I want smart glasses to be a thing. I want these Tony Stark Holographic Augmented Reality Assistant Talking Glasses to be real thing I can wear on my face. So far, every real pair of smart glasses has unfortunately not hit the mark.
Amazon’s Echo Frames are the latest smart glasses to follow in this legendary tradition of surprising and under-delivering. It’s basically an Echo Dot that you wear on your face, built entirely around interacting with Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa. They have no screen in the lenses like the Focals from the north or most other smart glasses. Amazon is completely focused on speaking and listening.
I had high hopes for the Echo frames. There is a way to make smart glasses work, and it looked like Amazon was on the right track.
To be worth the least of our time or money, smart glasses must be almost indistinguishable from regular glasses. When walking down the street, no one should be able to tell that you are wearing smart glasses. They should have essentially the same silhouette as the trendy prescription frames. This is the first point of failure for Echo frames. They don’t quite look like normal glasses.
If you want to figure out what it’s like to wear Echo frames, go get some gas station sunglasses and stick two tubes of lip balm on each arm. Now wrap them in something inconspicuous, like electrical tape. They are not very comfortable to wear for long periods of time because they are so oddly thick. After about an hour of wearing them my ears felt about as oppressed as a Amazon warehouse worker.
Despite being priced at $ 225, they feel fragile. The arms were loose out of the box and likely won’t fit a wide variety of faces. Unlike most glasses from the past one or two centuries, they also don’t fold over. They charge with a magnetic connector and have a power button and a microphone mute button. They seem to be used for about a full day if you don’t listen to too much music (three to four hours of direct music listening).
You might feel a lot like Clark Kent if you don’t wear glasses regularly. Amazon also doesn’t offer a sunglasses option for the Echo frames. You can take them to an optometrist for corrective lenses, but the cheapest frames from any optometrist will be more stylish.
Smart glasses also need to do something practical that I can’t get from my phone, headphones, smart watch, or eyeballs. Why else wouldn’t I just use one of these other tried and true gadgets? If I want to talk to an AI assistant when I’m away from my phone, I could do so with a similar price Pixel Buds, Galaxy buds, or AirPods Pro– and get some killer headphones to boot (there’s lots of great headphones). More realistically, I would just take my phone and bring it with me.
Alexa, play “Despacito”
Echo frames allow you to talk to Alexa, which can be useful here and there, but that’s about it. It can do whatever Alexa does (as long as your phone is nearby, as it’s needed for everything), like reading your text messages, although there are some implications for privacy to consider before letting Amazon read your texts – and it can control your music volume. And sliding your finger along the arm of your glasses to move your music up or down is a good idea. This is the functionality that I would like from smart glasses that look like glasses. But it is the minimum, and it is sometimes too delicate.