Bose Frames were initially hyped as audio that were compatible with Bose's upcoming AR audio platform, Bose AR. Again, that's audio AR only -- the glasses don't offer a - or -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 (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.
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 ($159 at B&H Photo-Video) -- 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.
They do work well for making calls. I was able to hear callers reasonably well in the streets of New York, even though my ears were open, taking in all the sounds around me -- and they could hear me fine. Because there's nothing in your ears, people will really think you're talking to yourself, but I undoubtedly got a certain feeling of freedom from not having anything in my ears, even something as light as the AirPods.
Missing AR features at launch
As noted, the Frames are the first commercial product built to work with Bose's new audio augmented-reality platform. Unlike video-based AR platforms, Bose AR delivers audio feedback based on your GPS location and which way you're facing, thanks to a nine-axis head motion sensor in the sunglasses. In demos, Bose showed how apps could give you details about a particular building or landmark that you're facing. Instead of having to look at a screen, you could be walking around the world as you normally would and have a guide speak to you.