Sometimes a gadget passes through our doors that’s unlike anything out there that we can’t help but get excited over it. Sony’s new Xperia Ear Duo is one of those weird ones we were dying to try.
Those are earbuds? With its case looking like a compact mirror, nothing seems out of the ordinary with the Sony Xperia Ear Duo. That is until you open up the unit and take a peek at what’s inside. The battery, sensors, and touchpad are kept in what looks like enlarged pills (or those Bluetooth headsets you see businesspeople sport). This part sits behind your ear. It has a small metal band that bends under your ear so you can slot what Sony calls the ring supporter into your ear canal.
You attach the two wireless earbuds into your ear by slipping it underneath and it takes a lot of maneuvering to get it in. If you’ve got ear piercings, you will need to take these out when you use this. Sony says you can still use your earrings with them, but it’s not going to be a comfortable experience. Once you do have these on, the Xperia Ear Duo stays on. And it’s plenty comfortable. It doesn’t dislodge nor does it feel restrictive or taxing after hours of use. And before you ask, don’t take this for a swim. The Xperia Ear Duo is just IPX2-certified, meaning it can take some drops of water when it’s tilted up to and including 15 degrees. Just keep them far away from water as possible.
I hear you—most of the time. The Xperia Ear Duo makes use of tech that Sony calls Spatial Acoustic Conductor. It lets the sound generated by the unit’s driver hidden behind the ear to be directly transmitted into your ear via the ring supporter that sits in your ear canal. With its hollow center, you can hear both the music coming out as well as what’s happening around you.
I initially worried about not being able to hear my music well while I commute but I hardly had any problems with this. The Xperia Ear Duo has what it calls Adaptive Listening, which pushes volume up or down depending on whether it detects you’re in a loud or quiet area. And it can somehow block out noise from the outside world without keeping you fully unaware of what’s happening around you. You can push the volume up. What it doesn’t really work for is listening to podcasts while on the move, loud city noise will make it hard to hear spoken word. It works best in quieter settings, like when you’re in an office. I liked that I didn’t have to take it off to converse with my co-workers.
For actual sound quality, don’t expect to be blown away by this pair. But they aren’t bad either. It doesn’t distort sound even at high volumes, which I appreciate. They sound similar to other mid-range priced wireless earphones. If you aren’t an audiophile, this won’t bother you as much.
Call quality is pretty decent even on the lower volume side. I had no problem hearing the person on the other line and they could hear me clearly, too.
All about the touch. As I mentioned, the touchpad is also housed in the pill-like part of the earbuds. The left ear is used to control your music, while the right ear manages the voice assistant. You use gestures and taps to get the Xperia Ear Duo to do what you want. Outside of the default, these are programmable, too, so you can set it to do certain actions when you swipe or tap. You can use the accompanying app to set this up. I’ve noticed that the touchpad goes from being responsive to finicky pretty often. Sometimes it’ll respond to me quickly, sometimes it takes a bit more pressure.
Here to help. The Xperia Ear Duo interfaces with both Google Assistant and Siri. Since I use an Android phone, I got Google Assistant, which according to Sony does get more of the features anyway. This is the part where I throw in the “smart” component of these earbuds. It comes with what Sony calls Daily Assist. If you have this feature enabled (it’s turned on by default), it’ll at the start of the day when you slip it on, read you your calendar, the headlines of the day (mostly international news), the weather, and then start playing music for you when it’s done running through everything. The first few times this does this, I’ll admit it freaked me out a bit. It felt like I was living inside the Spike Jonze film Her. The Daily Assist can detect my location so if I leave the office late, it’ll tell me I worked late. It also reminds me to snack, welcomes me home, and funnily enough reassures me that it’s with me when I’m at work when I need it. It feels like a taste of how smart assistants can integrate into our lives in the future. It’s exciting but also a bit freaky.
Leaves me wanting. Battery life is a bit disappointing. A single charge will get you around four hours of use, which feels a bit too short. Thankfully, its case doubles as a charger so you get at least an extra four hours of use when you’re out and about. It takes around an hour and a half to charge in the case. The good thing is you can charge both the case and the earbuds at the same time.
The Sony Xperia Ear Duo is a decent first attempt at an interesting concept. It seamlessly works both as a digital assistant and a regular pair of Bluetooth earbuds to play music on. The idea of being able to hear your music and your surroundings is something that can be useful in different situations for some people. But there are still some things that need to be worked on, like battery life, sensitivity of the touchpads, and even better sound quality. They get that down pat and this will be a more compelling audio accessory.
Sound: Quad microphone with beamforming noise suppression; adaptive volume control; echo and wind noise cancellation; Clear Phase; dynamic driver unit on each earbud; SBC & AAC codec support
Connectivity & I/O ports: Bluetooth 4.2 LE; USB Type-C
Sensors: Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity, Compass, Barometer
Daily Assist languages: English (US & UK), Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese (Mandarin); Google for Android; Siri for iOS
Compatibility: Android 5.0 or later; iOS 10 or later (iPad not supported)
Battery: 56mAh each (earbuds); 740mAh (charging case)
Dimensions & weight: 17.5 x 59.6 x 10.2mm; 10.6g (earbuds); 89 x 89 x 25mm, 76g (charging case)