Sunday, April 18, 2021

Echo Frames review: Alexa on your face is both useful and boring

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Under the right arm of the Echo Frames, volume control knobs, a charging port, as well as what Amazon calls an action touch. You can tap it to access Alexa, and double-click to turn off the mics. Holding down this key turns the frames on or off. There’s also a touch panel on the right side where you can swipe to hear the details of a notification or tap to dismiss it, which is completely counter intuitive. And, to make matters worse, it sometimes mistook my slip for a tap and rejected a message I wanted to hear.

There is a tiny LED in the frame above the correct lens which is only visible to the person wearing the glasses. When you say “Alexa” or press the action button, it will light up to signal that Alexa is listening, although it’s a little hard to see.

Used

I have an Echo speaker at home, and one of my biggest concerns was that saying “Alexa” would trigger both devices. But with the exception of a few early issues immediately after installation, Alexa generally responded on the frames when I was wearing them. I did, however, activate the Auto Off feature, which turns the glasses off three seconds after removing them and placing them upside down on a surface.

Alexa is as responsive here as it is on the Echo speakers – that is, very responsive. Amazon devices are always faster to wake up and do what I ask than my Google speakers. Perhaps the best part, however, was that I no longer had to yell on my kitchen speaker and could speak at a normal volume to turn on the lights. And if you have ambient noise in the background, like music or running water, the frames can still hear you because they are directly on your face.

I also really like that the Echo frames let you listen to whatever you want on your phone without disturbing others around you or putting on headphones. The open ear design makes it possible to hear what’s in your surroundings while, for example, Instagram stories are played through the speakers. Like the Bose Frames, the Amazon laptop uses a projection technique that sends sound to your ears so that, theoretically, no one around you can hear what you are listening to.

Brian Oh / Engadget

In reality, however, this is only really effective at lower volumes and with mostly vocal content, like a phone call or podcast. Even at only 30% volume, my colleague Brian Oh could still hear the G-Idles Oh my God six feet away.

Also, I just wouldn’t listen to music on Echo Frames. Everything I’ve played including Taylor Swift’s Willow, sounded hollow and had no bass. Also, even at maximum volume, I had trouble hearing my music on the frames compared to songs an Uber driver was playing on their car’s speaker. Amazon offers a feature called Auto Volume that adjusts the volume of the frames so that you can hear your music in your surroundings. The problem is, it never seemed to work – every once in a while I would see the volume slider appear on my phone screen, indicating that the frames were adjusting the levels. But the effect was never obvious and in loud environments I had difficulty hearing the sound from the speaker.

In addition to serving as headphones for your music and calls, executives also help you stay on top of your alerts by reading them to you throughout the day. But it was also problematic. During my first days with him every single notification appearing on my phone would cause a ping and description. It got even more irritating when, due to an active WhatsApp group chat, I was bombarded with non-stop alerts which quickly became annoying and distracting. Alexa also drove me crazy by announcing that I had a “device personalization services” message every time a new song started on Spotify.

This is in part due to the way Android handles notifications, and early Bluetooth-based portable devices suffered from similar issues. But even after tapping to ignore the first two such alerts, which Alexa says will prevent you from hearing it again, I kept getting pinged every time a song changed.

Amazon Echo Frames review

Brian Oh / Engadget

You can enable the VIP Filter setting in the Alexa app to remedy this by choosing which apps to listen to on the frames. But the selection of apps is quite limited at first – only apps that had already sent a notification would show, meaning you could only choose to turn something off. after he shouts at you once. I only allowed my frequent apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, Discord, and Instagram through the filter, but an annoying alert from Peacock always came after activating the VIP filter. Here you must choose the option “Suspend new requests” to stop this, which is an additional step to take.

The VIP filter is also a bit abusive. Since Amazon currently doesn’t recognize Telegram and Discord, among others, as messaging apps, you won’t be able to prioritize chats from specific contacts. So far only WhatsApp is identified and I can whitelist people and groups.

Amazon clearly still has a lot of work to do to improve the way Frames handle notifications, but the company acknowledges it’s not a mature product and says it listens to feedback.

The company says the frames will last for two hours of mixed use at 80% volume and up to four hours of continuous playback. I typically left the volume at 50 percent or less, and had a day or more on a charge. I used the frames to chat with my friend for an hour before playing music for about 20 minutes at around 80% volume and the battery went from 100% to 60%.

The competition

Amazon is far from the first company to make smart glasses. It’s not even the first to try out Bluetooth frames with built-in speakers. Bose even had the same name for its: Frames. There are a few key differences, on the one hand, since Bose’s $ 200 frames are a pair of sunglasses, you won’t be wearing them at night.

Bose’s device also doesn’t have a touchscreen, and its one-button controls are pretty simplistic. I also found them awkward, tight, and quite uncomfortable after about an hour of wear. The company has since released newer “Sport” models for $ 50 more, but I haven’t tried them on and can’t tell you if they are more comfortable.

Bose does offer better audio projection than Amazon, however, and I only noticed sound leaks from Bose Frames at above 80% volume.

Wrap

Despite a few complaints, I am surprised at how much I love the Echo frames. I found myself putting them on several times a day even though I didn’t need glasses. They’re great for when I want to join a call but still be able to listen to a delivery guy, or when I need Alexa to hear me over music from my Google speakers. If you really need glasses, they could be even more useful. Amazon still has some issues to iron out, especially with handling notifications, but as long as you don’t need high-quality sound and can live with annoying alerts, Echo Frames are a surprisingly attractive product.

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