Finding Zen

Meditation App Shootout: Pzizz, Headspace and Inscape


Meditation has far-reaching benefits — everything from alleviating anxiety to helping you sleep better, even altering your response to pain. The trickiest part is sitting down to actually do it. I had ‘begin meditating’ on my calendar for months before I finally carved out a moment to do so. In my search for easy ways to meditate, I talked to countless experts, tested out a variety of classes in NYC and downloaded what seemed like 10 apps. The three that stood out, and required more involved testing were Inscape, Pzizz and Headspace. Each focuses on mindfulness and improving breath awareness, just during different times of the day. Here’s how a week with each of them played out.

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The Good: The seven-day trial period for all three apps gives you plenty of time to figure out which one works best for you, what time is best to meditate and how long you need to feel calm again. All three apps are simple to use, have well-designed user interfaces and are a breeze to navigate. There’s a lot more design in the Headspace app because you’ll watch videos in addition to listening to a soothing voice.

Who They’re For: These three apps are for people who are looking to start meditating but are not sure where to begin. Newbies are welcomed with open arms in all three apps, and you’ll feel guided each step of the way until you feel comfortable enough to decide if you actually like the app or not.

Watch Out For: All of these apps require you to look at your phone to get started, which is kind of the opposite effect of what mindfulness is supposed to do for you. Some are worse offenders than others. Pzizz makes you turn the alarm off in the morning, meaning you’re looking at your phone screen first thing. Whereas with Inscape, you can just let it play out and then not worry about an alarm in the morning.

Alternatives: There are mountains of alternatives in the App Store and Google Play. Stop, Breathe & Think, Calm and 10% Happier are all viable alternatives. It just depends on your budget and what you’re looking to get out of each meditation.

Review: For my week with Pzizz, I started on a Monday night and immediately decided I was going to only use it at night for the Sleep meditations. There are also nap and focus options, but the path of least resistance was at night — at least for me. The app is a pretty basic one, where you hit sleep and then a button will pop up asking what time you want the app to wake you. While I didn’t initially realize this meant the app would sound the alarm at 7:04 or whatever time I selected, after one night of use, I began to set an alarm exclusively through the app. You have the option to listen to a female or male voice, and after a full week of listening to the female, the male is the default. The music and voice can be raised or lowered so that you can adjust to your preference. At first, it seemed like just music to me, and then I realized there was a lot of talking. Sometimes I felt it kept me up for longer than necessary because I was straining to hear what was said, and the (sometimes long) gaps in the music and voice tripped me up, especially as I drifted to sleep. I would hop up to check that it was still going (thinking that my alarm wouldn’t sound if I didn’t) and then realize it was still working.

In the morning, the app is supposed to wake you up gently with a soothing bell and wind sounds (very spa-like), but I would bolt upright as soon as I heard the initial noises. Even after using for longer than a week, I am still attuned to it. You do have to pick up your phone in the morning to turn the app off, and the first few mornings, I hit snooze instead of ‘OK’ not thinking I needed to shut it off completely.

Headspace opens with the option to try the Basic session for 10 days straight, which is a bit longer than I budgeted out for this project. Nonetheless, the combo of funny-looking cartoons, short videos and the powerful one-page Instagram-like quotes cheered me on each day. The option to pick a three, five or ten-minute meditation gave me a sense of purpose and also sparked the competitive streak in me to push for 10-minute sessions, but also go easy on myself if I couldn’t fit in even five minutes.

At the end of ten days, Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace and the voice behind it all, talked about having a healthier, happier mind, which is a good goal to keep in mind. While I didn’t stick to this every single day (it took me closer to 15 days to finish the 10 initial sessions) the gentle reminders every day and easy-to-fit in sessions made this accessible.

Inscape begins with an introduction over the course of three days. The same voice speaks all of Inscape’s meditations. There’s no option for how long to listen to the intro meditations, and you’re exposed to movement during the ten-minute period. There’s a lot of instruction here, so if your mind is active and you find it hard to focus, especially during meditation, Inscape gives you things to do during each meditation. You slowly work up to meditating in silence, which might be your goal. What I enjoyed most on Inscape were the sleep meditations. I may have listened to Inscape so often that my brain now associates the voice with sleep, but almost every time I select a sleep meditation before I drift off, I’m able to ease into sleep. When my mind was racing with tasks on my to-do list for the next day, and I couldn’t settle into sleep, I would pop one of these on my cue. And if I needed a quick-hit calm moment, I would use the Breathe tool in the app to take a few deep breaths.

Verdict: While meditation is very individualized (you may hate one of the voices), I found that Headspace worked for me during my morning commute and Inscape was what I reached for at night. If I could finagle a seat on the subway, I could close my eyes, but if not, I just listened to Puddicombe’s voice and tried to cut out the MTA noises and other voices. Most nights I don’t have trouble falling asleep, but when I’m traveling and sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, the Inscape app helps me feel at home, calming my brain.

So, did I feel zen-like each week I tested one of these apps out? None of these turned me into a peace-keeping, go-with-the-flow human, but they did provide me with tools to feel more productive when I needed to. The faster I fall asleep at night, the more sleep I get and the more awake I am during the day. On the days I took the time to use one of the apps in the morning, I felt a sense of calm walking into the office, especially on days where we had reviews and other intense meetings.

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