Sony IFA 2016: Hands on with Xperia Ear ahead of November release

2 Sep 2016

At Sony’s major showcase at IFA 2016, its range of new smartphones were its obvious focus, but future concepts like Projector and Xperia Ear are the real deal.

Throughout its IFA 2016 conference, Sony appeared to just be going through the motions with the announcement of two new phones – the flagship model Xperia XZ, due for release this coming November, and the Compact X model, expected to launch imminently.

Certainly, the launch of these phones will keep investors happy, with Sony’s president and CEO, Kazuo Hirai even going so far as to directly refer to improving coverage in the media over the past few years.

However, what piqued many of the attendees’ interests were its other technologies, most notably the Sony Xperia Projector, a projector that runs on the Android operating system and allows you to interact with that projection.

During the many demos backstage, the Projector showed it could take any Android game and project it on to a kitchen table-like surface for people to play with.

The Projector can also be use for Skype conversations by placing the projector up against a wall and projecting upwards.

Having played around with it for a few minutes, I have to say I was quite impressed with its response time – it showed no lag and elicited none of the frustration I was expecting to come from it.

First demonstrated at CES earlier this year, it seems that, at the moment, the Projector is still in the developmental stage, with no planned release date as of yet, though it could prove very interesting in the future.

Gesturing with the Xperia Ear

However, one piece of Sony’s trifecta of future tech – the Xperia Ear – has finally been given a release date.

The personal assistant device acts like an even more mobile Siri or Google Now, providing you with real-time updates on weather, news and your schedule, as well as reading out directions. It also offers a high level of interactivity, listening to you and responding, as though you’re having a conversation.

Recognising, however, that users are not always able to talk, the Xperia Ear has been imbued with gesture recognition. Worn like an earbud, the device registers gestures like bobbing your head up and down, or shaking it from left to right, to indicate yes or no.

From using it, I can safely say that the Ear – scheduled for release in November of this year – is an interesting take on wearables and, based on the demos provided, there was no need to exaggerate gestures for them to register.

But I can’t help thinking that, in an age when it is socially acceptable to walk down the street engaged in a conversation with your headphones, will head gestures not look weirder than talking to yourself?

Xperia Ear

Modelling the Xperia Ear

The final curiosity released by Sony – a hub device for a connected home – shows that the company is in a game of catch-up with Google and Amazon.

Called the Xperia Agent, and looking rather like a partially-constructed blender, the device does many of the things that you would expect from any device with voice control, but with an Orwellian twist.

For instance, unlike the Amazon Echo or the Google Home, the Xperia Agent sports a screen for video calling.


Xperia Agent image via Maurizio Pesce/Flickr

However, that screen works both ways. The agent’s AI software learns from your actions and, if you are having a coffee in front of the device, it will let other Xperia Agent users know what you are doing and suggest that you might be up for a chat.

This seemed disconcerting to me, but Sony and its executives appeared to be enthusiastic about it.

Again, like the Projector, there is no release date beyond the “near future”.

E-paper watch

Sony’s watch, with built in e-paper, was also given a full demo at IFA 2016.

Called the FES Watch U, Hirai said it will encourage artists to use it as a platform, where designs can be uploaded easily to appear on the watch face and strap.

I have to admit that, based on previous reviews, I was not taken with Sony’s earlier smartwatches, but the FES Watch U appealed to me considerably more than a typical smartwatch.

The problem is that, for the moment, the watch worn on stage by Hirai doesn’t have a release date outside of Japan, where it will become available on 7 October.

Another novel – though not necessarily groundbreaking – addition to Sony’s line-up was its new MDR-1000X noise-cancelling headphones.

Admittedly, although they were quite comfortable, the launch of these headphones alongside the launch of the company’s latest Walkman MP3 player made the whole event feel quite mid-2000s.

Still, an interesting few months ahead in terms of connected home technology for Sony.

Main image via Sony

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic