Sony’s embrace of smart assistants has been rocky, at best. The original Xperia Ear was an interesting exercise in the concept of carrying your AI with you, but the company has since been passed by the likes of Apple’s Siri sporting AirPods and the Google Pixel Buds.
The company’s giving it another go, because it rarely says die. Sony first previewed the Duo in prototype form at last year’s MWC (under the decidedly less catchy Xperia Ear Open-style Concept name) — its way of saying that it was still invested in this whole personal assistant movement. The device is finally set to start shipping in late-May, carrying a $280 price tag. That’s an $80 premium over the standard Xperia Ear.
The big difference from the previous generation (aside from its significantly larger size) is what the company calls “Dual Listening” technology — that’s basically a way to let ambient sound inside, while listening to music or speaking to the assistant. The “Spacial Acoustic Conductor” generates sound behind the ear, while leave the ear canal exposed, so you can still hear your surrounds.
The device itself is pretty large. I tried one on last week and the whole thing takes a little getting used to. In fact, a Sony rep insisted on helping me put it on, since it’s not exactly intuitive. It’s also quite large, with the bulk of the hardware sitting behind/under the ear.
Honestly, it looks a bit like a big, shiny hearing aid — though the black and gold colors are designed to “blend in” with different hair styles. Good luck trying to hide this thing if you don’t have long hair, though.
The rep insisted he was able to take the device out for a run without have it falling out. It does fit pretty snuggly, with you essentially pulling your earlobe through it, but I’m not really confident you’ll be about to jostle it around too much without it falling out.
The Ear Duo works with Google Assistant and has a few gestured-based responses built in, so you can, say, nod or shake you head to accept or decline incoming calls. Tapping and swiping the device, meanwhile, controls music playback. The system has four mics built in and is IPX2 splash-proof rated for sweat.
It’s up for pre-order starting today.