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Humane AI Pin review: not even close

The idea behind the Humane AI Pin is a simple one: it’s a phone without a screen. Instead of asking you to open apps and tap on a keyboard, this little wearable abstracts everything away behind an AI assistant and an operating system Humane calls CosmOS. Want to make a phone call, send a text message, calculate the tip, write something down, or learn the population of Copenhagen? Just ask the AI Pin. It uses a cellular connection (only through T-Mobile and, annoyingly, not connected to your existing number) to be online all the time and a network of AI models to try to answer your questions and execute your commands. It’s not just an app; it’s all the apps.

Humane has spent the last year making the case that the AI Pin is the beginning of a post-smartphone future in which we spend less time with our heads and minds buried in the screens of our phones and more time back in the real world. How that might work, whether that’s something we want, and whether it’s even possible feel like fundamental questions for the future of our relationship with technology.

I came into this review with two big questions about the AI Pin. The first is the big-picture one: is this thing… anything? In just shy of two weeks of testing, I’ve come to realize that there are, in fact, a lot of things for which my phone actually sucks. Often, all I want to do is check the time or write something down or text my wife, and I end up sucked in by TikTok or my email or whatever unwanted notification is sitting there on my screen. Plus, have you ever thought about how often your hands are occupied with groceries / clothes / leashes / children / steering wheels, and how annoying / unsafe it is to try to balance your phone at the same time? I’ve learned I do lots of things on my phone that I might like to do somewhere else. So, yeah, this is something. Maybe something big. AI models aren’t good enough to handle everything yet, but I’ve seen enough glimmers of what’s coming that I’m optimistic about the future.

That raises the second question: should you buy this thing? That one’s easy. Nope. Nuh-uh. No way. The AI Pin is an interesting idea that is so thoroughly unfinished and so totally broken in so many unacceptable ways that I can’t think of anyone to whom I’d recommend spending the $699 for the device and the $24 monthly subscription.

“AI Pin and its AI OS, Cosmos, are about beginning the story of ambient computing,” Humane’s co-founders, Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, told me in a statement after I described some of the issues I’ve had with the AI Pin. “Today marks not the first chapter, but the first page. We have an ambitious roadmap with software refinements, new features, additional partnerships, and our SDK. All of this will enable your AI Pin to become smarter and more powerful over time. Our vision is for Cosmos to eventually exist in many different devices and form factors, to unlock new ways to interact with all of your devices.”

As the overall state of AI improves, the AI Pin will probably get better, and I’m bullish on AI’s long-term ability to do a lot of fiddly things on our behalf. But there are too many basic things it can’t do, too many things it doesn’t do well enough, and too many things it does well but only sometimes that I’m hard-pressed to name a single thing it’s genuinely good at. None of this — not the hardware, not the software, not even GPT-4 — is ready yet.

As a piece of gear, the AI Pin is actually pretty impressive. It’s smaller than you might think: roughly the size of four quarters laid in a square, or half the size of a pack of Orbit gum. It’s not heavy (about 55 grams, according to my scale — roughly the same as two AA batteries or the key fob to my car), but it’s definitely solid, made of aluminum and designed to survive falls or even the occasional trip through the washing machine. My review unit is white, but the AI Pin also comes in black. Both look and feel much better than your average first-gen hardware product.

A photo of a person tapping on a Humane AI Pin.

The bar here is high, though, because of how you’re meant to use the AI Pin. In all of Humane’s demos and marketing, the AI Pin sits in the same place: on the right or left side of your chest, right below your collarbone, attached via a magnet that also acts as a “battery booster.” It’s a pin on a lapel. (It’s a little fiddly to get situated, but the magnet does hold through all but the thickest of clothes.) You don’t have to use it this way — you can hold it in your hand or even talk to it while it’s in its desk charger — but the AI Pin’s built-in microphones are designed to hear you best from that angle; the slightly downward-facing camera sees best from there, and the upward-firing speakers work best in that spot. 

