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Amazon’s latest Echo Frames are more style than substance

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Amazon’s latest Echo Frames are more style than substance

The purpose of the Amazon Echo Frames is obvious: to provide quick access to Alexa no matter where you are because it’s on your face. But generally speaking, that’s not why anyone wants smart glasses, let alone a pair that costs $389.99 like the Carrera Cruiser model I’ve been wearing for the past week.

For better or worse, most people’s vision of smart glasses is informed by Tony Stark, James Bond, and other iconic sci-fi and spy movie characters: sleek, discreet devices that have some sort of hidden mixed reality display or the ability to capture the world around you. The original Google Glass cemented that image, while successors like the Snap Spectacles and the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses have leaned heavily into content creation. But the Echo Frames hasn’t really ever been quite that ambitious. Like the Bose Frames, Amazon’s approach to smart glasses has primarily been as a pair of open-ear headphones that you can take calls on, listen to music with, and ask the occasional Alexa query. There’s no camera, no screen, and nothing to clue anyone in that you’re not just wearing ordinary glasses.

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Amazon isn’t straying too far from that formula with these third-gen Echo Frames. The big thing now is that they’re lighter, the battery lasts longer, the bass is more bassy, and they look a lot more stylish than previous iterations. I don’t think that’s enough to turn the Echo Frames into a must-have gadget — but it’s a half-step in the right direction.

Strike a pose

It’s a big deal that Amazon’s latest Echo Frames look nicer than before. Style is one of the most underrated criteria for smart glasses, and put simply, you’re just not going to wear something that makes you look like a dweeb. Everyone’s face and vision is different, and a successful pair of smart glasses is going to account for that by offering a wide range of styles, colors, and fits.

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With the third-gen Echo Frames, you can choose between clear, prescription, blue light filtering, and sunglass lenses. They also come in multiple shapes, including round, cat eye, square, rectangle, and “modern” rectangle. These start at $269.99 for the most basic clear lenses, $299.99 for blue light filtering lenses, and $329.99 for sunglasses.

These are all subtler options, but if you like a flashier style, Amazon is also continuing its partnership with Carrera. That extra pizzazz comes with a heftier price tag. The Cruiser (the one I have) and Sprinter model will both set you back $389.99. The latter is more of a boxy, Wayfarer-esque frame and gives you the option of sunglass or blue light filtering lenses.

I have a low nose bridge, so I had to keep pushing these up after a few seconds.

Because the Cruiser only comes with sunglass lenses, I wore these during my commute and on outdoor walks. They are a vibe. I’ve been described as channeling Yeezy, a Kardashian reject, a card-carrying member of the Jersey Shore mafia, and a time traveler from the ’80s. I most definitely have turned heads while on the street. I had fun wearing these, and most folks could pull this off so long as they put a little swagger in their step — but personally, this isn’t the style I’d pick for my day-to-day sunnies, mostly because they didn’t fit my face well. While these are made of a lightweight acetate weighing 46.3g, I have a low nose bridge, and these were slipping down my face every five seconds. The other thing I didn’t love about the Cruiser glasses was the build quality. While they look high fashion, they feel plasticky in my hands and not befitting of their nearly $400 price tag.

Forget the bass

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As I said, these are less smart glasses than they are a pair of open-ear headphones. On that front, the Echo Frames are alright for the category but are nothing mind-blowing.

Bass is purportedly three times better on the new Echo Frames, but they’re still not going to bring the thump of even standard AirPods. I’ve been listening to a lot of Stray Kids lately, and Felix’s TikTok-breaking rumbly baritone is absolutely lost on these. In God’s Menu, the song’s famous “cookin’ like a chef I’m a 5-star Michelin” line is reduced to zero-star Michelin. On a loud train, I couldn’t even hear it despite turning the volume up to the max.

This isn’t a problem limited to the Echo Frames — it’s a common problem with any open-ear audio headphones. That said, the same song on the Meta smart glasses sounded a bit richer. These were a lot better for podcasts or less bass-heavy songs, but you still can’t get away from the feeling like you’re listening to something from a few feet away instead of right next to your ear.

I don’t love the charging stand, but battery life has been improved.

