Hands-on With the Apollo Neuroscience Wearable

Can a wearable change your behavior? Maybe

Key Takeaways

  • The Apollo wearable purports to help with anxiety and stress by emitting low-frequency sound waves.
  • It's nicely unobtrusive when worn, although the straps are a pain to change out.
  • They showed the data, but I’m still wary of the placebo effect.
Someone wearing an Apollo wearable while looking at the Apollo app on a smartphone.

Apollo

The week I spent test-driving an Apollo Neuroscience wearable was unusually productive, but I've still got my doubts.

The Apollo, built in accordance with a University of Pittsburgh study, is an app-controlled wearable ($349, or $32/month) that purports to regulate your mood with the calming effects of inaudible sound waves. Depending on the setting, it's supposed to help with relaxation, focus, anxiety, stress, or sleep.

Ordinarily, I'd pass something like this by, but after the top-rope soul crusher that was 2020, I've gotten more proactively interested in practices like chill-out apps and other at-home mental health boosters. I ordered an Apollo and went through my weekly routine with a faintly buzzing not-watch strapped to my wrist or ankle, just to see how it turned out, but after eight days, I’m still not really sure how much good it did.

"It sounds like snake oil at first, but Apollo's designers at least know what a double-blind study is and have pursued several."

No, It's Not an Ankle Monitor

Out of the box, the Apollo is a small curved plastic gadget that could be mistaken for a wristwatch, or a sleep-mode smartwatch, at a distance. It charges through a USB Micro-B cord that fits into its underside—so you can't charge it and wear it at the same time—and comes with two Velcro straps that fit it to your wrist or ankle.

The science behind the Apollo, according to its designers, is that inaudible sound waves can "safely and reliably change how we feel through our sense of touch."

It sounds like snake oil at first, but Apollo's designers at least know what a double-blind study is and have pursued several. By tapping into your sense of touch via vibrational sound, it’s meant to, and seemingly does, affect your mood.

The Apollo wearable with the Apollo app shown on a smartphone.

Apollo

You activate the Apollo via Bluetooth with its mobile app, which lets you choose one of seven themed settings for set periods and control the sound waves’ intensity.

The recommendation is to start around 30% with each mode to see how that works for you, but even at 100%, most of the modes are subtle.

The exception is "Energy and Wake-Up." The other modes are gentle pulses, but "Energy" is a dissonant thrumming that’s harder to tune out.

You do get used to every mode on the Apollo very quickly. After about 10 minutes with "Clear and Focused" mode at 55%, I found myself reaching down to make sure the Apollo was still on. It's surprisingly unobtrusive for something that's supposed to be affecting your mood.

Seven Days Later

The basic user experience with Apollo makes it clear that this is still a first-gen product. On Android, the companion app loses its connection to the Apollo whenever your mobile device goes to sleep, which occasionally forced me to reboot the app. It’s also a lot harder than it should be to swap out the straps.

Screenshots from the Apollo App.

Even so, I stuck with the Apollo for the week, alternating between wearing it on my wrist and ankle, and used the various modes per the recommended starting routine. It’s recommended to set it for energy and focus early in the day, then cycle down at night with the social and relaxation settings.

In general, it seemed like it worked. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of using the Apollo to keep me on task, using it to augment and assist whatever I planned to be doing at the time.

The one exception was the "Sleep and Renew" setting, which was a near-total misfire. Even at a low setting, Apollo's vibration made it, if anything, harder for me to sleep.

The other six settings do feel like they've had at least some positive effect, though. I got a lot done this week, even with a new gadget buzzing on my arm, and it's helped me draw a firmer line between work and leisure.

"It's surprisingly unobtrusive for something that's supposed to be affecting your mood."

My primary issue is that I'm not sure how much of Apollo's effects are something I can credit to the device. Am I actually tweaking my own brain, or am I just using it as a way to better organize my hour-to-hour schedule? If it's the latter, could I have saved a few hundred bucks and set up a personal system of colored slap bracelets?

I'm cynical, but I'm also discussing something hard to measure. The Apollo is at least a more interesting and fact-based alternative to the host of wellness products that saturate the market, and I'd say it's tentatively worth a look.

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