Amazon announced a heap of devices this week, including five new Echo smart speakers, more Ring smart home security and new Alexa commands. But the new Echo Frames smart glasses ($180) and Echo Loop smart ring ( $130) were the two that stole headlines.
These wearable devices put Amazon’s digital Alexa assistant on your body in a way that’s different than the more expected earbuds route (though there are new Echo Buds, too, for $130 or £120). By bringing Alexa to your face and your hand, Amazon might be trying to get more personal with the little voice in the device.
The Echo Frames ($199 at Amazon) and Echo Loop raise a host of questions about what they do, who they’re for, what kind of customization options there are and even how to buy them (it’s not as easy as walking into a store or adding them to your cart on Amazon.com). Here’s what we know so far, and what we don’t.
Why did Amazon make the Echo Loop and Echo Frames?
Wearables are a potentially huge technology sector, but so far only smartwatches and fitness trackers have really taken off. Several companies, notably Google and even Amazon itself, have already introduced smart glasses to the market (think Google Glass), but they’ve hardly been mainstream.
At $180 and $130 respectively, Echo Frames and the Echo Loop offer consumers the ability to take Alexa and its extensive collection of skills with them wherever they go, at a relatively inexpensive price. If successful, the new devices could help further expand Amazon’s influence outside of the home, something that Google‘s been able to do in phones with Google Assistant, but which Amazon hasn’t achieved.
This is what the Echo Frames do
Echo Frames are a pair of connected glasses that let you speak commands and hear Alexa’s replies, hands-free. You can also use them to listen to audio streams. Say you’re walking down the street with your hands full and ask Alexa to kick-start turning on the air conditioning at home or play you a podcast.
At 31 grams, Echo Frames aren’t any heavier than regular glasses, although the temple pieces do seem a bit wider than average.
You can control some features by swiping along the earpiece. Microphones, which can be shut off by double-tapping an action button on the temple, listen for commands, then four beam-forming micro speakers aimed at your ears let you — but only you — hear Alexa’s response.
Echo Frames only work with Android phones for now
Amazon also touts Echo Frames as an accessory to your Android phone, allowing you to hear alerts and interact with Google Assistant through your glasses. The Echo Frames have a VIP Filter setting, which lets you choose what kinds of notifications you want to pass along, so you’re not having every last ding, bing and chirp hitting your ears.
You can use prescription lenses in the Echo Frames
During the launch presentation, Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, noted that his demonstration pair had been fitted with his prescription lenses.
According to Amazon, your optometrist will be able to fit lenses to your Echo Frames as well as adjust their fit just like any other pair of prescription eyeglasses. Amazon even has a printable card with information to help your eye doctor out.
If you have vision insurance with out-of-network coverage, you may be eligible for a reimbursement. Amazon has more information about reimbursements on its website.
The Echo Frames aren’t a head-up display (HUD)
Unlike the Google Glass, the Echo Frames don’t function as a personal HUD. That is, they won’t project information like turn-by-turn navigation or AR interlays on the world around you onto the frames in front of your face. They’re solely there to pair with your phone and talk to Alexa.
Here’s what the Echo Loop is all about
The Echo Loop is the first Alexa-enabled smart ring. It has an action button you use to wake up the device with a single click, two microphones to listen for your commands and a nearly-microscopic speaker for replies. The ring also has a vibrating haptic engine for notifications. There’s no display, but you can monitor notifications and all the rest through a companion smartphone app.
The Echo Loop connects to your phone’s Alexa app over Bluetooth and uses your existing data plan. Unlike Frames, Loop is compatible with both Android phones and iPhones. You can summon either Google Assistant or Siri with a long press of the Loop’s action button.
The Echo Loop is water-resistant
Amazon says it’s water-resistant, and you can safely wash your hands while the Loop is on. However, “showering and swimming are not recommended.”
