REVIEW: Vi Artificial Intelligence Personal Trainer for Running

Vi Artificial Intelligence Personal Trainer from LifeBEAM*

What It Is: Billed as the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) personal trainer, Vi is a device that coaches you through your outdoor running workouts using a techy neckband with an accelerometer and gyrometer and Bluetooth Harman Kardon earbuds that detect heart rate.

Vi’s voice sounds like a real person (not at all digital) as she coaches and informs about running technique, pace, speed, step rate, heart rate, duration and more. She’ll tailor a running plan for you based on the goals you plug into the companion app—lose weight, run farther, reduce stress, run faster, etc.—but this personalization only comes after about 120 minutes of running time. First Vi has to calibrate to your body and abilities.

FYI, in addition to outdoor running, Vi is programmed for treadmill running, outdoor cycling and walking, but these workout formats are still in beta on the Vi app.

What You Might Not Know: Vi is a good example of hearable fitness technology, meaning the majority of her guidance is audio-based via smart earbuds. Unlike many wrist-based activity trackers that provide mostly visual data (i.e., you look at the watch or its associated app to see your metrics), Vi’s feedback is both auditory (she talks to you) and visual (your metrics display in the companion app for iOS and Android).

Feelin’ the Love: This is the first wearable/hearable I’ve come across with a sense of humor. One of the last times I booted up Vi, she trash-talked about the long break I’d taken between running workouts. Oops. Her banter most definitely makes me more aware of my running consistency (or lack thereof).

What you hear

You can set Vi’s level of chattiness to a lot or just a little. Like most smart activity trackers, she periodically provides basic performance stats as you run, but since I can get all that from my Apple Watch anyway, I appreciate that Vi’s chattiness sets her apart from other tech devices I already use. (Doing a rough comparison, it seems that performance metrics are fairly similar between my Apple Watch and Vi.)

Vi chimes in about all sorts of things. For example, on my first treadmill run with this device, she recommended a 1% incline so my knees would stay happy. During outdoor runs, she might mention the weather thanks to the built-in barometer and because she knows your location through GPS. She’ll sing that “work, work, work” Rhianna song (kind of cute, but not my jam). She calls you by name too. Overall, I find she doesn’t speak too much, even at the highest chattiness setting.

One of my favorite features is feedback about my step rate per minute. If my stride gets sloppy and too long, which can mess with my joints and ruin running efficiency, she asks if I want to activate “step to the beat,” a task where you attempt to match your steps to a catchy beat Vi lays down. For running tunes, you can also connect to Spotify or the playlists and podcasts in your phone.

How it feels

Wearing Vi during a run is pretty comfortable. The neckband is lightweight enough (1.3oz) that if it weren’t for Vi’s periodic check-ins, I’d forget I was even wearing it.

To personalize earbud fit, Vi comes with a bunch of ear gels (the rubbery things that stick in your ears) and fins (the bio-sensing part of the earphones). You’ll want to select the size that best fits your ears not only for comfort’s sake but so this gadget can get a good read on your heart rate for the most accurate metrics possible.

Why I want to keep wearing Vi Personal Trainer

For me, running with an A.I. device that talks to me and provides personalized guidance for improving performance is far more motivating than running tech-free. As odd as it might sound, I do feel as if Vi’s got my back—it’s like working out with a friend who knows a ton about running.

As far as running technique goes, Vi’s beats have helped me understand how it actually feels to control step rate per minute. I’m starting to feel more energized and less broken-down during and after a run.

For frequent hits of motivation, I’ve set Vi to provide metrics every half-kilometre. I find this quite encouraging because it breaks up a 5K into manageable chunks that I can focus on and cross off my list one at a time.

If I Could Change One Thing: There’s really only one thing I wish I could change: While I love that you can call up help or metrics on demand, I’m bummed that you have to ask for what you want by talking out loud.

This wouldn’t be an issue if I were running along vacant streets or an open trail. But I’m dodging other runners, walkers and cyclists along Vancouver’s busy seawall. Basically, I feel stupid saying, “How am I doing?” or “How much more?” or any other voice command because there are people everywhere. I found it to be equally awkward on the treadmill in a crowded gym.

Sometimes Vi will ask a direct question, such as, “Do you want to step to the beat?” Then she’ll wait for your answer. If there’s a lull in the seawall crowd, I’ll blurt out “yes,” but, alas, Vi doesn’t always understand rushed responses. Opportunity lost.

As a possible fix, I’d love to be able to select settings in the app that would allow Vi to understand a few voiceless, covert commands that don’t require me to look as if I’m running along talking to myself in public.

For example, what if I could place a finger on the left earbud and hold it there to find out my current heart rate? Or double-tap the neckband in a certain spot to activate “step to the beat”? That kind of an idea.

As it is, tapping the right ear bud does activate Vi but only so you can deliver a voice command. My preference would be to somehow have the option of nonverbal communication.

Should You Buy It: If you’re into fit tech and running (or want to get more into running), this device should be on your list of AI activity trackers to check out. I see Vi being especially useful for novice runners and those who want to improve or need accountability to reach a health goal like weight loss. Cost: $249 USD (on sale right now for $199). It’s sweat- and rain-resistant and links to Apple HealthKit and Google Fit; getvi.com or Amazon. Also available at Amazon Canada.

*There are affiliate links in this post.

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