Is Calm or Headspace the best meditation app for you?
Choosing the right meditation app made easy.
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It shouldn’t be stressful to choose a meditation and mindfulness app—but with so many options out there, it can be hard to discern exactly which one is best for you. In this Headspace vs. Calm contest, we looked at two of the most prominent meditation apps to help settle the matter for you.
Headspace has a broad selection of quality content, ranging from meditations to help you relax to sessions designed to inspire gratitude. Our tester was impressed by the app’s versatility and the caliber of every type of meditation she tried. As a newcomer to the practice, she found the sessions provided a lot of guidance and led her every step of the way.
Headspace’s narrator selection isn’t huge, which may or may not be what you’re looking for. If you find you really jive with one of the narrator’s styles, it will be easy to track down additional sessions. However, if you prefer more variability in who guides your meditations, you may find yourself wishing for more options.
Calm has a far larger selection, and it seems to partially sell itself with celebrity-led content. There’s star athletes like LeBron James, red carpet regulars like Idris Elba, and music chart toppers such as Harry Styles. However, our tester found that the quality of Calm's content isn’t as uniform as that of its competitor. The meditations were hosted by so many people that some worked tremendously well, while others fell completely flat.
Calm also has a section billed for beginners, but our tester thought a lot of its other content could easily be used by more experienced practitioners. It also features a selection of nature sounds.
Our pick: Calm for selection, Headspace for consistency
As with many other areas, this depends largely on what you’re looking for. If you want a consistent narrator and guaranteed quality, Headspace is better. Its sessions tend to provide more guidance, never leaving users feeling as though they don’t know what to do next. Our tester also thinks it makes the app a great choice for those who are newer to meditation and may need some more instruction as they develop their practice.
However, Anna Lane, Reviewed’s parenting editor and a longtime meditator, uses the app daily and has found that Headspace still has plenty to offer for those who are more experienced. “It has a bunch of different levels so that if you’re more advanced you can do those, and there’s also a timer feature if you don’t need any guidance,” she says.
Individual exercises can, for the most part, vary in duration. For many sessions, users can select the length they’d like, from as short as three or five minutes to as long as 20 minutes, in some cases. This makes it easy to squeeze in a quick meditation during the workday, or find a longer one to wind down when you get home.
Calm, in contrast, has a far broader spectrum. Certain sessions will be more appealing to seasoned practitioners, but there are ample choices for those new to the area, too. Like Headspace, it has series geared around certain hosts or topics, such as the “Breathe into It” series led by Camila Cabello.
Sessions are often available in different lengths, so you can actively look for shorter or longer options. That said, the app doesn’t have the same adjustability as Headspace. So if you find a session that looks great, but only have 10 minutes and the meditation is 30, you’re out of luck.
Our pick: Headspace
Both Headspace and Calm have sleep-specific sections, which our tester still turns to when she has trouble dozing off. These sessions are designed to help you wind down before bed, as well as our tester’s favorite type of sleep content: sleep stories, which are like glorified bedtime stories.
Headspace offers multiple “wind-downs,” which include things like guided breathing techniques, as well as body visualization (wherein you imagine your muscles “shutting off” to relax for the evening). These narrations guide you through a dream-like landscape or calming space. They’re often paired with an underlaid track that amplifies the setting of the audio story itself. (Fun fact: Headspace actually records the backtracks on location, so if you’re listening to a bustling late-night cafe, the audio was actually collected in a real, buzzing coffee shop.) Our tester found these tracks almost never failed to knock her right out. Months after testing, she still finds herself returning to one of the sessions (which is available in the free version of the app) when she has trouble getting to sleep.
Calm offers a variety of sleep sessions, too, and the app includes a notable selection of sessions for kids. However, as with meditations, our tester found they weren’t all universally great at helping her fall asleep. Some, instead, kept her up.
Our pick: Headspace
Interface and usability
Our tester found that Headspace has a somewhat easier-to-use interface than Calm—however, this is partially because it simply has fewer narrators to choose from. It’s easy to find certain meditations based on subject, and users can mark “favorites” by tapping a heart icon on the mobile app. These marked selections then appear on the user’s homepage for easy access. So if you find a session you really like, there’s no need to dig for it. The app consistently worked without a hitch, and never had problems with things like freezing, though on one occasion our tester had difficulty getting a session to fully load.
One of our tester’s biggest gripes with Calm was the app’s glitchiness. It would often lag and freeze as our tester tried to open meditations or select courses to view. What’s more, it semi-frequently required full on shutdowns before it would work. This made for a less than stellar experience, as our tester was frustrated by the app’s unpredictability. For her, functionality is a must, especially as she often reaches for meditation app content in the middle of a restless night.
Our pick: Headspace
Privacy and security
Headspace and Calm have similar privacy practices and policies that allow users to opt in and out of certain data sharing. Both apps collect data on location. According to Headspace’s policy, it doesn’t sell your data with third parties, and the same goes for Calm. The app offers users the ability to adjust various ad and privacy settings.
Calm’s online privacy statement is more thorough and provides greater detail on the app's policies and practices. Calm also collects location data, though it relies on your devices’ IP address—a number assigned to your device by your internet provider that allows for tracking. It doesn’t specify how or why this data is collected. It says it won’t gather audio or video data without user permission. (Headspace’s policy lacks information on audio or video, though the app doesn’t request access to the microphone or camera. Our tester couldn’t remember whether Calm requested access when she downloaded it, but it sounds as though audio and video are only used with consent for things like phone or video calls in connection with Calm’s coaching pogram.)
Our pick: Calm
After testing, Headspace landed our elite “Best Overall” title, while Calm came in a close second as the “Best Value” pick. However, since our roundup of the best meditation apps published, the prices have changed.
For an annual subscription, both apps cost $69.99 per year, which translates to $5.83 per month. The cost for monthly subscriptions is much higher—Headspace charges $12.99 per month, and Calm’s monthly cost is $14.99.
Headspace offers a free two-week trial before you subscribe, so that you can have unfettered access to all its content before making the financial commitment. The app also has a couple alternatives to its regular subscription, including a student discount that costs $9.99 per year. It also has a “family plan,” which is $99.99 per year for up to six users.
Calm has a shorter free trial than Headspace—just seven days, which could make it difficult to gauge how much you would use the app. Calm itself doesn’t have a student discount, but students using Amazon Prime can score the app for $8.99 annually. It also has “Calm for Life,” a $399 never-ending subscription that’s billed once.
Our Pick: Headspace
And the winner is…
Calm and Headspace have distinct strengths and weaknesses, but we think that, overall, Headspace is the better bet for most people. It has ample features for different levels of practitioners, and a great selection of content that’s effective and high caliber. The app has something to offer for anyone and everyone, from those having trouble dozing off at night to options for new and seasoned meditators.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.