Vi: Personal Trainer review

Smart accessories

Vi, by LifeBEAM is a set of sweat proof headphones with a dedicated fitness trainer built inside. It's got a heart rate monitor, multiple motion detectors, and an elegant sound system developed by renowned audio equipment company Harman Kardon. It's got a sweet, supportive, smart-learning artificially intelligent trainer that tries to help you set and meet your running goals. I forced myself to run with Vi every day for a month. I failed to get the running bug, but it was less about Vi's performance and more about my inability to push myself beyond my limits.

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How Vi tried, and failed, to motivate me to run

Vi Personal Trainer

When I first heard about Vi, I thought it was a great idea. It's a personal trainer in your ear. It is there for you when you need it, sending supportive sentiments, giving advice, and motivating you to keep going. That's something I needed. I hate running, but if there were someone, or something, gently nudging me to workout, maybe I'd get into it.

So I started my mornings with very short jogs — just a few minutes at a time, and would switch over to walking. But this wasn't working. I wasn't giving it my all. I had the hardest time just getting outside. I finally decided that I had to give Vi a solid try, so I set a goal to run five days per week for a month straight.

It started out strong. The first week went great. The second week, I missed two days, but still felt like I was on the right track. By the third week, I was back at the old routine of convincing myself why I can't get out and run, and by the fourth week, I really hated every step I took.

One of the biggest problems with Vi is that the personal trainer is deeply integrated with running, but not so much for the other routines you may want to use, like walking or cycling. It keeps in communication with you practically every step of the way when you run, but only talks to you a few times when you are on a walk or cycle workout. The awesome "Step to the beat" feature doesn't even work with walking.

Vi also has a fairly steep training curve. It suggested I increase my distance by a third just a few days after I started, which is way too soon for someone that never runs. I followed Vi's suggestion (of which I was reminded multiple times), but I didn't like it.

I ended up feeling defeated and overwhelmed. I had a difficult time getting motivated to get out and run because I knew that Vi would ask me to exercise more than the level I was capable of doing right away.

Vi is designed to learn your running habits and adapt a workout routine based on your goals, but it really seems geared toward people that have already decided to make running a part of their daily life, not necessarily for people that are struggling with making those first steps.

How Vi works

Vi Personal Trainer

Putting aside my personal experience, Vi is an incredible piece of technology. It has a nicely weighted neck rest that feels more comfortable than any other headset I've used. You quickly forget the neck rest is there, but are glad to have it so your earbuds don't get lost. The earbuds themselves have a heart rate monitor, elevation, speed, and cadence tracker, and voice controls that are triggered by a tap on the right earbud, so you don't have to skip a beat as you step to the beat.

While you're in the middle of your jog, you can ask Vi such things as "What's my heart rate?" "How fast am I going?" or "What's my step rate?" A general "How am I doing?" will give you all of your tracked stats.

While running, Vi also offers suggestions to you the more you train. You'll learn about the best time to drink water, ways to avoid injuries, and how to control your breathing. I found this feature to be the most helpful since I have very little experience with jogging.

The Step to the Beat training feature is probably my favorite. While running, you can ask Vi to "Step to the Beat" and it will play a rhythmic beat set to a specific speed (I believe it was 75 steps per minute in my case). This is considered the ideal pace for your size and it will play for about a minute or until you tell Vi to stop. You can trigger this helpful pacing beat at any time while you're on your run.

If you are running across streets and have to wait for a light to change, or have to stop for any reason, Vi will automatically sense it and pause tracking for you. It will also start tracking again after you start moving again. Unforutnately, this pausing feature doesn't work with a walking routine.

Vi has some unique location and weather based features that identify where you are and if it's raining, snowing, or even really hot outside. Though it doesn't do much to help your training, it makes Vi seem more personal, which might make you feel more responsible to meeting the goals you've been working on with it.

As for sound quality, Vi is unmatched. Listening to music through the headphones is a pleasure and a reward in itself. They rank very high as far as audiophile sound quality goes. I've kept the earbuds in my ears for hours at a time to test the comfort level. After a small period of getting used to having them sit tightly in my ears (which is necessary to track your heart rate), I found them to be very comfortable. The most comfortable earbuds I've ever used, in fact.

What Vi is missing

Vi Personal Trainer

If Vi did more with the other supported workout routines, it would be a number one winner of all things fitness. Unfortunately, the personal fitness trainer really only integrates deeply with running. I'd really like to be able to Step to the beat when walking, or have Vi tell me after a 40-minute cycling workout that I'm almost done and not to give up. Instead, she remains mostly silent for anything other than a distance or timed run.

Vi is built with the hardware needed to support different activities and many new workouts have been added since it launched. I'd just like to see more interaction with Vi while walking.

I'd also like to see different levels of training. I know Vi adapts to your abilities, but it also asks you to move out of your comfort zone a little too fast. If there were a "beginner" setting, I might have felt more excited about increasing my running goal every day, instead of being pushed to (or beyond) my limit right away.

One of the biggest things that I think Vi misses the mark on is that it has to be connected to your iPhone in order to be used. This just becomes an expensive reminder of the fact that there are dozens of great training apps available on the iPhone that you can customize to fit your training needs. If I'm wearing a personal trainer in my ear, I shouldn't have to bring my phone with me, too. Otherwise, why can't I just use the Vi app with my significantly less expensive earbuds? With my Apple Watch and iPhone, I've got all the same tracking sensors as Vi already.

Who Vi is for

Vi Personal Trainer

I'm nitpicking Vi a lot, but it's for a reason. In its current state, Vi is not for people just getting started. As I mentioned, it is a fantastic piece of fitness tracking equipment with a lot of unique smart learning software under the hood. But it's definitely designed for people that are already runners.

Vi is a great fit for joggers training for long-distance races, like a marathon, sprinters trying to shave off extra seconds on their time, and general fitness geeks that love to pound the pavement at 5 o'clock in the morning.

I could imagine runners that have hit a training plateau would benefit from the suggestions and helpful advice that Vi gives. It is a great motivator, even for someone like me that really wants to give up every step of the way.

The fact that it provides some personalized feedback, like remembering how well you did on your last run, or noticing that you haven't pushed yourself for a few days, can be just the right trick to convincing a person that Vi wants to help you reach and surpass your goals, which is great for runners looking to improve their time or distance.

Should you get Vi?

Vi Personal Trainer

If you are already a runner, especially if you're looking for a biosensing fitness tracker that specializes in running, you're going to love Vi. If you already train a few days per week and want a little extra help with a training routine suited to your style, Vi is pretty good at adjusting to your speed and recommending next steps to reaching new goals.

If you're a beginner — if you've just decided to start exercising recently and haven't really spent any time jogging or running at all — you might want to consider starting with something a little easier at first, like Couch to 5K or Runtastic. Then, when you feel you've got the running bug, you can invest in Vi to help you grow your fitness goals.

One cool thing I should highlight about Vi is that the hardware is already in place for tracking other types of activities, so it will be more versatile in the future, when the company releases more software updates. Cycling, for example, was not included in the initial release, but was added a few months after Vi launched. So if you're not a runner, you shouldn't dismiss Vi altogether. Instead, keep an eye out for updates that support the type of fitness training you are more interested in. I know I'm looking forward to indoor cycling support.

Vi is available now for $245.

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Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).