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The Calm and Headspace apps both offer guided meditations and some soothing extras. Here’s how they measure up.
Meditation can be a simple path to feelings of calm, balance, and peace, among other benefits.
While meditation practices vary, there’s really no right or wrong way to meditate. The general idea is to practice mindfulness by finding awareness — something from which we can all benefit.
If you’re ready to start, a meditation app can be a handy guide. But with so many options, how do you know which app is best for you?
With its fun, cheerful animations, Headspace is visually appealing and easy to navigate.
- Optional push reminders can help you stay on track with your daily practice.
- It includes meditations tailored for kids ages 5–12.
- It’s easy to navigate.
- It offers quick meditations when you’re short on time.
- The stats feature allows you to create meditation goals and track your progress.
- You can search for a meditation by theme or length.
- Since a lot of the content is geared toward beginners, it may not work as well for experienced users.
- The free trial requires putting in your credit card information for auto-renewal.
- The free content (without trial access) is limited.
- Headspace accounts and subscriptions are only available to people 18 years or older.
If you’re new to meditation, the 10-day Basics course is a great starting place. It’s designed to teach the essentials of meditation in just minutes a day.
As you build your practice, you can move to other meditations. When you log in as a Headspace user, you’ll see a few suggested meditations on the home screen based on the time of day. You can also save meditations to your favorites list.
Here’s what else you’ll find. For more details, see our Headspace app review.
- Themed meditations. Headspace offers hundreds of guided meditations that cover things like cravings, finding focus, dealing with regret and difficult conversations, and even creative writing. You can access these as single meditations or grouped courses.
- SOS section. This section offers meditations to help you manage intense experiences. Choose a guided or unguided meditation based on how much time you have, or browse tips and techniques to deepen your practice.
- Timed meditations. Choose a style — guided, semi-guided, or unguided — and a length of 5 to 120 minutes, and press “play.”
- Group meditations. If you like group activities, you can choose to join a group meditation with other Headspace users at a specific time of day.
- Techniques and support. These focus on intention, awareness, stress relief, and much more.
- Sleep section. Browse Sleepcasts (everyday storytelling in a range of soothing voices), meditation and breathing techniques to wind down and prepare for sleep, or guided exercises if you find yourself waking up at night. Sleep music, soundscapes, and sleep radio — nonstop, 8-hour mixes of sleep audio — are also options.
- Movement. You’ll find yoga classes, dance classes, guided audio for cardio sessions, and more in the “Move” section of the app.
- Focus activities. Choose from a variety of focus and breathing exercises, as well as soundscapes to help you focus.
The Headspace app is free to download for iOS, Android, or desktop. However, the Headspace free content on the app is very limited. To access and use the content, you must enter into a free trial that requires a subscription.
You can get a Headspace subscription for $12.99 per month with a free 7-day trial or 14-day free trial with a $69.99 annual subscription.
There are also student and educator plans, which are accessible only through the Headspace website. There is also a Headspace family plan for $99.99 a year that allows access for you and 5 others who do not need to be members of your family or household.
Customer reviews and brand reputation
Apple ratings. The Apple version of the Headspace app has a 4.8-star average in the Apple App Store, with 939,000 ratings. Users love the wide variety of tools, saying that the app makes it easy to commit to a steady practice.
One common complaint is that it’s difficult to cancel the premium subscription once you sign up for the free trial. Some users also say the app is expensive, but the pricing is also in line with the other apps in this category.
Google ratings. The Android version of the Headspace app has a 4.5-star average in the Google Play Store with 293,000 ratings. Reviewers generally like the meditations and story content. Common downsides mentioned are an overly complex app structure and difficulty downloading content for offline use.
How to get started
The Headspace app is free to download. All you have to do is head to the Apple App Store (for IOS devices) or the Google Play Store (for Android devices). Then download the app, sign up with your personal information, and you’re ready to go.
You can sign up for a free trial to experience everything the app has to offer. Be aware that this free trial involves committing to a Headspace subscription. You will need to provide payment details first, then select either a monthly or an annual subscription.
