decent quality audio into your lugholes via two small speakers which sit in the sunglasses' arms just in front of your ears. The music is directed straight to your ear canal through small speaker grilles while a noise-cancelling sound is projected outwards so the people you aren't too peeved with listening to your guilty pleasures. Bose says this results in about one per cent of leakage, but if you've got the volume whacked right up, it's probably about 10 times that. Still, that's pretty decent if you ask us.
So this is the moment of truth. Do the Bose Frames actually produce audio that's worth listening to? The answer is yes, kind of. But it does depend on who you are. Audiophiles, for instance, are not going to enjoy the lack of truly immersive sound that emits from the sunglasses' arms. However, sound quality is still really good, with great clarity.
The other great thing is they work very similar to bone-conducting tech and so offer many practical uses for earphone-less headphones. Walking or cycling around a city, for example, is much safer leaving your lugs unplugged while listening to podcasts or getting navigation instructions from Google Maps, which were streamed from a connected smartphone.
The downside with this, though, is that audio lacks the depth of bass you'd find with in-ear headphones.
Another thing you'll need to get used to is not flipping the Frames upside down while they're still connected to your phone. Doing so will disconnect Bluetooth and you'll need to re-pair by pressing the little gold button. We found ourselves regularly doing this as we took the glasses off, but once you've learnt that you may have to press the gold button to reconnect you'll realise it's easy and intuitive.
Another (really quite impressive) feature that the Bose Frames boast is their AR capabilities. Making you realise that augmented reality doesn't always have to equate to a solely visual experience.
All of the augmented reality features on this pair of glasses are communicated via audio. The glasses themselves have trackers inside and use the GPS on your smartphone to work out your location. There are currently only six AR apps to choose from that work this way, and most of these focus on navigation and entertainment. For example, give the Frames' arm a tap and a voice will tell you directions to a location, or the reviews of a restaurant you're stood in front of.
However, do note that these features are currently only available on iOS devices at the moment. Word on the street, though, is that support for Android devices will be here very soon, despite no specific date being set.
Connectivity and battery life
Recharging the Frames is done via a pogo pin cable, like on Snap Spectacles or MagSafe chargers on old Apple laptops. Bose claims specs are able to give continuous audio playback for up to 3.5 hours and can sit on standby for up to 12 hours. We found this to be about right, but it's difficult to tell exactly as you generally don't tend to sit and use the music playback feature on them continuously for three and a half hours.
In our experience, they lasted us about a day of on and off use while on holiday; an hour or so at the beach, 30 minutes or so walking and cycling and another hour chilling in the garden of the villa. You find that you don't sit for hours using the feature with no pause. As for recharging, this takes about two hours for the battery to be full again.
The Bose Frames aren't smart glasses - but they're not meant to be. In our ears, they're a pair of stylish sunglasses with the bonus of some great built-in audio capabilities. We actually love using them (when the British weather permits) and found them to be a great addition to our hols.
At £199, they aren't exactly 'value for money', but considering how much people pay for designer sunglasses, which usually offer much less at a higher cost, we think they are worth every penny.
It'll also be exciting to see where Bose goes with the AR capabilities. While they don't offer anything too groundbreaking in this respect just yet, we think this could be the start of something truly exciting.
Stylish, audio quality better than expected, a great novelty.
No volume control.
A tad bulky.
Bartender's score: 8/10