Hands on with Amazon’s Echo Frames, Loop, and Buds

Amazon's intriguing new line of smart wearable technology is here

Man wearing smart ring
Amazon rep wears their new Echo Loop smart ring.

 Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Amazon’s pace of Alexa-driven product development accelerated significantly this week, with the introduction of not only a slew of existing product category updates but a handful of new wearable entrants, as well. 

Amazon's Dave Limp
Amazon's Hardware Lead Dave Limp introduced a ton of Alexa's Products and a new bleeding edge hardware program called Day 1 Editions.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

There’s the expected new Echo Buds, in-ear headphones that take direct aim at the ever-growing AirPod-and-its-competitors space. In addition, Amazon is now pushing the envelope on what it considers a finished and shipping product with its new Day 1 Editions. Basically, these are products that are more than just ideas, but a shade less than fully baked. The Loop Alexa smart ring and Echo Frames prescription smart glasses push Amazon deep into the smart wearable space, a place where not every human is completely comfortable.

While there were a half dozen other new products and updates, I decided to focus on the three most intriguing and, I think, important new Alexa-enabled products. I also grabbed short but enlightening hands-on experiences with each of them.

Hands on Echo Loop 

If Amazon gets its way, a lot of us might be walking around cupping our hands to our ears. This is the only way, the intended way, to hear what the tiny Echo Loop Alexa-enabled ring is saying. 

Amazon Echo Loop
An up-close look at the new Amazon Echo Loop smart ring. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

I’d call this the subtle approach to wearable technology. “With the ring, we just wanted something discrete…something simple you could do while making a note to yourself or for discrete info snacking,” Miriam Daniel, Amazon’s VP of Echo devices, told me.

She also noted that the Loop is the smallest Alexa-enabled gadget Amazon has ever built.

Yes, the Loop, which Amazon unveiled on Wednesday as part of its new Day 1 Editions initiative, is kind of a bulky ring and its all-black body is not all that fashionable. I suggested to one product manager a white skull on the front might liven it up a bit. 

Amazon Echo Loop
That's the Amazon Echo Loop on my finger. It's a little dull-looking right now.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

But the experience of using it, even briefly, was better than I expected. 

Loop comes in four sizes that range in weight from 9-to-12 grams, which I think will cover most fingers. Initially, I put the demo Loop on my ring finger and then moved it to my thicker middle finger where it was a snugger fit. It’s not uncomfortable to wear. 

Unlike most Alexa devices, Loop is not listening for a watch word. It has a mic, but to talk to Loop, you press a somewhat hidden button on the back side. I had to learn to press but not hold the button down to activate Alexa. 

Amazon Echo Loop
The Echo Loop comes in four size. This one fit me just fine.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

To talk to Loop, I had to hold it a few centimeters from my mouth. I wasn't sure that it heard me ask for a Whole Foods near me, but when I held the Loop close to my right ear and kind of cupped my ear with my hand, I could clearly hear Alexa’s speech. This, by the way, was how I was instructed to use the Loop. It didn’t feel unnatural, but I bet that these moves will get some looks out in the wild.

The Loop is, like other Alexa gadgets, connected to your phone and Alexa app via Bluetooth. It ships later this year and if you’re on the invite list, it’ll cost $129. Otherwise, the Loop will run you $179 when it finally ships. 

Hands On Echo Frames

While no one was looking, I swapped my black eyeglass frames with Amazon’s new Echo Frames and then dashed out of Amazon’s headquarters, with Jeff Bezos close on my heels.

Okay, that didn’t happen. But Echo Frames do, from a certain angle, look almost exactly like my regular prescription glasses.

Lance Ulanoff wearing Amazon Echo Frames
Can you tell the difference between Amazon Echo Frames and my regular glasses?.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Smart glasses have an obviously fraught history thanks to the trail first blazed by Google Glass. Echo Frames are almost nothing like Glass, but there are enough small similarities that it makes sense for Amazon to put Echo Frames in its Day 1 Editions beta product category.

I asked Amazon’s Daniel if they had taken any specific lessons from Glass. She didn’t answer directly, but told me that in product development, which can take between 12 and 18 months, she tries to “never say never’ to certain features or ideas, but she might say, “not now.”

Amazon Echo Frames
A look at Amazon Echo Frames off my head.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

The company often starts product development with a fake press release that defines the one feature that would make someone want the product. For Frames, they knew people didn’t want to feel like they had to wear yet another thing and that the product would be a very personal item.

My experience with Echo Frames was short, but a number of things stood out.

Even though each stem houses all the Echo Frame’s technology, making them considerably thicker than normal nearest the lenses, the 31-gram frames did not feel heavy or unusual on my face.

Like most Alexa Devices, Echo Frames listen for the watch word, though there is a button to turn listening off. I said “Alexa” with some force because the demo room was incredibly noisy, heard a little tone and then I asked Alexa about the nearest Whole Foods. After a moment, Alexa’s voice came through with startling clarity. In fact, the audio sounded as if it was happening in the center of my skull.

Lance Ulanoff wearing Amazon Echo Frames
Another view of Amazon Echo Frames on my head.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Apparently, Amazon did a lot of work to bend the audio toward your head and away from others. In other words, someone next to you should not be able to hear Alexa fulfilling your request. When someone else tried Echo Frames next to me, I could not hear Alexa, but then the room was, as I said, very loud. 

I could also use gestures to wake Alexa and answer calls. I did not get any during the demo, but was told that a phone call would ring in my ears pretty much as it does on my phone.

Amazon told me battery life is 14 hours and 45 minutes of playback or 20 minutes of calling, or 40 Alexa requests. That last bit sounded a little stingy to me, but wearable battery life is always going to be an issue.

Echo Frames connect to the Alexa app via Bluetooth and, at launch, only on Android. They arrive sometime later this year for $179 (if you can get on the list).

Hands On Echo Buds

I love my Apple AirPods, but I have to admit the new Amazon Echo Buds turned my head a bit. 

These are not a Day 1 Edition; Amazon introduced the Buds along with a slew of other ready-for-retail devices at the huge Amazon Hardware event. 

Amazon Echo Buds
Echo Bud inside their charging case.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

The thumb tip-sized buds come in a charging case that’s at least double the size of the AirPods' floss-sized recharging case. 

Square on the outside with soft round ear inserts, Echo Buds fit snugly in my ears. I put them in, gave a small twist and it felt like they would not fall out. 

Echo Buds are another self-contained Alexa device that connects to the Alexa App on your phone via Bluetooth. For my demo, Amazon had already paired my set with an Android phone.

As instructed, I doubled tapped one of the Echo Buds to enable the Bose noise cancelling technology and instantly my audio experience changed. All the room sounds dropped to a sort of muffled buzz. It felt, not unpleasantly, a bit like I’d stuck my head under water. I could still hear those nearby me. In fact, they were clearer than before.

Amazon Echo Buds on Lance Ulanoff
An Amazon Echo Bud in my ear.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

I found that I could double tap either bud to engage and disengage the noise suppression. 

Echo Buds have built in microphones, so I said, “Alexa,” heard a tone, and then asked where I could find the nearest Whole Foods. Alexa’s answer came through loud and clear.

A moment later, I asked Alexa to play my favorite song list. Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy starting thumping in my ears. The high notes were clear and sharp, and the bass was a bit deeper and more powerful than I expected for ear buds of this size.

Amazon Echo Buds
Amazon Echo Buds.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Echo Buds are rated for 5 hours of playback time and the large case delivers another 20 hours of charge. Considering the size of the case, I would’ve expected more.

Amazon’s undercutting Apple, listing its Echo Buds for just $129 and they are available for pre-order now.