The free trial will automatically convert to the premium subscription after 7 to 14 days, depending on whether you sign up for a monthly or yearly subscription. You can cancel the subscription during your trial period, though some reviewers report difficulty doing this.
The app has a beautiful interface with calming, inspiring landscape imagery. You can customize your dashboard with a scene that speaks to you.
- Optional push reminders help you stay on track with your daily practice.
- It includes kid-friendly meditations for kids and teens ages 3–17.
- It has a large collection of music with a sleep timer option.
- Your profile includes basic stats and makes it easy to share these with friends.
- The daily check-in feature allows you to track your mood and gratitude.
- You can’t filter or sort meditations by theme or length.
- Higher monthly fee than Headspace (annual plan costs the same).
- Selecting the monthly plan is not intuitive. You can only get it through the app stores by selecting “Manage Subscriptions, then choosing the monthly option while you are in the free trial period.
- Some of the content may be too lengthy for users who want a quick daily practice.
- You must be 13 years or older to have your own Calm account and 18 or older to pay for a premium subscription.
Calm makes it easy to create a daily practice and makes it relevant to what you need on a given day. As you launch the app, you can choose from a few different options. For more details, see our Calm app review.
- Daily Calm. These 10-minute guided meditations are related to different aspects of mindfulness, like anxiety, stress, and sleep, and serve as a great way to develop a regular practice.
- Quick & Easy. This section offers a handful of short meditations, with options to calm anxiety or anger, heighten awareness, mentally prep for meetings, or deepen concentration.
- Mental Fitness. This section offers different series on mindfulness. One option is led by basketball champion LeBron James. Another, called How to Meditate, is a simple 30-day program for beginning your practice.
- Sleep Stories. These calming bedtime stories for adults feature some celeb narrators like Matthew McConaughey and Harry Styles. If you’d rather drift off to music, check out the Sleep Music feature.
- Music. The music section of the app offers a selection of instrumental and lo-fi music. There are also Sleep Remixes, which offer calmer, lower-tempo versions of popular songs.
Calm is free to download for iOS, Android, and desktop. It offers a selection of meditation courses, mood check-ins, and breathing exercises for free.
If you choose to sign up for a 7-day trial, you’ll automatically be enrolled in Calm Premium, which costs $69.99 a year or $14.99 a month. You can cancel up to 1 day before your trial ends to avoid being charged.
For students, there is a Calm student plan for $9.99 a year. Calm also offers a student membership in partnership with the Amazon Prime Student Account program. Students receive 3 months of Calm free, and a subscription thereafter for $8.99 a year.
For teachers, there are educator subscription discounts and free curated content for K-12 teachers to use in the classroom with their students.
There is also a Calm family plan offering 6 premium accounts for $99.99 per year. Individuals do not need to be members of the same family or household.
A lifetime single membership is available for $399.99.
Customer reviews and brand reputation
Apple ratings. The reviews for Calm are overwhelmingly positive. The Apple version of the app has a 4.8-star average in the Apple App Store with 1.67 million ratings. Users praise the ease of use and love how often new content is added directly to the app.
One thing users aren’t happy with is the lack of variety in the free version of the app. Users also say that while you can listen to the first meditation in a series for free, the rest of the content requires a premium subscription to unlock, which can be frustrating.
Google ratings. The Android version of the Calm app has an average of 4.5 stars with 528,000 ratings in the Google Play Store.
Reviewers appreciate the content and give many testimonials to the app’s positive effect on their lives. Downsides focus on the technical side, such as a buggy app and navigational problems. Calm announced in a recent update that it had fixed many of the app’s bugs.
How to get started
Calm is free to download. It’s available in the Apple App Store (for iOS devices) and the Google Play Store (for Android devices).
After downloading the app, you’ll be prompted to choose your primary reason for choosing Calm:
- managing stress or anxiety
- improving sleep
- learning to meditate
- investing in personal growth
Depending on which answer you choose, you’ll then be prompted to answer a series of short questions so the app can customize your experience. From there, you’ll be asked to create a free account that will give you access to your customized program.
After you agree, you’ll be taken to a page that prompts you to sign up for a free 7-day trial for the premium subscription, or you can exit and access limited free content that includes some meditations, mood check-ins, and calming sounds.
