I liked the original Bose Frames. They were stylish sunglasses that featured audio-based augmented reality, which actually seemed like a clever workaround for the technological challenges of smart glasses. But alas, Bose AR wasn’t meant to be. Last summer, the company shuttered that division and as a result, Bose Frames went from being audio AR sunglasses to glorified Bluetooth headphones. I’d assumed the Frames were dead forever, but I was wrong. The Bose Frames are back, and holy guacamole Batman, this version is fugly.
Well, one of the new Bose Frames is fugly. This time around, Bose has released three types of Frames. There’s the Tempo, which is meant for outdoor sports. This is the ugly stepsister of the Frames family. When my husband gazed upon me wearing them, he winced and immediately said, “Do you really have to wear those?” The other two, the Tenor and Soprano, are more in the vein of the original. The Tenor look like your typical Wayfarers, while the Soprano has a more cat-eye shape. No one is going to look at you with disdain when you wear them. Hell, you might even get compliments.
The second-generation Frames don’t have any sort of AR whatsoever. They’re essentially open-ear Bluetooth headphones, with speakers and microphones built into the arms. There are strategically placed “ports” on the top and bottom near the temple, which Bose claims makes it so no one else can hear what you’re listening to, even if they’re standing or sitting close by. These new Frames also sport longer battery life than their predecessors, with the Tempo lasting up to 8 hours on a single charge and the Tenor/Soprano lasting 5.5 hours. That’s oodles better than the 3.5 hours you got with the original Frames.
The concept here is something like bone conduction headphones. While you’re out and about, you can still listen to your tunes while also staying aware of your surroundings. As an outdoor runner, I get it. There have been times where I didn’t hear a car or biker behind me and almost got flattened like a pancake. I’ve also lived in some not-so-great areas where I didn’t feel comfortable wearing headphones at all. So with that in mind, I was actually pretty stoked to try the new Frames—especially the Tempo, even if I’d look like a complete tool wearing them.
There’s no way around it. I did not look cool in the Tempo. They have the same vibe as Oakleys—you know, the polarized glasses worn by douchebags with Guy Fieri hair and a backwards cap. Or Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights. Every time I slapped on these bad boys, I could hear my husband’s love for me leave his body. But you know what? I don’t care. They were freaking great.
Winter running is brutal. Winter running next to a river is extra brutal. These hideous monstrosities kept my eyes from being destroyed by wind. On bright sunny days, I mentally kicked myself for never wearing polarized sunglasses before. I was worried my music would sound tinny or crackly due to ambient wind, but it was actually never a problem. The best part was I could still hear my footfalls and breathing, which made it easier for me to gauge whether I was getting sloppy with my running form. And comfort-wise, both the Tempo and Soprano were pretty light, even with those bulky arms.
The new Frames don’t deliver mind-blowing audio quality. They sound fine, and if memory serves, slightly better than the original Frames. For example, the Tempo handles bass-heavy songs like Black Pink’s “How You Like That” decently. I could still hear when the beat dropped and the rest of the song wasn’t mangled. It just wasn’t better than my Jabra Elite 65t or my AirPods Pro. No matter how good open-ear audio is, it’s just never going to be better than headphones that create an actual seal. Then again, I’m not someone who needs my music to be super crisp while working out. I’ll gladly take slightly crappier audio over worrying whether my earbuds are about to fall out mid-exercise.
One bummer was that the sound wasn’t quite as private as I’d have liked. While testing out the Soprano in my apartment, my husband could hear some snippets of a song I was listening to at medium volume. It wasn’t enough to actually tell what song—but enough to know that I was listening to something. This wouldn’t be an issue when walking or running outside, where outside noises were enough to muffle whatever was coming out of the sunglasses. However, I can imagine you might piss off someone you’re sitting next to on the train or bus. Even so, the fact that most people wouldn’t be able to hear what you’re listening to is still pretty impressive.
Battery life was also surprisingly good. Right now I run about 20 miles per week, and over three weeks of testing, I’ve only had to charge the Tempo twice and the Soprano once. For the Tempo, that’s slightly less than the 8 hours promised but not by much. A 63-minute run zapped my battery by about 20% so you’re probably good for at least 3-4 continuous hours of use if you’re fully charged. This should be more than enough for all but the most hardcore of endurance athletes. I did get less juice overall out of the Soprano, but to be fair, I also wore it far less as my daily walks usually top out at around 15 minutes.
Like other wireless Bluetooth headphones, you can also control your media or take calls via the single button on the right arm. Music playback is easy enough: a single press will start or pause, double press to skip, and triple press to go back. Call controls require way more memorization. To accept or end or a call, you press once. To decline a call you press and hold for one second. If you need to decline a call while on another call, you can do the same. If you have two calls going, you can double press to switch or hold for a second to create a conference call. I can only write this out because I’m looking at Bose’s website for reference. Maybe I’m a fogey but beyond accepting or declining a call, it’d be easier to just take out your damn phone.
The touch controls were more intuitive to use. These sunglasses have motion sensors inside, so if you slide your finger along the right arm, you can control volume. (This is fun in a dorky way.) Double tapping brings up your phone’s digital assistant. To turn the sunglasses off, you just have to turn them upside down. You could connect the Frames to the Bose Music app, but there’s zero reason to, because all you can do is adjust volume, view the Bluetooth source, and get “tips” on how to use the device.
For those of us with bad eyesight, you can get prescription versions of the Tempo or Soprano. I didn’t get the prescription versions, so I can’t speak to how easy it is, or the quality of the lenses, however. For $30 extra, you can also buy alternate lenses in case you don’t like the default option. Bose sent me a few to try, and they’re relatively easy to pop in and out. (Though, it’s a bit trickier on the Tempo due to the shape.) Still, no matter which lenses I tried for the Tempo, my husband insists I look like a turd in all of them.
Open-ear audio sunglasses definitely aren’t something that everyone needs. If you’re someone who wants to drown out the rest of the world and get lost in your music, these aren’t going to do it for you! Truthfully, these are best suited for people who do lots of outdoor activity. And I mean lots of outdoor activity, because you’re not going to wear these indoors. The problem is these babies cost $250. Spending that much on the Tenor or Soprano, a secondary pair of headphones that I only wear outside when I’m walking solo? They’re nice, but they’re not that nice.
I would, however, plunk down that cash for the Tempo, as it’d be buying decent exercise headphones and sports sunglasses in one fell swoop. I run most days of the week, and it turns out, sunglasses help you see better while protecting your poor eyes from wind, UV rays, and your husband’s judgmental stares. I feel less anxious when I can hear what’s going around me better, and I don’t have to give up my music for that awareness. If you’re also someone who frequently exercises outdoors, it honestly might be worth the splurge. And frankly, it’s fine that these glasses are uglier than sin. No one should have to look chic while working up a sweat anyway.
- The second-generation Bose Frames!
- No audio AR, but sound quality and battery life have been improved.
- Call controls are way too hard to memorize; the touch controls are more intuitive.
- Audio isn’t as private as Bose claims, but still pretty good.
- Only really worth it if you do a lotttt of outdoor activity.