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Review: The Amazon Echo Frames (2nd Gen) are more than a concept product

This eye-opening Echo device frames Alexa in a positive light.

Before you roll your eyes at another smart glasses review, just hear me out. The Amazon Echo Frames (Gen 2) may sound like another half-hearted attempt by a tech company to shove smart virtual assistants where they don't belong, further complicating and confusing our already crazy lives. But I'm here to tell you that these are actually pretty well thought out, designed, and implemented. After all, they've already been wear-tested for over a year by hundreds of nerds like me.

First introduced at Amazon's fall 2019 hardware and services event, the Echo Frames were part of Amazon's Day 1 Editions program, where Amazon aims to product-test innovative designs and ideas with early adopter customers. Prime customers can request to participate in the program, and if accepted, are offered the Day 1 device at a reduced price. The only other Day 1 Edition product so far has been the Echo Loop, an Alexa-powered smart ring. The Loop was dropped from the program in late 2020, but the Echo Frames were not. The smart eyeglasses are officially Amazon's first Day 1 Edition product to "graduate" to a fully available consumer device.

If you're a bit confused seeing this Amazon Echo Frames (Gen 2) review appear less than a year after my original Echo Frames review, I can empathize. These 2nd Gen glasses look and function much as the previous iteration did, but there are still some important differences and nuances to point out. But because this product is a relatively minor, iterative update over the Day 1 Edition, I'll try to address the things that Amazon says it improved from the test-case product to see if this second version is worthy of your initial consideration or even an upgrade if you were one of the lucky ones to get your hands on a Day 1 Edition like me or my buddy Mr. Mobile.

Bottom line: The Echo Frames (2nd Gen) aren't a huge improvement over their predecessor, but they didn't need to be. Amazon made some good tweaks from the Day 1 beta test, like improved battery life, better styling, and useful software features to make the device ready for the general public. I think it was a valiant second effort.

The good

  • Improved battery life
  • Now available in three colors
  • New software features like Auto Volume, VIP Filter, and Auto-Off
  • Supports one-tap access to Google Assistant or Siri

The bad

  • Stems and frames around lenses are still a bit on the thick side
  • No wireless charging
  • Sunglass and blue-light lenses are more expensive than standard versions

From $220 at Amazon

Amazon Echo Frames (2nd Gen): Price & release date

After a year of beta-testing the original Echo Frames in the Day 1 Editions program, Amazon unveiled the second generation of smart glasses in November 2020. The Echo Frames (2nd Gen) had an introductory price of $225, but following their release, they went to their standard retail price of $250. However, the Echo Frames (2nd Gen) occasionally go on sale at Amazon, where they are currently selling for $220.

In mid-May 2021, Amazon released three updated versions of the Echo Frames (Gen 2) featuring blue-light-filtering lenses, blue mirror sunglass lenses, and polarized classic sunglass lenses. These can be worn out of the box with no additional alterations, though they cost a bit more than the standard Echo Frames without prescription lenses. These tinted lens versions retail for $270 on Amazon.

Those who purchase the "regular" glasses will still need to work with their optometrist to get them fitted for specific prescriptions, which will be an additional cost to consider.

Better style and useful feature updates

Amazon Echo Frames (2nd Gen): What's improved

Echo Frames (Gen 2) on bottom

After ironing out the Day 1 Editions' wrinkles and seeing how testers were using their Echo Frames, Amazon made some iterative improvements for the second version. Some of these were (minor) physical changes to the battery life, color, composition, and feature-level improvements. I'll address these updates in turn below.

Physical Updates

The first thing you'll notice about the Echo Frames (2nd Gen) is that they are ever so slightly more stylish than the first iteration. In fact, in my first review, I described the look as having a 1960s NASA engineer vibe. The frames are still a bit thick, for my personal preference, but they don't look bad at all. In fact, you still probably wouldn't notice or suspect that they were "smart." Now, they come in the Classic Black, along with my personal favorite and review unit color, Horizon Blue, as well as what might be the best name among all of them, Modern Tortoise. I mean, can't you just picture a cute reptile with a top hat and its Echo Frames heading off to work?

As far as the battery goes, Amazon says that the Echo Frames (2nd Gen) should last a whopping 40% longer than the originals! Of course, with all things battery-related, there are caveats. That claim is for those who have continuous audio playing at 60% volume. Amazon says that means two hours of talk-time (conversing with Alexa or on the phone), along with media playback, or just listening to music at 80% volume.

