The Bose Frames are an intriguing example of a product that shouldn’t work as well as they do. Simply put: they sound great, but there’s a catch or two.
Not sure if you like the feeling of a pair of earphones? No worries, because they’re not the only option available to you. There are other ways to get your phone to play sound to your ears, and one of them is definitely different.
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Design and features
Designed like a pair of sunglasses and yet featuring a set of speakers in the arms, the Bose Frames read like a gimmick: it’s a pair of sunglasses that plays your music to your ears.
Not just to your ears, but to you and no one else.
That makes it a little different from Bose’s regular portable audio fare, as these aren’t your typical earphone. Instead, the Bose Frames are nestled somewhere between headphone and speakers, with
That makes the Bose Frames more like a pair of personal speakers inside of a pair of headphones, and there are two styles of these. You’ll find the Alto providing a more traditional angular sunglasses look, while the Rondo Bose Frames is a circular pair of glasses.
Both are technically the same, however, with tiny Bose speakers built into the arms of the sunglasses, encased in a nylon (plastic) button which aims to be scratch resistant.
This design is built for music and plays sound to your ears, producing a sound field that means you can hear it, but pretty much no one else. If you turn up the sound, other people will hear a tinny sort of sound no different to when people turn up their earbuds all the way, but it’s definitely aimed to be distinct from a speaker. There’s a microphone included, as well, so you can chat to people as you wear the Bose Frames.
There’s also a single button under the right hinge, and you can use this to pause, play, and call up that voice assistant on your phone.
When it gets down to it, though, there’s a good chance you’ll care more about the sound quality for your tunes, because that’s what most of us will use wireless earphones for.
The Bose Frames aren’t technically earphones, nor are they earbuds or headphones; they’re personal speakers made for listening without throwing anything in your ears.
But listening is still the name of the game, and for this test, we turn to the Pickr Sound Test 2019, which you can always listen to for yourself to see the sort of things we look for.
That starts out in electronic, which delivers a surprisingly deep soundscape for Tycho’s “Glider” and Daft Punk’s “Contact”, with the highs and mids more obvious, but the bottom end is still there in the most minor of ways.
It continues into pop and R&B, and it’s when the bass kicks in with Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” and Charlie Puth’s “Done For Me” that you see some punch, albeit not the entire extent you might be looking for. However, the detail is still obvious, and it delivers the true surprise of what Bose has accomplished in the Frames: even though you don’t have an earpiece in your ear, the sound is clear and obviously there. It’s noticeable, can be surprisingly punchy, and while it’s not the earth-shattering effect you might yearn for, it’s deliberate and clear.
Granted, treble is where the Bose Frames really make themselves known, but given the open audio lets sound in and out, it’s genuinely surprising how good these sound.
In fact, that sound quality extends to any type of genre we threw its way. While punchier music types fared better, we found quality in classic, in jazz, rock, and music that was a little heavier, too.
As for how much audio leakage there was, the sound doesn’t get heard too much by folks around you, though like AirPods and other open-ear types of earphones, you may need to turn the volume up to account for walking around people and transport, as the Bose Frames are fighting amongst all the sounds in order to be heard.
While playing music is a key feature, it’s not the only one. In fact, one of the other features is less talked about because it doesn’t get a lot of use yet.
A concept based on augmented reality’s digital images over video, it’s an audio incarnation of the idea, where your headphones feature a compass and your movement in space — how you turn your head — affects what you hear.
It’s a concept called “Bose AR”, and it aims to be “an audio-first approach to augmented reality”, which is basically compass driven sound for your listening pleasure. That aren’t many examples yet, and it’s not helped by the fact that the only examples are on iOS.
However, when you try them, you get to see what Bose is trying to deliver. Examples include stories that deliver a 360 retelling, maps with sound points for when you’re trying to navigate around you, or our personal favourite, a proper implementation of binaural audio whereby as you turn your head, the sound actually changes. It’s interesting to experience, even though Bose AR is clearly in nascent stages, though we are intrigued, to say the least.
If anything, it’s a welcome inclusion and adds to the performance excellence overall.
While the performance is surprisingly strong, the value has a little question mark over it.
