Smart glasses still don't feel like a must-have piece of tech yet, but the Huawei Eyewear II are a strong attempt at proving that they are.
With the benefit of Huawei's excellent engineering and penchant for close integration between its products, the Eyewear offer a unique alternative to a pair of wireless earbuds, offering several identical features plus a few special abilities of its own thanks to a well fleshed-out companion app.
The Eyewear also gets the benefit of being a well-put-together product in a space with few competitors at the moment. Aside from the Amazon Echo Frames or the Bose Frames, other smart glasses are looking to provide a more feature-rich experience, whereas Huawei's glasses do fewer things, but perform them all to a passing grade or better.
However if you're weighing up buying a pair of these or some top-tier wireless earbuds, you're likely to still be better off plumping for the AirPods Pro or Galaxy Buds Pro. Even if you're a Huawei acolyte, you'd likely be better served by the FreeBuds 3. As this Eyewear II review will explain, you need to be a very specific kind of user, or in love with the idea of smart glasses generally, if you want to buy these expensive spectacles.
Huawei X Gentle Monster Eyewear II: Price and availability
The Eyewear II are easy to pick up the U.K. You can find them at the Huawei Store or on Amazon, Very or Currys. However with Huawei not welcome in the U.S., you'll need to go on a hunt through auction sites to see if there are pairs available to import.
Both designs of the Eyewear II cost £310, although buying them through Huawei lets you access special discounts for other accessories, plus a free basic smartwatch too.
Huawei X Gentle Monster Eyewear II: Design
Huawei once again teamed up with South Korean glasses maker Gentle Monster to design the second generation of its smart glasses, and you can't deny they look good.
There are two versions of the Eyewear II available: The rounder Myma or the narrower Lang (pictured). You can get either with polarized lenses, but there's also the option of prescription lenses in certain markets.
Whichever option you pick, they don't draw too much attention to themselves. The all-glass front of the Lang specs certainly looks unique, but not so much that they scream "smart glasses" at passers-by. There are no buttons on the sides, and the speaker grilles are hidden on the bottom edge, so it's only the thickness of the arms that give away that something's up.
The arms are fairly chonky compared to normal glasses, but that's because you'll find all the clever stuff within. Towards the lens on either side are touch sensors, which let you control things with taps, swipes and pinches. Behind them, sitting just over your ear, are the speakers.
Despite their size, the Eyewear are still comfortable to wear thanks to the contact points on your nose and ears being kept close to the proportions of a normal pair of glasses. They're light too, with the heavier Myma version weighing just 1.69 ounces (47.9 grams), which is a touch lighter than the equivalent Bose Frames' 1.76 ounces (49.89 grams) but only just.
The glasses live inside a black cuboid case, which with its pleasant-feeling leather and two shiny zippers looks suitably fancy. It's not the most convenient shape to carry around though as a result
Charging is nice and simple since the case is also its wireless charger. The case doesn't contain a battery however, so you'll need to have the case plugged in for it to power up the glasses. If, like me, you're used to the cases for your earbuds also acting as a mobile charging station, this is unintuitive, and caught me out a few times, leaving me with a pair of unresponsive glasses. But it does mean that despite the case's size, it remains light.
Huawei X Gentle Monster Eyewear II: Audio
I didn't expect the Eyewear to be bad, but nor did I expect them to be quite as enjoyable as they are either. Everything comes out of the dual speakers with a bright clear sound, although there isn't a huge amount of bass.
Comparing the quality of Pharoah Sanders' "You've Got to Have Freedom" on the Eyewear and the AirPods Pro, the overblown saxophone, elaborate piano and double bass sound richer on the earbuds. However the Eyewear offers one advantage in that its open design means you get a surprisingly effective soundstage effect. Sure you can get stereo on any half-decent pair of 'buds, but you don't get the opportunity to hear exactly where in the room all the musicians were standing on many of them.
Watching an episode of Schitt's Creek proved less enjoyable. With only dialog playing, the limited effective range of the speakers becomes quite obvious. It feels like you're listening to the Rose family deal with the town's peculiar goings-on from down the phone instead of right in the scene with them.
You won't want to use the Eyewear for in-depth listening; the kind of time you put on your favorite album, sit down in your comfiest chair and revel in all the details. You lose too much detail compared to normal headphones. Instead, the Eyewear make for an excellent casual listening tool, when you're trying to do something else but want something in the background. This would be better from my perspective if they had prescription lenses in, since having the world look darker and out of focus isn't helpful for my productivity. All the same, I enjoyed being able to listen to a YouTube video while still being able to speak to my housemates as they passed through the kitchen, and no doubt users with better eyesight would like it even more.
However, you won't want to listen to tracks in a particularly noisy environment. Not only is there no form of noise-canceling, but there's also nothing blocking your ears like there is with normal headphones, so you're going to be hearing the world as much as your music. Even opening the windows of my bedroom/office to let in the sounds of nearby traffic was enough to almost totally drown out the glasses playing a podcast at a reasonable volume.
That's good in some cases, say if you're walking to work and want to keep an ear out for traffic. This won't be good if you're trying to concentrate when you get there.
