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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Audio sunglasses that sound surprisingly good: Bose Frames review

Bose Frames were initially hyped as audio augmented-reality sunglasses that were compatible with Bose's upcoming AR audio platform, Bose AR. Again, that's audio AR
only -- the glasses don't offer a Magic Leap- or HoloLens-style digital overlay of the real world. While that platform is still in development with apps arriving later this year, Bose has released the Frames with a more straightforward, limited mission: They're sunglasses that are "enhanced with Bose technology to play music and take calls."

Available in two styles for $200, they're initially on sale only in the US.
To be clear, these don't pass sound with bone-conduction technology like some new audio sunglasses do (AfterShokz OptiShokz Revvez glasses are due out this spring). There are actually tiny speakers in each arm along with a microphone near each temple.  Technically, Bose says the Frames are its smallest audio system ever.

While they're a little bulkier than your typical sunglasses -- the arms especially -- they don't feel too heavy on your face, weighing in at 1.6 ounces (45 grams).
Don't expect each style to fit the same. The more rounded Rondo style is designed for smaller heads, while the more squarish Alto is suited for those with larger heads.

 The Rondo fit me better, but I was a little more partial to the look of the Alto. There was some debate in the office about how good the Frames looked, with some people not exactly smitten with either style. But I thought they looked fine -- I didn't have a major problem with either style. That said, I suggest you try before you buy if possible. 

The Good The Bose Frames deliver surprisingly decent sound using embedded micro speakers. While the arms are slightly bulky, the sunglasses don't feel heavy on your head and are comfortable to wear. Using the sunglasses to make calls works well. Even though the audio sounds loud to you, people won't hear it unless they're standing right next to you.

The Bad Battery life isn't great. There's no prescription lens option available from Bose, and adding a third-party prescription lens voids the warranty. The charging cable is proprietary.

The Bottom Line While the audio AR features are still in the works, the Bose Frames managed to produce decent enough audio to make them a compelling wearable audio device that can take the place of headphones.

Sound that exceeds expectations

How do they sound? Well, a lot better than you might expect. I was impressed, but that doesn't mean they sound great. While they don't sound quite as good as the AirPods ($145 at Walmart) -- they're not far off -- they sound better than any audio sunglasses I've tried previously, with just enough bass to avoid sounding tinny.

 That the sound is nice and open helps. And most people will be surprised by how loud they can play, though they start to distort at anything higher than 60 to 70 percent volume, so you won't want to listen to them cranked to the max, with music anyway.

What's cool is that, even though they sound loud to you, they leak very little sound, so people around you can't hear your music or who you're speaking to on a call. Bose reps told me their engineers learned from working on the company's earlier horseshoe-shaped wearable, the SoundWear Companion Speaker, and were able to reduce the amount of sound leakage in the Frames as a result.

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