Calm app review: worth the money?

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.

The good….

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!

The not-as-good…

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!

FitStar by FitBit: worth the cost?

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I use the FitStar app on my iPhone to get a daily work out in, five days a week in the morning, and run three days a week in the evening. I was therefore, surprised when I started up FitStar one morning this week, and found an entirely new app.  A lot has changed in the app, both good and bad, in my opinion. It seems like FitBit has purchased the app, because it is now “FitStar by FitBit” and Fitbit is in the icon.

The most superficial part is that the icon has changed, from the red star on white background, to a black and blue icon.  The previous app guided you through workouts, based on your goals, age, and the results of your fitness test, with reassuring voiceovers by Tony Gonzales. Where is Tony Gonzalez now? I liked him. Anyway, with the new app, you choose one of two coaches, Lea or Adrian. I can’t tell if it makes much difference which coach you choose. My instinct was to choose the female coach, so I stretched my limits and picked the male coach.

The exercises are different now- I haven’t seen any of the “star skaters- it’s almost like an extreme version of the curtsy”  (you’ll laugh if you had been doing FitStar before the update!) but there are a lot of really challenging exercises. They are mostly well explained, though the design of the app has some kind of overlay on top of of the video that makes it occasionally hard to see. The exercises start immediately after the demonstration, mostly so fast that if you are new to the exercise, it is hard to get in position before they start. I usually miss the first exercise of the set, I’ve noticed, but I anticipate that this will improve as I become more familiar with the exercises.

I like that you can choose a more efficient or more challenging routine that day depending on your time and motivation- before, if you were in a program- “get lean” or “get strong” for instance, you were stuck doing exactly what the next routine in the series was. Some days, I feel like doing more, or have less time. I think this results in doing the routines more often, because if I have less time, I can do a shorter routine instead of skipping it altogether because I don’t have time for what the plan had intended for me.

The increased integration with FitBit now allows the app to adjust your workout depending on what you did with the Fitbit the day before- if it knows you pushed it on a long run, it might suggest something easier the next day. I don’t think this works if you’re not using a FitBit-I use an Apple Watch, for instance.

Speaking of Apple Watch, it has also dropped the apple watch app. Truth be told, I didn’t use the app that often, since it had limited functionality, but I did like how it could tell you how many of each exercise were supposed to be in the set. To make up for this, there’s a new option to add a “ticking” sound to each rep, so I just keep up with the sounds to get the right number of reps. This has the effect of making the routine more challenging as well, as I am doing the reps slower and using more muscle power on the negative, which is good.

I think the subscription cost has stayed the same- $7.99 per month. I think it’s a good value, especially right now, while I’m away from home for an extended period of time. When I get back home, where I can go to the gym before work, I’ll quit the subscription.

Overall, I think this has been a good change. It would be nice if it could give you the workout adjustment aspect if you’re not using a FitBit. It would also be nice if the Apple Watch app was reintroduced with more functionality, perhaps using it’s ability to measure heart rate. And give us Tony Gonzalez back!