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Headphones

Oh god why do these headphones have a touchscreen on the side?

Vinci's Smart Hearable is just crazy enough to work.

The Vinci Smart Hearable.

Josh Miller/CNET


No, you can't see it while you're wearing them. Yes, it looks really dumb.

But how many headphones let you ask Amazon's Alexa voice assistant to play your favorite song?

How many can measure your heart rate, and adjust your tunes accordingly? Or play music from Spotify or SoundCloud over a built-in cellular connection?

Or offer 16GB of on-board storage, so you don't need to carry your phone to have your MP3s and FLACs?

And how many gimmicky headphones actually sound good?

A built-in 3G cellular radio is compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile in the US.

Josh Miller/CNET

This is the Vinci Smart Hearable. It's a Kickstarter project with some pretty lofty goals: The creators want to use its MediaTek processor and sensors to anticipate the music you'll want to hear, let you ask for all sorts of things with your voice, take hands-free calls and even read your text messages aloud.

They also want to use the Vinci's twin microphones to create binaural 3D audio recordings, so you can close your eyes, spin in a circle, and aurally feel just like you're in a place you've been before.

With a proximity sensor, they'll automatically pause the music when you take them off your head, and resume when you put them on.

Josh Miller/CNET

But again, those are all fairly lofty goals. Presently, the Vinci 1.0 is just a pair of flashy headphones that actually sound pretty damn good, with a remarkable amount of bass -- but also a little too much clamping force (ouch they're tight) and far too little battery life (I used them for 2 hours and they were dead the next day).

The touchscreen really does work to summon Alexa and ask for songs, as well as play, pause, skip (swipe) and favorite songs (double-tap). But most of the time it's just turning you into a big walking music visualizer while constantly draining the battery. Lots of features, like wirelessly pairing to my phone, were MIA -- though there's a physical headphone jack as well.

That's version 1.0. The company says V1.5, the one that'll tentatively start shipping to Kickstarter backers in March, should offer 7 hours of continuous playback even with the screen on and a more comfortable fit, plus a whole list of features you can find at the company's Kickstarter page. They're offering the first few hundred units for just $99 a pop (about £80 or AU$130).

Personally, I'd wait. Based on my experience, there's an awful lot Vinci needs to add and fix, so a March release date seems ambitious at best. (I wouldn't be surprised if Vinci ships without many of the fancier features it's promising. And bear in mind the data may not work if you're not in the US.)

But I've gotta be honest: Even $200, the suggested retail price, is downright reasonable for a pair of great-sounding wireless headphones. If Vinci can fit a personal assistant, fitness tracker and a few more smarts inside, I might just have to buy one.

Where to Buy

Vinci Smart Hearable

Visit manufacturer site for details.

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