Nov. 24, 2010 at 10:46 AM ET
I admit, I was intrigued by the XWave.
The Star Wars fan in me liked the idea of a device that could link my brainwaves to a smart phone (or similar device), with apps that could analyze them and help develop focus and meditation skills. Sounded like I could pick up some Jedi mind tricks.
But it turns out, I was the one tricked by a gimmick.
The XWave is a headset that has an extra, patented forehead "NeuroSky eSense Dry Sensor" that's supposed to read brainwaves, with a "grounding earclip" that after awhile cuts off the circulation in your left earlobe. It plugs into an iPhone, iPod Touch or an iPad, designed to operate with free apps that are supposed to enhance focus and concentration. Since the only iDevice I have is an iPod, (I'm an Android girl), I had to borrow an iPhone from a neighbor. (Thanks, Brad!)
While it was designed to pick up on my brainwaves so it could analyze my abilities to focus and help me practice relaxing and meditating, it could never pick up a consistent signal, no matter how much I fiddled with the fit. If it really could read my brainwaves it would have registered as: annoyed and irritated.
Like I said, the biggest problem is the device itself, which is the most awkward headset you're ever going to voluntarily put on your head. I've worn a lot of headsets over the years, and this one is among the worst in terms of fit and design. Any movement shifts the sensor, which seems to result in shifts from poor to good to "Off the Head." But even sitting perfectly still, with the sensor in contact with the forehead, the signals inexplicably cycle through. And none of the apps will work without a good signal, which I couldn't get for more a few seconds.
I installed the suggested apps: Xwave and XWave Tunes.
Xwave has 3 basic functions: Visualizer, Focus and Nirvana.
Visualizer promises to show graphical imaging of what's going on inside your brain, but since I couldn't get a lock on that signal, all it amounted to were pretty screen saver-like circular rings and bar graphs. These are supposed to indicate the various brainwave frequencies and amptitudes being detected by XWave: Delta (0.5 - 2.75 Hz), Theta (3.5 - 6.75 Hz), Low Alpha (7.5 - 9.5 Hz), High Alpha (10 - 11.75 Hz), Low Beta (13 - 16.75 Hz) and High Beta (18 - 29.75 Hz).
The information section explains what it means:
Xwave uses these frequencies with sophisticated mathematical functions to detect 2 primary functions: attention level (0-100%) and Meditation level (0-100%). Two gauges on the bottom right indicate these. With practice, you should be able to move the needles up and down. You'll find one of them to be more natural in the beginning.
Let me reiterate: there's nothing natural about this thing.
The Focus exercise is what I was really looking forward to trying. It is supposed to use attention level to float a ball with your mind. (The ball on the screen of your iPhone.) The more intently you focus or pay attention, the higher the ball allegedly will rise. (Mine rose and stayed elevated, even when I dozed off for a few seconds. But then my signal kept going to poor and it would stop the 3-minute session. I never got to the end of a session.) While there is a share feature for the sessions to upload to your online account, Facebook and Twitter, there is nothing to share if you don't finish.
Finally, the Nirvana function is supposed to use the meditation level as "a great training tool to teach you to relax and meditate. The more intently you meditate, the more blue and calm the background will become." Again, based on capturing 180 seconds of a sample to score the user, but mine never took beyond a half minute. My ability to relax was severely compromised by this exercise. I never saw the blue, only the red!
So I tried the XWave Tunes, hoping the music would soothe me.
But it started off on a bad note right away: having to do a new sign-in! While I could have skipped the sign-in for Xwave, I didn't and set up an account, on the assumption it would work for all the XWave apps. Wrong. No option to skip the log-in for XWave Tunes, so I had to do it all over again.
I was still having signal problems, so I took it off and cleaned the sensor and the earclip. I had moments of hope, when the song would play, but again, the session would end before a minute because of the signal issues.
XWave Tunes had no problem adding songs from the music library, but the synchronizing brainwaves to them doesn't pan out at all. So searching for other members nearby with the same song, artists or genre in their album isn't very feasible. Red dots next to the songs indicate "that you or your search result has not synced their brainwaves to the song." Mine stayed red until "Bittersweet Symphony" locked on for almost over a minute! Then I got a green dot, that is supposed to indicate compatibility with other users and their brainwaves.
Let me just say this, from my brain to yours: don't spend the almost $100 it costs to buy this device. If you see it on sale or in a garage sale for a buck or two, then pick it up. There are no Jedi mind tricks to learn here.
If I depended on this device to find a soulmate, I'd be single forever.