Amazon’s newly launched second-generation Echo Frames allow wearers to communicate, stay informed, and listen to their music, movies, or games.
Amazon has unveiled an updated version of its Echo Frames smart glasses and, in doing so, has announced that it is making them available for everyone to buy for the first time. The Echo Frames — part of Amazon’s Echo family of smart devices — look like a typical pair of glasses but have built-in audio and access to smart assistants. They’ll start shipping to customers from December 10th.
Smart glasses have had a chequered history. Google famously overreached with its Google Glass device, with its miniature display, unconventional look, and built-in camera putting off the public and raising privacy concerns. There have been no breakthrough products since, although there are many that have tried to offer audio listening capabilities with varying degrees of aesthetic and usability success. Most promisingly, Apple is all but confirmed to be working on its own smart glasses, dubbed Apple Glass, which could yet tread the narrow line of being innovative, fashionable, and privacy-conscious to become a breakthrough product.
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As for Amazon, the first generation of its Echo Frames was launched in 2019 as part of the firm’s Day 1 Editions program, which gives customers early access to certain innovative products as they are being tested so that Amazon can get feedback about them. Based on the feedback it received about the Echo Frames, Amazon saw fit to make improvements and take them forward with a public launch. The upshot is that US customers can now get their hands on a pair for a cool $249.99.
What Can Amazon Echo Frames Do?
Perhaps conscious of the reaction to Google Glass, Amazon says it wanted the technology of the Echo Frames to disappear into the background and be useful to wearers without being distracting. Jean Wang, director of the Echo Frames project, explains, “So we asked ourselves: how do we build a device for all-day wear that works well both at home and on-the-go and lets customers stay present?”
The upshot is a pair of smart glasses designed to look and feel like everyday eyewear and that are compatible with most prescription lenses. They’re available in the three color options of Modern Tortoise, Horizon Blue, and Classic Black. They’re also made of carbon fiber and titanium, making them lightweight and splash resistant.
To ensure that the device does not block out the world around those wearing it, Amazon designed what it calls ‘open-ear audio technology’ that directs sound toward the ears without the need for earbuds or cups. This, it says, allows wearers to use the Echo Frames for communication, information, and entertainment while not attempting to eliminate external sound and minimizing what those around the wearer might hear, if anything. To further achieve these goals, the volume can be set to automatically adjust based on the noise level of the environment and the user’s selected listening profile.
The glasses can be used not only with Alexa but also with native smartphone assistants, Siri on iOS and Google Assistant on Android. Users can be kept up-to-date with notifications from their smartphone apps, allowing them to leave their phone in their pocket, with support for the likes of calendars and group messaging, for example. A VIP Filter allows users to select which apps and contacts they want to hear from, ignoring the rest. To help maximize battery life, the frames will turn off when they are placed upside down for three seconds.
Finally, and crucially, Amazon has included some privacy features. The microphones in the device can be turned off with a double-press of its action button. A red indicator light will show when this is the case. In addition, the microphones are intended to only work with the primary user’s voice.
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