My month of reviewing tech included a roundup of the best gaming headsets of 2016. A few weeks after checking out all of these headphones, I came across another interesting headset in a PR email.
The Vinci Smart Hearable is an all-in-one headset that allows you to stream music over a WiFi or 3G network without the need for a smartphone.
The project is already funded at over $150,000 with a goal of only $50,000, and I was sent a review unit to check out how it works.
Now the headset I tried is actually version 1.0 hardware with an alpha version of the 1.5 software, so there were a few glitches I imagine will be worked out prior to the full release. There are also a few hardware tweaks being made.
However, Vinci is definitely impressive, and I’m excited to see how well smart hearables do in the $3 billion wearable market.
Under the Hood
The screen on Vinci looks very much like your typical Android smartphone, but it’s running a proprietary Vinci OS on top. The left ear has a capacitive multitouch screen whereas the right has a trackpad similar to your typical laptop.
An ARM Cortex-A7 dual-core processor, 1 GB memory and 16 GB storage (32 GB on the pro model) allow for both local and streaming music. It has a 1500mAh battery and uses 40mm drivers to produce a 20Hz-20KHz frequency response.
Vinci’s headset includes bluetooth, WiFi, and 3G antennas, a SIM slot, heart rate and proximity sensors, and 3D audio. It’s able to stream music from a variety of terrestrial radio stations, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Amazon Prime Music.
It can connect to your computer via microUSB or to your smartphone via a standard headphone cable (both cables are included, though somewhat short).
No Church in the Wild
The Vinci headphones are a bit oddly shaped, not really fitting around the ear with the comfort of the leading brands. In fact, it feels like so much effort was put into engineering the smart piece that the headphone piece was an afterthought.
Although I have a rather large head and ears, it’s narrow, so I don’t often feel a squeeze from headphones. Vinci’s headphones clamped down on my ears and put a lot of pressure on my glasses.
Noise cancellation and bass boost simply wasn’t there, so the low-end in many of the EDM and hip-hop genres didn’t have much punch and could easily be muddied out by outside noises.
When compared to regular headsets, it’s unfortunately not in the class of other headsets. However, it does have smart features to consider, especially for mobility purposes, as many of these other headsets struggle with smartphone compatibility.
We did struggle a bit with the software, but that’s normal for an alpha release. Several updates were required, and they’re still not working as well as you’d expect a retail release to, but then again these aren’t shipping until March.
I fully expect Vinci to do a better job than Damson Audio did with its horrifically failed Auravisor release.
That being said, we won’t know for sure whether or not all the bugs will be ironed out prior to the projected March 2017 release date. Several tech journalists like Josh Miller at Cnet point out it’s quite ambitious that everything will be fixed by then, and it’s likely to be toward the end of 2017 before Vinci does everything it hopes.
Still, the demo unit I received was stylish and worked fairly well for what it was meant to do. While music played, visualizers ran that reminded me of my Winamp days of curating .mp3 playlists. I couldn’t help but notice Pandora and Google’s streaming services missing, but that support can be added later as well.
The biggest problem with the Vinci headphones is I didn’t really understand why the screen was even necessary. I can’t see it while wearing the headset, so it just becomes a piece of flare for everyone else to enjoy. I suddenly felt self-conscious walking down the street wearing something so flashy, even though they’re actually less expensive than my typical headphones.
An option to disable to screen would be nice, as draining the battery power while on the go is the last thing I’m looking to do.
Vinci’s curation service promises to analyze your favorites from across services and locally to help guide your tastes, but even that is an ambitious project. Recommendation engines in services like Netflix, Amazon, and even Google are constantly being tweaked, and Vinci may end up pulling itself in too many directions to end up working well with any of it.
While some of these features may seem nice, I’d almost prefer a standard Android build that allowed more control over the experience.
For $199, there are definitely better headphones on the market. Vinci is packed with features you typically find in a phone instead of your headset, and it would be nice to leave your phone at home sometimes.
Of course, you can’t connect your watch, fitness tracker, and other devices to Vinci, and it still lacks the full Android experience.
That being said, these gimmicky headphones aren’t the worst on the market, and the company still has nearly 6 months left to get Vinci 1.5 ready for the consumer market.
Final Grade: C-