At the same time, there’s a fair amount of audio leakage. No one asked me to turn things down while I was commuting. Trains and city noises are loud. But at the same volume in the office, all of my co-workers could hear that I was listening to something. They might not have been able to discern the song, but it was loud enough to be distracting.

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As for call quality, these were good enough. I called a friend during an hour-long walk, and she was able to hear me despite beeping trucks and wind. In her words, I sounded “echo-y,” and she could hear a lot of the ambient noise around me, but at no point was she unable to hear me. I do like that you can pair the glasses to multiple devices and have them switch between the two — that’s something the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses weren’t really capable of. However, this is only useful if you’re getting clear glasses, as you shouldn’t be wearing sunglasses indoors while on your laptop.

The right side has two action buttons.

The volume rocker is on the left side. You can also see some of the directional speakers and mics.

The controls are at least easy to navigate. On the left arm, you’ve got a self-explanatory volume rocker. (Though, I found myself reaching for the volume rocker on my phone far more often. Habits are hard to break, especially if you often have your phone in hand anyway.) On the right side, there are two action buttons that you can use to take or decline calls, put the device into pairing mode, or mute Alexa. If you press the back action button twice, you can launch a personalized playlist on the music streaming service of your choice. For me, I’d think that’d be a list full of K-pop and sad indie artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Mitski. Instead, the glasses played a list full of artists I didn’t know and songs that I would never listen to.

Like I said, these are more headphones than smart glasses.

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Alexa on your face

The main thing that’s supposed to set the Echo Frames apart is the fact that they have Alexa built in. My problem here is that Alexa has never been and still isn’t a particularly good voice assistant when you’re on the go. It’s fine at answering odd queries, setting timers, and telling you the weather — but it’s much better at controlling your smart home than replacing Siri or Assistant.

It’s not that you can’t do things. You can now use this to make non-Alexa calls and, if you have an Android phone, reply to text messages. Directions are also possible, but it’s clunky. Alexa told me I’d get a notification on my phone to start… but that meant tweaking my notification settings to a less preferred option. When I did get it working, it suggested I go to Bowling Green in Kentucky instead of the Manhattan train station five minutes away. Most things are still just easier (and faster) on my phone. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of reasons to actually use Alexa on these glasses. That was only exacerbated by the fact that I had a pair of sunglasses instead of regular glasses.

It relies on your phone for a connection, and that’s a pro and a con. So long as you have a stable Bluetooth connection and your phone has signal, you can use Alexa reliably while on the go. On the flip side, you don’t have much offline usability on that front. Plus, you need to make sure the Alexa app is always open and running in the background.

It says to just ask Alexa, but I didn’t find much to ask beyond the weather and timers.
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Even so, it’s just weird to say “Alexa” in public. (You can change the wake word to Echo if that feels better, but for me, it did not.) This is an issue I have with nearly every pair of smart glasses with some kind of voice assistant. Earbuds are a visual and cultural signal that we all implicitly understand. If I’m talking to midair with AirPods in, you can be confident I’m on a call. Me talking to myself with no phone or AirPods in sight got me some odd looks from strangers — and confused looks from some of my friends.

In terms of notifications, I like that you have some control over when you get notified. There’s a VIP Filter you can curate so that only select apps and contacts will notify you. The glasses will play a sound whenever you get a notification, and then you can pull your phone out to check. It won’t read your texts, but I appreciate that. I don’t love it when Siri takes 10 years to read out the URL to a funny link my friends send me, for instance. It does mean you have to be ruthless when setting up your VIP list, however.

You can set a VIP Filter to curate your notifications, but it’s best to be ruthless here since you only hear a ping.

For testing purposes, I did try issuing a few Alexa commands while I had these at home. I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t trip up any of my Echo speakers. There is a feature where you can ask any Echo speaker you have to locate your Frames. That’s nice, but at the same time, I doubt it’s something most people will frequently use. As a lifelong glasses wearer, mine are always either in a case or on my nightstand because. I have a specific drawer for sunglasses. Plus, this feature relies on your glasses having a decent charge.

