Bose Alto Frames Review
For commuters riding a bike or scooter to work in sunny climates, these are perfect, providing situational awareness and great audio.
Beyond that, they are a little hit and miss, I am impressed with the audio quality and I like them for casual walks by myself, I am just not sure if they are worth the premium over the more practical solution of having sunglasses and earphones separately.
If and when Bose release the AR features, my opinion could completely change, but it is dependent one what AR features are launched
Overall - 75%
Announced last year in the form of Bose AR, the Bose Frames were a pair of sunglasses that were supposed to offer augmented reality functionality via audio. Between then and the release date they were released as Bose Frames and no AR functionality has been launched.
This, therefore, leaves these as a pair of sunglasses with speakers built in. Unlike Aftershokz these do not use bone conduction technology typically which are typically used with products similar to this.
At around £200 these are certainly not cheap, for that price you can buy a pair of Ray Ban Wayfarer Classics and have £75 left over for a decent pair of wireless Bluetooth earphones.
The AfterShokz Trekz also only cost £100, and while they certainly don’t look as good, if you plan to use these just for commuting then they are worth considering.
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Build and Design
Being typical to Bose, the overall build quality is superb. Also being Bose, they have perhaps chosen to sacrifice some of the aesthetics in favour of sound quality.
While the chunky frame arms are not as bad as you would expect, you can’t deny they don't look amazing. In comparison back in March, Huawei and Gentle Monster announced their own smart glasses, but I can guarantee that the thin frames of these glasses will not be able to produce the same sound quality as the Bose Frames.
They come in two styles, Alto and Rondo. The Rondo which I received is a Wayfarer type design that is suitable for larger heads. My head isn't massive, but not small, the fit is OK when walking around but in some scenarios, I found them slipping down a little, likely due to their size.
The Rondo is for smaller heads and uses a road frame. The problem with this design choice is that not all people suite round sunglasses or angular ones, but you don’t really have much of a choice here, as it is head size dependent. I would assume the designers found that smaller heads more frequently favour the rounder style compared to angular shapes, and vice versa.
The lenses pop out and I was sent a normal dark colour and a mirrored finish. It looks like replacement lenses cost about £30, which is not unreasonable.
The biggest annoyance I have with these is their method of charging. I might not have cared, but the Huawei x Gentle Monster charge wirelessly via the case that holds the glasses, which has a 2,200mAh battery, or via the USB-C port. This is a similar method that most wire free earphones have adopted too. In general, I find it a little annoying having to charge the glasses outside of their case on my table. It is just asking for me to get lazy and stop using the case which will inevitably mean I damage the glasses.
Rather than the speaker bit going in your ear, it just sits on the side of your skull. This inherently means that the audio quality is not as good as in-ear and sound leakage occurs. Ignore the marketing fluff, these are audible depending on the volume and ambient noise. On top of this, ambient noise will interfere with the perceived quality of audio.
When I ran my last marathon, I used the excellent Aftershocks, while these are bone conduction earphones they have a similar issue. I started listening to music while queuing up to run, it was crowded and noisy so I set the volume too high. Once running and separated from the pack, the volume was loud enough for me to get a lot of funny looks from other runners, and I was too preoccupied with running to try and fix the volume.
With these, in my office, with not much ambient noise, with this turned halfway down, I can hear them when not wearing them. It is like someone listening to earphones far too loud. However, when walking the street, even a tiny amount of ambient noise drowns out the sound leakage. I haven't tested walking around with them at full volume, so they may be audible then, but for moderate volume, these are mostly inaudible to passers-by. While the sound leakage isn't as bad as the Aftershocks I would be cautious with the volume when using them in closed spaces with other people such as trains and buses.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the sound quality. Bass is something that normally suffers from this style of earphone, while these don’t offer the deep lows such as the 1MORE Triple Driver, it is clear and present with no distortion. In comparison to the bone conducting Aftershocks, I much prefer the audio profile of these all ranges are well presented, highs and vocals are clear and precise. While it doesn't have the bass of some in-ear options, it is superior to bone conduction.
With bone conduction options, the speaker vibrates on the side of your skull, and at high volumes that can cause an unusual sensation, you can physically feel the speaker vibrating. With these, that sensation never occurs and is therefore far more comfortable to wear.
I like to go for a walk in the afternoon, so for the past couple of weeks, if the sun is slightly out I have worn these. Similarly, I wore them as my main sunglasses on a trip to Riga.
While the sound quality is excellent, ambient noise can get in the way, while this is useful for safety it is less than ideal for audio quality. Cars, in particular, will drown out the sound.
On holiday is where these really had a chance to excel, using Google navigation with the earphones allows you to wander around a city following directions completely inconspicuous of being a tourist.
This is perhaps the most useful area for these sunglasses, being able to listen to music or navigation while maintaining complete situational awareness. Similar to walking, external noise will affect, wind noise will interfere, and at low volumes, you may even struggle to make out words if you listen to things like podcasts.
However, the fact that you can hear other cars around you is what makes these perfect either for listening to music while commuting or listening to navigation commands.
Road cycling recreationally
Normally I wear some SunGod wraparounds with the Aftershocks, so I thought I would see how the Bose work in this scenario.
They sort of work ok. On a 50 mile ride, I found they would slip down my face a little so I needed to push them back up, this gets a little annoying over nearly 3 hours. The glasses are quite large and I don’t have a massive head so your mileage may vary.
Similar to my road cycling experience, the movement of running meant that that would slip down my face a little. It wasnt as bad in this situation and with the run being shorter in time it was less annoying. I don't normally run in sunglasses but for a casual jog on a sunny day these should work work.
I approached this review expecting to dislike these sunglasses, casual sunglasses with speakers built in don't sound like they would have many if any practical applications for my personal usage scenarios.
While I still think these have a niche appeal, they have grown on me, sound quality is better than expected, while sound leakage is present, with ambient noise around you it isn't enough to make people look at you funny.
For most scenarios, I would say these are hard pushed to recommend over a decent pair of sunglasses and some earphones, but that doesn't make them bad, just different.
These obviously excel in cases where situational awareness is important. In general, this will mean when commuting on a bike, or the increasingly common scooter. While I can’t see many recreational lycra clad road cyclists adopting these, for someone cycling a hybrid, or even electric bike to work, these work very well. Living up north and working from home means that I don’t use them in this scenario, but there are plenty of other sunnier climates where commuting via bike or other means is very popular.
I did find I enjoyed these when going for my afternoon walks. While the audio quality can’t compete with a good pair of earphones, it was a lot better than expected, and there is something refreshing about not having in-ear earphones when listening to music, it is less isolating I guess.
As far as I know, Bose will release some AR functions at some point and this will no doubt make these a lot more appealing.