Aftershokz Openrun (Aeropex) (mini) – User experience product critique review

Overall Experience

Overall, I am very impressed and satisfied with my experience with the product. It is my first bone-conduction headset. I acquired this for the purpose of listening to audio content wirelessly while running on road and trails. The open-ear capability has completely transformed my running experience in a positive way. I can enjoy listening to content without compromising my situational awareness.

The Aftershockz Open run.
Source: ca.shokz.com/products/openrun
  • Scope: For my User Experience Principles & Practices class
  • Critique 1 – Aftershokz Aeropex (mini) (8th generation) – Physical product
  • Product description: Bluetooth bone-conduction open-ear sports headphones
  • Product information: us.aftershokz.com/products/aeropex

For pain points, I realized that the headset was not ideal for certain conditions (listening in high-volume environment, or when there’s physical pressure on the device (ex: wearing a hat or glasses). Confusions happened while trying to find the buttons in a running active state (this is still happening after a month of use). I still do not know how to fully use the multi-purpose button. The call microphone quality is not great; I had challenges being heard during calls outdoors.

Usability: The product is fast to sync with devices and setup for going on my runs. The basic functions (volume up and down) are easy to use. The more advanced sequences for buttons are difficult to memorize due to the limitation of a three buttons interface. It does have pain points. If I am running close to heavy-traffic, I can barely hear my music. I must increase the volume every time or tolerate the lack of audibility; this is even worse with podcasts since I miss critical dialogue. Sometimes the volume required exceed 80%, at which point the vibrations of the headset are painful; I need to adjust the headset’s position to mitigate this. I have the “mini” model, this means a smaller band behind the head. This works great for putting layers over it such as hats, neck gaiters and hoodies. Although extra layers can bring mild pressure discomfort, it is manageable and even helps to muffle wind noise. Unfortunately, since the tension of the neckpiece is required (to physically apply pressure on the skull for it to stay still), the headset is too uncomfortable to wear when leaning against a wall.

Usefulness: The long-battery life, water and sweat proof, uninterrupted audio makes this a versatile physically active headset of choice in quiet to moderately noisy environments. It excels as a mostly seamless useful experience and accomplishes its intended purpose.

Emotional impact: This product makes me feel safer to listen to music while doing sports. When a vehicle approaches, or wildlife bristles, I can clearly hear them, and their noise passively overrides my headset. The headset is also secure and does not make me worry of accidently losing them. It is also minimal and does not make me feel worried about my appearance.

Meaningfulness: After a month of use I feel like it has transformed my outlook for running while enjoying my music in a positive significant way. I feel like I have more control on my motives to mitigate risks (intrinsic) from external factors (extrinsic) while continuing to receive the benefits of music (extrinsic). It also will make me more available to chat with fellow runners in the future (extrinsic).

I intend to use this product for its lifetime. It is versatile enough to also use it in non-running scenarios.

UX Design Principles Commentary

Interaction design – Buttons: The headset has three buttons: (+ & -), and multi-function. The + button also has the universal “power” icon. Their placement is asymmetrical and easy of access in active and passive states. When running I have a bit of difficulty finding the buttons, I slide my hand until I find the bezels (tactile). The buttons are positioned out of high-touch areas. Upon reflection, I believe this is a good and deliberate design decision. The added friction of finding buttons offsets the potential for entirely disrupting flow from accidental button presses (from the user or garments). The size of the buttons is adequate for my hands. Overall great application.

A closer look at the rest of the interaction areas.
Source: ca.shokz.com/products/openrun

Interaction design – Sound and haptic: Upon pressing buttons, there are multi-sensory feedback (haptic and audio cues). This is good considering the user environments; if a user is in an active state, they are probably in movement and in a non-silent environment. This double confirmation towards interaction reduces ambiguity and ensures confirmation of user actions. Volume levels are confirmed with a louder or softer beep. The use of the bone-conduction vibrations from the audio mechanism itself as a haptic feedback mechanism is quite clever! Amazing application.

Visuals design: The use of iconography on the volume buttons (+ & -) and lack of labelling on the multi-purpose button for the very-limited button size is sufficiently clear. Although a greater area would help for labelling, it does make the device language agnostic; it can be used by anyone regardless of what they can read. There is also a subtle LED confirmation with great colour associations. It glows blue when a Bluetooth connection is established (literal color association to the technology’s name) and red for charging (lack of power/needs charging). Good application within physical constraints.

Functional specifications: The physical design and simplicity of the device is sleek. It looks welcoming to use and futuristic. The texture is subtlety grippy, and the pressure is just right to keep the device in place, even with sweat, movement, and precipitation. The position of the earpiece, and flexible tension of the components allows it to adapt to the user’s head. The battery charging port is magnetized to ensure it always goes the right way. Overall amazing, I am impressed that such a device can fit a variety of users of different sizes (assuming they have two ears).

Areas, roles, and tools of UX Designers – Opportunities for improvement:

Content strategy: An audible list of button functions could help. There are 15 possible button combinations for interactive scenarios within states. Perhaps a simple sequence to provide an audible explanation (tutorial/recall) of the buttons would be nice instead of having to refer to the user manual for more complex tasks. A task-specific audible confirmation of the task would also help. For example, a beep for confirming volume going up could be more explicit with the device confirming “volume up”; when answering a call, the device could say “answering call” instead of a one beep prompt.

Research: I would suggest exploring if adaptive audio volume would make sense, if there is a loud environment detected (relative to a past mean volume) from the microphone, it could boost the volume by 10 or 20% to avoid having to manually adapt volume that disrupts flow (pending battery-life and wind-in-mic active monitoring trade-off). I would also explore some timeout feature for automatic shutdown when no audio is playing; I often forget to turn off the device and it continues to play audio hours later.

Overall, it seems like Aftershokz has already been implementing a user-centered design process. My family members showed me a previous model recently and the current model is a great improvement in all dimensions of UX. They have considered trialability by including accessories (device includes earbuds to block external sound) and a silicone pouch for travel. In summary, I think that the current device responds positively to all factors of the UX honeycomb as well as pyramid of human needs in UX design.

The product easily leads to acceptance for its positioned purpose of active-wear but could improve in the wayfinding/multi-function button-use for task-navigation and implementation.

Since submitting my critique

I found that a merino headband works really well to block the wind (and wind noise), and keeps my ears comfortably warm without applying too much pressure. Still having great battery life! I make sure to rinse the device after every run (along with my watch).

Leave a comment if you have some thoughts. I haven’t tried their 9th generation model yet!

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