Speaking of charge, these held up well over the past week. My commute is around 60–80 minutes, depending how much the MTA wants to test me. I’ve gotten about five hours of media playback and calls thus far and have about 30 percent battery left. Meanwhile, a roughly 50-minute call drained the battery about 20 percent. Charging from zero to 100 percent takes about 2.5 hours, though I’m not a big fan of the charging stand’s design. It took me a hot second to figure out that you’re supposed to place them on the stand vertically so that the lenses are pointed straight up at the ceiling. The way the stand is designed, I’d expected you’d plop them in horizontally. I missed the charging case of Meta’s smart glasses, which killed two birds with one stone and was a much more elegant charging solution overall.

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Pay more for less

If you’re a heavy Alexa user, I can see paying the $270 for the base model and maybe using FSA or HSA funds if you need prescription lenses. But while I like the look of the Carrera Cruiser model, this is not nearly $400 worth of tech and style, especially not when the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses start at $299 — a mere $30 more than the cheapest Echo Frames. Those get you better build quality, a surprisingly good hands-free camera for photos and video, the ability to livestream to Instagram, better audio quality, and a much better mic. Those get you the option of transition lenses, too, though the third-gen Echo Frames are at least on a similar playing field when it comes to style. Likewise, the Bose Frames Tempo and Soprano have a retail price of $249 — and can be found on sale for around $200. Those have similar battery life and better sound quality.

Audio definitely leaks on these in quieter spaces.

These make some small moves in the right direction. Again, improving the range of available styles was a much-needed change. It’s good to beef up the audio, but it wasn’t enough of a change to make these stand above the competition or a compelling alternative to wireless earbuds. But perhaps most crucially, I wasn’t convinced to use Alexa more than I otherwise would have. As it stands, I think Amazon’s getting there with form. It’s just not quite there with function.

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Oregon is about to sign — or veto — the strongest right-to-repair law yet

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Oregon is about to sign — or veto — the strongest right-to-repair law yet

Oregon’s landmark right-to-repair law is nearly here — today, SB 1596 passed the Oregon legislature, and is headed to Governor Tina Kotek’s desk to sign or veto within the next five days. It’s a big deal, because the Oregon law would be the first to ban “parts pairing,” a practice where companies can keep you from using components (sometimes even official ones) unless that company’s software is satisfied that they belong.

Similar to California’s right-to-repair law, the Oregon bill also requires companies to make the same parts, tools, and repair documents available to any owners that it offers to authorized repair shops, and without charging any more for them.

It doesn’t specify a number of years that companies need to make those items available, though — California mandates seven years, while the Oregon bill suggests companies could simply stop producing them. It also comes with typical carveouts for video game consoles, medical devices, HVAC equipment, energy storage, various kinds of engines… and electric toothbrushes.

Like California and Minnesota’s laws, it wouldn’t apply to phones sold before July 1st, 2021. But for all other gadgets, it goes all the way back to July 1st, 2015.

The ban on parts pairing wouldn’t apply to any existing device, though — only consumer electronics manufactured after January 1st, 2025.

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We spoke with iFixit CEO Kyle Weins about parts pairing, and how the fight for right-to-repair was just getting started, on this October episode of The Vergecast:

Today, Weins says he’s “beyond proud of my home state for passing the strongest-yet electronics Right to Repair bill.”

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1-minute tech changes for more privacy

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1-minute tech changes for more privacy

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You’re shopping for a gift, or doing something personal, and oops! Someone waltzes into the room. No problem — just hit Command + M on a Mac or Windows + M on a Windows PC to instantly minimize the program you have open.

There are so many little tips and tricks that make using your tech better. I’ve got a ton up my sleeve that are privacy-focused. If you find one new to you, share this article with a friend!

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5-stars! Watch Kim Komando’s Daily Podcast on YouTube. It’s tech news with a fun slant!

Every time I share this, someone thanks me

7 THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER ASK SIRI, GOOGLE ASSISTANT OR ALEXA

Apple keeps track of where you go and how often you visit. It can then make suggestions based on what it calls Significant Locations. You might see these as calendar events or map directions alerts.

Sure, it’s helpful, but not everyone likes it. You can clear this list.

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  • On your iPhone, go to Settings > Privacy & Security > Location Services > System Services.
  • Tap Significant Locations.
  • Hit the Clear History button.