I'll be the first to admit that I didn't take that many calls nor converse with Alexa nearly that much during my review period, but I can say that the battery did last a full workday and into the evening with no problem, so there's that. I listened to music for about an hour a day and asked Alexa to remind me to do things or random trivia. I also received a lot of notifications courtesy of my AC friends blowing up my Telegram during the review period. That didn't put too much of a dent in the battery percentage.

Auto Volume

Auto Volume is designed to be a sort of intelligent ambient EQ that automatically adjusts your media volume based on the noises in your immediate environment. There is a quick toggle for the setting on the Alexa app home screen, and you can go into the Echo Frames device settings to select a custom listening profile. For example, since I like to have music in the background but not blasting at me, I set my profile at the "softer" setting. Of course, you can always manually change the volume on the stems or ask Alexa. But the idea behind this is the intended "set it and forget it" preset.

I had mixed success with this feature. It seemed to work ok when my family talked around me, but when I did noisy chores around the house like the dishes, I overlooked the volume on the glasses increasing. I'm sure this feature will continue to improve with time and updates, but it was a bit mixed for me right now.

VIP Filter

VIP Filter isn't a new idea, but it is an update to the Echo Frames feature set. Essentially, it allows you to select which apps and messages have the right to ping you with updates. The first time you get a notification from an app on the Echo Frames (Gen 2), Alexa will announce which app is trying to get through. After that, you have the option to tap to dismiss it and tell Alexa not to allow such notifications through. Alternatively, you can swipe along the right temple panel and have Alexa read you the notification. If you change your mind about which apps and notifications you want to let through, you can always go into the Alexa app and update the Echo Frames device settings.

I learned that Alexa does not like to read obscenities aloud, to the chagrin of my colleagues.

Interesting side note: Alexa tries very hard not to read obscenities or profanity. I learned this when some of my AC colleagues were messaging me on Telegram during a team meeting (I asked them to). If you spell a cuss word "correctly," Alexa will literally bleep it out. However, if you spell the cuss word phonetically or just lengthen it out, she will attempt to read it to you, and that my friend is worth a good laugh!

Auto Off

Auto-Off might low-key be the best new software feature that Amazon added to the Echo Frames (2nd Gen). The feature is designed to preserve battery life when you're not wearing your Frames but don't have them plugged in to charge. All you have to do is flip them upside down on a table or surface, and they shut off. The microphones, speaker, and everything goes completely dark. You get a visual indication that this is so in the form of red light under the touch panel. You can enable this from the quick settings menu in your Alexa app or the device settings for the Frames themselves. It seems like a no-brainer, and it's a supremely useful feature.

Still good

Aside from these updates, the Echo Frames (2nd Gen) basically look, feel, and perform like the Day 1 Edition, only better. You can still ask Alexa to do her typical smart assistant things, and Amazon is leaning into the idea that you'll use Alexa Skills and Alexa Routines from the Frames to help automate your day.

I actually find that I prefer to listen to music on the Echo Frames (Gen 2) more than any earbuds or headphones. It's subtler and allows me to still feel present in my environment.

It had been some time since I wore the original Echo Frames, and I had forgotten how much I like listening to music softly in the background while I work. Since I'm fortunate to have my own private workspace, I don't really need to use noise-canceling earbuds or headphones. I genuinely prefer this more ambient, passive listening to having my earholes covered by a device. I liken it to having a radio softly playing across the room. It's nice background noise that is not distracting and allows me to hear the world around me. Of course, this kind of listening is not optimal for loud environments, but it sure works for the ones I'm in these days.

Amazon is also focusing on privacy with the Echo Frames (2nd Gen), and you can disable Alexa in the same way you can with any other Echo. In addition, when you put the Frames in sleep mode or turn them off, the device won't listen to you. I think it's underrated that these smart glasses do not have a camera or display. Not only do you and those around you not have to feel paranoid that a creepy camera is surreptitiously recording them, but the lack of any heads-up display means you can focus on your daily tasks. And you can always ask Alexa to delete your recordings or review your privacy settings in the Alexa Privacy Hub.

More designs, use cases, and messaging options needed

Amazon Echo Frames (2nd Gen): What could get better?

If you've gotten this far, you probably won't be too surprised to find that I don't have much negative criticism to give the Echo Frames (2nd Gen). I feel like Amazon has done an excellent job addressing both privacy concerns with Alexa (both here and on other Echo devices). I also think that it has focused on adding features that are truly useful to the experience and not taking the firehose approach many companies fall victim to, drowning users with too many options and features that are not necessarily useful or easily discoverable.

