Amazon Echo Frames available to all - Alexa smart glasses upgraded

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Amazon's Alexa glasses, the Echo Frames, are graduating from the retailer's tech preview and going up for general sale, with a bunch of new updates for those eager to wear the assistant on their face. At the same time, fellow Amazon Day 1 Editions product Echo Loop – effectively a ring for interacting with Alexa – is being discontinued, the retailer says.

Echo Frames envisaged a more straightforward, audio-first sort of smart glasses. Rather than trying to fit a complex, power-hungry, and expensive transparent display into one or both of the lenses, the connected eyewear relied on microphones and speakers so that Alexa could listen to your requests and questions, and then speak in response. In short, it was a personal smart speaker for your face.

They launched as part of what Amazon called its Day 1 Editions program, effectively a test bed for new ideas and concepts. Sales were by invitation only – Amazon hasn't said how many it sold – with an eye on getting feedback for whether broader availability was a good idea.

Now, Echo Frames are graduating from the program, and getting an upgrade along the way. Priced at $249.99 – or $70 for those who already bought the Day 1 Editions version – they're available in three colors, Modern Tortoise, Horizon Blue, and Classic Black. They're made of eyewear grade TR-90, carbon fiber, and titanium, and are splash resistant.

As before, they connect wirelessly to your smartphone. New, though, is longer battery life: Amazon says the Echo Frames now last up to 40-percent longer with continuous playback at 60-percent volume than the originals. Flip them upside down, meanwhile, and after three seconds they'll automatically switch off.

The audio quality has seen an improvement too, with Amazon promising "richer and fuller sound" for both music and Alexa's responses. Volume can be set to automatically adjust, too, based on ambient noise levels. You can still use them to interact with Siri and the Google Assistant with a long press of the temple, and there's now support for calendars and group messaging. A VIP Filter only allows through pre-approved contacts.

For privacy, the microphones are designed to only respond to the wearer. Double-pressing the action button shuts the microphones off altogether, with a glowing red light to indicate Alexa isn't listening.

While Amazon includes non-corrective, clear lenses with Echo Frames, they're still compatible with "most" prescription lenses. New, there's support for LensCrafters installation of lenses, though other opticians should be able to fit them too. Amazon says the new Echo Frames are up for preorder today, and will ship from December 10.

For Echo Loop, the end of production

Unfortunately for another of Amazon's test products, the future isn't so rosy. "The spirit of Day 1 Editions is that not all inventions will exit the program," Amazon points out today. "With Echo Frames generally available, we have also decided that Echo Loop will not advance beyond the Day 1 Editions program, with production and sales ending."

Echo Loop was always an odd concept. It embedded a microphone and wireless connectivity into a titanium ring for your finger: press the single button and the ring would vibrate when Alexa was listening. Then, you could whisper your request or question into your cupped hand, wait for the second vibration, and then hold the ring to your ear to hear the reply.

"We learned a lot about how customers want to use Alexa for short, snackable content throughout the day," Amazon says now, "and we will take that with us as we continue to invent new customer experiences." Production and sales of Echo Loop are ending, though existing owners will still be able to use their smart rings, and can still expect updates and support for it.