Pleasant background sounds
Lots of narrators
Glitchy at times
Less consistently effective sessions
What is the Calm app?
Like Headspace, Calm is one of the heavy-hitting meditation apps available for iPhone and Android. With more than 1 million ratings and 4.8 stars on the App Store, it’s undeniably popular.
What content can you find on the Calm app?
Calm’s content runs the gamut from simple, short courses on meditation to longer sessions designed to help you fall asleep. A good chunk is made with celebrities—you may have run across your favorite actor or athlete talking about their Calm collaboration on social media. There are programs for virtually anything and everything—take “Calm Body,” a selection of content geared toward exercise, such as sessions for stretching and mindful cool-downs or warm-ups.
One of the app’s most popular features is “Daily Calm,” a series of ever-changing meditation sessions that focuses on different aspects of mindfulness. The company claims they’re good for both beginners and folks who are more advanced.
Elsewhere, programs are themed around a person or a subject and range from just a few sessions to 10 or more. There are a lot of celebrities sharing their journeys with mental health and mindfulness. For instance, Calm summarizes Lebron James’ “Training Your Mind” as the “four-time champion ... open[ing] up his playbook for mental fitness for the very first time.” A short introductory audio is followed by four sessions that range from six to 11 minutes.
The app also has a number of “soundscapes,” or glorified white noise, that range from natural sounds to manmade soundtracks—“Car in the Rain,” “High Sierra Lake,” and “Coffee Shop” are a few examples. Unfortunately, the trial version doesn’t include samples of this particular offering.
Finally, the app offers single meditations, often geared around a certain feeling such as a moment of panic or stress. These meditations also range in length; some are as short as a few minutes, while others last longer. For more experienced practitioners, the longer sessions may provide a less structured time to meditate. But there’s also ample beginner-friendly content that guides you every step of the way.
What we like about the Calm app
To start: Calm has a tremendous selection of widely varied content. You want a tennis pro narrating the rules of a match to lull you to sleep? Hello, John McEnroe. A Bridgerton star telling a story to help you doze off? Check out “The Prince and the Naturalist,” narrated by Regé-Jean Page. The app even has a series led by Camila Cabello, “Breathe Into It,” in which you’ll “follow her journey into mindfulness through never-before-told stories.”
Calm treads a fine line between doing so much that it does nothing well, and doing enough that it offers users versatility. Its broad appeal may in part come from the star-studded lineup of narrators—something that most other meditation apps lack.
Headspace provides a lot of content, but with a smaller selection of narrators. Calm has such a broad spectrum that there’s something for everyone. If you have specific voice preferences—maybe you like to listen to male voices narrating stories before bed, but prefer female-led meditation sessions, this app might be perfect for you.
When you first open Calm, it asks you to identify your areas of interest. I wasn’t sure that these actually played a role in the meditations that fed into my home page, but it was a nice touch in terms of making the app feel more personal in the very beginning.
Finally, Calm has a decent selection of kid-specific content in a section called “Calm Kids” that includes more than 70 bedtime stories. Though the company says all of its content is appropriate for all ages, I don’t think many adults want to take a few minutes out of their day to listen to “Thomas and Friends: Learn to Meditate.”
What we don’t like about the Calm app
Though Calm has a tremendous selection of meditation sessions, I found its interface wasn’t the easiest to navigate. It was tricky to track down additional content by specific narrators because the mobile and desktop versions lack a search function. That said, you can bookmark sessions you really like.
While the app’s general breadth opens a lot of doors, I discovered that I liked it more initially. When I didn’t really know what my specific preferences were, Calm gave me ample room to explore. Once I identified exactly what I wanted, it got harder to use. If developers incorporated a few additional features—like recommendations based on your favorite sessions and an option to search for specific hosts—that would alleviate the issue.
As for the celebrity-based content, it certainly makes the app impressive at first glance. (One session by Matthew McConaughey particularly gets a lot of buzz.) Upon diving deeper, it didn’t always feel like it was the most expertly done. I never even got around to listening to “The Spark” which the company describes as “bite-sized conversation meant to engage and inspire fresh perspectives”—you guessed it, these are other entrepreneurs, celebrities, athletes, and so on.
I’m not sure if my experience with the celebrity content was lukewarm simply because I didn’t happen upon the best celebrity content, or if it’s all lower quality. (To be fair, I liked the majority of Calm’s sessions that were led by actual meditation pros.) I’m not the type to buy into celebrity content or endorsements generally.
In more technical terms, the app was more prone to glitching and lagging in testing than most of the others we’ve tried. It often took a few minutes to load sessions and sometimes I needed to relaunch it entirely. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, but it was a nuisance. Even after I deleted and re-downloaded the app, I found it went completely unresponsive—sometimes multiple times within a few minute span. I’d tap a session to try to open it, only to have the screen freeze—an issue I determined was unrelated to my phone, because I could still exit to the home screen—which made for a frustrating experience.
What are current users saying about the Calm app?
Reviews on the App Store are generally glowing. Most reviewers love the same things we did: the breadth of content, celebrity cameos, and the sessions themselves. Many praise the sleep stories in particular for helping them doze off. “Once I could not go to sleep, so I turned on some of the Calm content,” one writes. “I fell asleep 10 minutes later—I was amazed. I’ve been getting better sleep since then.”
Those who opt for the unpaid version’s limited content tend to have subpar experiences. The free version comes with a handful of meditation sessions, as well as some sleep specific content—but it is a minimal amount.
Does the Calm app safeguard privacy?
To set up a Calm account, you’re required to share the usual details—name, email, and so on. Users don’t have to disclose their gender, though the app says it may use your name to make an “educated guess.” The company purportedly uses this to determine your likelihood of continuing to use its services.
When it comes to information companies gather, I usually find how that data is shared can be more troublesome. Calm’s current policy states that it doesn’t sell information to third parties, and it “will not sell it in the future without providing a right to opt out.” According to the policy, it shares information with companies and contractors performing services, such as “email service providers and payment processors.” The other circumstances for sharing information include if it’s necessary on a legal basis, and among companies under “common control and ownership” (for example, subsidiaries and affiliates).
Is the Calm app worth it?
Calm brings users a tremendous amount of quality content. When we first tested it, the price was so good that we dubbed it our Best Value pick for meditation apps. However, in the interim, the company has inflated the cost from $47.99 for a year of unlimited access to $69.99—the same as Headspace, our Best Overall pick. (Headspace also often has sales, meaning it’s frequently cheaper than Calm as of the price change.)
There is an introductory offer, so new members can get 40% off, bringing the cost down to $41.99. If you want a shorter commitment to test the waters, the app is available on a monthly basis for $14.99. Calm also offers a free trial for new users, during which you get unlimited access to the app’s content—though it’s only seven days long and you need to remember to cancel the subscription at the end of the window, or you’ll be charged for a year.
While I loved the content that Calm offered, I found the app difficult to navigate and frustrating at times. Its glitchy performance was a deterrent more than anything. If, like me, you prefer consistency and listening to the same person day in and day out, you’ll probably find Headspace is a better fit. On the other hand, if you like mixing it up and are eager to experience someone like Regé-Jean Page lulling you to dreamland, Calm could be a great choice.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Staff Writer, Sleep@lindseyvix
Lindsey writes about sleep, lifestyle, and more for Reviewed. In her waking hours, she likes to spend time outside, read, cook, and bake. She holds a master’s in journalism from Boston University and bachelors' degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from the University of Utah.
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