The Bragi Dash Pro is Bragi's second generation hearable, and it arrives just in time. This year we're seeing the hearable category explode - Jabra, Doppler, Samsung and Pilot will all have new smart earbuds by the end of 2017, and even Apple is edging in with its almost-but-not-quite-a hearable, the AirPods.
The original Bragi Dash left us with a taste of a hearable future, but felt unpolished. The Dash Pro refines the experience in design while adding new features, but the overall purpose of this hearable remains the same. The Dash Pro is much more than a pair of Bluetooth earphones; Bragi always talks about its product as an "ear computer", and the Dash Pro is probably the closest thing to that on the market right now.
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Fitness tracking, music, gesture controls - even real-time translation - the Dash Pro promises a lot, and not all of it works perfectly. We've been spending time getting to know the new Dash Pro - here's what we think.
Bragi Dash Pro: Design
The Pro retains a similar teardrop design to the first, and if you buy the regular version you'll get a selection of eartips to find your right fit. This time, however, Bragi has also teamed up with Starkey Hearing Technologies to offer a customized version that fits perfectly to the shape of your ear canal. For this you'll be set up to have a ear mold taken by an audiologist, and the result is a much snugger fit and tighter seal, good for music and for keeping the Dash Pro in place when partaking in more athletic activities.
And there you are - a perfect mold of my ear canals. You're welcome
This was the version I got, which meant a trip to the local hearing center for a fitting. It's the same routine as if you're having a hearing aid: my ear was filled with a soft putty which quickly hardened, giving me a very strange sensation and a perfect replica of my inner ear. The cost for the custom version is $499 (and only available in the US for now), which is quite a leap up from the $329 standard model. The custom shape means you won't need to use any eartips. Instead the Dash uses Starkey's Hear Clear filters, and a tool for taking them out and giving them a clean.
I certainly can't fault the fit; the Dash Pro slips into my ears perfectly every time, and for the most part stays in place (during running I've found the right one coming loose a little, but hey, maybe I just have weird shaped ears).
Do I recommend coughing up extra for the fit? Only if a) you're the type of person who has a tough time finding earphones that fit or b) you plan on using the Dash Pro for a lot of vigorous activities. But in terms of features and sound quality, it's the same experience with both.
The outer part of the Dash Pro, like the original Dash, is touch sensitive, allowing you to use a wide range of gesture controls - whether that's tapping to start a workout, swiping to adjust the audio, or a different sequence of taps to skip music tracks. I've found the sensitivity good, although there have been a few instances of adjusting them in my ears and it mistakenly registering a command. Assuming you have a good fit though, once they're in, you should only need to touch them when you need to enact a command.
The Dash Pro comes with a charging case like the original's, with two magnetic ports to mount the earphones on. If you opt for the customized version, you'll also get your name stamped on the case and the earbuds themselves. A nice little added touch.
Bragi Dash Pro: Features and audio
For all the good work Bragi has done in packing out the Dash Pro with features, the setup process feels like a mission and a half, which involves connecting the earbuds to a computer to update them and poking a small button in the case with a paperclip (or anything small enough you can find) - and that's before you even get to Bluetooth pairing.
It's also assuming you have no hiccups like I did with the Dash Pro struggling to make a connection to my phone. Once all is done you'll be able to re-pair them to your phone each time with little drama, and aside from a couple of random disconnections, the Dash Pro has kept connected to my smartphone since. Still, it feels like this process could be greatly simplified - maybe Bragi could take a leaf out of the Apple AirPods playbook.
In terms of what's on offer here, you've got fitness tracking (which I'll dive into shortly), music, a real-time translator, and something called the 4D menu. Oh, and some interesting gesture controls, which I'll come back to.
Let's first talk audio. The Dash Pro offer a surprisingly full, clear sound with plenty of bass. Lots of bass, actually - true audiophiles will find better sounding Bluetooth headphones for the price, but considering everything else going on inside the Dash Pro, the sound offers impressive clarity. Certainly better than the AirPods.
One small qualm from me is that the sound could go a little louder when I'm on busier streets, but I get that this is a personal preference (and Bragi is no doubt doing my eardrums a favor). Thankfully the snug fit works well as a passive noise isolator, so it's not like the sound is being muffled by passing cars. Wind is another matter, as I found that even with the windshield option on, the blustering could still be heard. I gave up trying to make this one work.
Like the Doppler Here One, the Dash Pro has an audio transparency feature that can be activated by tapping the right earbud. This will let ambient noise pass through, so you could hold a conversation with someone without having to take the earbuds out, for example. I love it, and I've found it very responsive on the Dash Pro. As I've argued many times, hearables need to be equipped to remain in our ears through most of the day, and audio transparency is key to that.
