Of all the ways to avoid dadbod, running is probably the most effective. Which is why as a serious runner and expecting father, I’m already nervous about not having the time to train after the kid arrives. I’ve heard the horror stories and don’t want to go from proudly knocking out Sunday morning long runs to shuffling laps around my coffee table for 15 minutes while my baby naps.
So when I heard about the LifeBEAM Vi system, a new set of Bluetooth headphones being marketed as “the first AI trainer,” I was intrigued. They might not be able to drag me out of bed after a late night with a crying newborn, but if they really are an effective virtual trainer, perhaps they could keep me motivated enough to overcome the exhaustion and squeeze the most out of my soon-to-become limited windows of exercise time? So I gave them a go.
The bio-sensing headphones have a built-in heart rate monitor plus a barometer, six-axis accelerometer, and gyrometer to track your speed and cadence. I’m someone who won’t run without my GPS watch, so I was glad to see LifeBEAM covered my baseline requirements for data collection. I also tend to run with my phone during solo workouts, so I didn’t mind having to do so for Vi to pair via Bluetooth and track my progress.
The headphones sit around your neck, which make me skeptical. But, I honestly didn’t notice it while running. More problematic was getting the earbuds to stay put, but I chalk that up more to me being a filthy sweat hog than flawed design. The headphones come with more than enough fins and tips to suit anyone less disgusting than me. The sound quality was fine, though trying to play my Spotify music through the connected app was a true pain. And I couldn’t get it to play podcasts at all.
Of course, playing music is a secondary function for these headphones. I was much more curious about the AI trainer. Vi is sweet, friendly, and much more human (and less snarky) than Siri, Alexa, or other virtual assistants. She required about two hours of running time to get to know me and the range of my pace, and she offered encouragement along the way. As an experienced runner, an “Attaboy” for running a mile is laughable, but I can imagine that motivation being significant to a novice or runner who’s taken a few months off.
Vi does offer some truly helpful coaching features like “Step to the Beat,” which launches a metronomic beat to help you achieve your ideal cadence and step rate. There’s a similar feature to help lock in your breathing. And you can set audio beacons to ping you as you approach certain milestones. All of these were legitimately motivating and effective.
But here is where my problems began. Vi promised I could use voice prompts to check my progress, but they almost never worked. No matter what I said or how loud I said it, Vi either didn’t understand or just told me my heart rate. I found myself repeatedly screaming “How am I doing?” mid-run. The looks I got from passers-by suggested the answer was, “Not well.”
Vi falls well short of being a substitute for a real-life coach, or, with its limited library of prerecorded prompts, true AI. Still, new runners will likely find the feedback helpful and seasoned runners will enjoy the coaching features mentioned. Sure, there are plenty of other (mostly less expensive) devices that will track and read you your time and pace, but for someone looking to make the most of small windows of free time, Vi could be the perfect motivator.