Why? Because priced at $299, the Bose Frames aren’t necessarily expensive for a pair of Bose-anything, but they’re also not inexpensive, either.
And that’s before you even consider the biggest issues in the Bose Frames.
What needs work?
As surprised as we are that the Bose Frames sunglasses earphones work as well as they do, there are two things they fail at: battery life and this whole “being glasses” thing.
Let’s tackle battery life first, because while the technology inside is pretty impressive, it’s less so on the issue of battery life.
What needs work? Battery
Battery life is one area where the Bose Frames need a bit of work, and that’s partly because there’s not a lot going on there.
While most wireless earphones offer at least four hours, often with a charge case to bump that up to 12 or 15, the Frames pull that life down to a maximum of 3.5 hours without the charge case.
Yep, it’s not even a day of life, and you need to use a proprietary charger to get it back up.
The most amount of charge you can really get from the Bose Frames is 3.5 hours, which isn’t enough for a day. Not at all.
Not helping this is the case, which lacks the nicety of many modern wireless earphones. While a pair of wireless in-earphones typically arrives with a case decked out with a battery that can charge the earphones, the Bose Frames are stored in a standard sunglasses case.
There’s nothing special about this case, save for a magnetic clasp to hold the case closed, and it won’t charge your earphones. For that, you’ll need the proprietary USB cable, which is short and will likely stay at home.
So there’s that: under four hours of life with a proprietary charge cable and no battery-equipped case.
What needs work? Usability
Bose’s other issue with the Frames earphone-speaker hybrid sunglasses is that while they look like a pair of sunnies, they lack the functionality one would expect from a pair of glasses.
Specifically, you can’t change the lenses out with something from your prescription. To Bose’s credit, you can buy polarised lenses or blue glass lenses, so you’re not completely locked in, but if you want to change them out for your prescription, you can’t.
Well that’s not technically true. You can change Bose Frames out with prescription lenses, but you’ll break the warranty.
This seems like a major misfire for Bose, because otherwise this would solve two potential problems for the Bose Frames:
- It would mean folks who already have glasses could wear the Bose Frames without having to already wear a pair of their own glasses or contact lenses, and
- You might be able to wear the Bose Frames at night with just regular lenses, all without looking like an idiot.
Here’s the thing: wearing glasses at night is hard, not least because it dims your vision slightly, but because you tend to look like an absolute tool. We tried. We caught a glimpse in the mirror, and said “nup”.
It’s a shame, too, because the Bose Frames are really good. Surprisingly good, but you just can’t wear them at night. Not unless your names are Jake and Elwood Blues, and you’re on a mission from God.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
The Bose Frames are really unusual. As a concept, and as an execution.
On the one hand, the idea is cute, and very cool. Sure, there’s a hipster gauge to the whole schtick, and it’s hard to overlook: it’s a pair of sunglasses with sound inside.
What sort of #firstworldproblem does this deal with? None. Not a single one. The Bose Frames are for folks who don’t like wearing earphones with their sunglasses. How strange is that?
We didn’t expect much from them, and yet they sound amazing. These shouldn’t sound as good as they do.
And yet they do, which is really surprising. It’s hard to admit that we like them as much as we do.
The problem becomes when you can use them, and that’s when you start shining a light on the issues of the Bose Frames.
You can use them in daylight, and you can use them at night, but only if you don’t mind the feeling of people glaring at you wearing sunglasses, because honestly, who does that? Some folks won’t care, but others will, and then the question for these sunglasses-speakers becomes “would you buy a pair of earphones that only work in daytime?” It’s a valid question, and one we’re not sure we can answer for you.
The good news is that Bose could fix this very quickly by changing the glasses for standard lenses, and by allowing its customers to use prescription lenses very quickly, or just switch them to reading glasses.
Essentially, the Bose Frames could be even more useful if they were glasses, not just sunglasses. They’d then have more purpose, and would cease to be simply stylish with function, but functional with style.
Right now, they’re for folks looking to fix their earphone woes in the daytime, and are fine we looking a little odd at night. We can’t imagine there’s a lot of you out there, but if there are, the Bose Frames are for you.