We’ve all seen the garish single-ear Bluetooth devices that had their heyday in the early 2000s, best epitomized by the guy in the supermarket line talking to himself while an annoying blue beacon flashes ceaselessly in the vicinity of his ear. But here at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Sony is hoping to rewrite that story with a slick new device called simply the Xperia Ear.
The Ear isn’t your father’s Bluetooth earpiece. While the unit may not be as small as you’d expect for a 2016 iteration, it’s loaded with heaps of modern tech, including a proximity sensor, gyroscope, accelerometer, and NFC for simple tap-and-go pairing to your Android phone.
The Ear is designed to work with either an Xperia device along with a dedicated app, or with any other Android phone via Google Talk. And thanks to all that embedded tech, there are some cool ways to use the Ear that should make life more convenient for those who follow a predictable daily routine. Since the device knows when you put it in, it can be set to automatically source info from the app, including news, weather, and other information, and pipe it into your ear.
You can also tap the side of the earpiece for voice-assisted commands to help keep your hands on the wheel, and your eyes off your phone. The unit comes with multiple sizes of silicone tips, as well as a rubber guard at the top in small, medium, and large sizes to better fit your ear. Sony loves its secrets, however, and the company won’t tell us what the accelerometer or gyroscope will be used for, only saying the company has applications in the works that will take advantage of the technology.
You can, of course, also play music through the Xperia Ear, but even the Sony rep was quick to admit that the mono experience won’t be much of a thrill for music fans. Podcasts, on the other hand, could be a good fit for the Ear.
Talk time for the earpiece is estimated at 3.5 hours, with as much as 80 hours of standby. And the nifty little carrying case also auto-charges the unit up to three times. The top of the case is designed to snap open with just a flick of your thumb like an old-style lighter so it can be done with only one hand, but don’t try to pry it open from the front like we did — it’s a bit flimsy and liable to break if you do.
While the Xperia Ear was meant to launch in the summer, it’s only just now been released for pre-order. Originally, the Xperia Ear was available exclusively on the Xperia Store online in Europe. Now Sony has said that the Xperia Ear will be available in the U.S. from Amazon for $200, with other retailers like Fry’s and B&H following shortly.
Article originally published in February. Updated on 11-18-2016 by Kris Wouk: Added availability and pricing for the U.S.