Oakley’s had a mixed run with its Thump, O ROKR, and RAZRwire sunglasses, which we’ve been covering on Backstage since the series started a couple of years ago – some people have liked the look of the “wearable electronic” eyewear, while others haven’t – it’s a matter of personal style and preference. We’ve found certain entries, such as the original Thump, more than a bit techy and overdesigned, but with every miniaturization of the electronic components needed to power its glasses, the designs become more and more indistinguishable from normal sunglasses. By taking on a task that Apple hasn’t – literally, finding a way to put the equivalent of an iPod shuffle and its earphones directly into a lightweight, head-mounted shell – Oakley’s found itself even more dependent on cutting-edge component developers, with every smaller Sigmatel chip and battery pack yielding a lighter, more wearable pair of sunglasses.
Featured first in our 2007 iPod Buyers’ Guide, Thump Pro is the company’s best effort yet. Without compromising on sound quality, and actually increasing the comfort over the past Thumps and O ROKR, Thump Pro is – in person – almost indistinguishable from a standard pair of Oakley Half Jackets, save for the integrated earpieces. The picture above shows how non-tech the new glasses have become; now that we’ve seen them on a bunch of different faces, we can say with confidence that no one looks goofy wearing them, even women. You’ll be surprised at how good they look when you see them in person; the three available colors (black, crystal black, and smoke brown) are appropriately neutral.
One key distinguishing point this time out is that Oakley’s marketing Thump Pro as performance eyewear – for specific athletic purposes, such as cycling, golfing, and the like, where people are already using glasses that look very much like these – and touting their comfort, versatility, and water resilience. Beyond just piping music into your ears for 6 hours – a little more, depending on which codec your music or Audible Audiobook is in – they’ll resist splashes and rain, but not submersion in shallow water. Need to use them indoors? Get the version with Transitions lenses, which brighten up indoors and go dark outdoors. And they retain the sound quality and storage capacities of past models – 256MB to 1GB versions now range from $249 to $349, including one USB cable and simple carrying bag, which isn’t cheap by iPod shuffle standards, but isn’t completely out of the reach for some athletic users. Price aside, we think Thump Pro is Oakley’s strongest entry yet in the Thump series, and if you’re an athlete, it’s very worthy of your attention.
The other really interesting thing we learned at Oakley this week: if you like RAZRwire, the company’s Bluetooth sunglasses for use with cell phones (which we actually do), now you have more than one set of frame options. Oakley’s new Square Wire 3.0 glasses are RAZRwire module compatible, and were actually set to become the company’s official “RAZRwire 2” before some last-minute changes were made. If you already have a RAZRwire module, you can put it on the Square Wires instead, and soon, Oakley will sell that module separately (between $50 and $75)so that you don’t need to invest in two new pairs of glasses to use it with these and potentially other frames. Pretty cool.
Also: for a collection of never-before-seen shots of an all-transparent prototype version of Thump Pro, click on Read More. Oakley’s official Crystal Black version lets you see many of the same cool little components inside the casing, without the too-clear-for-outdoors sort of look.