Thync review

Put down that coffee and wake up your brain with the electric jolt of Thync

Like a digital drug, Thync lets you control your mental state with an app.
Like a digital drug, Thync lets you control your mental state with an app.
Like a digital drug, Thync lets you control your mental state with an app.

Highs

  • Relax or energize with a touch of a button
  • App is easy to use
  • Safe enough to use often
  • Feel like you're living in the future

Lows

  • High ongoing costs
  • Not very comfortable
  • Benefits won’t be felt by everyone

DT Editors' Rating

Thync is not your average wearable. It’s not a wrist band, it doesn’t tell you how far you’ve walked, and you don’t have to wear it 24-hours a day. However, like Google Glass, you’ll get some odd looks if you use it in public, because it attaches to your forehead. Thync is a wearable device that in essence emulates the effects of certain drugs — some legal, some not — without any of the drawbacks, by altering your state of mind with complex algorithms and space-age neurosignaling technology.

If the future techno-drug fantasies seen in sci-fi movies such as Naked Lunch, A Clockwork Orange, Videodrome, and Limitless have taught us anything, it’s that experimenting with mind and conscious-altering substances with tech is not a good idea. Yet Thync speaks to my inner geek and appeals to my fascination with body and life-enhancing wearable technology. It was one of the most exciting things I saw at CES 2015, and now, a year later, I’ve been trying out the final version.

Can it really relax or energize our mind? Does it work on everyone? Has it turned me into a telepath, resulted in worrying hallucinatory conversations with my keyboard, or just helped me sleep better at night? Here’s what it’s like to use Thync for a few weeks.

Futuristic, but friendly design

Shaped like a triangle and about the same size as a matchbox, the Thync module is easily pocketable, light, and suitably futuristic-looking. Made of textured white plastic, it has a single glowing light bar on the front, a power button on the side, and two fasteners on the rear. It’s charged up with a Micro USB cable. On a full charge, I got five sessions, or just over an hour’s use from it.

The design is exactly right. It’s subtle (for something worn on your face, anyway) and friendly — exactly what’s needed to introduce the world to a brand-new experience. If it looked like the SQUID from Strange Days, everyone would run a mile. No one I showed it to expressed concern that it would fry their brain, and that’s because it doesn’t look like a Borg torture device.

It does get a little bit weird, though, but in a sci-fi medical device kind of way. Thync comes in two parts: the main module and a printed circuit strap that attaches to it. This provides the sticky patch for your forehead, and then leads to another one, which is placed on the back of your neck for relaxation, or behind your ear for energy. Sticking anything bigger than a fake beauty spot to your face is odd, and when that thing has a flat circuit leading off around your head, it ensures your Thync-enhanced look borders on the freakish. It’s most definitely not a wearable for the shy and retiring. Although you can wear it in public, you don’t have to, and besides, Thync is arguably best enjoyed in private.

Easy to use

Thync connects to your phone using Bluetooth and the accompanying app is available for iOS and Android. Because of its unique nature, the app has a comprehensive instructional video to guide new users through the first Vibes — its name for the relaxation or energy programs. The video shows exactly how to place the module, and does so not through pictures or silly cartoons, but with an actual person, which makes a big difference. The Thync team will also have a one-to-one video call chat with anyone confused about placement, but I never needed the extra assistance —  Nor did the other people I let try Thync. It’s a testament to the device’s ease of use and Thync’s clear instructions that anyone can pick up the device, watch the video, and use it correctly.

It’s a supremely tantalizing glimpse into the future of wearable, mind-manipulating technology.

The app is also very user-friendly. It will even activate the front camera to help with placement if you’re not near a mirror. The first Vibe programs all have narration, and talk you through how the Vibe works, and how it should feel. It’s supremely helpful, puts the wearer at ease, and guides them through this at-first odd process in exactly the right way. It could have been a hippy-dippy disaster, filled with advice about imagining ourselves running through forests or listening to babbling brooks; but it’s soothing, sensible, adult, and best of all, not continuous. The app lets you experience the Vibe yourself. Beyond the first Vibe, the narration disappears.

There are two distinct Vibe programs — Calm and Energy. Thync goes into detail about the science behind how it works on its website, but basically, its electric neurosignals help activate the body’s “fight or flight” response to give a temporary energy boost, or the “rest and digest” response to relax.

