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Sony Prototype Earbuds Keep You Aware of Your Surroundings

BERLIN—It was teased during MWC, then never mentioned during Sony's IFA press conference, but the oddly shaped Xperia Ear Open Style prototype was here on the showroom floor.

The Sony Xperia Ear we reviewed last year consists of an earpiece that sits in one ear and serves mainly as a voice assistant and a way to make phone calls. The new Xperia Ear Open Style is for music, too.

The two earbuds are slung around the bottom of your earlobe and remind me a bit of old-fashioned hearing aids. Placement was not intuitive; I required assistance from the Sony representative, and found the fit to be profoundly uncomfortable because of the way the earbuds pulled down on my earlobe. That said, they served their purpose in allowing background noise to filter in even when music was playing.

Sony Xperia Ear Open Style prototype

That's a feature Sony has been keen on lately. Its new line of Bluetooth headphones, neckbuds, and earbuds all feature smart ambient sound that automatically adjusts noise cancellation to let you hear things like announcements. What the Xperia Ear Open Style does isn't quite so advanced; the earbuds are simply designed to let in sound and there's no built-in noise cancellation or app that lets you adjust the level of sound you let in. If you want that feature, go for the WF-1000X.

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The two earbuds have a four-hour battery life, according to Sony, and the included charging case can give you an additional 12 hours. Like the first Xperia Ear, the Open Style supports Sony's Xperia Agent, Google Assistant, and Siri for voice commands. We weren't too impressed with the implementation of Agent during our Xperia Ear review, but Google Assistant is a compelling alternative.

Audio quality is always hard to determine on noisy and crowded showroom floors (especially when using earbuds designed to let in noise). What I listened to can best be described as flat and a bit muddy. And because of the open style, the earbuds can also leak sound depending on the volume level.

However, Sony was very clear that the Xperia Ear model being displayed is an early one, so it's premature to pass judgment, and we're sure fit and audio quality will improve before you see these available for sale.

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