Ears are the right place for wearable tech. So says a growing number of hearable and smart headphone startups. The appetite is certainly there for fitness coaches, personal assistants and language translators in our ear, no bulky wrist accessory or cumbersome display necessary.
We'll start by looking at the devices which actually exist and which we've already tested, like the Here One, Bragi Dash and Samsung Gear IconX. In case you're not quite ready to buy your first connected ear accessory, we've also given you a quick update on the smart earbuds and hearables to look forward to for the rest of 2017 and beyond.
Now shipping after a couple of months of delays, Here One is Doppler Lab's first widely available hearable, after its successful experiment with the Here Active Listening. And if you don't care about in-ear fitness sensors, it beats pretty much all the competition. One adds music streaming, layered listening and Siri/Google Now controls to the initial features of noise filtering, cancelling and augmenting. The two wireless earbuds have one flaw - a short battery life though the case does double as a charger.
Read this: Apple AirPods vs Doppler Labs Here Ones
The premium, do-it-all hearable offers wireless music, storage for up to 1,000 songs, fitness and heart rate tracking and an ear bone mic for calls. In our Bragi Dash review we found that they're comfortable to wear and we like the audio quality. It's a great option for swimmers and Bragi has also been doing a nice job of updating its hearable on the regular. Coming up this year: 3D audio.
Read this: Bragi's CEO on the future of hearables
Sony Xperia Ear
The Xperia Ear is Sony's take on the Moto Hint but for any Android phone - slightly delayed but now on sale. The voice assistant is Sony's Xperia Agent (or you can choose Google Voice) and you can interact with it to get news, missed calls and messages, weather, Google searches and more. It comes in Graphite Black to start and has a battery life of 3.5 hours, plus Sony has put a lot of work into the call and audio quality as you'd expect.
Read this: Sony Xperia Ear review
Jabra Sport Elite
The wireless Sport Elite seem to do it all - real time coaching, heart rate sensing and VO2 Max testing plus sweat and waterproofing. Extras include audio pass-through so you can pay attention to the world around you and easy switching between calls and music. In testing, we found that the sports tracking, comfort and sound quality is solid but the HR tracking is questionable and there's a big flaw with the case.
Read this: Jabra Sport Elite in-depth review
Samsung Gear IconX
Samsung's Gear IconX is now on sale and we've tested it. It's a tidy price considering that features include touch controls, 4GB of storage for music plus fitness and heart rate tracking. The IconX's will even connect to apps like Endomondo, Runkeeper and Strava. But it's not perfect - the buds do a lot of things well but nothing brilliantly. It's Android only as well, sorry iPhone owners.
Read this: Samsung Gear IconX review
Oakley Radar Pace
Yep, the Radar Pace is a pair of sports shades with a hearable attached. Expensive, sure, but in our review we were very impressed by its coaching credentials. The conversational AI is awesome and learns your habits over time though the occasional voice command is missed and it does need to pair with your phone to work.
Read this: Oakley Radar Pace in-depth review
Moto Hint +
Motorola has put two of its Hint attempts on sale so far, the second one was announced with much less fanfare than the first. This second gen Moto Hint is the same overall look and design as the first Hint with better audio and a 17 hour battery life. Features wise, you can listen to messages and updates and relay voice commands to your smartphone. Read our review of the original (flawed) Moto Hint here.
Like the Here One setup, these wireless buds focus on altering your experience of hearing the world. It also packs noise cancelling and lets you mix your own balance between your music and the real world. Nuheara raised ten times its crowdfunding target and started shipping out units in January 2017.
The self-learning hearable, which raised $1.6 million on Kickstarter, offers real time coaching based on a user's own physiology. It'll interpret data to deliver actionable insights such as weight loss optimisation, exhaustion level management and even running technique. Plus audio performance is aided thanks to a partnership with Harman Kardon. Shipping for 7,200+ started happening in February 2017. Look out for a review soon.
Here's what's coming next in hearables, some are crowdfunding projects, some are concepts and announcements from bigger companies that haven't materialised as real products yet.
Pilot's crowdfunding campaign got off to a crazy start, raising a total of $4.5 million in the end, but we had some questions about this language translating earbud from NY startup Waverly Labs. It's essentially designed to be a pair of Babel Fish earbuds, offering real time audio translation of various languages, a couple of European ones to start with. If you back the project, you can expect to receive the hearable in May 2017.
You wait ages for one pair of translation buds... Mymanu Clik is also shipping to crowdfund backers in May 2017 - the difference here is that this UK startup reckons its AptX hearables will be able to translate 37 languages in real time. Language packs and synced and stored on the buds which automatically detect the language and don't require a data connection.
£155 (RRP £280), mymanu.com
These crowdfunded, sensor packed Bluetooth in-ears promise to monitor heart rate, steps, distance traveled and calories burned. The Aware also aims to track brain waves to monitor stress while sleep monitoring is enhanced by the ability to detect teeth grinding, which is linked to interrupted sleep. The latest updates on Kickstarter: the team is travelling the world scanning people's ears including its 700+ backers, though worryingly there haven't been any updates since November.
Sony Xperia Ear Open Style Concept
A new one from Sony, if you were expecting a tweak to Sony's single earbud (above), you're dead wrong. The Xperia Ear Open Style Concept is a totally new form factor with all the tech tucked behind your ear and an open earphone. They come as a pair so you can listen to stereo music but it's much the same features from the Xperia Ear - tapping to speak to Google and Sony's voice assistants and getting updates in your ear on your schedule, news, the weather etc.
This is just a concept for now as Sony is waiting to see how they are received before it makes a reality - we're not sure about the current form factor but we do like the direction Sony is heading in.
Announced way back at CES 2016, Misfit's Specter magnetic earbuds handle music, sleep and fitness tracking but are sadly still MIA. If they launch they will also be compatible with Misfit's Link platform letting you access apps, services and gadgets - we presume via voice controls. Specter was supposed to launch in Spring 2016 but Misfit has massively missed that deadline. Recently, Fossil VP Sonny Vu told us that Google Glass should have been a hearable so we may yet see the Misfit Specter or something similar later in 2017.
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