Hands-on review: Fauna audio glasses
Image credit: Fauna
Fancy a pair of non-bulky smart glasses? Tech company Fauna puts speakers inside the frame of a range of specs looks that can let you listen to music and handle calls hands-free.
Arguably, Google didn’t initially do the optical trade much of a service when it released its publicly available SMART glasses back in 2014. While a brave and necessary step in the march towards facially adorned tech, it separated the world into the geeks and the rest, exacerbated by the futuristic styling.
While smart glasses continue to be developed in less obtrusive styles, those offering more exotic functions such as AR require cameras, electronics, and enough space on at least one lens to project images. The result is that they remain aesthetically clunky and still at the thin end of the market wedge that they will no doubt expand along in the future.
Further up that wedge are audio glasses. Although still more novelty than mainstream, the amount of real estate required for sensors, speakers, and microphones is substantially less than for full-equipped smart glasses. Consequently, they are starting to squeeze into styles that could be mistaken for an ordinary pair of specs. Currently, styling appears to favour the thicker frame, further opening up the unobtrusiveness of tech-laden eyewear.
This is the marketplace that Fauna Audio inhabits, and its latest range includes the unisex Memor Havana on test here. Depending on your tastes, they would slip into the stylishly chunky category rather than unfashionably clunky, and they would not be immediately identifiable as audio/smart glasses.
Given the ubiquitous nature of Bluetooth, there really shouldn’t be an issue connecting to a phone, but a frustrating dance experimenting with various positions of phone and glasses (in their case) meant the review got off to a slow and nearly terminal start. However, there is an alternative forced pairing method using the glasses themselves that worked immediately. After the initial pairing, there were no subsequent connectivity problems, and the connection was typically maintained between 10m and 15m of the paired device.
In the aforementioned case, it’s quite a pleasing device in its own right. Fashioned in British racing green with four pinpoint LEDs to indicate charging status, it connects to the outside world via a USB-C. Through this, the 1300mAh battery in the case can be charged to the max in two hours. The glasses sit on charging contacts within the case and their 100mAH battery – also recharged in two hours – will provide 20 hours standby and over five hours of music, voice assistant, and phone calls, although when put to the test it actually scraped six hours of continuous operation.
This is plenty of time for a walk, a lengthy session in an office, or a commute, but it is not enough to last a full day if they are to be fitted with prescription lenses and used as a primary pair of spectacles. In the spirit of the age, they would need to be part of a hybrid working strategy for an individual’s eyewear.
Not that they need to be fitted with prescription lenses. The standard-issue is non-prescription Zeiss DuraVision BlueProtect lenses which reduce exposure to the blue light from phones and computers that is believed to result in poor sleep patterns. The part of the frame that the lenses are mounted in is made of Italian acetate and contains none of the gadgetry that might be damaged by heat, so an optician can fit prescription lenses.
There is an audio module in each temple with two patented MEMS electrodynamic micro-speakers, two woofers, and two microphones. Each temple also has sensors, electronics, and a battery, but the total weight of the glasses is only 50g and doesn’t feel too heavy on the face.
The all-important question is – how good is the audio? It does not, to quote Fauna’s PR, "deliver a crystal-clear sound without major leakage". But then, in an age of relatively cheap headphones with astonishing audio quality, the expectations are probably too high and the comparison unfair.
The quality of the audio is good and clear. It doesn’t deliver much bass and so when listening to music it lacks a bit of depth, but not enough to leave it tinny and unsatisfactory. For making phone calls or listening to podcasts, the audio is completely clear and equally the microphones also do their job in ensuring outgoing speech is perfectly sharp. So having access to the noises of the outside world while having the luxury of your chosen soundtrack will appeal to many. There is no need to miss the doorbell going, conversations around you, or public transport announcements. They could also improve safety for those cyclists who currently insist on wearing headphones, or similarly inclined walkers and joggers who cross paths with motor transport.
Admittedly, until awareness of the capabilities of audio glasses becomes more mainstream, it may cause a few curious glances. The madness of people walking along talking to themselves is now excused if they have headphones in – but bespectacled people chattering to themselves without obvious listening devices might still raise a few eyebrows.
The claim of ‘no major sound leakage’ is slightly misleading. Listening to quiet music on Fauna glasses in a quiet room is not a problem, but if you like to listen to music with a bit of oomph, then irritated heads will turn in an office or train carriage.
Control of audio is easy: a double tap on one temple will stop or start a track, pick up or end a phone call, while a longer hold will skip the track and a swipe to the back and front alter the volume. The other temple can pair to a phone, as mentioned earlier, or summon the voice assistant. E&T found this could be done at a mumble without losing speech accuracy, but there is still the snag if you want the phone to do something – like play Spotify – that it still needs to be manually unlocked. The physical effort has to be spent.
However, so often with emerging consumer electronics categories, there is a feeling of it being a work in progress – a stopgap before a fully functional product emerges. That is not the case here. Depending on how they are to be used, the audio is good, the style of the glasses is subjective but certainly will suit some tastes, and the use cases they present could appeal to many.
Fauna says its audio glasses are unique and pioneering in the market because of the audio technology and sound direction, as the sound travels directly to the user’s ear without obstructing the ear canal or blocking external sounds.
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