Most "new" products we see are really just minor evolutions of gadgets that have been around for years. But here's one that's completely unlike anything we've used before. Meet Thync, a wearable that zaps your brain to change your mood – like a drug that replaces chemicals with technology.
Update: This model will soon be phased out, but we recently spent 10 days with its successor.
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Before we jump in, keep in mind that, though we cover plenty of science at Gizmag, Thync is a consumer product. And that's exactly how we're reviewing it – much like we would a new iPhone or laptop. We share our experience and make our recommendations, but we aren't writing any research papers or conducting any double-blind studies on it (though the company does link to some of those on its website).
After using Thync every day for the last week and a half, I'm convinced that it's one of the most exciting new tech products of 2015. Like taking a hit of Mary Jane, it can push me from an anxious, over-thinking mood to one where I'm cool, collected and laid-back like a THC-infused Rastafarian. And if I'm feeling sluggish or unmotivated, Thync can also peel that layer away, like the sun burning a morning fog off of my consciousness.
The Thync module itself is a curved white gizmo that connects wirelessly to a smartphone via Bluetooth low-energy. You start by snapping one of two different strips to the device. Each strip has two adhesive pads on it; they each attach to different points on your head (it sounds complicated, but the Thync app has a setup video that makes all of this easy and clear).
After you power on the module and pair it with your mobile device, it starts a five or 10 minute session that sends low-level pulses of electricity into your head (sounds freaky, I know, but bear with us for a minute). The two pads on the strip join with your body to form a current, the strength of which you can adjust in the app.
The electrical current activates pathways in your brain that make you feel either calm or energized. Like meditation or drugs, this enhances your mood in ways that you might have trouble getting to on your own.
The key is the locations of the pads: Thync believes it's found the right target areas to tweak your brain's natural stress responses in one direction or the other. One strip is designed to produce a calming effect ("calm vibe") while the other strip makes you feel more alert ("energy vibe"). And each "vibe" also has three sub-categories within it, varying in intensity and length of time.
It's like choosing a workout program, only instead of doing squats or lunges, the technology does the work for you. You just sit there and enjoy the results.
If this all sounds pretty far-out, like something a burned-out space junkie would be using in an 80's-era sci-fi novel, we completely understand. But for me, it works exactly as advertised, either relaxing or energizing me (or both) – not only while I'm using it, but for several hours afterwards.
Skeptics will also be quick to question whether Thync is just an expensive placebo effect. And while this is only one person's experience and opinion – take it as you will – I don't see how there's any way that's the case with me. If this is a placebo, then all the pot, caffeine and meditation I've ever tried must be as well.
Speaking of marijuana and meditation, those are two of our best analogies for what the calming effect feels like. Thync has no hallucinogenic effect, so it isn't quite like getting high as a kite or stoned off your keester. The "calm vibe" is more like taking just one or two hits of some mid-grade ganja. Or, if you prefer, meditating for half an hour. There's no truly altered state of consciousness here – and certainly no paranoia, forgetfulness or munchies. You're still you, you still have your bearings and you aren't impaired in any way. It's just a more chilled-out version of you.
I've found Thync's calming mode to help me lower stress levels and boost my overall enjoyment of life – not in a way that takes my own effort out of the equation, but in a way that assists me in that process. It isn't a magic pill that will solve all your problems, but if you're already invested in being a happier person, it can give you a nudge in the right direction.
Every time I use a Thync calm vibe, it ignites a calmer, easier, more balanced perspective on whatever potential stressors are lingering in my life at that moment – along with a greater enjoyment of everything else.
The energy vibe feels less like the physical energy you'd get from a jolt of caffeine, and more like a stimulated mental clarity. It puts me in an eager (but still relaxed), motivated, maybe even inspired state. It may indirectly inspire me to get up and do something, but it feels more like a mental defogging than a hyped-up boost of physical energy.
The calm and energy vibes may sound like mutually exclusive opposites, but when using one after the other, I find that the two moods can co-exist. After spending 10 minutes with each mode, I walk out the door feeling both calm and energized – just about the ideal state of mind for going out into the world.
