In this review I have tried the Muse brain sensing Headband, a wearable that measures your EEG waves and gives you a score of your calmness. They direct this towards meditation, and since you can hardly move in order to get a good signal, that’s what it’s good for. But on the other hand, for that it is very good.
Getting started with the Muse headband
The folks at Muse have done their Apple homework; unpacking and first impression are an important part of the total user experience. Muse comes beautifully packed in a plexi glass box wrapped in some printed cardboard, and they even added straps for pulling the box open. A small details that goes a long way. I was eager to try out the functionalities and see if it actually could read my brain (I mean, until recently, that was together with flying cars The science fiction utopia), but initially I had issues pairing with my phone. Charging? It was hard to find how to check the status of the charge, but after leaving it plugged for a few hours I could get started. Now pairing with my phone worked seamlessly, and it was a quite simple setup process before I could get started with my first session.
The headband itself has a high quality feeling and is rather comfortable wearing. The app measures brainwaves at four points, two in your forehead and two behind your ears. It was a little hard to find the optimal fit to have good enough signal on all four sensors, but the trick seemed to be to really push the headband behind your ears, like a pair of glasses.
The first session
And off we go! I have been doing meditation on and off for many years, and I’m excited to get some numbers attached to it. I choose to start with the first mediation, making it 3 minutes long. Putting my headphones in my ears I get instructed to calibrate the headband for a minute by thinking on specific things such as actors, kitchen utensils and web pages. Then it is time for the actual session, and the soundscape is changed into a beach. The waves go up and down in intensity which simulates in real time how active my brain is, and every now and then I hear birds nearby as a reward for being calm for a longer period. I find this both pretty cool and a bit disturbing, since my focus now is on getting the weather to be still and the birds to sing, rather than really being calm. It feels like a switch from focusing on my breath to focusing on the reward. But still – very cool.
After finishing the session I get a screen showing the level of activity in my brain during the session, and how many birds I managed to “get”. I also got a “calm score”, which is calculated from the percentages of me being in the “calm” and “neutral” interval.
The first impression is that this is a neat thing that actually seems to work. I’m not sure if I’d like to have the instant audio feedback, or rather just use Muse as a measurement tool in the future, but anyway I’m very curious to see if the measurements will follow my own opinion on how calm I am and how focused my session was.
Follow up after a month
I’m still impressed with this thing. I do still wonder if the Emotiv headband would have been a better buy, it definitely has got more functions like the really cool feature that you are able to control things with your mind. Browsing around I get the impression that it might be a bit unreliable, so I went for the Muse. And Muse is really reliable, not once in this month have I experienced any issues with stability or connectivity. And I feel that the quantification well follows my own experience, and it still blow my mind (sry) that this thing actually gives me a read over my mental state.
Room for improvement
One annoying feature is that it takes full control of the iPhones sound system and doesn’t let go. This is great if you want to use the built in meditation sounds and get real time audio feedback, but if I want to measure how my brain works when listening to music or using another meditation app, I need to use two devices.
Also, it seem like an overkill that you have to calibrate the headband before each session. It probably makes for better precision, but I’d love an option to skip this sometimes.
The other apps that are developed by third party developers aren’t that impressive, and I haven’t ended up using them at all. Although the Muse Monitor, where you can follow your brainwave raw data, seems great, I so far haven’t found any use of it.
The Muse brain sensing headband is great at what it does and is highly recommended, but I have hopes for an extended functionality in the future.