At any time, you can sign up for the premium subscription by clicking on one of the locked pieces of content and going through the sign-up process.
|Services offered||• guided meditations |
• sleep meditations
• relaxation music
• music to improve focus
• video lessons on stretching and mindfulness movement
• audio mindfulness classes
• nature scenes and sounds
|• guided meditations|
• sleep music
• sleep stories
• stress-relieving exercises
• focus meditations and music
• inspirational stories
|Pricing||• limited free features|
• $399.99/lifetime membership
|• limited free features|
|Considerations||a good option for experienced meditators and those who need less structure||better suited for beginners and those who need more structure in their practice|
|Free trial||7 days||7–14 days depending on whether you choose the monthly or yearly subscription|
Feeling calmer is a good thing, but the benefits of meditation go beyond state of mind.
In addition to developing greater awareness and focus, regular meditation practice can improve:
- sleep patterns
- migraine headaches
- chronic pelvic pain
- irritable bowel syndrome
A psychiatrist-led 2018 study found that an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course reduced bodily stress response and improved resilience to stress in people with generalized anxiety disorder.
A greater attention span is another benefit of meditation, and it’s one that develops quickly. In a
Additionally, many people turn to meditation to improve the quality of their sleep. By helping you physically relax, meditation can release tension, so it’s easier to both fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
Finally, mindfulness meditation may also help you with resilience. A
In contrast to the mostly favorable ratings of both Calm and Headspace in the app stores, both apps are rated “poor” on Trustpilot. Calm has an average of 1.8 stars out of 5 with 227 reviews, and Headspace has an average of 2.0 stars out of 518 ratings.
Almost all criticism from reviewers on Trustpilot stems from customer service difficulties. The most common complaints are being unable to cancel subscription renewals or get refunds for mistaken renewals.
What the research says
Scientific research does support the effectiveness of both apps, although there are limited studies comparing the two apps head-to-head.
The research division at Headspace often conducts internal research studies and also contributes to outside research. It cites studies showing the app benefits:
- mental health
- emotional health
- social health
A 2018 randomized controlled trial (led by a Headspace researcher) reports it reduced sadness and negative feelings by 28% and stress by 14% after 10 days of using Headspace. A
The study team noted that 2 of the 14 trials involved a Headspace employee, and 50% reported a conflict of interest involving the Headspace company providing free premium app access to participants.
The Calm app has been the focus of a few studies as well. A
Calm and Headspace are both designed to help you live better by stressing less, sleeping more, and improving your general outlook on life.
Both apps help you learn the ins and outs of meditation, offer guided practices based on different themes, and feature tools designed to improve your sleep quality.
If you’re having a hard time choosing between the two, think about what your goals are, as well as where you are in your meditation practice.
You may want to choose Headspace if you:
- are new to meditation
- want more structure to your meditation practice
- are short on time, or want access to quick meditations you can easily fit into your day
- like moving around when you meditate
Choose Calm if you:
- have some meditation experience under your belt
- want access to lengthy sleep stories and music
- like calm nature sounds
- want less structure in your meditation practice
Which is better, Headspace or Calm?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to whether Headspace or Calm is better. It depends on what you’re looking for.
Headspace may be a better choice for beginners and people looking for an app that offers plenty of quick meditations for folks who are short on time.
Although it costs more, Calm may be a better fit for those with some meditation experience or advanced meditators, as it has less structure.
Do meditation apps really work?
Yes, meditation apps really work, but you get what you put in. Meditation apps give you access to tools, like guided meditations and sleep stories, that can help you reach your wellness goals. However, you have to commit to regular practice to reap the benefits.
What are the benefits of meditation?
There are many science-backed benefits of meditation. The practice has been shown to:
- reduce stress
- help manage anxiety
- promote emotional wellness
Meditation can also have cognitive benefits, like increasing attention span and fighting off age-related memory loss. The practice has also been connected with better sleep. People report falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer after regularly practicing meditation.
Learning simple techniques to calm your body and mind has many benefits, and the right app makes it easy to build a daily meditation practice.
Calm and Headspace are two great apps with different paths to the same goal.