- Comfortable, light design
- Charging case
- Solid concept
- Limited AI
- For early adopters only
Sony Xperia Ear Review: We’ve spent the past week with Sony’s Xperia Ear assistant, a handy earpiece that pairs with your smartphone and gives you hands-free access to some of the most-used and most useful features. But will the Xperia Ear really revolutionise the way we use our mobiles?
One of the biggest ball-aches of modern society is the way every cretin has their eyes locked on their mobile phone instead of whatever the hell they’re doing in real life. It’s bad enough when some gurning neckless teenager in skinny jeans shoulders past you because they’re busy updating their Facebook status. But now the UK has had to introduce stiffer penalties for drivers, who would rather piss about on their handsets instead of making sure they aren’t about to slam into some poor old granny shuffling across the street.
Perhaps just in time to prevent a serious case of human devolution, Sony has offered up a solution to this distraction crisis. The Sony Xperia Ear is a simple earpiece that slips into your lug hole, similar to many Bluetooth hands-free headsets. However, the Ear offers up greater control than your typical Bluetooth headset, to try and minimise the number of times you need to pull your phone from your pocket or bag.
So how effective is this device, and is it the future of mobile phone use? Here’s our full Sony Xperia Ear review.
Sony Xperia Ear review: Design
The Xperia Ear is a dinky-yet-chubby device that sits snuggly in your ear hole, thanks to the rubber bud that fits inside the opening and a second rubber grip that holds it in place. There’s no awkward wrap-around sections and it’s ridiculously light too. That means the Ear is pleasingly comfortable to wear for a few hours each day.
Despite being rather chunky, the Xperia Ear is reasonably discreet when it’s lodged in your skull. I didn’t feel like too much of a prick when I was wearing it out and about. Just a bit of a prick.
That snug fit means it won’t tumble out either, even if you indulge in some impromptu head-banging (quite common at Recombu Towers since the Metallica album came out).
There’s a single easy-to-find button built into the flat surface, which is used to interact with the Ear. Besides that, it’s a clean and neat design. No fiddle switches or anything else to irritate.
Sony Xperia Ear review: Features
The Ear knows as soon as it’s buried in your noggin, thanks to the built-in proximity sensor. Sony has built in its own Xperia Assistant, who is basically an alternative to Google Now, and when the Ear starts up you’ll get a customisable spiel of your day’s events, the latest headlines and so on.
The Assistant also automatically reads out any messages that pop onto your phone, usually as soon as they arrive. This also can be personalised, to add or remove specific apps.
If you have any demands, just tap the main button and then speak your mind. For the most part, Sony’s voice recognition works well. My harmonic North Eastern vocals were usually understood by the Xperia Ear, as long as I spoke slowly and enunciated long words clearly. However, the Ear did occasionally struggle when I was walking down busy streets, which is of course where you’ll want to use it most often.
Thankfully you can also nod or shake your head to respond to questions, if you’re feeling a bit self-conscious. The built-in accelerometer and gyroscope accurately pick up on your gestures, although you can’t be subtle. You have to properly jerk your head about, which could possibly make you appear even more mental than when you simply chat away to yourself.
You get a half-decent selection of recognised commands, which can be asked in a variety of ways. For instance, you can check if you have any missed calls, phone a contact, see what your next appointment is or search for something on Wikepedia. You can also set a timer or alarm, check your phone’s remaining battery and get Google Music to play a tune.
The main problem with Sony’s Assistant AI is its limited functionality, something that’s not too surprising for a first generation technology. After all, the original iPhone couldn’t do much at all besides browse the web and make farty noises. And wearables are only just starting to get good after a couple of years.
So for instance, you can reply to text messages and respond on chat apps via the Ear, but you can’t reply to emails. When navigating, you can get your phone to show a route on your phone’s screen, but you still need to tap the ‘start navigation’ button on your mobile to begin. And if you want to ask if your train is on time, or get a third party music app to belt out your favourite playlist, you’re basically stuffed.
Thankfully you can swap out Sony’s Assistant at any time for Google Now, which is a great idea. Google Now gives you seamless navigation support and more general functionality, which in turn makes the Xperia Ear a much more worthwhile device. Of course, in that case you could simply grab yourself any wireless headphones with Google Now compatibility, which would also be a much better way of listening to music on the go.
Sony Xperia Ear review: Battery life
You can expect roughly a day and a half to two days of use per charge, although that obviously depends on how much you use the Xperia Ear, and what for. If you’re planning on listening to a lot of music through it, you’ll be charging it up every night before you go to bed.
Thankfully the method of charging is really well conceived. Slip the Xperia Ear inside the bundled plastic case and it’ll immediately start sucking juice from the case’s secondary battery. In this way, the Xperia Ear is basically charging whenever it’s not in use. Just remember to plug the case in every other day and you’ll never run out of charge.
Sony Xperia Ear review: Verdict
We can see Sony developing the Xperia Ear into a truly wonderful device that’s used to interact with your mobile phone on a daily basis, but the Assistant is the main selling point and right now it’s not quite there. It’s a shame as the Ear’s design is fantastic, as with pretty much all Sony products. Here’s hoping the software will soon be just as impressive as the hardware, offering us hands-free access to our most-used apps with no fuss or freak-outs.