Bose Frames review: Imperfect but inspiring
- Surprisingly good sound
- Compelling concept
- Short battery life
- No prescription lenses
- So-so build quality
Despite their problems, I still found myself quite endeared towards the first-gen incarnation of the Bose Frames.
Price$ 299.00 (AUD)
The Bose Frames occupy a small nice but not an entirely exclusive one.
They’re sunglasses that double as headphones. There aren’t many other products out there like them and fewer still with the kind of cache and pedigree that the Bose brand inspires. Still, despite their flaws and the unconventional hook, I find myself quickly endeared by what Bose are offering here.
The execution leaves something to be desired but the concept? The concept is beautiful.
What do we like about the Bose Frames?
When I first read about the Bose Frames, I expected a gimmick. After putting them on, I was quickly won over.
Even if the audio quality isn’t what it could be, the experience of using the Bose Frames is delightfully intuitive. Rather than rely on bone conduction - which Bose say would result in the loss of higher frequencies that they need to make audio playback sound as good as they want it to - the Bose Frames rely on a unique open-ear design that beams sound directly into your ears.
In practice, this sounds surprisingly good but it is a non-occlusive listening experience. If you prefer to block out the world around you, it might not be what you’re looking for and if you’re listening in a crowded place like Central station during peak hour, you might need to crank it up in order to hear your music properly.
Still, I was taken aback at how little noise leakage the Bose Frames let loose. Unless you crank the volume on these sunglass-headphone hybrids all the way to max, even the people sitting next to you are unlikely to overhear your tunes.
And the single-button design on the Frames has an appealing simplicity to it. You tap to pause, tap to play and hold to summon up your Google Assistant (or Siri, if you use an iPhone). It’s easy to memorize and easier still to make it do what you want. That being said, I wouldn’t have minded a more inconspicuous controller that the brass stud that hangs on the underside of the Bose Frames like a stalagmite.
In some ways, the Bose Frames feel like a distant cousin to Sony’s Xperia Ear Duo. But where the latter offered semi-smart assistant capabilities, Boses’ wearable opts to embrace augmented reality - but not the same kind of visual AR you’d find in stuff like the Microsoft HoloLens or your smartphone’s camera.
Instead, Bose are pitching a sort of auditory form of augmentation. Though sure to incite curiosity, it should be noted that the platform for these sound-only AR experiences is quite immature and limited.
There are only a handful of apps available and they range from audio-only storytelling experience to apps that piggyback off your phone's GPS connection to offer location-specific tidbits. It’ll be interesting to see how, or if, more uses cases for the feature emerge over time but, right now, it’s a quirky bonus on top of an already-mostly compelling product.
What didn’t we like about the Bose Frames?
Right up-front, it’s worth tackling the elephant in the room. Bose currently don’t offer any authorized channel through which you can kit out the Bose Frames with prescription lenses. As someone who wears prescription glasses every day, this is a major bummer.
The other thing I noticed within a few hours of using the Bose Frames to listen to music while I worked was that it’s pretty clear that the Bose Frames are the company’s first effort in the optics space. They’re not terribly heavy but they are a little uncomfortable to wear over long stretches. They also have a terribly cheap feel-factor to them. It’s not as bad something like the cheap plastic 3D glasses you used to get at the movies but it’s closer than I’d like.
If Bose want to continue this product line - and I genuinely hope they do - they need to up their comfort game in a big way. Better yet, they need to bring in a partner from the optics world to provide some much-needed uplift in the areas where Bose’s own product design falls short. As it stands, well, let’s just say it’s a good thing that the battery life is as long as it is because you’re unlikely to want to wear the Bose Frames for a period any longer than that.
Bose say you’ll get about three to four hours of playback per charge and, once the Frames do run out of charge, you’ll have to use the proprietary charger. Obviously, it feels like there are first-gen challenges here limiting what can be done when it comes to stuff like charging but it feels like a massive missed opportunity to not have the case double as a power bank or charger for the Frames.
The Bottom Line
It'd to easy to write the Bose Frames as only the latest effort by Bose to explore the periphery of the core listening experiences they’ve dominated in the past or their latest weird bit of experimental tech. Fortunately, it’s also their most compelling effort yet by a wide margin.
Despite their problems, I still found myself quite endeared towards the first-gen incarnation of the Bose Frames. I can’t help but hope for a better take on the concept that cleans up some of the problems over time but if things like comfort and style come second place to the lusty excitement that a good gadget inspires, these might be worth the expense.
Like I said, the concept here is beautiful enough to overshadow the execution.
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