Sunglasses that double as headphones: Is there a business case for Bose Frames?

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent
  • $199.95

Pros

  • It's easy to forget they're sunglasses
  • Sound is surprisingly good
  • They're lightweight
  • Easy to use
  • Price is justified

Cons

  • Warranty voids if lenses are swapped to prescriptions
  • Limited use cases
  • Incoming phone call sound is quiet
  • Battery life could be better

I've never been enthusiastic about smartglasses, so I wasn't initially convinced the Bose Frames were anything other than a gimmick until I put them on and pressed play in Spotify.

As ZDNet's sister site CNET explains, the Bose Frames were initially hyped as audio augmented reality (AR) sunglasses that were compatible with Bose's upcoming AR audio platform, Bose AR. At this stage however, they're yet to be anything other than sunglasses that play music and allow you to make phone calls.

They come in two styles: Alto and Rondo. Alto is touted as a classic angular look with a larger fit, while the latter is described by the company as distinct rounded lenses with a smaller fit.

I have been using the Alto. The frames are made from nylon, so they feel cheaper than other traditional sunglasses in their price range. They don't fall off my head, despite it feeling like they're going to. This sensation is fine while sitting, but it caused me to fiddle with them constantly while walking. The arms are bulky, but this doesn't make them heavy nor uncomfortable, and I'm perfectly okay with the trade-off of having a plastic feel and larger arms to accommodate decent speakers.

As someone who already uses the Bose AE2 SoundLink around-ear wireless headphones on the train, at work, at the gym, and walking to get coffee each day, these sunglasses needed to do something special to make me want to ditch my headphones.

While a comparison between the two would be somewhat redundant, as one covers your ear and the other sits atop, the sound is almost as impressive out of the sunglasses.

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Offering something I hadn't thought of was my 65 year-old dad, a self-appointed speaker connoisseur who was in awe of the sunglasses when I put them on his head and started playing music.

The Eagles arguably can sound great on any device, but through the sunglasses, the Hotel California intro saw his jaw drop. He's worked in the building industry almost all of his life and highlighted just how suited to that industry these are, especially walking around or working on-site. You can still hear people talking to you and as he said, you are nine times out of ten already wearing sunnies -- particularly in Australia.

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Image: Sebaztian Barns/ZDNet

The battery life is not so impressive. Bose said at average listening levels the glasses run up to 3.5 hours for playback and up to 12 hours on standby. They lasted this long for me, but they are brand new. They can be fully recharged in less than two hours using its own magnetic pogo-pin cable.

On the plus side, they connected automatically to my iPhone with no trouble. Downloading the Bose Connect app allows you to control the connection, learn more about the glasses, and in the future, play around with the AR elements.

On full volume, everyone within a five metre radius received an unsolicited lesson in British post-hardcore.

The screeching riffs become the smallest bit distorted when the sound is maxed out, and those nearby are surely on the lookout for a boom box-toting teenager from the 80s. But the lyrics are audible and the screaming is not distorted -- these are not meant to be on full volume while sitting at a desk, after all.

With the volume at around half-way, my colleagues had no idea the sound was even on, and ambient sound was well and truly drowned out. Bose says this is due to the miniaturised speakers being precisely positioned to direct sound at you and away from everybody else.

I trialled a few songs from every genre I could think of. I did not come across a song where the sound was not clear, although a few moments of high-pitched female vocals pushed the distortion, and walking through a crowd of people in Sydney's Pitt Street Mall at lunchtime saw minimal loss of the sound.

When walking through the mall, these were great. I didn't suffer headphone hair and I looked like I was just wearing sunnies. However, I looked like I was just wearing sunnies. Any attempt to speak with me without my initial knowledge meant I appeared to be ignoring people.

Once the Sydney buildings began to overshadow the streets, the glasses were not needed, so I was left walking in near darkness in order to hear the rest of the song. Raising the glasses onto my head I could still hear the sound, but needed to turn them up. The quality was not as good, however.

Read also: Best Headphones for 2019 (CNET)  

The on/off button on the right arm of the glasses also acts as an accept/reject call button, which was used successfully while driving. You can also use this button to talk to Google or Siri, in addition to controlling the music.

Making phone calls was easy, no requests to repeat myself, even in busy Sydney, but at times it was hard for me to hear the person on the other end. My main concern was that I would get funny looks for talking with only sunglasses donned -- an improvement however from those bluetooth headsets that should never have been a thing. Plus, people look like they're talking to themselves with AirPods in.

Running with the sunglasses on was also fine, I was continually worried they would fall off, however.

For the business person, the Bose Frames are suited when you're in a taxi/Uber, walking between buildings, grabbing a coffee or lunch, shopping -- basically anywhere where you aren't sitting next to someone or in an office environment.

The sound quality surprised me -- it's easy to forget they're sunglasses and the sound isn't coming by way of noise-cancelling headphones. They're lightweight and look like sunglasses first and headphones second.

You can't -- well out of courtesy, you shouldn't -- wear them on public transport, in the office, or indoors anywhere, unless you want to be sitting in the dark. These are all places I use headphones the most, however. 

You also void the warranty if you swap the frames to carry prescription lenses.

Even without the augmented reality promise, the Bose Frames Alto made me want to ditch my SoundLink headphones -- I won't be, however, as I don't have many places I can wear them and carrying two sets of music accessories does not sound all too appealing. If I did, I would use them when I drive, purely to be hands free, and when I leave mid-workday to grab a coffee or go for a walk.

In Australia, the Alto and Rondo sunglasses will set you back AU$300.

The US can get their hands on a pair for $200 and the UK for £200.

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