I have been using the Calm app for a little more than a week, and today I will give an in-depth review and my final thoughts on using this app.
Please keep in mind that this is NOT a sponsored post.
Calm App Overview
Calm is the number one sleep, relaxation, and meditation app, and is a free app download. However, it is meant to be a subscription service to gain access to most of their content. It costs $69.99 annually, or on their website you can pay a one-time fee of $399.99 for a lifetime membership. You can always use the app for free with limited capabilities, and there is a 7-day free trial if you want to try their premium content before subscribing.
The app’s user interface is probably the most beautiful I have ever seen. The app is easy to navigate, and with a subscription you have access to more than a hundred pieces of content, including bedtime stories read by high-profile actors and masterclasses led by prominent figures such as LeBron James.
The menu categories include sleep, meditate, music, and a more tab with additional features and settings. Over the past week I used the app twice a day to test out the different features, which I will review by category.
Sleep – Calm App
This was the content I was most excited to try from Calm, but unfortunately I was left somewhat disappointed. If you have a subscription (or during the free trial), you have access to hundreds of stories, with new stories released weekly.
However, if you don’t have a subscription your choices are extremely limited. During my week of testing, I could only find three stories that were available without a subscription. At the time of writing this review, a lot of new free stories have been released, but they are shorter (around 15 minutes) compared to the three stories I listened to which were around 30 minutes.
The first story I listened to was Blue Gold narrated by Stephen Fry. This was the only story I listened to that I really loved. It talks about walking through the lavender fields in the Provence region of France. The story was so relaxing, and Stephen Fry’s voice was relaxing too (the British accent helps), that I almost fell asleep at the end of the story. I wish I had fallen asleep…
The other two stories (The Waterfall and The Grand Plan) were less appealing to me. The stories’ narratives are focused on guiding your relaxation. For example, The Grand Plan is a story about a woman’s nighttime relaxation routine. We hear descriptions of everything she does, from putting on a record of classical music, to pouring tea, to how she breaths to relax. The idea is that we, as the listener, will associate with the woman and become as relaxed as she is in the story.
The Waterfall employs a similar technique, but I found it to be far less effective than The Grand Plan. I personally am not as interested in hearing a story that is a meditation class in disguise (it just doesn’t work for me).
One final, extremely nit-picky thing that really bothered and distracted me from The Grand Plan was their mispronunciation of the word “timbre” (pronounced: TAM-burr). When describing the sounds of the classical music record playing, the narrator pronounced “timbre” like “timber” (as in wood or lumber). Timbre is the unique sound quality that makes one instrument sound different from another. In other words, it is the way you are able to tell the difference between a trumpet and a flute just by listening to them.
This is a common mistake, and would only bother a musician such as myself, but considering the high quality that is associated with Calm, I would expect them to be accurate in word pronunciation. Then again, this same mistake appears in a That ’70s Show episode, and that was network television…
Meditate – Calm App
If you’re new to meditating (like me), or want guided content, the meditate tab will be perfect for you. Without a subscription there are tons of choices for you. Much of the content are mini-courses which are supposed to be completed over a period of time.
However, if you don’t have a subscription, only the first lesson will be available for many courses, so you may have to do some digging to find courses that are unlocked for the entire duration.
I completed the 7 Days of Calm, which is guided by Calm’s head of mindfulness Tamara Levitt. My one previous experience with meditation was trying very haphazardly with no guidance and minimal research, so it’s no surprise that I failed.
But with Tamara’s guidance, she explains very simply a method for calming your body and mind. A large portion of the course is dedicated to becoming aware with the sensations within your body, and another portion of the course aims to lessen our mind’s distractions.
One of the greatest aspects of the course is that it seems to anticipate when our frustration begins. For example, since I am new to meditation I let my mind wander very easily, and becoming distracted can frustrate me because I know I’m not supposed to think about anything except my breathing. But right as I start to get frustrated, Tamara’s guidance returns and she says that getting frustrated and distracted are common as a beginner.
Having guidance when learning a new skill is crucial for getting started correctly. And as Tamara reminds us many times, meditation is a skill that has to be practiced daily just like any other skill you want to master. One skill I have gained from completing this beginner course is that I am now very aware of where I hold tension in my body. Forcing myself to sit in stillness for a long period of time and listening to my body has made me more aware of how I feel during normal activity, and I have learned that my neck is very tense.
I was very impressed with the quality of the course, and will definitely search for other courses that are available to continue learning how to meditate.
Music – Calm App
The music tab has the most content that is available for free without a subscription. This would be perfect for those of you looking for new relaxation music.
This content disappointed me the most, but keep in mind that I am a professional musician and will be a harsher critic than most.
I listened to three different albums: Lindsey Stirling: Lunar Lullaby, Reflection, and Soothing Piano. What bothered me the most is that all of the music sounds over-processed and sterile. In other words, when acoustic instruments like violin or piano are playing, they don’t sound like real instruments. I’m sure they are real, but the way they’ve been recorded or mixed has taken all of the depth and reverb out of their sound.
As a musician, this bothered me because I don’t enjoy listening to music that sounds fake or overly-processed. If you aren’t a musician, or you are a musician who isn’t as sensitive to processed music, then chances are you will enjoy many of the albums available.
But for me, the music selection was a distraction.
More Options – Calm App
Hitting the more tab presents you with additional categories to choose from, such as breathing exercises and stretches, as well as the app’s settings.
Almost all of the choices (settings not included) are subscription features only. Breathing exercises are available, however you only choose how long you want the exercise to last and the app will guide you visually when to breathe in, hold, and breathe out.
Some of the settings you can adjust include the look of the app, turning on a do not disturb feature, and turning off the background nature sounds that are present when not actively using a piece of content.
Calm is a great app if you use it as a tool and not as a cure. Using Calm will not magically make you relax or fall asleep, rather the content should be used as a guide to help you relax and fall asleep.
As a guide, the app is very successful, particularly in the meditation courses. This is where I found the most success, and for me this is their best content.
However, without a subscription you are extremely limited in your choice of content. Some categories are better than others, but the sleep category, for example, only allows free users access to less than 5-10% of its content.
The key question you have to ask yourself is: do I value premium content? If you do, then Calm may be worth the rather lofty price. But if you don’t value premium content, and are okay with very limited access, then Calm is worth keeping downloaded just to have. The content on Calm is premium due to their collaborations with high-profile people, but similar content can be found elsewhere online.
I personally recommend everyone at least try using Calm and see if you like it. I highly encourage you try the 7 Days of Calm meditation course, as it gave me a great beginning foundation. And if you explore the content and decide that you value Calm’s premium content, then go for it.
Either way, Calm is worth keeping on hand.