The AI Pin is also just incredibly unsubtle. When you stand in front of a building, tapping your chest and nattering away to yourself, people will notice. And everything gets in the way, too. My backpack straps rubbed against it, and my messenger bag went right over it. Both my son and my dog have accidentally set the AI Pin off while climbing on top of me. If you buy this thing, I recommend also buying the $50 clip that makes it easier to attach to a waistband or a bag strap, where I actually prefer to keep it.

A photo of the Humane AI Pin with several accessories.

The upside of sticking it on your chest is that you can reach it with either hand (I call the moves “The Pledge of Allegiance” and “The Backpack Strap Grab”), and even a spare pinkie is enough to wake it up. Anytime you want to talk to the AI Pin, you press and hold on its front touchpad — it’s not listening for a wake word — and speak your questions or commands. Practically anything the AI Pin can do, you can ask for. It can answer basic ChatGPT-style questions, make phone calls, snap photos, send text messages, tell you what’s nearby, and more. You can also do a few things just by tapping the touchpad, like keyboard shortcuts on a computer: double-tap with two fingers to take a photo; double-tap and hold with two fingers to take a video. 

Having the thing right there did make me use it more, sometimes for things I wouldn’t have bothered to pull out my phone to do. It feels a little like the early days of Alexa and Siri a decade ago, when you discovered that saying “set a timer for 10 minutes” beats opening your phone’s Clock app by a mile — and you can do it with sticky fingers, too. 

Except, oh wait, the AI Pin can’t set an alarm or a timer. It can’t add things to your calendar, either, or tell you what’s already there. You can create notes and lists — which appear in the Humane Center web app that is also where you connect the device to your contacts and review your uploaded photos — but if you try to add something to the list later, it’ll almost always fail for some reason. The problem with so many voice assistants is that they can’t do much — and the AI Pin can do even less. 

Humane has said it’s working on a lot of this functionality, and it’s surely true that a lot of this will get better over time as AI models and interfaces get better. Bongiorno tells me there’s a huge software update coming this summer that will add timers, calendar access, more ways to use the touchpad, and much more. But at The Verge, our longstanding rule is that we review what’s in the box, never the promise of future updates, and right now, it’s inexcusable that this stuff doesn’t work on a device that costs as much as the AI Pin does. 

Every time the AI Pin tries to do seemingly anything, it has to process your query through Humane’s servers, which is at best quite slow and at worst a total failure. Asking the AI Pin to write down that the library book sale is next week: handy! Waiting for 10 seconds while it processes, processes, and then throws a generic “couldn’t add that” error message: less handy. I’d estimate that half the time I tried to call someone, it simply didn’t call. Half the time someone called me, the AI Pin would kick it straight to voicemail without even ringing. After many days of testing, the one and only thing I can truly rely on the AI Pin to do is tell me the time.

The one and only thing I can truly rely on the AI Pin to do is tell me the time

The more I tested the AI Pin, the more it felt like the device was trying to do an awful lot and the hardware simply couldn’t keep up. For one, it’s pretty much constantly warm. In my testing, it never got truly painfully hot, but after even a few minutes of using it, I could feel the battery like a hand warmer against my skin. Bongiorno says the warmth can come from overuse or when you have a bad signal and that the device is aggressive about shutting down when it gets too hot. I’ve noticed: I use the AI Pin for more than a couple of minutes, and I get notified that it has overheated and needs to cool down. This happened a lot in my testing (including on a spring weekend in DC and in 40-degree New York City, where it was the only warm thing in sight). 

The battery life is similarly rough. The AI Pin ships with two battery boosters, a charging case, and a desk charger, and you’ll make heavy use of all of it. I went through both boosters and the AI Pin’s smaller internal battery in the course of just a few hours of heavy testing. At one point, the AI Pin and a booster went from fully charged to completely dead in five hours, all while sitting untouched in my backpack. This thing is trying to do an awful lot, and it just doesn’t seem able to keep up.