I put together a more in-depth piece on my thoughts of Bragi's translation tool, but the key thing to note here is that this doesn't live on the bud. Rather Bragi is leaning on third-party app iTranslate, which means you have 40 languages at your fingertips to convert with another person, but while it's an undoubtedly amazing idea, in reality the process is a bit‚Ä¶ iffy.
Unless both people have the Bragi Dash (either Pro or the original - Bragi updated the first buds with support for translation) you'll need to hand the other person your phone. Once the conversation is flowing, it's neat, but the brains of the operation lie in iTranslate, so any shortcomings when it comes to conjugating verbs are the fault of the app - Bragi is just providing a more human conduit by giving its earbuds access.
Finally, we have some gesture controls that go beyond the earbuds themselves. Once again you can enable the Dash Pro's 'Shortcut' mode, which lets you tap on the side of your face - rather than the Dash - to either activate Siri/Google Assistant or play/pause/skip tracks. This is still in what Bragi calls 'Sneak Peek' mode - i.e. it's really still in beta. It might sound like a gimmick, and I did feel a little silly slapping myself in the face to skip tracks, but I see why it's useful. The downside was that I sometimes moved my hand up to my face and unintentionally set it off - so I ended up switching off the feature entirely. However, it's one extra gesture to solving one of the Dash's problems, which is the number of different taps and swipes you have to remember. It's a lot, and one of my criticisms of the Bragi Dash is that the left and right earbuds have different touch controls - it's easy to mix them up.
The 4D menu is another nice proof of concept, but I'm not convinced anyone will use it (yet). This hands-free menu uses head gestures to navigate through and select an invisible menu. It requires a very specific sequence of head movements to enable (which alone made me look like a looney when doing it on the bus) the menu, and then you turn your head from side to side to scroll through the options. Right now it's more effort than it's worth, but it works, and like I said, it's a nifty showcase of what can be done with hearables. Bragi's thinking a little differently about input, and I dig it.
Bragi Dash Pro: Fitness tracking
Bragi's offering a lot for fitness fans here. The Dash Pro can track running, cycling and swimming, and you don't even need to take your phone with you; the earbuds will capture your movement and heart rate data untethered and sync it to your phone when you return.
To help with this, the Dash Pro can automatically detect when you start a workout (so long as you toggle it in the settings). You just need to start running/cycling/swimming and after a few seconds you'll hear a tone, followed by an acknowledgement from the voice assistant that the workout tracking has started. In practice I found this feature less reliable, as on a couple of occasions it didn't start tracking my workout even after a couple of minutes of running. I had to take the the Pro out and reconnect to get it to start recognizing my run, which meant some of my progress wasn't recorded. Annoying.
Heart rate stayed reliably close to the chest strap (in this instance the Polar M10) up until I was hitting the higher intensities. On one run as I pushed up to my highest target zone, edging close to 180bpm, the Bragi Dash Pro was disappointingly trailing behind by almost 20bpm. I noticed this on more than one occasion and generally it's a problem of dragging - sure enough my post-run averages have been lower than the chest strap by at least a 10bpm margin. Sadly, Bragi still doesn't give you any nice heart rate graphs to peruse, just an end-of-workout summary with time, laps, distance covered, average HR etc. For the more hardcore fitness aficionados, this may well limit their appeal.
Without GPS, the Dash Pro is also having to guess how far you've moved, using a combo of the accelerometer and heart rate sensors - and sadly it shows. Running with MapMyFitness tracking alongside, the Dash Pro clocked in lower distances, so if that's important to you - for cyclists it may be more of a need - then, again, the Dash Pro still isn't great for this.
As for swimming, we haven't yet had a chance to take them in the pool, but we'll update this review with our thoughts once we have.
It's worth noting that Bragi has been very good at pushing out software updates to improve features on the Dash and though the sensors won't change, there's a chance to tweak algorithms once the devices have shipped.
Bragi Dash Pro: The app and battery life
Chances are, like me, you'll find yourself in the app quite a lot until you get used to all the different gestures and find a control setup that works well for you. Once the initial pairing is done, the Dash Pro are good at detecting when they're in your ear and pairing with your phone automatically, so opening the app isn't essential unless you want to manually start an activity, but even if auto-tracking is off you can start one via a long hold of the left earbud.
The Dash Pro comes promising an impressive five hours of battery life between charges. In reality? I certainly had no problem with low power warnings during workouts, with juice to spare afterwards, although you won't hit that five-hour optimal limit if you're streaming from the phone and tracking workouts. If you've loaded music onto the earbuds and are taking them out sans smartphone, then maybe.
But battery has not been a complaint with the Dash Pro, and you'll get five recharges from the case before that needs re-juicing itself, so I haven't really found myself caught short. If you want to know how much power you have left at any time, it's as simple as a shake of the earbuds: a blue light means full, green means high, and red means low.
- Good, clear sound
- Long battery life
- Superb fit
- Fitness tracking inaccuracies
- Pairing is a mission
- Gestures still feel too complicated