Thync mood-changing wearable officially launches – we go hands-on (again)

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This is Thync – the wearable that can make you feel either calm or energized(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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Back at CES 2015, one of the coolest new gizmos we tried was Thync. The wearable zaps your brain to make you feel either calm or energized (or both) – and, despite some healthy skepticism at first, we found that it worked exactly as advertised. We got a second hands-on last week in advance of Thync pre-orders starting today.

Thync is one of those products that's going to rely heavily on subjective experiences and word of mouth. The company's pitch, to "shift your state of mind" and "conquer life," sounds exciting enough, but it's also going to draw its share of skeptics.

... and rightfully so. We've all seen enough snake oil marketing campaigns – both inside and outside of the tech industry – to second-guess something like Thync before diving in head-first.

That's why we're here to test it for you. And having used Thync on two separate occasions now, we believe it has the potential to make a big difference in at least some – possibly many – customers' lives. My second Thync session has the wearable batting 1.000, as the device's two different modes left me feeling a meditative calm and an inspired energy – just as they're supposed to.

When we used Thync at CES, our best analogy was that it was a bit like a safe, digital version of drugs. The calm mode (or "calm vibes," as Thync describes it) left us feeling us a bit like we'd just smoked a joint, and the energy mode led to more of a stimulated clarity – as if a mental fog we weren't even aware of had been lifted.

The second time around, those descriptions still hold true. I felt the calm mode almost immediately, as I sunk into an extremely pleasant state that felt a bit like I'd been meditating for half an hour (or, if you prefer, paying a visit to Willie Nelson's tour bus).

After a short break, I used Thync again in the energizing mode. These changes weren't immediately obvious, but they became evident in my behavior. After energizing, I was talking more often – and more loudly – with greater expression and animation. This mode felt a bit less like I was slipping into a different state of mind, but it affected me nonetheless.

Like when I used Thync at CES, I left the latest meeting feeling about as ideal as one can feel going out into the world: a zen-like calm and presence combined with the inspired motivation a young adult might feel on their first day of college (and by the way, I'm nearly two decades removed from that day).

As for the product itself, it's that small wearable device that you see above. It's not unlike a TENS unit you'd find in a chiropractor's office, only instead of slapping it on your lower back, you stick it onto your front temple. A second connected pad goes in a spot farther back on your head, with its location varying depending on whether you're using the calming or energizing mode.

The unit is light and comfortable, though you will look a bit odd wearing it, so you might want to stick to "vibing" in the privacy of your own home.

Thync itself is wireless, connecting to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth (it's iOS only at launch, with an Android app coming by the end of 2015). You control Thync from the official app, where you can choose the length of your session. You can also adjust the strength of the brain-zapping there (each program follows a pattern of greater and lesser intensity, with cycles of peaks and valleys, but you can also manually raise or lower the overall strength).

The electrical pulses didn't hurt or feel uncomfortable in any way (though I was careful to increase the intensity somewhat gradually to let myself adjust). At its best points, it felt a bit like a gentle shower trickling into the front of my head.

The minimum time needed for the calming effect is five minutes, so even the busiest of folks should be able to squeeze in a full calm before heading out the door. There's also a 10 minute calming option, if you want to crank it up to a Snoop Dogg level of chill.

There are three different energizing modes as well, lasting either 5 or 10 minutes (we've only tried one of the energy modes that will be available at launch).

Thync's co-founders: CEO Isy Goldwasser (left) and CSO Jamie Tyler Ph.D.

So how exactly does Thync work? It has roots in the academic world (co-founder Dr. Jamie Tyler has a background in Neuroscience and Bioengineering), and the consumer product uses "low levels of pulsed electrical energy to signal specific neural pathways, allowing users to dial up or dial down their stress responses and energy levels." In other words, it zaps specific parts of your brain to make you either calm down or get motivated (or both, as these states don't appear to be mutually exclusive).

Thync says the product is perfectly safe. It's being marketed as a lifestyle consumer product, not a medical one, so the FDA isn't regulating it, but it has been independently approved by the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL), a US-based safety organization specializing in electrical devices. For what it's worth, I certainly didn't experience any pain, "hangover" or other side-effects during or at any point after either of my sessions.

From where we stand now, we see Thync as a digital drug – the first of its kind – that helps you to start your day off on the right foot. It doesn't suddenly make you a passive participant in your life (you'll easily be able to think yourself back into a stressed or low-energy state, if that's your tendency) but Thync can push you in the right direction. Much like meditation and drugs have done for years, only without meditation's discipline and drugs' unsavory side effects.

Pre-orders for Thync start today, with the first orders expected to start shipping in June. The device itself (including four packs of sticky strips, with five strips in each pack) rings up for US$299. Replacement sticky strips cost $20 for a pack of five.

Backside of Thync, with sticky strip exposed(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

Similar to TENS units, Thync says that its strips are only officially recommended for one session each, but unofficially you may very well be able to use each one quite a few times – as long as you haven't applied makeup, lotion or hair products to your head before you strap it on.

Exactly how many times you can use each strip is going to be a big cost variable: if it's only a one-off (the official recommendation), then, after running out of the initial supply, using Thync once a day would cost an extra $120 per month. But if you can squeeze even three or four quality uses out of each strip, then that drops down to an extra $30-40 per month for everyday use.

The company does tell us that it's aiming to get the price of those strips down (possibly way down) in the future. And we'll keep a close eye on the potential for strip reuse in our full review.

The company is also offering a safety net, if you're skeptical about its effects. If you try Thync and it isn't doing much for you, then you can return it within 30 days for a full refund.

From where we stand now, Thync looks like one of the most exciting and unique products we've used this year. You can pre-order the mood-changing wearable starting today from the company's website below.

Product page: Thync

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