Since the days of the Dash Kickstarter, the folks at Bragi have promised that they would improve the performance and features of their futuristic wireless earbuds with regular firmware updates. But the biggest problem I (and many others) have had with them is that it’s hard to keep a solid Bluetooth connection between the earbuds and the phone. As Bragi released versions 2.0 and 2.1 of that software earlier this year, the company added features like the ability to save workouts and improved heart rate tracking. But streaming music has remained problematic, because the Dash still had trouble maintaining that basic connection.
Now, Bragi has pushed another update — version 2.2 — that it claims will improve that Bluetooth performance. I updated the earbuds this past week, and at first glance it felt harder than ever to disrupt that Bluetooth connection. Indoors at The Verge’s office, I was able to put my iPhone 7 in basically any pocket without experiencing connection hiccups — something that was never really possible before.
But walking around outdoors proved that the Bluetooth connection is still frail. I had trouble streaming music with my phone in any of my back jeans pockets. Bragi seems to have improved the connection in controlled environments, but when you’re outside, where there’s more interference and fewer surfaces for the Bluetooth signal to bounce off of, not much has changed. This would also help explain why the main Facebook group for Dash users is full of conflicting reports regarding these Bluetooth woes — a lot depends on the environment you’re using them in, and how you use them.
I recently spoke to Bragi CEO Nikolaj Hviid, and while he stands by the claims that they’ve been able to improve the Dash’s Bluetooth performance, he spoke about how his company is still learning about the Dash’s shortcomings now that there are thousands of units being used around the world.
“Say you’re taking a train through Newark, there’s a magnetic transformer station that you pass on that train and you could experience a [Bluetooth connection] drop out there. We have to understand why you got a drop out there,” Hviid said. “It’s that feedback that has made us understand exactly where the product might fail, or might not be where it expected it to be, and what we needed to improve.”
I’ve spoken to people in the wireless industry who remain skeptical that Bragi will ever be able to get over this hump. They say that software can’t trump physics, and the design of the Dash (and its many internal sensors) has inherently limited the potential Bluetooth performance. But Hviid is adamant that Bragi will be able to optimize its way out of this problem. “You have a range of components that might be shouting and listening at the same time, so it’s about understanding when do you shout, when do you listen,” he said. “It’s understanding sequencing and understanding how you make all the tiny bits and wheels inside the system working in the right sequence.”
Another thing that’s changed in the 2.2 update is that Bragi is trying to move some of the interface controls off the earbuds themselves. A few weeks ago the company teased the idea of tapping your cheek in order to activate your phone’s digital assistant, instead of blindly attempting to strike the touchpad on the earbuds themselves. This is the first feature of the “kinetic user interface” that Bragi wants to roll out to the Dash in the coming months. And while it doesn’t solve a huge problem, it’s an interesting enough idea that I’m curious to see how it evolves.
It will take you a minute to zero in on the best spot to perform this double-tap — for me, it’s high up on my right sideburn — but indoors it worked more reliably than I imagined it would, especially considering that Bragi is calling it a “beta” feature. But again, my experience was split. Once I got outdoors and walked at a brisk pace, the Dash registered enough false taps that I had to turn the feature off.
So if you’re considering buying truly wireless earbuds and have been following Bragi for a while now, here’s where we stand. Bragi sells the Dash, which is a product that hints at the future of what it would mean to own powerful, intelligent wireless earbuds. Bragi is inching the Dash towards that future, but progress is slow and you’re likely to wind up frustrated.
But Bragi now also makes the Headphone, a more one-dimensional pair of truly wireless earbuds that only handles audio streaming but actually gets it right. It’s the first pair of truly wireless earbuds I’ve tried where the good really outweighs the bad. They give you a serious taste of the “wireless future” that Bragi (and Apple) have been teasing, without the sacrifices and patience required by the Dash.