I was hesitant to back the Bragi Dash on Kickstarter due to the high cost and risk in such a daring project. However, I could not resist when the price for refurbed dropped to 1/3 of retail and continual firmware updates made it more stable (reviewed with OS 3.0.1). While it is not perfect, I managed to find some workarounds to make it usable for me.
The whole thing arrived in a book like box with each page offering basic instructions to get you started. Included are the Bragi Dash, charging case, 7″ USB-A to MicroUSB cable, and four size tips from extra small to large. Note the extra small does not have a sleeve fitting around the housing for some odd reason.
Fit and Design
As far as the Dash itself, they fit snugly and comfortably in my smallish ears. While the are bigger than average earbuds, they do not protrude out too much, meaning I can lay on my side without stabbing my brain through the ear. There is some pressure, but tolerable enough to sleep with the Dash while I listen to audio books to subconsciously learn a foreign language. I can also swim and run without the Dash falling off, although I occasionally adjust them from time to time for optimal placement. Despite the petite stature, the Dash delivers quite reasonable sounds. The sound may not be full enough to impress audiophiles, but it is loud enough to drone out external noises and be audible under water, even with audio books which is generally quieter. There is a neat transparency function that uses the microphone to feed sound into your ear so you can hear your surrounding even with the buds on. Wind and chewing noise can be rather loud but this feature works well for most parts.
The included fitness trackers covers running, biking, and swimming (running tracks walking just fine too). There is even an option to automatically pause and resume on breaks. This works fairly well for running, but when swimming, it occasionally pause prematurely when I stop for breaths and does not resume until two laps later. Mind you I am not a fast swimmer but this does force me to keep pace. With the latest OS 3, it stores activity tracker in the internal memory to sync later with the phone app.
The activity tracker will update you every five minutes with your progress. Unfortunately there are no settings to change update intervals or turn it off. I find the updates to be unnecessary since I can double tap the left bud to get updates.
This was my main concern before buying the Dash. Despite the three hour rating, I was able to get four hours on Bluetooth and five hours on internal mp3 (GPS, transparency, and all other functions off). Perhaps with activity tracker or over time the battery will wear down to the rated three hours. Battery life is not as much of an issues as I thought. I rarely require more than three hours of continuous use and keep it stored in the case when not in use. The case will charge a fully depleted Dash in two hours. It will charge the Dash five times which effectively gives me about a full days use alternating between listening and charging.
The case lack the ambitious design of the Dash itself. Unlike the Dash, the case is not waterproof but the cover has a slit exposing it to liquids. They could have use a solid transparent lid to keep liquids out and provide better visibility of the battery status LEDs. The cover is also not easy to open single-handedly. Most importantly, the Dash does not always sit securely in the cradle, and it only takes a slight touch to unseat the Dash from the magnetic contact points. I would also like to see the case be able to charge other devices like how the Rowkin did with their headphone charger.
The low battery warning starts at about 30 minutes before dying, at which time a voice will bug me every 5 minutes saying “my battery is low, please charge me soon”. Either tell me something useful like battery percentage or truncate the message to just “low battery”. Better yet, let me customize the reminder frequency or turn it off completely.
In terms of call quality, the incoming volume is pretty low but the caller on the other end felt the quality was comparable to other Bluetooth headsets. I believe the bottleneck here is the low bitrate mono Bluetooth protocol typically used for all headsets, not an issue with Bragi.
Streaming music via Bluetooth is only usable with line of sight at a range of a few feet. It will drop out in any pants pocket limiting placement to shirt and jacket pockets. Outdoors is even worse when there is nowhere to bounce the signal off of. The reception is very sensitive, the position of my arm can block the line of sight thereby interrupting the signal whereas standing next to a car can help reflect the signal. Watching videos with the Dash introduces roughly a half second delay in audio. While the lag is not terrible, the synchronization can be further impounded by the spotty Bluetooth reception.
Fortunately, I found an easy modification from a Reddit user that improves the reception just enough to make it pants-pocketable. Simply cut and attach a piece of foil on the top of the right Dash to bounce the signal back to the internal antenna at the bottom of the Dash. More detail and pictures can be found on Reddit.
The 4GB internal memory is the saving grace for the dash. I knew Bluetooth was going to be questionable going into the purchase but figured it may still be worth it for the MP3 player alone. This is the only truly wireless headphones on the market with internal memory. This means I can use it while swimming since Bluetooth cannot transmit under water. It is also convenient to use just the buds without having to drag my phone along.
It can be a problem if you wish to use your the internal memory for music and switch to Bluetooth for calls. As an Android user, I was able to work around this by changing the settings in the Bluetooth menu to use the Dash for call audio and not media audio. iPhone users may be out of luck.
Adding music was straight forward plug and play with the Dash in the charging case connected to a computer. There are four playlist folders for you to simply drag and drop your audio files. 4GB seem awfully small even at the time of the Kickstarter campaign. Considering 128GB microSDXC cards are the same physical size as 4GB cards, I am disappointed in the lack of options for larger storage. I would be willing to pay a premium for more space had that been offered at a reasonable price.
There are several ways to control the Dash. There is a virtual 4D menu that involved head gestures but it seems a little half-baked at the moment. Then there is the sneak peek shortcut that activates by double tapping your cheek which I could not get working even if I slap myself silly. I usually stick with the touch control which involves tapping or swiping on the lower portion of the earbuds. Sometimes taps get mixed up with a swipe and vice versa. The touchpad will register brushes with other objects like hoodies or pillows. Surprisingly, the Dash does not use its own speech command but you can activate Siri, Cortana, or Google Now under OS 3.
The Dash seem to cram too many commands into limited means of controls instead of refining one method to be simple, smooth, and intuitive. Perhaps this is just part of the learning curve. Some of the functions has lots of potential like nodding or shaking your head to accept or reject calls since those are fairly universal gestures. OS 3 brought some new controls and I look forward to more refinements in the future. I imagine controls will only get easier as I get used to it.
While there are some growing pains with the Bragi Dash, I still think this is a monumental leap and inevitable change in technology. Despite waiting on competition to challenge the Dash, few has stepped up to offer the same number of features, particularly internal memory and IP67 waterproof rating. Perhaps Bragi had been overly ambitious with all their features, which compromised the fidelity of the fundamental function: Bluetooth. Fortunately I am able to work around this with the reflector modification and using android to direct calls over Bluetooth while maintaining music with the internal memory. These two reasons made the Dash usable for me.
Bragi recently released the Dash Pro with increased battery life and a new translation feature. I am skeptical of cramming another feature in an already complex device but I will reserve judgement on the claims of clear Bluetooth streaming. I am not sure whether the Pro justifies the new price tag but for now I am content with the original Dash at $99.