Is this what it’s like to have cleavage? We donned a ‘smart t-shirt’ with 896 LEDs

While Samsung, LG and Sony battle over whose smartwatch belongs on your wrist, Ballantine’s has set its sights on less contested turf: your torso. Back in January, the whiskey brand revealed TShirtOS, a “smart t-shirt” with embedded LEDs that could light up to dazzle onlookers like a wearable billboard. It was still just a concept then, but now there are real, working prototypes.

And I got to try one on and stroll around town.

The shirt was delivered to me in a large aluminum case, the type in which one would expect to find a device for launching a nuclear missile. Why did it arrive in such a thing? For a start, it’s one of just 25 in the world, and apparently worth a rather heady £2,500, or about $4,200. But mainly because it comes with a bag full of accessories, and a surprisingly thick instruction manual. T-shirts are straight forward items of clothing. Get your head through the right hole, and you’re pretty much done. While this is basically true of TShirtOS, it also requires the same level of setup as a new Bluetooth accessory for your smartphone, because ultimately, that’s exactly what it is.

V-necks, Bluetooth, and battery packs

Created by Ballantine’s, interactive fashion firm Cute Circuit in London, and tech fashion experts Switch Embassy in San Francisco, TShirtOS is way beyond other electronic t-shirts, which show a single, basic image on the front. This has an actual LED screen covered in 896 white LEDs, and Bluetooth connectivity. Hook it up to your Android smartphone, and an app lets you display your own animated text, or choose one from a pre-built selection. What makes TShirtOS really different, is the way the screen has been woven into the material. It’s completely flexible, lightweight, and washable too.

The LEDs are startlingly bright and the looped animation makes it incredibly eye-catching.

The V-neck t-shirt is made of a soft and very strokeable fabric. Slip it on, and it feels great against your skin. At first glance, it’s like any other shirt, but there are one or two differences between this and one from Gap, known only to the wearer.

Running down both flanks are a pair of battery packs. They’re not obvious unless the t-shirt is a bit small on you, but they do weigh enough to make it feel like you’re wearing a lightweight jacket. Also, a full-size USB cable runs out of the bottom edge. This connects to the brain module, which is about the same size as the case for a pair of sunglasses. It slips into your pocket, just, along with the cable overhang.

You soon get used to all the equipment, but no-one would buy it in its current configuration. This is only a prototype though, and all the electronics should be miniaturized before production.

Fashion for the attention starved

After charging the batteries — something I never expected to have to do to a piece of clothing — I plucked up the courage to put on the t-shirt and head outside. I’m not a gregarious 21-year-old, I’m a tech writer who’s, um, older than that, and the thought of wearing something so “look at me” didn’t sit right with my character. That first outing felt weird.

Viewed with the screen turned off, it looks like any other shirt. Turn it on, and it comes alive. The LEDs are startlingly bright in anything except full sunlight, and the looped animation makes it incredibly eye-catching. Nobody pointed and laughed, but there were plenty of double takes, and I’d notice people’s gaze drop to look at the shirt, before meeting my eyes again. Ballantine’s TShirtOS was in danger of turning me into Kitty from Arrested Development.

Overwhelmingly, people — in particular kids — loved the shirt, and everyone I chatted to enjoyed putting in their own messages to watch scroll across my chest. While TShirtOS isn’t available to the public right now, the ultimate plan is to put it on sale, so would any of these people actually wear it? Sure, they all thought it was cool, but only one person out of the dozens with which I spoke would actually buy and wear it. I encouraged my best friend to wear it on a dress-down day at his office. He refused.

In conversations about who would wear it, why, and where, the same subjects continually came up. Many envisaged it only for promotional use, while others saw it as being a bit of fun on a stag or hen weekend. Some saw it only being worn for clubbing, or on a rowdy night out. In short, it was a fad, and TShirtOS would lay abandoned in the back of the closet once the big weekend was over.

However, they’re all wrong.

Bazinga, TShirtOS needs a geeky model to become a hit

Everyone was seeing, and therefore only considering, the shirt with the screen on, flashing about like an attention-starved sign at the train station. With the screen turned off, Ballentine’s TShirtOS is just a regular t-shirt. It’s perfectly comfortable, it looks good, and is well-made. When the mood strikes, you pull out your phone and share a thought, image, or emotion on your shirt. As a society, many of us overshare on social networks everyday, often without any response from the rest of the world. Sharing something similar, in real-time, on your t-shirt is an extension of this.

It’s the convergence of your digital life and your real life, inside a piece of clothing.

You’ve probably heard the analogy that tweeting is like standing in the street and shouting your thoughts at passers-by. Well, with TShirtOS, you wouldn’t need to shout, and your audience wouldn’t need to look at their phones to know what you were thinking of having for lunch. It’s the convergence of your digital life and your real life, inside a piece of clothing that hasn’t really changed since its birth. That makes it fascinating, and potentially a future hit with anyone obsessed with social media.

During my basic market research, it’s clear people still need to be convinced. What’s needed is the right spokesman and model, and although it pains me to admit it, I’m probably not the man for the job. I know who is though: Dr. Sheldon Cooper. The Big Bang Theory came up in a conversation with the one person who would wear TShirtOS, and she saw it as something the neurotic character would wear. Anyone familiar with the show could certainly imagine an episode where Sheldon decides to communicate solely using TShirtOS and his smartphone. In fact, no-one steal that, I’ll pitch it to CBS when I’m finished here.