The Echo Frames and Loop will make phone calls
Both the Frames and the Loop allow you to call anyone in your contacts, and the Loop lets you program one (and only one) speed dial number, which you call by double-clicking the action button.
Calls on the Loop involve awkwardly shuffling your ringed finger between your ear to listen and your mouth to speak, which is probably why Amazon says they’re only good for “short” phone calls.
The Echo Frames and Loop don’t have cameras
Neither the Echo Frames nor Echo Loop have a camera anywhere on them, so you won’t have to worry about people taking photos or video of you.
You’ll need Amazon’s chargers to power up the Frames and Loop
Frames fully charge in about 75 minutes through a proprietary USB to four-prong connector. Amazon says Frames should last “all day” on a full charge with “intermittent usage,” which Amazon defines as 40 Alexa interactions, 45 minutes of audio playback, 20 minutes of phone calls and 90 notifications over a 14-hour period at 60% volume. If binge-listening is your thing, Amazon expects you’ll get about three hours of continuous audio playback at 60% volume.
Amazon says Echo Loop takes 90 minutes to charge on the accompanying charging stand and a full charge should last a full day of “intermittent usage,” noting real-world battery life will vary per user.
Here’s how the devices are listening to you
Since you summon Alexa on the Echo Loop by pressing a button, it’s only listening when you tell it to.
Echo Frames, however, function much like other Amazon Echo ($70 at Amazon) devices, in that Alexa is always listening for the wake word (usually “Alexa” but can also be set to “Computer,”https://www.cnet.com/”Echo” or “Amazon”). Once triggered, Frames start recording your voice, then send that audio to Amazon servers, where it is processed into a command, which is sent back to Frames.
How to know when Frames or Loop are recording you
When Alexa is triggered on Echo Frames, you’ll hear a chime and see a small blue status light inside the Frames indicating Alexa is listening.
Alexa on Echo Loop is triggered by pushing a button. There is no outward indication beyond that point that Alexa is listening.
What we know about Amazon keeping copies of those recordings
Just like with other Amazon Echo devices, Amazon saves all your interactions with Alexa, including audio recordings. According to Amazon, “an extremely small fraction of voice recordings are manually reviewed,” meaning human beings sometimes listen to them for product development purposes.
In an era of mounting consumer privacy controversies, Amazon has tried to stay ahead of customers’ concerns by creating a portal for Alexa users to control how their personal data is collected, saved and used. There, you can choose to not let Amazon collect or review your data at all, or you can set recordings to automatically delete after three or 18 months.
You need to request an invitation to buy the Echo Frames and Loop
Amazon hasn’t shared all the details, like shipping dates or holiday availability, but we do know that you’ll need an invitation, which you can request for the Echo Frames here and the Echo Loop here. (This is also how the company is managing the rollout of its Amazon Echo Auto device for cars.)
Once you get your email invitation, you’ll be given a code that’s good for 30 days and that you’ll need to complete your order at Amazon. We also know that the Echo Frames and Echo Loop will sell in limited quantit
Here’s how to know if they’ll fit
Right now, Echo Frames are only available in one color — black with tortoise temple tips — and one size: 54mmx18mmx145. Amazon has a nifty little popup on the Echo Frames product page to help customers determine if Frames will fit their face.
Echo Loop comes in only one finish — black titanium — and four size options: small, medium, large and extra-large. Those sizes correspond to 9, 10, 11 and 12 in ring size, respectively. Even if you know your ring size, Amazon still recommends ordering a free “fit kit” to ensure the proper fit after getting an invitation to purchase Loop. Amazon will hold your place in line while it ships you a set of four dummy rings to try on.
You should expect more devices like these
Part of the reason for the invitation system is that the wearables fall into a new class of products that Amazon calls Day 1 Editions. These are finished products, but with limited availability. These aren’t going to be widely available in stores. However, Amazon stressed that these are not beta releases, but fully developed, ready-for-primetime gadgets.
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