The microphones are weaker. I recorded a few voice notes with the Eyewear and my voice always sounded distant and a little crackly. That was using the so-called HD recording mode of the glasses, a feature locked to Huawei phones, so I dread to think what the normal quality mode sounds like. Huawei mentions in its marketing material that the Eyewear is an excellent tool for hands-free vlogging, but if I clicked on a YouTube video that sounded like that, I'd be clicking off again very quickly.
Huawei X Gentle Monster Eyewear II: Comfort and controls
The Eyewear are wonderfully unobtrusive to wear. Perhaps it's because I wear glasses anyway, but I did forget I was wearing them for long period of time until I moved from my desk and noticed that the sound came with me. That's not even praise I'd give to the AirPods Pro, which while comfy and well fitted, don't disappear from memory like the Eyewear do.
Using the tap controls are nice and easy as well. Unlike other audio products where you have to learn where the sweet spot for making the touch controls work is, you can basically tap or swipe anywhere on the glasses' arms and get the result you want.
You turn on the Eyewear simply by placing it on your face. It's a bit slow to boot up, taking anywhere between two to five seconds, but soon enough the glasses politely introduce themselves with a "good afternoon" or similar timely greeting.
With the glasses on, you have a surprising number of control methods. You can tap the glasses, swipe along them or pinch and hold them.
Play/pause, skip tracks, alter volume or summon your phone's digital assistant. You can also enable a four-finger pinch gesture that lets you perform a voice translation or voice note.
When you're finished with the glasses, just take them off to let them shut down. However they don't actually turn off immediately, since you can put the glasses back on again and continue listening to music straight away if you change your mind within the three-minute window before the Eyewear turns off fully. The glasses know they're not on your face though, so your phone will either pause whatever you're playing or reroute the sound through another device when they're removed, unless you change that option in the settings.
It's a little slow to react though, at least when I tested them with a Mate 30 Pro. No phone's capable of a perfectly smooth hand-off between an audio device and its own speakers, but the couple of seconds' delay is more sluggish than the comparable experience with an iPhone and a pair of AirPods.
Huawei X Gentle Monster Eyewear II: Privacy
Although you can hear basically everything going on outside the Eyewear, your own sounds are kept secret. I asked my flatmates to tell me how much they could hear of a podcast and with the volume at my normal level, apparently they couldn't hear a thing. I had to max out the volume before they could tell the glasses were actually playing music, but that was far too loud for me to comfortably use.
Huawei X Gentle Monster Eyewear II: Companion apps
You can use the Eyewear via a phone's Bluetooth menu as an ordinary audio device, but the only way to get full functionality is to download Huawei's AI Life app, available on the Google Play Store or Huawei's App Gallery. You won't find this on the iOS App Store, so Huawei offers instead a specific Eyewear app for you to manage the glasses through, although it offers fewer features.
Whichever app you're using, it's through this that you can alter various options and send firmware updates to the Eyewear. The big-ticket features enabled by the app are control rebinding and the "Find my glasses" mode on AI Life.
You have a little freedom in customizing what the controls do. Each command out of double tap, swipe and pinch on either the left or right arm has the choice of two commands or to do nothing. You can also disable wear detection if you find that awkward to use.
Find my glasses, unsurprisingly, helps you to track down your lost pair of Eyewear. You need to log in with your Huawei ID, but once you've done this, the app shows you a map with the glasses' location, and the glasses themselves produce a beeping sound when you get close to help you locate it in a small area.
Huawei X Gentle Monster Eyewear II: Battery
A full charge of the Eyewear will give you 5 hours of playback according to the official figures. I however was able to listen to almost 7 hours of YouTube videos before the glasses keeled over, so clearly it's possible to squeeze more use out of a single charge depending on your usage.
That longevity is on par with the average pair of true wireless earbuds. Except without the benefit of a charging case, it's a little trickier to fill them up if you're on the move.
Filling them up from empty to 100% charged takes about an hour and a half. That's perhaps slower than would be ideal, but it means you can easily get a day's use from the glasses with a short charging break.
Since it uses USB-C to charge, you should easily find a cable to use if you don't happen to have one on you, plus your glasses sit safely in the case while it does. That's unlike the Bose Frames, which use a proprietary connector that attaches directly to the glasses themselves, which is far less convenient and increases the risk of accidental damage to the glasses.
The overall experience of keeping the Eyewear topped up isn't ideal. But it's a lot better than what other comparable products are using.
Huawei X Gentle Monster Eyewear II: Bottom Line
The Huawei Eyewear II are well designed both in terms of hardware and software, just as you'd expect from the company. However as clever as these are, they can't do a huge amount more than a nice set of wireless earbuds, and several things they do worse than a pair of 'buds half the price or less. Even though these seem better than the Bose Frames, the increased price doesn't seem quite worth it.
These aren't an essential gadget, more an expensive hi-tech novelty; impressive rather than practical. However I have to tip my hat to Huawei for adding in a number of refinements that I can foresee becoming the standard for smart glasses in future. It's hard to recommend them though, to even people keen on the idea of smart glasses, because of the eye-watering price tag and the difficulty of finding them in the U.S.