Apparently someone out there actually does read this site, because it wasn't more than a few days after we posted some of pics of our DIY MP3 sunglasses before the FedEx dude showed up at our door with Oakley's new Thump MP3 player sunglasses in hand. Here's our hands-on (heads-on?) review:
No doubt you probably already have a pretty good idea what the Thump is all about, but the basic dirt is that it's a pair of sunglasses with a built-in MP3 player that comes in two capacities: 128MB and 256MB. The 256MB version, which retails for $495, comes in four colors: tortoise with gold iridium polarized lenses, night camo with black iridium polarized lenses, matte black with black iridium lenses, and a Lil Jon Signature Edition pair that comes in Red Camo with black iridium polarized lenses (Oakley sent us the matte black pair, but we're really wishing we'd asked for the same ones that Lil Jon wears, you know, just to keep it real and all that). The 128MB version costs a hundred bucks less and comes in white camo, matte black, and a made up color called 'rootbeer'. All of the glasses use USB 2.0 for file transfer and have a battery life of around six hours. You have to use the USB cable to recharge the player, but they do a sell a separate wall charger accessory if that's how you like to do things.
We'll just come out and say it: we really didn't like wearing these in public. We'd criticize Oakley for the Thump's styling (or lack thereof), but to be honest we haven't really liked any of Oakley's sunglasses since were 11, so we'll concede that the styling thing is a matter of personal preference. We have no doubt there are plenty of people out there who like the looks of the Thump'Lil Jon seems to be enjoying his,so we're not exactly the final arbiter on these things. You can argue all you want about the importance of aesthetics when it comes to MP3 players, but sunglasses are first and foremost fashion accessories, which means no matter how awesomely amazing the sound quality or massive the storage capacity, the design matters a lot. We wouldn't wear these if they were regular sunglasses, so glomming an MP3 player on there isn't going to make much of a difference.
The earbuds headphones were a little uncomfortable at first, and it took a little adjusting and fiddling to get them to rest in our ears in just the right way. If you dislike wearing earbuds you're probably not going to dig wearing these, but otherwise they're fine.
Sound Quality and Controls
The sound quality of the Thump is surprisingly excellent. Usually whenever an MP3 player is an MP3 player + something else, the first corner that gets cut is sound quality (you really think the bass on that MP3 playing wristwatch is going to be as good as the bass on a Creative Zen Touch?), but Oakley didn't skimp on this one and everything we listened to sounded great (that is, when we got the earphones positioned just right).
Adding songs to the Thump was a snap'it's plug-and-play and both our PowerBook and our PC had zero trouble recognizing it as USB mass storage drive, and like any USB flash drive, you could store just about anything you wanted on there. They included some a CD-ROM with utilities on it, we didn't bother with it. If you can't keep track of 256MB worth of music without a piece of special software than you'll probably also have trouble scrounging up the five hundred bucks you'll need to buy one of these.
Controlling the player is easy. The Thump doesn't have any kind of display, but you really don't need a screen when you have only 128MB or 256MB of music. Besides, if you're riding a bike you shouldn't take your eyes off the road anyway. There are three buttons on the right temple of the sunglasses, one in the middle for turning the Thump on and off, one in the front for advancing and fast-forwarding and another in the back for skipping back a track and rewinding. On the left temple there are just two buttons, one for increasing volume and another for decreasing. It's all pretty intuitive, and we were able to guess everything without looking at the included manual (yeah, we're that clever).
Inside the Box
You don't get much else in there, just a carrying pouch, a CD-ROM with that software we ignored, a brief manual, and a USB 2.0 cable.
Alright, setting aside our petty prejudices about how ugly we think the Thump is, $499 is still a lot to drop on a 256MB MP3 player when can pick up a 1GB iPod shuffle or SanDisk MP3 player for around $150. And that's not taking into account that if you do buy the Thump you'll most likely still want to own a regular player; even though the lenses do flip up, these are sunglasses and you can't really walk around wearing these at night or indoors without coming off like a complete tool. We'll give Oakley some points for creativity on this one, but we won't be happy unless the Thump 2 has twice as much memory, a cheaper price tag, and comes in the form of a pair of sunglasses we'd actually not be embarrassed to wear.