Texts, tweets, emails, calls; our phones are constantly being bombarded by all sorts of stuff.
Sometimes it can be a little hard to keep up, having to reach into your pocket every time your phone decides to start pinging at you. Especially when it’s just another Facebook birthday reminder. For a University mate you haven’t spoken to in ten years.
Sony’s got a little something that should make things less stressful.
OK, it might not be the first in a new line of hearing-boosting cybernetic augmentations, but the Xperia Ear could still help manage your day-to-day without having to keep reaching for your smartphone.
This AI-powered personal assistant lives in your lughole – but is it really the silicon servant we’ve been waiting for?
DESIGN: EAR ME NOW
With its small stature, simple, sleek design and matte black finish, the Xperia Ear isn’t quite the sci-fi earbud the movies promised us, but at least you can wear it subtly without being mistaken for some kind of secret agent.
At least, you can if you’ve got average-sized ears. If yours are a little on the small side, one of these’ll still stick out for all to see.
You get a bunch of different buds and backplates in the box, so it’s bound to fit nearly any ear with a bit of twiddling. It’s not too heavy, either, so you aren’t going to end up with an earache after a day of use like you might with larger earpieces.
The Ear automatically switches itself on when you put it in, but to give it a voice command you’ve got to physically press it. That’s my only real issue with the design: tapping the button pushes it further into your ear, eventually making for a pretty unpleasant sensation.
FUNCTIONALITY: KEEPING YOU IN THE LOOP
The Xperia Ear isn’t your typical pair of wireless in-ear headphones. There’s only one of them, for a start.
Nope, its true purpose is letting you know when calls and texts are coming in to save you fishing your phone out. The virtual assistant reads out messages and phone numbers, and you can answer (or reject) calls with a quick voice command.
At the start of the day, it’ll give you a run-down of the news headlines, remind you of any appointments in your diary, and give you a heads-up on the day’s weather forecast. You can tweak and change which bits are included in your round-up through the companion app, so if you’ve already given up hope with the weather you can switch that bit off.
You can search the web with it, too, although right now you’re limited to Wikipedia results. Unless all you want is a less-than-reliable fact file or a word definition, it’s not massively helpful.
Head gestures come in handy when you’re in a place where talking loudly to yourself might seem a bit weird. So most places, really. Got a text you’d like read to you, but don’t think your fellow commuters would appreciate you chatting to your ear-mounted Jeeves wannabe? A quick nod of the head and the Xperia Ear gets the message – and then a second or two later so will you.
Those seconds add up, though. It’s easily our biggest gripe with the Xperia Ear – it just takes so long to do anything.
Just to have it read an email you have to reach up and press the earpiece button, wait a second until it tells you to speak, wait a bit more for it to beep and then tell it what you want it to do. Wait a few more seconds for it to work out what you said, and only then will you get your message.
This really defeats the point of the thing; it takes so long most the time that you’re usually better off just getting your phone out and doing it yourself.
Another strange choice? Letting the Xperia Ear play music. You can tell it to play anything you’ve got on your phone, as long as you pick a specific artist. If you had a certain playlist or album in mind, you’ll be disappointed. The single earpiece has pretty mediocre sound quality, too. It’s fine for phone calls, but for banging out tunes, you’re definitely going to have a bad time.
BATTERY LIFE: MIXED MESSAGES
Let’s get this out of the way: if you’re constantly tuned in to a podcast or playlist, the Xperia Ear will only get about five hours from a full charge.
To be fair, it isn’t exactly designed for music addicts; if you want something to blast out top quality tunes all day, just get yourself a pair of headphones.
Use it as intended, checking your diary and reading texts throughout the day, you should be able to last a day or two without having to top up.
When the battery does start to get a little low, you can just pop it in the neat little charging case and it’ll go to full from empty in about 2 and a half hours.
The case needs charging itself, naturally, but you won’t be doing it very often; it packs more than enough juice to charge the Ear at least a few times over.
CONNECTIVITY: RANGE ANXIETY
The Ear hooks into your smartphone over Bluetooth, and once you’ve installed the companion app and set it up, it’ll automatically link up the second you pop it in your ear.
Range, like nearly everything else with the Ear, is just kind of alright. It didn’t drop connection once during our time testing it, but get more than a few meters or so away from your handset and you’ll loose connection.
It’ll be fine if you just fancy leaving your phone on the desk and grabbing something across the room; but if you decide to take a trip to the loo with your earpiece in (not advised) you’ll be cut off.
XPERIA EAR VERDICT
Remember when every Gordon Gecko wannabe had a Bluetooth earpiece? Praise the tech gods, the Xperia Ear is a hell of a lot better than any of those helpless hands-free kits were.
Voice recognition really helps it stand out, and the connection seemed very stable throughout our testing. It even looks pretty sleek – for an earpiece, at least.
Away from the basics, though, the Xperia Ear starts to show its flaws. It’s just so slow to react to voice commands that, provided your hands aren’t otherwise occupied, you’re normally better off just getting you phone out and checking it yourself.
Aside from a couple of cute gimmicks like reading the headlines, and controlling your smartphone if you’re really busy doing something else, it’s really only for people that just can’t be bothered to get their phone out.
If you don’t think you’ll end up using the extra functions, you might want to give it a miss unless you really value it’s looks; there are loads of equally good hands-free earpieces out there at much lower prices.
Sony’s in-ear AI butler looks and feels good, but unless your hands are constantly full, isn’t yet ready to run your life