Hearables are a bit of a thing now. More and more companies, even big ones like Google and Apple, are looking to create voice-based devices that can help with your day-to-day life. Inspero is hoping to leap frog all of that with its new, feature-packed Vinci 2.0 wireless headphones.
Available on Kickstarter now and starting at $119, the Vinci 2.0 builds upon the original Vinci over-the-ear headphones. So you're going to see some of the features that made those headphones so popular, such as heart rate and smart features – which is also why Inspero blew past its Kickstarter goal in just a few hours. You get your heart rate, you get your AI assistant, and you get integration with a bunch of services. You also get Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi and 3G. Plus at least 8GB of storage for music and a 600mAh battery that Inspero says will last you a day.
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Co-founder Max Hu explains to Wareable that the company has seen voice and hearables as a big potential computing platform since 2014. "Our ears are not occupied," he says. "Our eyes are occupied. Our bodies, maybe hands, everything is occupied, but our ears are not. We can compute a lot of things parallel with our eyes and vision. Our brains can handle all this information."
Thus, Vinci 2.0 doubles down on voice and minimises a whole lot of hardware to fit in a new package that's much easier for those looking to go out on a run. Hu says that one of the complaints about the original Vinci was that they were too bulky for some people to take running. The much smaller Vinci 2.0 solves that, but it's also had to move its heart rate sensor to the neck piece, rather than hiding it in one of the over-the-ear cups of the original Vinci.
This new placement, Hu says, doesn't mean too much of a drop off in heart rate accuracy. He says that as the company was testing it actually found the back of the neck to work about as well as heart rate sensing from the ear, which he says has a signal-to-noise ratio that's three times better than the wrist.
It uses the heart rate sensor for a couple of things. The first is, obviously, letting you check your heart rate during workouts. The second partners up with the hearable's AI, Vinci. While you're working out, you can ask Vinci whether your heart rate is too high or too low, and it'll recommend whether you should keep going or slow down. This probably isn't going to help you if you're doing interval training, but if you're doing more basic running it could be helpful. It can also use that heart rate to recommend music by syncing your heart rate to a song with a similar beats per minute metric.
The other big sensor on the Vinci 2.0 is an infrared sensor, which is used to control the headphones. Hu says the company didn't want to increase the size of the headphones to place a touch panel on them, so instead opted to add an infrared sensor on the right bud. Now all you have to do is gesture in the air to control your music, pause and more.
The $209 Pro edition of the Vinci 2.0 also comes with a small touch display on the side, so that you can see your battery life and signal strength. The $319 Super edition comes with an even neater trick: bone conduction microphones. This is combined with a more traditional mic so that Vinci can hear you much better, cutting down on the number of missed queries because of outside noise or other conversations. Other differences: The basic Lite version won't have active noise cancellation, and the Pro comes with 16GB of storage while the Super comes with 32GB.
In our hands-on with the Vinci 2.0 in a closed environment, this worked pretty well. Vinci could understand us clearly, even though the prototype unit we were playing with was having a little trouble tapping into Spotify. The big test will be whether it'll work as well in a crowded room with lots of chatter, or out running the pavements, which we weren't able to try out. We also weren't able to test any of the gestures.
The Vinci 2.0 feels mostly comfortable on the neck, largely because it feels like a premium device made out of steel and rubber. While Hu assures that the company tested the neckband on 512 different heads, it felt a little tight for us. However, Hu also assures us that the final version will be a little less rigid.
Vinci 2.0 comes with not one but two AI assistants. Alexa comes out of the box, so that you can use all her skills and powers on the go. The team is currently working on integrating Google Assistant as well, so if you prefer to live Google-y rather than with Amazon you'll be good. In the same spirit, Vinci 2.0 supports multiple music services, like Spotify, SoundCloud and Amazon Music.
You can ask Vinci for music, and she'll only choose songs from the services you log into during set up. So when you ask for a recommendation or are running and need a boost, Vinci will choose the best song you can actually listen to.
Hu and the team at Inspero realise that it's a small startup in a world of much bigger companies that are building massive ecosystems. So they plan to be as open as possible.
"Most people either stick with Apple, or stick with Google, or stick with Amazon. With this we're trying to give users the options so they can log in with whatever service they like," Hu says, adding that the only services missing are those from Apple, like Apple Music, because it's much harder to integrate.
Isn't that the question of the week. Unlike other companies turning to crowdfunding, Inspero has proven that it can do this. The company has already crowdfunded and shipped a product, the original Vinci headset.
With that comes a whole lot of experience, like hardware and software design. Because Vinci 2.0 shares a lot of back-end features with the original Vinci, it also means that the company isn't building something from scratch, which is immensely difficult and can overwhelm a lot of startups.
"For this product we're not starting from zero, we're actually building upon the first generation – especially the software – and also the hardware design, some of the power management to make sure we're more power efficient to save battery life," Hu says.
The company has had overwhelming support thus far, already raising $109,226 from a $20,000 goal hours after launching. All of that money will go into actually producing the headphones, which are set to start shipping between March and August 2018, depending on which version you get. The basic Lite edition will come first, while the others will arrive later in the summer.
On top of that, you're getting these for a considerably good price, as Hu says the company values the feedback of early adopters and wants to reward them for hopping on early. Whether that's just being nice or a good way to get backers, it does mean you get a feature-packed device at a good rate.
The Vinci 2.0 has features like heart rate, GPS, 3G and 8GB of storage, and you can get it for as little as $79 if you're quick on the draw. That's close to impulse-buy territory.
The big question you have to ask yourself, however, is whether you want a device that allows you step away from your phone while working out – that's the goal of the Vinci 2.0. It wants you to leave your phone at home, it wants you to leave your smartwatch at home. It just wants you to take its headphones, which – on paper – can do everything you need, from music streaming to GPS.
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