Right now, Ballentine’s TShirtOS is a novelty, but with a guest spot on one of the most popular geeky TV shows, could bring it a few tantalizing steps away from mainstream acceptance.

The question is, would you wear it?

Giveaways

We’re giving away $2,500 worth of great products for Amazon Prime Day 2018

Amazon Prime Day is finally here, and we're so excited that we're giving away $2,500 worth of prizes. If you want to do more than just shop amazing deals this Prime Day, entering for a chance to win fabulous prizes is a great place to…
Smart Home

A.I.’s humorous side: The funniest things to ask Alexa

Amazon's Alexa voice assistant has a wide repertoire of funny responses, jokes, and hidden replies that you can have fun with. Here are the best funny things to ask Alexa, and examples of what her responses are.
Product Review

'Far Cry 5' trades palm trees for pines, but it's still the same old game

Far Cry 5 has all the pieces of a lighthearted open-world romp and a dark, fascinating narrative-driven game. Unfortunately, the two are incompatible.
Movies & TV

First 'Aquaman' trailer makes a big splash at Comic-Con

Jason Momoa will bring Aquaman back to the big screen for a solo feature in December 2018. Here's everything we know so far about the aquatic superhero's live-action adventure in the DC Extended Universe.
Movies & TV

The '80s are alive as first 'Stranger Things' season 3 teaser goes to the mall

With a sophomore season as strong as its first, Stranger Things is now moving on to season 3. Here's everything we've learned so far about the Netflix series' upcoming third season.
Mobile

Apple's third iOS 12 beta may help you save a lot of data

At this year's Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple unveiled its latest operating system, iOS 12. From app updates to group FaceTime, ARKit 2.0, and more, here are all the new features in iOS 12.
Smart Home

Silverware handles up or down? Dishwasher experts settle it once and for all

When it comes to loading dishwashers, are you on #TeamHandlesUp, or #TeamHandlesDown? We asked some experts to find out which is the correct way of doing it to settle the debate once and for all.
Movies & TV

A horse, a sword, and hair clips highlight latest 'John Wick 3' set videos

The third installment of the wildly successful action series that stars Keanu Reeves as a deadly assassin forced out of retirement, John Wick 3: Parabellum, hits theaters in May 2019. Here's everything we know about the movie so far.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in every genre for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Home Theater

Need more contrast in your life? Here’s what you need to know about HDR TVs

So what is HDR TV? In a nutshell, it’s the best thing to happen to TV since the arrival of 4K. Here's everything you need to know about the technology, what it can do, and why it’s a must-have.
Movies & TV

'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3' needs a new director

Marvel Studios will bring Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and the rest of its team of reluctant cosmic heroes back to the big screen in 2020 for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, so here's everything we know about the sequel so far.
Outdoors

Dirt-cheap camping gear that’s actually worth spending your money on

Buying new camping gear can get very expensive, but these products offer great performance without breaking the bank, proving that you don't need to buy name brand equipment to have a good time in the backcountry.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Roll-up solar panels, dream controllers, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Mobile

T-Mobile expands Simple Global plan, offers $5 international day pass for LTE

T-Mobile offers a number of plans for both you and your family, but how do you know which one is best for you and your situation? Here, we break down the specifics of each plan to help you decide.
Gaming

That’s not Nathan Fillion’s voice you hear as Cayde-6 in ‘Destiny 2: Forsaken’

It turns out Cayde-6 wasn't voiced by actor Nathan Fillion in the Destiny 2: Forsaken trailer. Fillion was unable to reprise his role for the DLC, so Nolan North, the voice of Ghost, stepped in for Fillion.
Mobile

Why Apple Watches, Fitbits, and more could soon get more expensive

Proposed $200 billion in U.S. trade tariffs on specific Chinese manufactured goods could result in significant price increases for many mobile gadgets. Products from Apple, Fitbit, Sonos, and others companies could be hit with price bumps.
Mobile

Get a better night's sleep by using a blue light filter on your smartphone

Phone makers are taking the potentially disruptive effects of blue light more seriously nowadays. This guide will explain how to use Night Shift on an iPhone and how to filter out blue light on an Android phone.
Mobile

The Best iPhone 7 battery cases to give your phone some extra juice

The iPhone 7 doesn't have terrible battery life, but you never know when you'll need to juice up on the go. To help, here are the best iPhone 7 battery cases that can keep your smartphone charged and ready for long-term use.
Emerging Tech

Buying on a budget? Here’s all the best tech you can snag for $25 or less

We live in a world where you can get a cheeseburger for $1, a functioning computer for $5, and thousands of HD movies for $10 -- so it stands to reason that you should be able to pick up some pretty sweet gear for $25.
Mobile

Here’s how — and why — to use Safe mode with an Android phone

When you have an issue with your phone, Safe mode can help you determine whether a third-party app is to blame. If you’re wondering how to access it, or how to turn the feature off in Android, then you have come to the right place.
Outdoors

This solar panel rolls up like a scroll when it isn’t charging your gadgets

The Soul is a charging solution that comes with a built-in 5400 mah battery and a 5-watt solar panel that rolls up like a scroll when not in use, making it one of the easiest chargers to take with you on an adventure.
Deals

Save up to $900 with the best smartphone deals for July 2018

Need a better phone but don't want to spend a fortune? It's never a bad time to score a new smartphone and save some cash. We've rounded up the best smartphone deals available that can save you as much as $900.