For me, it worked

Does it actually work? Yes, for me Thync really did alter the way I felt. Of course, my declaration that it works is based only on my use and the anecdotal experience from the few other people who tried my Thync module. There’s a chance it won’t work for others — Thync says 80-percent of people will feel the effects — but there’s also the possibility that it will work even better for some than it did for me.

The first Vibe I tried was a Calm one. I used it before I went to bed, not when I was particularly stressed out. It was pretty time-consuming, learning to place the module, fretting that it wasn’t quite right, and then going through the full 15-minute program with a booster at the end.

If you want to be a tech pioneer, pick up Thync.

You don’t feel any physical changes, or some sudden, drastic alteration in your mood; it’s quite organic. What you do feel is a tingling under the module, and for me, a slight itch either behind the ear or on the back of the neck. Bump up the power and the tingling gets more intense, but you’re supposed to regulate it, not try to inflict pain. You begin to learn where the Vibe sweet spot is, and it’ll continue working that way forever. Your body doesn’t adapt, remember, so there’s no tolerance to worry about.

According to my sleep sensor that night, my heartbeat was several beats-per-minute lower when I went to bed, and stayed that way overnight, and the time I spent in and out of deep sleep was more consistent. I felt pretty good in the morning. Is that proof I was more relaxed? Probably, but it’s hard to pinpoint whether this is because of the Thync, a period of relaxation before bed, or because I was aware of what the Thync is supposed to do. Maybe it doesn’t matter — the desired affect was achieved.

Later, after a very busy day and not quite enough sleep, I used an Energy Vibe. It was around 5 p.m., and I still had work to do, but little motivation to do it. I sat at my computer and used Thync. An hour later I’d finished my work, then I went out for a jog, came back and prepared dinner. Even before the Vibe had finished, I found my mind saying, “OK, let’s get on with this work.” It felt like a marked change. I was definitely more focused. I even fidgeted and wanted to get on with my tasks.

Thync
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It wasn’t always so effective, though. I used Thync’s Awake Energy Vibe (out in public, actually) to combat jet lag, and to help focus on work. Although I stayed awake, it didn’t have the same boost I’d experienced the first time, or the couple afterwards. It’s not a miracle device, then, and can’t combat exhaustion.

I saw an interesting reaction in a friend, too, that mirrored the Calm experience I described above. He was already relaxed, and I gave him the Thync to try a Calm Vibe. He got to the end and we talked about how it worked. He told me that he was even sleepier than before. The day after I caught up with him, and he said he was asleep in moments after going to bed, which was somewhat unusual. Thync seems to give the brain a nudge in the right direction when using the Calm Vibe, and may emphasize your current state very effectively.

Is it safe?

Thync is compelling and futuristic enough, to make me want to use it. However, is it safe? It’s zapping electric current though my head, which doesn’t sound like the best of ideas. The technique is called tDCS, or Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, and it has been around for a while. The device isn’t FDA approved, but Thync did submit it to the agency. They were told that provided the current didn’t go beyond the existing levels, it would be classed as a recreational device. The current is low, never going above 20 milliamperes, and it doesn’t go into your brain, only nerves. It’s lower than the devices used to stimulate muscles, which can be purchased in many stores.

Does it actually work? Yes, for me Thync really did alter the way I felt.

Personally, I didn’t suffer any side effects, and the only warnings that come with Thync relate to people who have been prone to fainting. I’m still here, I am the same person, and I haven’t had any hallucinatory experiences since testing Thync. Thankfully.

However, this is the first wearable of its kind. If experimenting with tech that actually connects to your body, and messes around with the way you feel is a concern, then this is probably not for you. It was odd, though, I talked to people about Thync, and no one said they wouldn’t try it out. I have a feeling I’d have gotten a very different reaction if I had offered them a pill and promised the same effects.

Ongoing costs

Aside from the experimental nature, are there any downsides? Yes, two. The first concerns comfort and ease of use. Placement is essential to making Thync work correctly, and regardless of the excellent instructions, it’s still pretty frustrating to stick the module in the right spot. Once it’s there, the sticky pad often felt like it was peeling away, even though my face was clean and free of lotion. There really needs to be a way to get the module in the right place, more easily, and more comfortably. I lived with it, but if the Thync is to be for the masses, this problem will need to be addressed.

However, the real downside here is the ongoing cost. Thync costs $200, which isn’t cheap on its own, but it requires those connected, flexible circuits to operate, and they’re only good for a single use. At least, that’s what Thync recommends. If you use them carefully, you may squeeze a second run out of one before it’s useless. For Thync to work at all, the link between module and skin needs to be good, and therefore the straps are a consumable.

