The Soundcore Frames understand that smart glasses put the “personal” in personal technology.
If it’s something people will visibly wear, like glasses, they should have some say in how it looks. Whereas Amazon’s Echo Frames have the tricky tasks of advancing Alexa adoption, sounding great, and fitting everyone with its one-size-fits-all design, the Soundcore Frames — developed by Anker’s audio sub-brand — have no such limitations.
The Soundcore Frames are highly customizable and almost exclusively focused on providing a great audio experience — at the expense of more traditional “smart” features. Are smart glasses that do less but look good the solution to putting technology on your face? The answer is more complicated than you might think.
Inverse may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
The first and probably best thing about the Soundcore Frames is that from the front, they really do look like a normal pair of glasses. Soundcore is selling an eclectic and stylish selection of customization options, including eight styles of polarized sunglasses and two pairs of blue-light filtering eyeglasses — starting at an affordable $149 or $228 (if you want a version your optometrist can put prescription lenses in).
The modern styles go a long way to making the Soundcore Frames look more natural to wear, and since the actual electronic parts of the smart glasses are stored in the temples, you can pop them off with a tug (it’s scary, but you have to pull hard) and switch frames anytime you want. Now, these frame styles aren’t all one-size-fits-all — the “Promenade” squeezed the sides of my head just a little too tight — so the process is much more like buying real glasses. You should consider the size and shape of your face (and the size of your current glasses) before putting any money down. Sadly, there are no stores where you can try on the various frame styles. There’s an AR feature within the companion app that lets you try the frames on digitally, but that won’t tell you how they’ll feel in person.
But with the right size, other than the fact that almost all of the frame options skew big, there's no easy way to know the Soundcore Frames are a tech product. You need to look really closely to spot the Soundcore logo on the temples, small charging ports along the bottom, and speakers near the temple tips. It’s worth noting, the charging cable that you use to charge the smart glasses needs to be attached to both temples to work. And it’s short, maybe too short to reach the Soundcore Frames if you have them on a nightstand, and per my colleague Raymond Wong, very easy to lose.
Luckily, battery life on the Soundcore Frames is respectable. Soundcore suggests the smart glasses will last about 5.5 hours, and I was able to reproduce that in my tests. Better yet, even though the charging cable leaves something to be desired, you are able to use it to add an additional 90 minutes of listening with 10 minutes of charging. Those limitations aside, the Soundcore Frames are admirably inconspicuous.
In terms of sound, the headlining feature for the Soundcore Frames is “Open Surround,” an option that can be turned on and off in the companion app. Open Surround attempts to recreate a home theater surround sound experience through the smart glasses' tiny speakers.
To my surprise, Open Surround works really well. It's more like the “Spatial Audio” you get out of Apple’s AirPods 3 or AirPods Pro than a fancy Sonos setup, but still more immersive than stereo sound through wired headphones. The feature might be a bit of an acquired taste, but that’s why it's an option and not the default.
In general, I found the sound performance on the Soundcore Frames satisfying. Songs sounded fuller and far louder than what I experienced on the Echo Frames. I’m not sure if it's the size of the speakers or their placement, but the Soundcore Frames can get ridiculously loud — louder than you’d ever want or even need.
The real shortcoming of the improved audio on the Soundcore Frames is that they’re not discrete. These smart glasses are not very good at keeping what you’re listening to private. The “Privacy Mode” you can turn on within the app helps (it’s basically a custom EQ for containing sound spillage) but it also flattens the audio and isn’t as nice to listen to.
I don’t think it's terrible to have to pop into the app to turn Privacy Mode off, I just wish there was a way to automate it so I didn’t have to. Because it’s worth it to hear how the Soundcore Frames usually sound.
If it isn’t clear already, I have no love for the Soundcore app. It's vital for connecting the Soundcore Frames to your phone via Bluetooth, adjusting various settings, enabling experimental features like voice control, and software updates. Unfortunately, it also serves as advertising space for other Soundcore products — there’s a whole tab dedicated to discovering how the Soundcore Frames and other products are designed and made. This “discovery function,” as Soundcore calls it, can be entirely turned off in settings, but you lose out on one of the app’s better features — a built-in white noise feature — if you do.
Soundcore’s custom white noise feature should be way more common on wireless headphones because it makes a great bonus add-on. If you prefer something a little less distracting than music while working, there are included soundscapes to listen to, or you can create your own by combining a bunch of custom sounds and saving them for listening later. The loops Soundcore includes are short, but there’s a pretty wide variety to choose from, so you might not notice the repetitiveness.
As for the hardware features of the smart glasses themselves, Soundcore kept them simple. The Soundcore Frames accept swipes for adjusting the volume or moving through tracks, you can answer a call with a tap or long press to activate your phone's smart assistant, and that’s about it. With voice control enabled (it’s not on by default) voice commands can handle all of the same functionality hands-free, without the need for a wake word. Voice control worked flawlessly, but given the possible privacy implications, I mostly wished the touch controls were a little bit easier to use and for physical buttons.
The Soundcore Frames’ big success is that, for the most part, they look like normal glasses. In my experience, other than people commenting that the frames look large — “oversized” is what I got most often — they really feel normal to wear. I only felt self-conscious when I remembered there was a Soundcore logo on the side. That’s a major win in my book!
Should you buy it?
For $149, the Soundcore Frames are not only competitively priced, they’re better than several other audio-focused smart glasses I’ve tried. If you’re comfortable with smart glasses that aren’t particularly smart, but do sound great — and more importantly — look like normal glasses, the Soundcore Frames are hard to beat.
They also highlight a possible way smart glasses could have their own smartwatch interchangeable band experience, where the temples stay the same, and the frames and lenses change depending on your mood or preferred style. I can’t say setting up smart glasses to work that way will make sense for every company, especially considering how little the Soundcore Frames actually do. But it’s proof that other than how they look, smart glasses really haven’t been standardized at all. There’s a ton of potential.
Nearly a decade after Google Glass flopped, Inverse takes a deep dive into the augmented reality we have right now. Check out our Smart Glasses Week hub page for more stories about the state of smart glasses as they exist in 2022.