Achieving that, just by sitting there with a funny-looking gizmo on my head for 20 minutes, is a pretty remarkable innovation.
When Thync is stuck to your head, doing its thing, you feel a tingly sensation, like a gentle shower trickling into your noggin. If you crank it up too high, it might feel a little uncomfortable on your skin (similar to TENS units), and if you set it too low, your results might be weaker, so you'll want to play around with the app to find your ideal levels.
After finishing, though the external stimulus (the electrical current) is no longer there, I still feel some remnant of that tingling sensation in the part of my head it was zapping. It feels like that part of my brain, which is usually dormant, has been awakened.
So how often do you use Thync? Well, once a day is probably a good start. While reviewing it, I've been using it two or three times a day on most days, though, and haven't experienced a single negative side effect.
One limiting factor right now is the replaceable strips: Thync officially recommends them for only one use each, and they're fairly expensive (a pack of five rings up for US$20). But I found that the one-use recommendation was conservative; I've been able to get between seven and 12 uses out of each strip, before they start losing adhesiveness. At that point, it droops off my head and loses contact during my session. That's when it's time to change.
It may help that I'm bald, don't wear makeup or often apply lotion to my head. If you do any of those things, or have especially oily skin, it's possible you'll only get a few uses out of each strip.
Going off of my averages, if you do one calm session and one energy session per day, then you'll be spending roughly $20-40 per month in replacement strips. Compared to the $240 per month you'd be spending on that same regimen if you could only use each strip once, we think that's reasonable enough. And even if you can only get four uses out of each strip, that's still down to around $60 per month for daily use of both vibes.
The company does offer monthly subscription options on strips, which can save you between 12.5 and 30 percent off the individual prices.
Thync tells us that, long-term, it's also working to increase those strip re-uses. "We actually lose money on the Packs because there is so much technology and quality designed into the Strips," says Thync's CEO Isy Goldwasser. "The way forward is to increase the reusability of the Strips. That is the fastest way to lower the cost per use."
The strip refill situation isn't exactly ideal right now, but at least the company isn't following the razor blades product model, where customers get a "deal" on the upfront purchase, only to get screwed on never-ending refill costs. And if you're like me, you may already get quite a few uses out of each one (though Goldwasser tells me my number of re-uses is unusually high).
Battery life is fine, though you will probably want to charge the Thync module (it includes a micro-USB cable) after every use: a 30 minute session usually gets its battery level down to below 50 percent.
One potential annoyance is that Thync is iOS-only at launch. If you have an Android phone, you'll need to either wait for that app to launch later this year, or get your hands on a cheap-ish iPad or iPod touch (which needs to be running iOS 8) to use with Thync in the meantime.
Thync is a crazy-sounding product that's going to sound too kooky for some customers. But if you can open your mind enough to try brain-zapping, you may find that it changes your life as much as any gadget you've ever bought. It's not only useful right now, but it also conjures images of a future where we use all sorts of (presumably safer) electrical drugs in place of chemical ones.
... and that may not be too far off the mark. Thync co-founder and CSO Dr. Jamie Tyler says the calm and energy vibes in this first-generation model are "just scratching the surface." The future could be very, very interesting.
Will your experience with Thync be as impressive as ours? Who knows. Fortunately the company is offering a 30-day money back guarantee for you to test-drive it risk-free (good luck trying that with your neighborhood weed hookup). Return policies are important for any consumer tech gadget, but they're essential for something like Thync, where you're relying entirely on subjective accounts from people like me.
Thync retails for $299, which includes the module, 10 calm strips, 10 energy strips and charging cable. Thync is available now, but backordered: at the time of publication, new orders (which are U.S.-only for now) are scheduled to start shipping in September.
Thync is also one of the first products available at Amazon Launchpad, the online retailer's new program for highlighting the work of innovative startups.
Product page: ThyncView gallery - 10 images