A pack of five costs $20 — which is quite a lot for not very many straps, and although most people won’t use Thync everyday, a single pack still won’t last long. Potentially, using Thync regularly could result in a $40 to $60 bill each month. Again, that’s going to put a lot of regular people off. Either an alternative solution needs to be found, or the straps need to get a lot cheaper for us to recommend Thync wholeheartedly.

Don’t be put off

Does that mean we’re saying don’t buy a Thync? No, not at all. There’s something very cool about changing your mood using a piece of wearable tech that’s connected to your smartphone. Especially because it made a difference, at least, it did to me. However, at the moment, it’s a $300 tech toy that could end up costing quite a lot of money to use on a regular basis, and it may not even work for everyone. Those are some pretty major barriers for anyone other than early adopters with some disposable cash.

Thync is a supremely tantalizing glimpse into the future of wearable, mind-manipulating technology, and its downsides are there solely because everything it’s doing is new. If you want to be a tech pioneer, pick up Thync and enjoy it for what it is — a piece of damn exciting, deeply cool wearable technology that genuinely has the power to alter your state of mind for the better.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Music

Jam out in style with the 25 best playlists on Spotify

Music is the world's most potent drug, and the best playlists on Spotify will make you catch feelings. We've scoured the service for its top collections, and brought them together in one place -- for you.
Smart Home

Sleep Number’s 360 p5 is a smart bed, but can it solve your sleep problems?

Could a smarter bed be the key to a good night’s sleep? Sleep Number has built an entire line of smart beds, ranging from budget to flagship models, that monitor your sleep and offer a simple Sleep IQ score. Is it the secret to sleeping…
Wearables

Our favorite fitness trackers make it fun to keep moving

Looking for your first fitness tracker, or an upgrade to the one you're already wearing? There are plenty of the wrist-worn gadgets available. Here are our picks for the best fitness trackers available right now.
Product Review

Garmin's Fenix 5X Plus is built for fitness freaks who fawn over every feature

With onboard music, full-color topographic maps, and new sport metrics, the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus sets a high bar for GPS smartwatches. Find out how it can help boost your performance in our Fenix 5X Plus review.
Product Review

Withings Steel HR Sport is a fitness tracker you’ll love wearing

Withings jumps back in the wearables game with the new Steel HR Sport, a hybrid smartwatch that is as much a fitness tracker as it is a timepiece. It's so good that it hasn't left our wrist since we pulled it out of the package.
Product Review

The all-new Palm wants to be many things, but it’s really just a tiny smartphone

The all-new Palm is here, and it’s tinier than ever. Exclusive to Verizon, it syncs to your primary smartphone and acts as a secondary device -- with features to help you disconnect from technology. But at $350, is it worth the high price…
Outdoors

Garmin’s new Instinct GPS watch is built for the sportsman in all of us

The new Garmin Instinct is a GPS multisport watch for people who love to be outdoors. The $300 Instinct takes the best features of the company's popular Fenix watches and packages them into rugged, military-grade package.
Wearables

These are the best smartwatches for everything from fashion to fitness

Tempted to buy a smartwatch? If so, then the growing number of great models available means you've got plenty to choose from. But which one should you pick? Here is our list of the best smartwatches.
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.
Mobile

Montblanc’s $995 Summit 2 watch stays on your wrist for longer between charges

Montblanc has taken the wraps off of the new Montblanc Summit 2 -- the first watch to feature the new Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor. The watch features a premium design and Google's Wear OS.
Product Review

The Huawei Watch GT’s battery life gets a tick, but the software may not tock

Huawei’s track record with smartwatches is strong, having releases two models and several spin-offs to general acclaim. This is the Watch GT, and it moves away from Google’s Wear OS to focus on fitness, yet stays ahead of the…
Mobile

Inferiority is a feature now! Palm's new plan is psychotic

The Palm is a smartphone to reduce your smartphone usage, or a small smartphone for when you don't want to carry your big smartphone. Palm itself doesn't seem sure which it is, but either way, it's a product that's so witless, we're amazed…
Mobile

With Spotify for WearOS, you no longer need your phone to stream music

A Spotify app will soon be available for download on Wear OS smartwatches. Whether you're working out or lounging at home, you'll soon be able to access and control your music straight from your wrist.