Tech

A first look at Amazon's new AirPods competitor, smart glasses and ring

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First look at Amazon's new Echo Buds, Echo Loop ring and Echo Frame glasses

Amazon announced a lot of new products on Wednesday, but three caught my eye: The Echo Buds wireless earphones, the Echo Loop ring, and the Echo Frames glasses.

They all show that Amazon wants to put its Alexa smart assistant literally everywhere: in front of your face, in your ears and on your hand. They all seem neat, but I'm a little skeptical about why they need to exist.

One note: None of the products included fitness-tracking features, which CNBC previously reported Amazon is working on. The Buds don't really need them, but the Loop ring, in particular, might make more sense with them.

The Buds

CNBC | Todd Haselton

This is the most promising new product category Amazon is launching, given the success of Apple's AirPods.

The Echo Buds let you speak right to Alexa — much like AirPods let you speak right to Siri — but Amazon isn't religious about forcing you to use its assistant: you can also speak to Siri or Google Assistant depending on the phone you use.

CNBC | Todd Haselton

The highlight is noise cancellation technology built by Bose, which I found worked really well in a quick demo. A quick song by Miles Davis sounded on par with AirPods. although it's hard to tell in just a few seconds. They felt comfortable but I'll need to test them more before saying whether or not they're better or worse than AirPods at staying in my ears.

There's one huge downside, though: they use microUSB charging, while almost every current gadget has moved on to USB-C. This is a weird choice by Amazon, which continues to use microUSB in its Kindles and Fire tablets, too.

The ring

The Amazon Echo Loop makes no sense to me. It's one of Amazon's "Day 1" products, which are experimental but will ship to customers by invitation, so Amazon can collect feedback and improve them.

Right now, it's a titanium ring that sits on your finger and lets you talk to Alexa.

I tapped a button and, after feeling a small vibration, asked Alexa where the nearest Whole Foods was. (Amazon had us ask pre-scripted questions for best results since it seems this is still a very early stage product.) Then, I held the ring to my ear and heard Alexa tell me the nearest Whole Foods is 0.3 miles away. Neat. I guess. I could have just asked the Echo Buds and wouldn't have looked as silly, right?

The glasses

Amazon Echo Frames
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Another experimental product is Echo Frames, but I think these have legs. These aren't augmented reality glasses like Microsoft's Hololens or Google Glass — there's no display on them, and no camera like Glass had. Instead, you talk to the glasses and Alexa talks back to you. They make more sense than the Echo Loop, since the speakers are right near your ears and you don't need to raise a hand up to listen.

Me wearing the Amazon Echo Frames.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

There's a tiny blue indicator light that lets you know Alexa is listening when you say "Alexa," too.

Music wasn't very loud, but audio responses were good enough if you wanted to hear a notification, like that a door at home had been opened or a package was delivered.

The other stuff

Amazon hardware chief Dave Limp stands next to a photo of new hardware products the company unveiled in an event in Seattle on Sept. 25, 2019.
CNBC | Todd Haselton

Amazon had other cool stuff, too, like its Echo Studio speaker that promises really good speaker quality $199. And a glow light that sits by your bedside. And so much more.

But the products above were the most compelling — either for good (Echo Buds) or bad (Echo Loop) reasons.

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