You’re sending more than a selfie

Most people don’t realize all they share when sending a picture via text. Nearly every social media site strips out the metadata that reveals a photo’s little details, like when, where and how it was taken. But that info is not protected if you text a pic. You can stop that.

To stop location sharing on iPhone:

  • Open the image you want to send and tap the share button.
  • Select Options and toggle off Location. Tap Done.

To disable location tracking in your camera altogether:

  • Open Settings. Tap Privacy & Security > Location Services.
  • Scroll down, tap on Camera, then select Never.

FULTON COUNTY, GA, STILL DEALING WITH DAMAGE LEFT BY JANUARY RANSOMWARE CYBERATTACK

On Android, here’s how to wipe the location data for a single photo:

  • Open your gallery and select the photo.
  • Go to Details (it may be a three-dot menu) and click Remove location data.

Disable Bluetooth when you don’t need it

Bluetooth works similarly to Wi-Fi and cellular networks but performs simpler tasks at shorter ranges. You don’t need a cellular signal or network connection to use Bluetooth, and it doesn’t use data. And like any other connection, it’s not 100% safe.

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Hackers and scammers must be close to you to use Bluetooth to hijack your phone. But in just about any public space, you’re arm’s length from strangers.

My advice: Turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it. Keeping it active all the time makes your device more discoverable. As a bonus, keeping Bluetooth off will increase your device’s battery life.

person writes in a notebook

African American teenage boy writes something in a notebook while studying in the campus library. An open laptop is on the table. He is wearing wireless headphones. (iStock)

  • On an iPhone, go to Settings > Bluetooth and switch it off. You can also swipe down from the top right of your screen to open the Control Center and tap the Bluetooth icon.
  • The same steps work for Android phones. Go to Settings > Connected Devices > Connection Preferences > Bluetooth and switch it off. (Note: Steps vary based on your phone’s model. Look or search for Bluetooth if these steps don’t match your phone.)

Airplane mode also disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, among other things, so it works in a pinch — but you won’t receive calls or texts.

Swap your pen for a safer one

It’s kind of crazy to me that check fraud is increasing in a big way. Criminals go to mailboxes and target envelopes that look like checks being mailed or bill payments.

Check washing is the most common type of check fraud. This is where a crook steals a check from the mail and alters the payee’s name so they can cash it. They often change the amount of money as well. 

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GOOGLE CANNOT OVER-OPTIMIZE WITH ‘IDEOLOGICAL FILTERS’: DIGITAL CONSULTANT KRIS RUBY

If you need to write a check, use a security pen, also known as a check-washing pen. Uni-ball 207 Series pens (4 for around $10 on Amazon) use specially formulated ink that gets trapped into the paper, making it difficult for criminals to wash or erase the ink on a check.

To be extra safe, skip the mailbox and take your checks directly to your local post office. More smart steps here if there’s a mail fraud surge in your area.

checks identity theft

Check washing fraud is when important information is removed from an original check and new information is added on. (Fox News)

Don’t forget crooks like to go offline, too

Thieves still use old-school tactics they think we all forgot about. We’re too smart for that, right?

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  • Out in public, keep your purse and wallet close. Only bring the cards you’ll be using.
  • Be aware of who’s around when you pull out your phone, and hide your screen as you type in your PIN.
  • Leave your Social Security card, birth certificate and passport at home unless you truly need them.
  • Shred old bills and financial records before tossing them. I use this shredder.
  • Review your credit report and bank statements regularly. Here’s how to get a free report.

If you get scammed, resist the urge to stay quiet. Report fraud, scams and bad business practices to the FTC. If you gave out your Social Security number, contact the SSA immediately.

Keep your tech-know going 

My popular podcast is called “Kim Komando Today.” It’s a solid 30 minutes of tech news, tips, and callers with tech questions like you from all over the country. Search for it wherever you get your podcasts. For your convenience, hit the link below for a recent episode.

PODCAST PICK: The SWAT team raided Kim’s house

Plus, Madeline Smith has caught over 1,000 cheaters caught online. She shares her insights on spotting an unfaithful spouse. Kim and Andrew also talk about NASA’s Mars simulator and demystify baffling Gen Z slang.

