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As someone whose temperature only fluctuates between dripping-sweat hot and shivering cold, you could say that I’m thermally underserved. I’ve tried dressing in layers, most of which usually end up pretty freaking sweaty, and considered USB-powered hand warmers to keep me warm at my desk. So when I heard about the world’s first portable thermostat for your body, the Embr Wave, you could say my interest was piqued.
The Embr Wave ($299) claims to temporarily affect the feel of your body temperature, explained co-founder Sam Shames. Developed by a team of MIT grads, the device provides a quick burst of cooling or heating relief via a thermoelectric current.
“Cooling feels like an ice cube on your wrist, and warming feels like cupping your hands around a hot drink,” Shames says. And the reason it’s placed on your wrist, rather than along your neck or anywhere else, explains Shames, is because the wrist is a high-density area for the body’s temperature-sensitive nerve endings.
Although the Embr can warm you up or cool you down, depending on your needs, Shames explained it’s best to first try it when you’re feeling one of the extremes. I went for a super-hot moment where I couldn’t stop dripping sweat and strapped on the bracelet to activate the cycle.
The wearable basically looks like a cross between an Apple Watch and a more archaic wearable, thanks to its mesh band and clunky size. It comes with a companion app, which is easy enough to work. Upon syncing it with the device, you can watch the three-minute cool-down or the five-minute heating periods in Quick Mode or for 30 minutes in the Extended Mode.
I was surprised the app didn’t have more to offer, such as a comparison with other active users or tips on how to heat up or cool down in an otherwise thermally uncomfortable environment, like the uncomfortably hot one I was in when I first gave it a whirl.
I pressed the Wave’s Light Bar to activate what Shames described as a “a near-instantaneous wave of cooling or heating against my wrist.” When I gave it a whirl in Quick Mode—which lasts for three minutes in cooling, and five for heating—I found that the feeling wasn’t so overwhelming as Shames had described. It wasn’t as refreshing as stepping into an air conditioned room on a super-warm day, rather, it felt like I got a quick set of the chills on a super-hot day: which would seem to be refreshing but isn’t actually.
But because I am a creature of extremes, I knew the effect wouldn’t last forever; likewise, I knew I’d probably want or need to employ the aid of the Embr Wave again soon. Because I put myself in the AC that day, I ended up freezing, covered in some sweat still, just 30 minutes later.
I quickly pressed the bar to begin a warming cycle, and that’s when I felt the magic happen. Throughout the five-minute cycle, I felt like I was clutching my heating pad—but without the bulk or the scent of buckwheat in the air. It was pretty, pretty lovely, especially considering I didn’t have to pull on layers or step out of the room.
That feeling of warmth, I’d say, lasted no more than ten minutes—because as Shames explained, the Embr Wave doesn’t adjust your core body temperature, but only your perception thereof. Although I felt my particularly frigid extremities defrost during the ten minutes, within a half an hour, I was back to square one. Those 30 minutes of relief, though, were sweet for someone like myself, who doesn’t often experience thermal comfort.
However, Dr. Stuart Spitalnic, a general practitioner based in Newport, RI, initially told me I’d be better off buying myself a nice sweater when I mentioned the Embr Wave and its price tag—even after reviewing Embr Lab’s claims.
“While there is some science behind it [...] I can all but guarantee you any clinical effect is minimal, at best, likely irrelevant, and more placebo based than anything,” Spitalnic said. He says some of the science makes sense, since it’s true that “much of the mind's temperature perception comes from the skin rather than the body's core temperature,” but doesn’t buy into its effectiveness: “I suspect that after a few weeks after trying an Embr Wave, it’d end up in the drawer stowed with fit trackers and copper bracelets.”
And as someone who has owned a litany of those same kinds of trackers—who has many in the drawer collecting dust—I couldn’t help but agree. But I have to say, as someone who loathes carrying around extra layers, it was nice to have an alternative option to toting around a slew of extra sweaters—even a placebo-effect one.
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