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Xperia Ear Proves You Don't Need a Smartwatch

BARCELONA, Spain — I've tried on my share of Bluetooth headsets over the years. But none have ever greeted me by giving me a quick recap of some daily news headlines.

That's exactly what happened when I popped in Sony's new Xperia Ear during a visit to the consumer electronics giant's booth at Mobile World Congress this week. And it offered me a hint of how the device's use of sensors could turn the Xperia Z into a welcome new way to better interact with your smartphone, when the earpiece debuts this summer.

The Xperia Ear highlighted the lineup of smart phone accessories that Sony previewed at MWC, in large part because it's the only one with a firm ship date. But the Xperia Ear is also appealing because it seems to fit in with Sony's goal of getting us to spend less time staring at our smartphone screen. Plus, it proves you don't need a smartwatch to get alerts.

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When it ships, the Xperia Ear will be able to alert you about missed calls, read text messages to you and let you reply, list your upcoming appointments, give you directions and provide you with the latest forecast and headlines. Only that last feature was on display when I tried on the Xperia Ear. Other promised features missing in action on the demo unit included ability to use voice controls or toggle between features by pressing a button on the side of the Xperia Ear.

So why did the Xperia Ear impress me? Credit the earpiece's proximity sensor, which recognized that I was placing the device in my ear, prompting the Xperia Ear to begin its news report. That same thing would happen if my phone started ringing, and I popped the earpiece into my ear, Sony says: I'd be able to answer the phone call without fiddling with any buttons.

A proximity sensor is just one of the sensors built into the Xperia Ear. It also includes a gyroscope and accelerometer. On the audio front, Sony has built in dual microphones along with noise-supression and echo-canceling technologies.

The 0.6 x 1.0 x 1.15-inch Xperia Ear felt comfortable in my ear, though not exactly snug. I'd worry about it popping out, as my earbuds frequently do when I'm out and about. At least it's not terribly heavy, weighing in at about 0.24 ounces. And Sony says the Xperia Ear has IPX2 water protection, so I needn't fear a sudden rainstorm knocking my earpiece out of action. (Presumably, the Xperia Ear's weather report feature would warn me about any upcoming cloud bursts.)

The Xperia Ear should offer 3.5 hours of talk time it's embedded in your ear. Should it run out of juice, just pop the Xperia Ear back into its case; Sony is including a charger in the cigarette lighter-sized carrying case.

It's details like that which suggest Sony is putting some real thought into this accessory. We look forward to giving it a full workout when it arrives this summer around the same time as Sony's new Xperia X phones.