January 15, 2020
The Olive Smart Ear was featured on the Engadget article below, as one of four "tech-heavy hearing enhancers".
If you have mild hearing loss in just one ear, a pair of hearing aids might not make sense (or fit your budget). Olive's Smart Ear aims to bring consumer headphone style to an assisted hearing device. It's not a "hearing aid" instead it's an amplifier (think reading glasses, but for ears). It's primarily a solution for those who find themselves only speaking to the person on their "good side" at dinner parties, but has a few other tricks up its sleeve.
The bud looks just like any of the (many) TWS headphones on the market today. Rightly or wrongly, some people still feel self-conscious wearing a "classic" hearing aid, so Olive's design might make you feel more like you're sporting a funky wearable than a miniature ear trumpet. Most hearing amplifiers simply mimic the design of a hearing aid, and rarely the smaller, sleeker ones. More and more companies are taking the bud-like approach, but Olive Union is going all in.
The Smart Ear's focus is on boosting your one bad ear when you need it most: during a conversation. I'll admit, I've used my own one-sided hearing loss to my strategic advantage at the dinner table ("sorry, this is my bad side, I can't really hear you"), but the Olive would definitely help me out when I actually do want to converse with the person to my left. It's comfortable, tailored to your hearing through a simple hearing test, and offers up to seven hours of listening time.
Unlike many TWS headphones, the Olive doesn't come with a charging case. Instead, there's a simple cradle that connects to any micro USB power source. I also found that if you don't get a good fit, the bud can gently work its way out of your ear and start creating feedback. The companion app has an option to reduce this, but it still comes and goes.
As for the actual hearing assistance, I found it to be adequate for my level of (conductive) hearing loss, but it tends to amplify most sounds equally, like the clink of plates or the clatter of cutlery in a restaurant as well as your table mate's retelling of their recent meditation retreat in Peru.
While the Olive isn't quite right for me, I can see it is an inexpensive solution for those who need a bit of a boost from time to time. It's certainly small enough and durable enough to live in your bag or pocket for those times you need it. The fact it looks more like a headphone makes it less discreet, but also less drab.