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Lifebeam Vi review: Truly smart fitness headphones

Computer Shopper
22 May 2018
Lifebeam Vi review
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
178
inc VAT

These fitness-tracking headphones may or may not be the future, but they’re certainly an interesting and often successful experiment

Pros 
Packed with sensors
Polished voice technology
Cons 
Compatibility issues
Patchy microphone
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Here’s something a bit different: a fitness tracker than takes the form of AI-powered in-ear headphones, rather than a wrist-mounted watch or band.

Besides being cheaper and looking less daft than other major efforts (namely the Oakley Radar Pace, a ghastly pair of sunglasses with earbuds on either arm), the Vi appeals straight away with its minimalism: it connects to your phone via Bluetooth, but the earbuds are hard-wired to a plastic collar that fits comfortably around the neck.

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From there, you can control the volume and switch it on and off, and it also has a microphone built in so you can talk to your “trainer” (a fitness-focused digital assistant) for an update on where you are and so forth. Pop the right-hand cap off and you’ll find a micro-USB port for charging the headphones, with the battery itself lasting four to six hours.

Lifebeam Vi review: Sensors and audio

Despite its 39g weight, the Vi is packed with all kinds of sensors. To be precise, this includes a six-axis accelerometer, a gyroscope, a barometer and a heart-rate sensor nestled in the left earbud. There’s no room for GPS, sadly, but given the AI at the heart of Vi is cloud-based, you’d need your phone to run or cycle with in any case.

As well as a carry case and charging cable, a number of different-sized earbuds and sport grips are included. You can combine these any way you like to ensure a comfortable fit and guarantee that the heart-rate sensor is always able to track the blood flow of your ear.

The Vi’s party trick is twofold: first, the AI will give you vocal updates on how you’re doing without the need to squint at numbers on your screen or fiddle with buttons. Second, and more importantly, it interprets the numbers in real time. For the sake of comparison, a fitness watch might tell you that you’re travelling at 4m 30s per kilometre, but Vi contextualises this, warning you if the pace is unsustainable, or encouraging you if it knows you can do better.

Lifebeam Vi review

Thanks to the involvement of audio specialists Harman Kardon, it even sounds good; perhaps not to the same extent as a premium pair of in-ear headphones, but certainly good enough for running. And no matter the impact of your legs on tarmac, the sound stays solid throughout.

The heart-rate sensor is a little tricky to line up correctly and has a tendency to disconnect during runs, especially if you don’t pick the right sport grip to begin with, but the buds themselves are no less secure than most fitness-focused headphones we’ve tested.

READ NEXT: The best running headphones

Lifebeam Vi review: AI

It takes around two hours of use for the AI to learn who you are and how you run, but once you’ve put in the hours, it will routinely kick in with advice about how you can improve, responding in real time to your performance. In our case, it helped us reduce our stride length, increasing our steps-per minute and improving endurance.

The voice technology is also very polished, with a far less mechanical tone than Siri or Alexa. It greets you by name when you fire it up, congratulates you on personal achievements and even entertains you on your run with little titbits of conversation it picks up along the way. The feedback feels a little limited at the moment, but is being built on all the time with over-the-air updates.

All these features can be tailored. You can make Vi super-chatty or set it only to speak when spoken to, although the microphone is patchy. Like other devices of its ilk, you have to project quite loudly and clearly for it to understand you, and that can leave you looking a bit stupid if you’re doing it mid-race.

Lifebeam Vi review

Something to be even more wary of is phone compatibility. We’re not convinced this is the Vi’s fault – on paper, it works with both Android and iOS – but when we tried pairing with a Google Pixel 2, the microphone simply didn’t work. When we switched to a Samsung Galaxy S7, the mic worked, but GPS tracking became extremely spotty. Again, we suspect these are issues with the phones rather than the Vi, but it’s worrying either way.

We will say that Lifebeam seems unusually, albeit pleasantly, dedicated to post-launch support, adding useful tools such as Google Assistant support. That’s encouraging, because the Vi is more functional than fully featured right now: in terms of tracked activities, it only really supports running, walking and cycling, although you do have some options in terms of choosing your fitness plan via selectable goals, such as losing weight or increasing speed or distance.

Once you’re done, a fairly standard array of metrics is displayed for you (and the AI trainer) to mull over, including pace, distance, time, step rate, heart rate and elevation. There’s also a handy map so you can retrace your steps, should you feel so inclined.

Lifebeam Vi review: Verdict

We like the Lifebeam Vi a lot, but for serious fitness fans, it’s probably best to stick with a good wrist-mounted tracker, especially one that can be used without a phone bouncing around in your pocket.

Nonetheless, it does seem as though the Vi isn’t aimed at these users so much as casual joggers, who might not need or even understand the myriad of measurements collected by most fitness trackers, but would benefit from a simple interpretation of the data, as well as some gentle encouragement. At this, the Vi does a pretty good job, and you get a rather nice pair of headphones out of the deal as well.