Product Review: Can Vi Headphones Make You a Better Runner?
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Update: This product has updated since original publication.
I think I have a new best friend. There’s just one problem: She’s not real.
Her name is Vi, and she’s an AI personal trainer who follows me around and tracks my every move. She’s so concerned about my health that she wants to know my heart rate and encourages me to run a little bit faster or farther than I thought I could.
Created by Lifebeam, Vi raised over $1.6 million on Kickstarter (crushing their $100,000 goal) and wants to replace your personal trainer. She “lives” in bio-sensing headphones with an ergonomic design and Harman/Kardon sound, which made me realize my $15 earbuds from Amazon weren’t quite as impressive as I thought they were. I took Vi for a test run; here’s what I found.
Retailing for $249 (and on Amazon for $199.99), Vi ain’t cheap — though when you consider an hour with a personal trainer can run about $100, it’s not a terrible investment.
The training system — a neckband and earbuds that syncs with an app you have to download — comes with a little set of four different sizes of earbuds and two sets of ear “fins” and a short USB cable for charging. (It’s supposed to have over eight hours of battery during training mode — ideal if you’re a beast training for an ultramarathon).
There’s also a one-year warranty and 90-day money back guarantee. So, seemingly, if you hate Vi, you can ditch her.
The app itself is a pleasure to use — sleek, simple, and intuitive. Also, it made me recognize how, um, unattractive my usual running app (RunKeeper) is by comparison.
The equipment itself is really attractive — the futuristic-looking neckband might make you want to upgrade your crusty running gear.
The Test Run
Out of the box, Vi was easy to use and pre-charged. I turned it on, downloaded the app and waited for it to sync via Bluetooth. This took a couple tries — I had to turn the headset off and on, and turn Bluetooth off and on as well for it to pair up. Then I entered my personal info (age, height, weight, Social Security Number — just kidding), allowed it to access my microphone, and set my primary goal. Users can choose from Lose Weight, Go Farther, Go Faster, Reduce Stress, Maintain Fitness, or Improve Fitness — I chose Improve Fitness, because I was a little scared Vi would immediately make me do hill repeats.
Vi immediately wanted to test my heart rate and instructed me how to nestle the earbud in my ear and picked up on it right away.
“The more I know about you, the more I can personalize our time together,” she says. See: She’s a good friend already!
As for the runs themselves, there are plenty of options: You can choose a free run, or set distance or time goals. There are also workouts in beta for the treadmill (she advised what settings to adjust my treadmill to), walking, and cycling, with mindfulness, cardio, and HIIT capabilities apparently coming later this year.
For my first run, I chose a specific number of miles. The default setting includes a two-minute warm-up, which is something I probably should do but don’t. (You can change it to a one-minute warm-up or eliminate the option altogether.) I set off on a two-minute jog before Vi counted me down and we were off.
For the first two hours of working out, Vi apparently gathers info about your running style. In the beginning, feedback was plentiful (there’s a chattiness setting: Lead the Way, A Little Less, or Short and Sweet). I told her to lead the way, because isn’t that why she’s here? Her pleasant jabbering in my ear was actually a nice distraction from my usual runs, which are either deadly silent or full of blasting pop music.
The app syncs with Spotify Premium (if you’re a Spotify subscriber) and your playlists and songs are featured in Vi’s own interface. I appreciated the Top Tracks Mixtape and “Run Ready Music” options, since running to the same music for months can get boring. It was nice to be pushed out of my typical song cycles.
Tapping the right earbud instigates a tone, after which you can ask Vi anything. Tempted though I was to ask her which Thai restaurant near me was still open during my late-night run, instead I asked about my heart rate and how much ground I had covered. (Yes, I felt a little silly talking to myself while running, but then I reminded myself: No one cares.)
Vi’s voice isn’t nagging or harsh, and I found myself to be strangely obedient to her instructions. Vi tells me to pull my shoulders back? I do. Vi says to pull in my abs? Okay! Maybe I’m conditioned to listen to “experts” or maybe I’m an eager disciple. I’m not sure. But I did get a little boost from hearing those oft-quoted trainer phrases “You’re almost there!” and “Finish strong!” as I blasted through the last bit of my workout. Sometimes you really do need a push to do your best and she’s there to celebrate with you, too, saying: “Consider that workout demolished.”
My biggest concern was that the neckband itself would feel heavy or strange, but it actually didn’t move a bit, even when I picked up the pace. For my second run, I only had time for a few miles around my neighborhood, but I felt motivated enough — actually, I felt like I didn’t want to disappoint her — that I ended up running an extra mile.
Vi automatically pauses when you stop — and tells you she’s pausing. That got a little annoying since running in a busy city means stoplights will have you pausing a lot.
When your run is finished, the data is plentiful, with split times, step count (177 steps per minute!), heart rate (164 BPM!) and all the necessary data synced with your speed (yes, sprinting up that block did make my heart rate spike — good to know). Like most other running apps, Vi also keeps track of your personal records, like fastest mile, longest run, or most calories burned.
Overall, I felt like Vi gave me the best of both worlds — a buddy to run with but who you can also tell to hush up if you’re feeling anti-social and some extra motivation if I felt like slogging out a few miles. There is something very soothing about being coached and catered to by someone who’s literally watching your every move. While the price might be cost-prohibitive for some, runners who don’t have access to run groups or don’t want to commit to a personal coach might appreciate the accountability and advice that Vi has to offer. Or, if you simply want a new friend, Vi works for that, too.
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