In fairness, you’re not meant to use this device a lot. The whole point of the AI Pin is to get in, get out, and go back to living your life without technology. On my lightest days of testing — which typically consisted of a couple of calls, a few texts, a half-dozen queries about the number of teaspoons in a tablespoon and whether it’s safe for dogs to eat grapes, and maybe a half-hour of music — I didn’t have many overheating issues, though the battery did still die well before the day ended. As long as you don’t use the projector too much, the AI Pin can muddle through. But if I’m going to pay this price and stick this thing so prominently on my body, it needs to do more than muddle.

An image of a hand with green text projected onto it.

a:hover]:shadow-highlight-franklin dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-highlight-franklin [&>a]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-white”>Look but don’t touch

The closest thing the AI Pin has to a screen is its “Laser Ink” projector. You summon it by tapping once on the touchpad or by asking it to “show me” something. If the AI Pin is speaking something to you aloud, you can also pick up your hand, and it will switch to projecting the text instead. The projector is also how you access settings, unlock your device, and more. 

Whenever it wants to project, the AI Pin first sends a green dot looking for your hand. (It will only project on a hand, so my dream of projecting all my texts onto the sides of buildings is sadly dead.) After a few minutes, I memorized the sweet spot: about ribcage-high and a few inches away from my body. The projector’s 720p resolution is crap, and it only projects green light, but it does a good-enough job of projecting text onto your hand unless you’re in bright light, and then it’s just about invisible.

A Humane AI Pin projecting onto a hand.

The projector’s user interface is — how can I put this nicely? — bananas. To unlock your device, which you have to do every time you magnetically reattach the AI Pin, you move your hand forward and backward through a series of numbers and then pinch your thumb and forefinger together to select a number. It feels a bit like sliding a tiny trombone. Once you’re unlocked, you see a homescreen of sorts, where you can see if you’ve gotten any recent texts or calls and tap your fingers through a menu of the time, the date, and the weather. To scroll, you tilt your hand forward and backward very slightly. To get to settings, you move your hand away from your body — but not too far, or the projector loses you — until a new radial menu comes up. To navigate that menu, you’re supposed to roll your hand around like there’s a marble in your palm. I swear to you, I never once managed to select the correct icon the first time. It’s way too many interaction systems to memorize, especially when none of them work very well.

It feels like Humane decided early on that the AI Pin couldn’t have a screen no matter what and did a bunch of product and interface gymnastics when a tiny touchscreen would have handled all of these things much better. Kudos to Humane for swinging big, but if you’re going to try to do phone things, just make a phone.

An image of a person tapping on the Humane Pin.

a:hover]:shadow-highlight-franklin dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-highlight-franklin [&>a]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-white”>Asked and unanswered

The single coolest thing I’ve been able to do with the AI Pin is something I’ve done a few times now. I stand in front of a store or restaurant, press and hold on the touchpad, and say, “Look at this restaurant and tell me if it has good reviews.” The AI Pin snaps a photo with its camera, pings some image recognition models, figures out what I’m looking at, scours the web for reviews, and returns it back. Tacombi has great reviews, it might say. People really like the tacos and the friendly staff. 

That’s the best-case scenario. And I have experienced it a few times! It’s very neat, and it’s the sort of thing that would take much longer and many more steps on a smartphone. But far more often, I’ll stand in front of a restaurant, ask the AI Pin about it, and wait for what feels like forever only for it to fail entirely. It can’t find the restaurant; the servers are not responding; it can’t figure out what restaurant it is despite the gigantic “Joe & The Juice” sign four feet in front of me and the GPS chip in the device. Bongiorno says these issues can come from model hallucinations, server issues, and more, and that they’ll get better over time.

In general, I would say that for every successful interaction with the AI Pin, I’ve had three or four unsuccessful ones. I’ll ask the weather in New York and get the right answer; then, I’ll ask the weather in Dubai, and the AI Pin tells me that “the current weather in Dubai is not available for the provided user location in New York.” I’ll ask about “the thing with the presidents in South Dakota,” and it’ll correctly tell me I mean Mount Rushmore, but then it will confidently misidentify the Brooklyn Bridge as the Triborough Bridge. And half the time — seriously, at least half — I don’t even get an answer. The system just waits, and waits, and fails. 