As cool as the glasses are, the biggest obstacle for most people who are considering purchasing the Echo Frames will once again be fashion.

I think that the biggest hurdle for acceptance (aside from Alexa) is fashion. I applaud Amazon for adding two stylish new color/design options for this version, and I happen to think they look nice. However, this particular style does not suit every taste or every face. Hopefully, Amazon can continue to add new frame styles or eventually partner with others in the space like Apple does with Nike and Hermes on the Apple Watch. I am, however, very happy that Amazon updated the product so quickly after its release with blue-light-filtering and sunglass lens options.

It would also be great if Amazon could build a wireless charging solution for the Gen 3 version of the Echo Frames. Like many wearables, these glasses come with yet another proprietary charger. It would be super convenient if you could just take off your Frames, flip them into Auto-Off mode, and set them on a charging pad to top up when not in use.

Finally, I'd love more options for messaging. Currently, if you're on Android, any text messages that you ask Alexa to send will go through your default SMS app. If you're on iOS, they will be sent through the Alexa app's messaging service. I understand the limitations with Apple, but I'd love to ask Alexa to send a message via Telegram or another messaging app instead. This could be addressed in a future software update, and I'm sure that others would welcome this feature.

Amazon Echo Frames (2nd Gen): The competition

Pictured: Bose Frames

While the smart wearables market has taken off in recent years thanks to the best smartwatches and best wireless earbuds, the smart eyeglasses market has really lagged.

Focals by North were probably the furthest along in developing a good pair of smart glasses, and the first two generations featured really cool heads-up display. Unfortunately, North was acquired in early 2020 by Google, and since then, we haven't heard much about new product development. Apple has been rumored to be working on a pair of AR/VR glasses, but again, nothing concrete has come out of Cupertino just yet.

The most realistic alternative to the Echo Frames (2nd Gen) right now would have to be the Razer Anzu smart glasses. These work with your smartphone assistant, look sharp, have easily swappable lenses, and sound pretty good. They're not without their faults, but they come in $50 cheaper than the Echo Frames (2nd Gen). Another option to consider are the Fauna Audio Glasses. These pair with your phone's smart assistant and are roughly the same price as the Echo Frames (2nd Gen).

Alternatively, there are a handful of "smart" audio glasses that primarily exist as Bluetooth speakers attached to stylish spectacles and sunglasses such as the Bose Frames.

Amazon Echo Frames (2nd Gen): Should you buy?

You should buy this if ...

  • You already use Alexa or another smart voice assistant regularly
  • You were interested in the Day 1 Editions but didn't want to invest in a beta product
  • You like to hear the world around you while you enjoy audio

You should not buy this if ...

  • You bought the Day 1 Editions
  • You aren't comfortable with smart voice assistants
  • You are particular about your eyeglass frame design

If you need a good pair of eyeglasses and already feel comfortable using a smart voice assistant, Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri, I can definitely recommend the Amazon Echo Frames (Gen 2). They have lots of useful features but can just as easily fade out of the way and out of your consciousness when you need to concentrate. Plus, even if the battery runs out, they still maintain their primary purpose — functioning as eyeglasses!

I don't think that owners of the first generation Day 1 Edition Echo Frames should necessarily feel the need to upgrade, especially after less than a year. However, if you want to get the latest and greatest, Amazon will let you upgrade to the new version for just $70. That's a pretty nice deal.

I've often written about how I want to see Amazon take Alexa out of the home and into the world these might be the first product to really make strides toward achieving that; even more than the Echo Buds. They might just be the best Alexa device that I've reviewed over the past year, and that's saying a lot coming from me!

Bottom line: The Echo Frames (2nd Gen) aren't a huge improvement over their predecessor, but they didn't need to be. Amazon made some good tweaks from the Day 1 beta test, like improved battery life, better styling, and useful software features to make the device ready for the general public. I think it was a valiant second effort.

From $220 at Amazon

Review Changelog, June 2021

This article was originally published in February 2021. It was updated in June 2021 with the following changes:

  • Updated Pricing and availability section to reflect current pricing.
  • Updated competition section to include Razer's new Anzu smart glasses, and Fauna's Audio Glasses.
  • Updated with mentions of new sunglass and blue-light-filtering lens options.

Source: androidcentral

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