Summer is here in the Northern Hemisphere, and the weather is pleasant (almost) every day. Some of us, especially those living in the northern United States, have emerged from our winter hibernation with a couple extra pounds to lose. For anyone in need of a little extra motivation to get back in shape, a personal trainer may seem like a good idea. However, the high cost and figuring out the logistics of this plan often dissuades people from going this route. LifeBEAM, a New York based wearable technology company, is trying to revolutionize this field with their new product Vi, an artificial intelligence-supported personal trainer headphones equipped with voice commands. As the company claims, this is “the world’s first true artificial intelligent personal trainer.” We at Medgadget tested Vi over the last several weeks, and here is what we think.
Design and Fit
Unboxing Vi is a unique experience. The Vi headphones come pre-charged, which was an unexpected but convenient feature. Vi consists of a flexible, U-shaped neckband made of a sleek, high-quality rubbery material. The band might feel strange at first for those unfamiliar with this type of headphone design, but we found that you can quickly acclimate to it and hardly notice it after several minutes. Vi offers five ear bud sizes and three fin sizes to ensure the most secure, yet comfortable, fit for the user’s ears. These buds and fins were easy to change out as needed. The ear buds magnetically clip to the ends of the neckband when not in use. The neckband encases a microphone, control buttons, and a number of key sensors – such as a 6-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, and barometer to measure speed, elevation, cadence, and location. Also, an in-ear optical heart rate monitor continuously measures heart rate while Vi is in use.
Smartphone App and Set-up
A free Vi fitness app can be downloaded on Android or iOS smartphone devices. Vi connects to the users’ phone via Bluetooth. As you hit the start button on the right hand side of the neckband, Vi comes to life utilizing a motivating and pleasant female voice to take you step-by-step through the set up and fitting process. When you create an account, you’re asked to insert your primary goal – options include items like weight loss, improving fitness, and stress reduction – and then you add your biometrics. Vi asks what you would like to be called when she talks to you, and provides a list of common names. However, if your name is a little strange, like Kenan, you may have to tell Vi to call you something like Sunshine or Tiger!
Currently, Vi only supports two exercise options – running and cycling. The LifeBeam team aims to incorporate new activities to their software updates in the future. On the app you can choose between cycling and running.
Users can utilize the app to check their workout history, running totals (total distance, duration, and average pace), and personal records (most calories burned, longest distance). It also provides you with a workout summary that graphs various statistics like your step rate, heart rate, pace, and speed. A map of your route is also included in the summary and available to review at a later time.
One feature that we really liked is that more than one user can train with one pair of Vi headphones by using different account logins. Obviously, you cannot train at the same time with just one set of headphones. However, LifeBEAM is trying to develop a feature that would allow more than one person to train at the same time, and who doesn’t love having a workout buddy?
LifeBEAM partnered with Harman Kardon to bring robust acoustics to Vi’s headphones. The sound is very clear and crisp and the excellent ear bud fit helps to block ambient noise. The base is not remarkably strong, but an optional base boost setting can be selected through the app.
To begin a workout, you open the app and select your desired exercise (running or cycling). The app also allows you to select a music playlist from a Spotify Premium account or to use any other music streaming application on your phone. Vi runs continuously in the background to deliver real-time coaching and occasional messages of encouragement. Vi provides as much or as little coaching and feedback to the user given the user’s selected preferences in the app. During your workout, you can request an update on various aspects of your performance simply by touching the right ear bud to activate voice commands. Sometimes this feature can be annoying when you accidentally activate voice command while trying to adjust your ear bud.
Initially, we had some difficulty with getting Vi to recognize our commands consistently. This may have been due to environmental noise, but software updates have been made, and Vi’s recognition has improved. It is important to note that Vi is designed to only recognize the preprogrammed commands, such as “check heart rate” or “how am I doing?” Basically, Vi is no Siri or Alexa at this point, and it’s not trying to be those.
Vi is designed to “learn” your running style after about two hours of running to offer a more specific and personalized coaching style. It does this by employing its artificial intelligence algorithms that analyze the collected data and provide an adaptable long term plan and help the user reach the desired, pre-selected goal. Vi is also able to integrate other data – such as sleeping patterns and nutrition – from other fitness applications – like Google Fit and Apple HealthKit – to create a more complete picture of the user’s health and fitness status.
We explored Vi in three different settings: running outdoors, running on a treadmill, and cycling outdoors. Vi was undoubtedly most useful and worthwhile for running outside. It helped us keep a steady pace, increase our step rate to decrease our risk of injury, and cheered us on to meet our distance and time goals. It also provided periodic updates on our progress and how much time or distance we had remaining. Unfortunately, Vi is currently only for outdoor running. It is not compatible with treadmill running at this time. With cycling, Vi was only able to provide us with our speed, distance, route, and heart rate, as its coaching elements are still under development. We have been told that LifeBEAM is working diligently to add more coaching elements for cycling along with supporting treadmill running by the end of the year.
What we really liked about Vi is the team behind it. LifeBEAM has an incredible crew who listens attentively to their customers’ feedback. They attempt to address their customer needs and desires with frequent software updates to enhance user experience. At this point, we believe Vi is an excellent tool for runners of all levels. It truly fulfilled its goal of providing users with an excellent personal trainer, and we can see how individuals solely focused on running would love this product. We did not find it as helpful when it came to cycling or running on a treadmill. We liked that it monitored heart rate regardless of the exercise and the sound from Vi’s headphones was consistently excellent. With all that being said, is Vi worth the $250 price tag? Depending on your fitness goals and preferred mode of exercise, Vi may or may not be for you.
Here’s a promo video for the Vi: