There are a few problems with massage chairs. Primarily, they never seem to provide adequate pressure, offering more of a light tickle than any kind of deep massage. They're also expensive and have the issue that when you're sitting in one, you can't really be doing other things. The AiraWear solves this issue by building air massage chambers into a hoodie that goes where you go. I got my sore back into one to see just how well it works.
I have to admit that when I got the opportunity to review a massaging hoodie (which we first covered in September of last year), my initial reaction was gimmick. How good of a massage, after all, could a hoodie deliver? I figured the sweatshirt would be too big and the chambers too anemic to do any good.
I figured wrong.
Putting on the AiraWear is a bit tricky. There's basically an air vest (think bullet-proof vest but lighter) under a lightweight hoodie so I found it tricky to get my arms in the vest part, as it doesn't stretch. At first I thought the hoodie (size large) was just too small for me, but once I wiggled in, I realized that the tight fit is part of the hoodie's effectiveness.
Once I zipped up, it fit fine and before I even turned it on, it felt like I was getting a nice full-torso hug. The hoodie paired quickly with the Bluetooth and Android app on my phone and within a few minutes, I was already playing around with the settings, which include "relax," "shoulder," "lower back" and "sleep." Being someone who sits at a desk all day, guess which one was the first I tried? Yup – lower back.
When the AirWear gets cranking, it pumps air into pockets that feel like large gumdrops. The result is surprising at first, but quickly becomes addictive. It's a bit like having firm but gentle fists pushed into various parts of your back, so it's more of a pressure point experience than a massage that kneads your muscles. Each program activates slightly different parts of the hoodie, and the intensity with which it presses into your back can be controlled with a slider in the app.
The programs each last for 20 minutes, and you can just start another one after a program ends if you want to. And believe me, I wanted to. I had a really hard time taking this thing off because the air action was that good. Fortunately it runs for three-to-six hours on a single charge, so there was no hurry to get out of it.
Speaking of charges, there is a square battery pack built into one side of the vest that juices up with a micro-USB cable. It takes about one-to-two hours to get a full charge. When holding the hoodie, the battery pack seems like it would be unwieldy, but you really don't notice it when it's on.
One of my concerns with the AiraWear was that you'd need to be sitting in a chair in order to get those air gum drops to press adequately into your back – but that's not the case. Because of the tight fit, the hoodie does it thing whether you're sitting, standing or walking around.
The app had one setting called "sleep" that didn't really do much, and I can't really imagine sleeping in this thing anyway. While the massaging action is top-notch, the vest is made out of plastic and the whole thing is a bit bulky so it's not really loungewear. Likewise, I'm not so sure how comfortable I'd be traveling in this because it's actually kind of stiff – which is the point. But while sitting at my desk, it's hard to imagine a day I won't put it on – at least the vest part, which removes pretty easily so that you can wash the hoodie.
The hoodie itself is made from a cotton/polyester blend. It's thin, but provides light to mid-level warmth.
Another function of the app is that it can serve as a posture corrector. I didn't find this feature to be all that useful, but unlike other wearables that just beep at you when you're slouching, this one inflates. The effect is like a big hand pushing on your low back, reminding you to sit up straight.
The AiraWear will sell for US$129 when its Kickstarter campaign launches on May 9. Compared to the cost of a massage chair, that's a downright steal. Of course, we caution you to employ the usual common sense when backing a crowdfunding project but, considering that the garment has been in the works for awhile and that the company was able to send a prototype out, there may be reason to be optimistic about final delivery.
Product page: AiraWear