Before artificially intelligent machines actually take over the world and enslave us all, we predict a wonderful, blissful time when runners finally get our hands – and probably ears – on a real-time, artificially intelligent, adaptive running coach that can guide us skillfully to a 5k, 10k or marathon personal record.
While watches such as the Garmin Forerunner 935 are much smarter than we’ve ever seen, it’s still largely down to us to decode the data these devices provide and to convert those insights into an actionable training plan.
Garmin Connect, Polar Flow and TomTom Sport all offer coaching plans to plug that gap of course, but these off-the-shelf, human-coach-created plans are pretty much one size fits all.
They’re not tailored uniquely to our individual needs and they don’t adapt to how we feel that day in the way a real-life coach would. It’s a big ask but what we want technology to provide is our very own, affordable virtual Alberto Salazar. That’s where LifeBEAM Vi comes in.
Billed by its makers as ‘the world’s first AI personal trainer’, Vi is a ground-breaking fitness wearable that uses aerospace-grade sensor technology to track and provide real-time biometric feedback on heart rate, motion, distance, speed, cadence and elevation, all geared towards helping you run faster, further and better.
The LifeBEAM Vi comes with a competitive $249 price tag (that’s around £200/AU$315 though the UK and Australian prices are yet to be announced), which puts it in mid-range running watch territory. You’d get a Polar M430 or a TomTom Spark 3 Cardio for a similar price.
But where Vi claims to go one step further than a running watch or a pair of heart rate tracking headphones, is that she adapts her training advice as you run, to provide coaching insights based on your real, live biometrics and performance.
Five minutes into a run and cadence down on your usual average? Vi will suggest a metronome drill to get you back on track. Average heart rate sky high in your warm up? Vi can spot you might be fatigued and recommend you take it easier for this session, with all of this advice delivered via voice, into your ears, the way a real coach would.
That’s the theory anyway. But does Vi live up to her billing?
- Sophisticated, subtle design
- Snug fit that stays put
- Micro USB port cover might not last
At first glance, LifeBEAM Vi looks a lot like a normal set of high-end earphones with a unique neckband attached. There’s a pleasing sophistication and subtlety to the design and Vi exudes quality straight out of the box.
There’s style here too. Unlike most neon colored sport headphones, these have been designed to feel as at home paired with a suit as they are a technical t-shirt.
The Running Man of Tech, Gareth Beavis, once said that you should never judge a wearable by its packaging, but it’s very clear from the moment you whip the cellophane off Vi that a lot of thought has gone into this product.
“As it should!” we hear you say, but sadly that’s not always the case. Think Apple boxes and you get the idea. The details have been considered.
The major design difference between Vi and a standard set of running headphones is the neckband that houses the sensors including a 6-axis accelerometer, gyrometer and barometer. This band makes up most of Vi’s 37g weight and rests around your neck on your shoulders.
Some running purists (if you’re wearing split shorts and a vest right now it’s you we’re talking about) will definitely think this is cumbersome, but we found that while you are aware of it initially, after a while that wears off.
We tried it on a 4-hour marathon and though it’s much heavier than something like the earbud-only Jabra Elite Sport, Vi is as comfortable as any other set of in-ear headphones.
Each end of the neckband and both earbuds have pleasing magnetic clips, so you can attach the buds to the band for easy stowage and, more importantly, you can clip both earbuds together and secure Vi around your neck when you’re not wearing it in your ears.
If you’ve ever decided you no longer want music halfway into a long run and you have no pockets for your headphones, you’ll understand why this is useful.
LifeBEAM knows that Vi will spend a lot of time in gym bags and pockets and the neckband is designed to bend and flex for easy storage and extra durability. We’ve been using Vi for more than 3 months now and we’ve not managed to break it yet so this seems to be a success.
If we have one concern about durability, it’s the cover for the micro USB charging port on the end of the neckband, which feels like it might not last.
In terms of comfort, the earbuds fit snugly, though even by LifeBEAM’s own admission, it can take a few attempts to select the perfect gels and wing tips to keep them firmly in place and ensure the optical heart rate tracks effectively on the run.
Controlling Vi is largely uncomplicated and mainly done via voice, but the band does feature three relatively easy-to-use buttons, including an on/off, a + and a - for managing volume and skipping tracks.
There’s also a touch sensor in the right earbud that initiates Vi’s voice activation controls. We found this to be nicely responsive and easy to do even at pace. Putting a simple tap between you and a chat with Vi also helps to prevent outside noise accidentally firing up Vi (something you get with other devices such as the Oakley Radar Pace).
Vi is also sweat and water resistant and in our tests it survived a few runs in torrential British rain, but this isn’t a device you wear in the shower or the pool.