Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Huawei and Gentle Monster’s collaboration made waves when the first generation of “smart eyewear” came out in 2019. Back then, it was one of the first few sunglasses that came with built-in speakers, and it was certainly an interesting concept. The new Huawei X Gentle Monster Eyewear II is now out, and it costs an eye-watering S$638. Is it worth it? Well, in some ways.
A bit of background on Gentle Monster. They’re not a tech company, they’re a South Korean luxury eyewear brand that was started in 2011, and was propelled to fame by celebrities wearing their products in Korean dramas and the likes. A point to note about their designs is that the frames typically tend to be thicker and slightly oversized, and you’ll see the same design also found in products offered in the collaboration with Huawei.
There are actually four designs, but here in Singapore, we only have two, the Smart Havana and Smart Myma, with the former being a pair of fake spectacles and the latter being a pair of sunglasses. Now, you can swap out the lenses in the eyewear for prescription lenses if you require it, but you’ll have to head to an optician to get it done as Huawei doesn’t offer that service. Of course, if you wear contact lenses, you won’t have any issues with these.
The eyewear comes in a nice black hard carrying case that also doubles up as the charger. I particularly like the fact that the glasses charge wirelessly in the case, which means you won’t have to fumble with plugging in a cable directly to the glasses. The case uses a USB-C cable, with a full charge powering about 5 hours of music playback.
One quibble I have is that the glasses won’t actually charge in the case unless the case itself is plugged in since there’s no battery built-in. It definitely means that it’ll be hard to charge it if you’re out and about or using these on a plane when travelling. Sure, you could always plug them into a powerbank, but it would be more convenient if there’s a small built-in battery in the case that could provide top-ups.
The glasses themselves look pretty stylish, and I actually really do like the design of the Smart Havana. The arms of the glasses are slightly thicker than normal spectacles, but you have to consider that there’s a battery, touch controls, speakers and other sensors built into it. They are definitely heavier than standard glasses or sunglasses too; each model has a different weight, but it doesn’t exceed 50g. However, most of the weight is on the arms, so it’s not too bad.
The speaker grills are on the part of the arms that are directly in front of your ears if you have a bigger head. Personally, my head is rather small, and as a result, the ends of the arms actually stick out at the back of my head, resulting in half of the speakers resting on the top of my ears. It doesn’t actually affect the sound, to the best of my knowledge, these still sound pretty good, but it’s definitely a point to consider if your head is on the smaller side.
Controlling music and the like is pretty easy on the glasses. You get track control with swipes on the right arm, volume control on the left arm, and double-tapping on the right arm will play or pause your music, as well as serve as answering or ending calls. The double-tap function on the left arm starts off as waking up the phone assistant, and this could be Google Assistant for people using Android phones, or Huawei’s own Celia AI Voice assistant if it’s available in your country.
The touch-sensitive zone on the arms are pretty large as well, so you won’t have to worry about taps or swipes not registering. First time pairing is a breeze, I pulled it out of the case and a pop up immediately asked if I’d like to pair with it on my Huawei phone. This most likely won’t be the case on other Android phones though, so most people would probably have to go into the Bluetooth settings to pair it.
An important app to have if you’re getting these glasses is the Huawei AI Life app. You can update the glasses in the app, but more than that, you can customise shortcuts, choose whether you want your glasses to wish you good morning, afternoon or evening and in what language, toggle wear detection as well as use the Huawei Find Device app to find your glasses if you ever misplace them. There’s also a feature to play a ringing sound on your glasses if you’ve lost track of where they are in your house.
Anyway, enough about all that, let’s go into how these sound. Honestly, if you’re just judging these based on sound quality, I’d say they definitely aren’t worth the S$638. That amount of money could get you a really good pair of headphones with features like ANC, and yes, most people would definitely rather get proper, dedicated earbuds or headphones.
You get relatively average sound and the bass isn’t great either, but the upside is that it’s definitely handy for taking calls, and if you use your voice assistant a lot, you’ll enjoy using the glasses. You might be wondering about sound leakage since these are using speakers to play music. The answer is yes, there is sound leakage, but it’s really quite minimal.
My family members couldn’t hear my music unless they were standing right next to me, but that could also have been because I was playing my music at a slightly softer volume since the speakers are literally right on top of my ears. Taking them off and leaving them on the desk in front of me or holding them mid-air beside me, there’s clearly some leakage but it’s around the same level that you might get from playing music too loudly with earbuds. These glasses will never be your first choice for critical music listening, clearly, but if you’re someone who likes to have music in the background when working or studying, you should actually consider these quite seriously.
As for when listening to music on the go, I think they would be alright, but there’s always the fear of disturbing people on public transportation with music, and I rather have something that can cancel out the rumble of the train or engine noise.
I used them for a bit of Netflix as well, and surprisingly, they performed okay. There’s not much depth to voices and such, but the audio isn’t flat and there’s actually still some sense of imaging between the left and right channels.
Voice calls work fine, and people on the other end can hear me quite well, although I foresee wind noise and environmental noise being a rather big issue with these.
So are they worth the S$638? I’d say no, for 90% of consumers out there. There’s just no real compelling reason I can find for people to buy these in terms of audio quality. But if you want a stylish pair of glasses or sunglasses with the Gentle Monster label, it’s worth bearing in mind that a normal pair from the brand already costs around S$300-400. Case in point, the standard Havana glasses frame already costs S$440 (US$330). Adding on an additional S$200 for smart functionality and the cool factor of being able to impress your friends with your music-playing glasses might be worth it in that case.
Personally, I feel that if Huawei dropped the price to around S$500, there might be more takers, even if it’s just for the novelty of the glasses. I’d only be willing to pay the full price if there was screens or overlays in the glasses that could show notifications, like the now-defunct Focals by North which was acquired by Google.
That being said though, the eyewear is definitely a fun piece of tech, and I’ve enjoyed my time with them, even if I had to wear them over my own prescription spectacles to do work. Hopefully, Huawei takes these back to the drawing board and considers else can be added to provide even more value for the price.
More information and purchase options for the Huawei X Gentle Monster Eyewear II (S$638) are available at Huawei’s website.