Calm app review: worth the money?
I have been a dedicated Headspace user, and in an effort to let some of the many subscriptions I have run out, I started using the Insight Timer app, which I still highly recommend [here]. However, Groupon had a discount on the Calm app, and I took the opportunity to try it out for a year at a much reduced cost. I was particularly interested in Calm since it was named App of the year by the App Store in 2017, and has such good reviews.
Like Headspace, Calm has many different series of meditation classes, each building on the last. There is a good selection, from beginning meditation with several levels of guidance, to anxiety, sleep, relationships, self-care, etc. There’s a body scan version of meditation, for fans of Andy on Headspace. There’s an “insight of the day” which I particularly like.
Like the Insight Timer app, there is relaxing music, with the purpose of helping you sleep, focus, or simply unwind with nature sounds. The music is a little repetitive, and many consist of short loops of music played over and over for 30 minutes or so. Still, some of it is nice to focus on other tasks with, since the music is so simple- it isn’t distracting.
The masterclasses are new for the app, which mostly seem like well-researched options. In particular, the “Rethinking Depression” masterclass has classes on exercise in depression, sunlight, nutrition, social connection, sleep, and negative thoughts, all of which have basis in the scientific literature. I haven’t listened to the entire group of sessions, so I can’t speak about every claim that the instructor makes, however. There’s also Masterclasses on rest, breaking bad habits, and social media/screen addiction. My only quibble is that there is officially no official “screen addiction” diagnosis, but I understand what the instructor is getting at.
The interface is easy to use, engaging, and as advertised, calming. I have had no crashes or bugs. It keeps track of how long you’ve been meditating daily, and can write to Apple Health. It also keeps track of streaks, to help motivate you into meditating more often!
Calm works best on a subscription and it’s not cheap. In fact, $59.99 per year seems like a lot to me, though you can get it for $12.99 per month and $299.99 lifetime. Groupon had a sale, and I think it was $39 for a year, which was worth trying for me. Another negative: I haven’t seen a ton of updates and new features since I bought the premium app, other than a few Masterclasses, which I discussed above.
Each meditation ends with some nice quote, which I love, and supposedly you can share it on Facebook or Twitter, but that has never actually shown up as a quote on my Facebook feed, which is a bummer.
Features that the Jury is still out on…
Calm is one of the only apps (maybe the only app) that has a bedtime story function. There are a variety of stories, mostly excerpts of classics. The narrators are of varying qualities and I found some quite monotone. There’s a kids’ bedtime story function, and some of those stories can be found in the regular adult bedtime stories. I tried a variety of the stories with my children who fight sleep as if it is the enemy, and though they LOVE to be read to, they were thoroughly unimpressed by the stories.
I discussed the music above- it can occasionally be repetitive but is overall nice. I particularly liked the nature sounds. However, the music on Insight Timer, which is free with some non-essential paid functions, is more interesting, and mostly not loop generated.
Will I renew next year?
I’m uncertain. I will probably wait to see if there are any great features I can’t live with out, and then consider either Stop, Breath and Think plus the Insight Timer for music, or just stick with the Insight Timer altogether.
There are a TON of new meditation apps since I last reviewed them- which ones do you like? Let me know in the comments below!
Calm has really upped their game since I reviewed them last. The loop music seems to have been abandoned in favor of more interesting, soothing music. I would happily listen to this music to sleep, though much of it is less than an hour long, so if you’re a person with initiation insomnia (trouble getting to sleep), you might find the music length falls short. A few of the options are multiple songs strung together, but if you don’t like the few I saw, you might be out of luck. The quality of the music seems to have improved- I even saw some offerings from Sam Smith, though I liked the “Liminal Sleep” album by Sigur Ros.
The sleep stories are really fun now. Initially, the stories felt uninspired- readers reading books from Project Gutenberg that had fallen off copyright. Now, there are some famous voices- Jerome Flynn (from Game of Thrones, but he is surprisingly soothing here, rather than a murderous mercenary), Matthew McConaughey, etc. My favorite two stories so far, are “A Night in Shakespeare’s London” and a non-fiction offering, “A Cruise on the Nile,” which is a travelogue of Egypt read by Alan Sklar, who apparently is the equivalent of propofol for me, since I’ve never made it past the Great Pyramids of Giza.
The daily Calm meditations also seem more well-thought out than they used to. A recent one on Wabi Sabi was really meaningful for me. One gripe, though, is that the daily Calm meditations seem to disappear after a week. I kept reading amazing comments about one of them, even one from a famous meditation teacher, and when I went looking for it, the meditation had disappeared, which was disappointing.
I think all these things cause me to revise my previous review- I think Calm has upped their game with quality meditations and features, and is worth the money now. Do be cautious about the trial- a few comments I’ve received from readers indicates some people have found customer service to be less than helpful when there are payment issues.