When I first started testing the AI Pin, I was excited to try it as a music player. I dream of going on walks or runs while leaving my phone at home, and the always-connected AI Pin seemed like a possible answer. It’s not. For one thing, it only connects with Tidal, which means most people are immediately ruled out and also means no podcast support. For another, that connection is as broken as anything else on the AI Pin: I ask to play Beyoncé’s new album or “songs by The 1975,” and the AI Pin either can’t connect to Tidal at all or can’t play the song I’m looking for. Sometimes it works fine! Way more often, I have interactions like this one:

  • Me: “Play ‘Texas Hold ’Em’ by Beyoncé.”
  • The AI Pin: “Songs not found for request: Play Texas Hold ’Em by Beyoncu00e9. Try again using your actions find a relevant track, album, artist, or playlist; Create a new PlayMusic action with at least one of the slots filled in. If you find a relevant track or album play it, avoid asking for clarification or what they want to hear.”

That’s a real exchange I had, multiple times, over multiple days with the AI Pin. Bongiorno says this particular bug has been fixed, but I still can’t get Tidal to play Cowboy Carter consistently. It’s just broken.

A photo of the Humane Ai Pin’s camera and speaker.

It’s all made worse by the AI Pin’s desire to be as clever as possible. Translation is one of its most hyped features, along with the fact that it supposedly automatically discerns which languages to translate. When you land in Spain, boom, it switches to Spanish. Super cool and futuristic, in theory. In reality, I spent an hour in our studio trying desperately to get the AI Pin to translate to Japanese or Korean, while The Verge’s Victoria Song — who speaks both — sat there talking to it in those languages to absolutely no avail. Rather than translate things, it would just say them back to her, in a horrible and occasionally almost mocking accent. 

The language issues are indicative of the bigger problem facing the AI Pin, ChatGPT, and frankly, every other AI product out there: you can’t see how it works, so it’s impossible to figure out how to use it. AI boosters say that’s the point, that the tech just works and you shouldn’t have to know how to use it, but oh boy, is that not the world we live in. Meanwhile, our phones are constant feedback machines — colored buttons telling us what to tap, instant activity every time we touch or pinch or scroll. You can see your options and what happens when you pick one. With AI, you don’t get any of that. Using the AI Pin feels like wishing on a star: you just close your eyes and hope for the best. Most of the time, nothing happens.

Using the AI Pin feels like wishing on a star: you just close your eyes and hope for the best

Still, even after all this frustration, after spending hours standing in front of restaurants tapping my chest and whispering questions that go unanswered, I find I want what Humane is selling even more than I expected. A one-tap way to say, “Text Anna and tell her I’ll be home in a half-hour,” or “Remember to call Mike tomorrow afternoon,” or “Take a picture of this and add it to my shopping list” would be amazing. I hadn’t realized how much of my phone usage consists of these one-step things, all of which would be easier and faster without the friction and distraction of my phone. 

But the AI Pin doesn’t work. I don’t know how else to say it. 

I hope Humane keeps going. I hope it builds in this basic functionality and figures out how to do more of it locally on the device without killing the battery. I hope it gets faster and more reliable. I hope Humane decides to make a watch, or smart glasses, or something more deliberately designed to be held in your hand. I hope it partners with more music services, more productivity apps, and more sources of knowledge about the internet and the world. I hope the price goes down.

But until all of that happens, and until the whole AI universe gets better, faster, and more functional, the AI Pin isn’t going to feel remotely close to being done. It’s a beta test, a prototype, a proof of concept that maybe someday there might be a killer device that does all of these things. I know with absolute certainty that the AI Pin is not that device. It’s not worth $700, or $24 a month, or all the time and energy and frustration that using it requires. It’s an exciting idea and an infuriating product. 

AI gadgets might one day be great. But this isn’t that day, and the AI Pin isn’t that product. I’ll take my phone back now, thanks.