Have you heard of the “hearables?”

Hearables is what this new smart device from Bragi is categorizing themselves in to separate them from other wearables. Bragi’s The Dash, a smart earphones that became possible after a Kickstarter campaign (which was backed in 2014!). What sets this bluetooth earphones from most of the products in the bluetooth earphones market is the fact that it is smart (though it is not the first one to be smart). It is smart enough to measure your heart rate and steps, without needing a smartphone as a companion. However, you need the smartphone to process and display these measurements.

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How does The Dash perform?

After a long time waiting for my Dash arrive, I was excited to finally be able to try my very first smart earphones. After unpacking it, I immediately connected the charger case to my Mac via its USB-MicroUSB cable. An hour of charging, followed by another two of upgrading the firmware, it was ready for use. It was a bit late in the evening, so I decided to use it on my morning jog instead.

Morning came, with the Bragi app on my iPhone, I started tethering via BlueTooth. The procedure required you to wear the earphones to interact with it. The Dash is controlled via touch — tap, double tap, swipe — unlike most earphones that use buttons. Tap and Hold on the left earphone started the pairing procedure. The voice will let you know what is happening, and the app gives visual confirmation. After pairing, you are good to go — or so I thought.

I started my favorite podcast, but it did not play on the earphones. Double checked if the BT connection is intact, and it was. Weird. Finally, I decided to just jog with my Jaybird BT earbuds. First Dash impression — failed.

Returning to the Bragi earphones to see if I got a dud, I checked on the manual (yeah, RTFM!), but didn’t find anything useful. The app, however, proved to be much more helpful in learning about the product. I discovered that pairing the earphones with the smartphone for the app, you tap and hold on the LEFT bud. Tap and Hold the right one pairs it to ANY Bluetooth audio device. So, doing this paired my Dash with my iPhone!

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Now I am ready to go. The touch interface gives you plenty of interaction. Swiping on the left bud toggles Audio Transparency — what this does is to enable the microphone so you can hear all background sound. This is useful when you are out and about, e.g., using most in-ear earphones block most, if not all, background sounds (need a car to honk to alert you of incoming traffic), Audio Transparency allows you to hear all background sounds! Doing the same swiping gesture on the right bud adjusts the volume! Cool, huh?

Tap on the left bud allows you to activate Activity tracking. At the moment, it tracks Running, Swimming (yes, it is waterproof) and Cycling activities measuring your heart rate, steps (though I have yet to try it whilst cycling or swimming) and duration. The measurements are displayed on your smartphone. I wish that it interfaces with HealthKit, though. Tap on the right bud lets you control it to answer phone calls.

So far, except for a few improvements, like HealthKit integration and better Bluetooth range (not hopeful considering that it is a tiny device), Bragi’s The Dash is one heck of smart earphones, worthy of its own Hearable category.

Dash kicks off the Hearables market, a new frontier in the wearable industry

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In the medical world, the ears can provide an abundance of information. Temperature, pulse, and oxygen saturation are just a few example biometrics that can be obtained from the ears.

In the always-connected digital era, we’ve seen the ears utilized for listening to music or as a means to talk on our smartphones. Originally our headsets were large and cumbersome, but over time they shrank down to something no larger than a standard earbud, making use of the vibrations in our jaw bones to transmit our speech.

Discrete, already socially accepted, and commonplace, earbuds and headphones are fixing to take the next step in their natural evolution in our smart-device world, especially when considering the wealth of data our auditory anatomy can provide. So where are we going?

It can be said that hearables were inevitable, once batteries and their charge could accommodate such a small, confined space. Advances in battery technology and the low-energy Bluetooth 4.0 have arrived and it has opened the door for all sorts of new and exciting gadgetry.

Back in September 2014, Motorola released the Moto Hint. It was an interesting bit of tech, showing how small and sleek earpieces could be, but the phase of having a Bluetooth earpiece for talking on your phone has, to a degree, passed. Coupled with the very voice-friendly Moto X, the Hint makes a little bit of sense, but outside of that? Not so much.

During CES 2015, one entrant in particular made its way into the world of hearables. It was Dash by Bragi, a new type of wireless earbud that takes the best of all tech domains and packages it into a nice, ear-canal sized object. The little earbuds were impressive enough to be awarded Best in Innovation during the trade show.

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The range of features that Dash offers is immense. Besides the obvious (it wirelessly transmits sound into your skull and you can talk on your phone with them), Dash has a 3-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer, which is what many smartphones come with so you can imagine that it can deliver similar information that your phone does.

Dash also has an embedded 4GB flash drive, which Bragi claims will allow the uploading of around 1,000 songs. This translates to the idea that even without a paired smartphone, you can still jam out with the earbuds alone.

Tracking is another big feature that Bragi is bringing to the table with Dash. Dash will measure body vitals via two LEDs emitting low intensity red and infrared light into your skin. The results will include heart rate, oxygen saturation, and body temperature. With the aforementioned accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers, the device will use sensor fusion to give you a hefty amount of data relating to speed, distance, pace, steps, calories burned, and more.

So how is all of this controlled on your earbuds if you don’t have your phone with you? Dash’s outer surface houses a high-resolution optical touch sensor, of course. So swipes, taps, etc., are all recognized gestures. Bragi states that this touch sensor will also pick up gestures while wet or while wearing gloves.

Wait, did I say “wet”? What would wireless earbuds of the future be without being waterproof? So yes, you can wear them swimming and, according to Bragi’s Dash promotional video, surfing. Though, to be honest, I’ve been hit by a few waves in the side of the head and I don’t think I’d recommend wearing cordless earbuds in the ocean unless said earbuds only cost like $5. Bragi does offer a leash for your Dash so maybe that would work out, but I think I’d still be too scared to try it.

Dash will come in white or black models. Bragi intends on releasing an accompanying app for your Android device when the product hits the shelves. You can pre-order a Dash package for $300 USD.

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