Check out my podcast “Kim Komando Today” on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.

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Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”

Sound like a tech pro, even if you’re not! Award-winning popular host Kim Komando is your secret weapon. Listen on 425+ radio stations or get the podcast. And join over 400,000 people who get her free 5-minute daily email newsletter.

Copyright 2024, WestStar Multimedia Entertainment. All rights reserved.

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A tech-backed mission to monitor methane pollution launches today

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A tech-backed mission to monitor methane pollution launches today

A mission to map and track global methane pollution, a powerful greenhouse gas, is scheduled to launch today after years of collaboration between some of the biggest names in tech. It’s called MethaneSAT, a satellite that’s garnered funding and support from Jeff Bezos, Google, and SpaceX, among others.

MethaneSAT is expected to launch today from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 2:05PM PT. Liftoff will be livestreamed on the SpaceX website and on the company’s X profile. The nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund that developed MethaneSAT is also promising a special program starting at 1:40PM PT with key experts and “supporters” to talk about the mission.

Methane pollution is responsible for around 30 percent of global warming that’s raising sea levels and causing more extreme weather disasters. The gas comes from decomposing trash in landfills, methane-emitting microbes in rice paddies, and infamously from livestock burping and pooping. It also routinely escapes from oil and gas fields, pipelines, and even home appliances. After all, so-called natural gas is mostly just methane.

Orbiting Earth in 95 minutes, it’ll have eyes on oil and gas fields that account for roughly 80 percent of global production

It’s all that leaking gas that the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) plans to tackle with MethaneSAT. The group has documented massive amounts of leaking methane already. Between 2012 and 2018, it discovered that US methane emissions were actually 60 percent higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates.

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The group worked alongside 40 research institutions and 50 companies to put together a more comprehensive picture of methane emissions. It was painstaking work taking on-the-ground measurements directly from sources of pollution, which they supplemented with aerial readings taken by aircraft.

MethaneSAT can cover a lot more ground much faster. It should take about 20 seconds to survey the same area that would have taken an aircraft two hours to survey, according to EDF. Orbiting Earth in 95 minutes, it’ll have eyes on oil and gas fields that account for more than 80 percent of global production.

The goal is to quickly see how much methane is escaping and from where, so that measures might be taken to plug all those leaks. Methane is 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels when it comes to heating the planet — but only within the first 20 years of entering the atmosphere, and then its potency declines.

Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, lingers in the atmosphere and traps heat for centuries. Since methane is a powerful but comparatively short-lived greenhouse gas, preventing it from leaking is seen as one quick way to have a significant, immediate effect on climate change.

Google announced a partnership with EDF last month to create a global map of methane pollution from oil and gas infrastructure. The company is training AI to spot well pads, pump jacks, and storage tanks in satellite imagery similarly to how it identifies sidewalks and street signs for Google Maps. Matching that infrastructure to emissions data from MethaneSAT might be able to help regulators pinpoint where there are leaks.

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An example of what MethaneSAT data would look like on Google Earth. It shows high-emitting sources of methane pollution as yellow dots, and a diffuse plume of methane as a purple and yellow heat map.
Google Earth Engine via EDF

If this mission is successful, it could be a game-changer by allowing policymakers to assess how much progress they’re making on climate action based on real-world measures of pollution rather than estimates based on companies self-reporting their emissions.

“What we’ve learned over our decade of doing field measurements is that actually, when you measure actual emissions in the field, it turns out that the total magnitude of emissions coming from the industry is much higher than what’s being reported by them using engineering calculations,” Mark Brownstein, EDF senior vice president of energy transition, said during a press briefing on Friday.

Building and launching the satellite cost $88 million, according to EDF. The Bezos Earth Fund gave EDF a $100 million grant in 2020 to help get MethaneSAT off the ground, making it one of the project’s biggest funders. MethaneSAT also marks the New Zealand’s Space Agency’s first government-funded space mission.

If all goes to plan, MethaneSAT should start publicly releasing some data by early summer. A complete picture of major oil and gas basins around the world isn’t expected until 2025, data EDF says will be available on MethaneSAT’s website and Google Earth Engine.

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