While most of the technology in the wearable space is capturing and providing data to users, Apollo’s approach was proactive; its goal was to actively alter the mood and physiology of the body.
This device instantly caught my attention, and I have been itching for a chance to take the device for a spin. I wanted to see for myself if vibration patterns could really influence HRV (heart rate variability), mood, and improve sleep.
Apollo has been such a popular product since its launch that it took quite a while for me to get my hands on a unit to test. While I waited for Apollo to restock their product, I experimented with a similar device called Doppel (you can read my review here).
When Apollo finally had restocked and a review unit made available, I was excited to see if Apollo could replace Doppel, proving to be the better wearable for me?
DISCLAIMER: Apollo Neuroscience did send me a review unit for the purposes of this review and asked that I return the unit once my evaluation is done.
Apollo, aptly named after the Greek god of healing and medicine is another entry into what I consider the ‘proactive wearable’ space. With data capturing wearables like Biostrap, users only get snapshots at what is currently going on with their body. Devices like Apollo are a natural evolution in the wearable space by going from data capture to data influence.
Apollo is a rather simple device that can be worn on the inside of the wrist or ankle, and uses vibrations to influence a user’s mood, stress response, and sympathetic nervous system.
Apollo calls the application of these vibrations “touch therapy”. The device delivers waves of vibrations in differing intensities and durations, based on the end goal of the user. Apollo claims that consistent use of their product can eventually retrain an individual’s nervous system to manage stress levels more effectively. In doing so, the net result is better sleep (increased deep sleep, reduced latency) and improved focus and mood.
Apollo did not initially start its life as a wearable but was rather born out of university-lead studies to find ways to reduce stress and anxiety in patients with PTSD, ADHD and improve sleep.
While the competing product Doppel has a handful of studies to back its effectiveness, Apollo’s research origins provide a detailed scientific backing, with at least six product-specific studies. Apollo makes the claim that their product is the first to be proven to increase heart rate variability (HRV) under stress.
HRV has long been understood to be a reliable biomarker to indicate in how the human body responds to stress, so the researchers behind Apollo conducted a study at the University of Pittsburg’s Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory (PICAN):
“Study participants were asked to perform the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT), a well-validated assessment of cognitive function that evaluates information processing speed and flexibility in response to extreme frustration...”
What I found interesting about this study is that the researchers didn’t just apply the principles behind Apollo broadly and judge the results, the study included a placebo control to verify that the vibration patterns administered to the test subjects were actually having an effect on HRV:
“Each participant completed the PASAT under two placebo vibration conditions, two Apollo vibration conditions, and one no vibration condition. In all cases, the participants did not know what the vibrations were supposed to do and the researchers were blinded as to which condition (active, placebo or null) the participant had received.”
And the results? What did the researchers find after running the subjects through these trials? The results of the HRV values were considerable:
“With Apollo vibration patterns, participants reported feeling calmer, their performance (accuracy) on the task improved, and their Heart Rate Variability (HRV) went up by 2-3X their average within 3 minutes under stress.”
In addition to the dramatic increases in HRV values they observed, the researchers from Apollo also discovered that as HRV values rose, study participants became more efficient at the tasks they were assigned, leading the researchers to conclude that by improving HRV, cognitive function can also be increased:
“This suggests that by supporting mental and physical recovery from stress, Apollo can improve performance and focus, consistent with inducing what is often referred to as a “flow” or peak state.”
I found that result to be quite encouraging, but the HRV studies didn’t stop there. Apollo went on to test their product on elite NCAA athletes from the University of Minnesota:
“40 healthy elite college athletes at the University of Minnesota used Apollo for physical recovery and performance in pre- and post-exercise challenges. Each athlete’s biometrics (ie. heart rate, HRV, blood pressure, blood glucose) and performance pre- and post-challenge were measured, with and without Apollo.”
Again, as seen in the controlled study from the University of Pittsburg, positive changes in the HRV of those using the Apollo device were documented:
“Apollo improved HRV in 40 out of 40 athletes. Those athletes who had the lowest HRV at baseline showed the greatest net gain in HRV and experienced the most noticeable improvement in how they subjectively felt after using Apollo.”
Researchers also observed several other key benefits of Apollo in this study, finding that the athletes recovered more quickly from exercise, showed improved insulin sensitivity, and enhanced consistency of peak performance during workouts:
…On average, within 5 minutes of completing an intense physical exercise, the athlete’s HR and SBP lowered 10-15 points faster than their baseline recovery time when using Apollo following intense exercise...
…Decreased the amount of glucose measured in the blood following a carbohydrate challenge, when compared to baseline…
…Athletes were able to perform more squats in a shorter amount of time consistently when using Apollo, compared to their baseline without Apollo…
Without going into the details covering all six of the listed studies touted by Apollo, I wanted to cover one more interesting finding from the researchers at Apollo, the effect the product has on PTSD. Currently, studies by Apollo are ongoing regarding its effect on persons diagnosed with PTSD, but preliminary results reported by researchers are encouraging:
“In over 70 real-world case studies with Apollo users who report a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) using Apollo, all have reported substantially reduced feelings of hypervigilance (anxiety/restlessness) and improved attention, mood, and calm within 2-3 minutes of use. These effects were reported to last 30-120 minutes after 5-10 minutes of use. All subjects also reported improved sleep and fewer nightmares and sleep disturbances.”
Furthermore, Apollo seems to help those diagnosed with PTSD reduce their dependency on opiate and other narcotic medications, and reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption:
“Apollo users who report a PTSD diagnosis have reported that they voluntarily take fewer opioid narcotics, benzodiazepines, and sleeping aids while using Apollo. Users also report that they drink less alcohol and caffeinated beverages like coffee while using Apollo. Over 100 Apollo beta testers with self-reported chronic pain and trouble sleeping have reported similar results.”
Apollo’s research is ongoing and extensive, which is what initially attracted me to the product. After getting a sneak peak at CES 2020, I was excited to get my hands on a unit and put it through its paces. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the only one as Apollo’s website reported they were out of stock for quite a few months earlier this past summer!
The Apollo unit is retailing for $349 USD on the Apollo Neuroscience website as of this review. Currently the website indicates that the device is in stock and shipping, something that up until recently hasn’t been the case.
The demand for the Apollo device has been so overwhelming that the product was on backorder for several months. Apollo can be purchased for a one-time payment, or an optional three, six, or twelve-month installment payment plan through Affirm can be selected.
Apollo isn’t providing free shipping at this time and offers USPS Priority and USPS Priority express shipping options for customers within the United States. Shipping for me using standard USPS Priority would cost about $11, making the total cost about $360 USD.
There are two colorways available for Apollo, silver or black (called ‘stealth’ by Apollo). When I was given the opportunity to test drive the device, I personally opted for the black version. Now that I think about it, it seems I usually tend to gravitate to black wearables!
Apollo doesn’t require any subscription fees or have any hidden in-app purchases. The initial investment is all that’s required to use Apollo. Users aren’t required to ‘lease’ the hardware or pay any monthly fees to the company (a trend that we saw with Everseleep).
Apollo also provides a one-year warranty on the device itself and offers a comprehensive help section on their website for users.
My Apollo unit arrived in a non-descript brown box with some brown craft paper to provide padding:
The product box I found inside was rectangular and attractive. There wasn’t any excessive packaging or complicated bits preventing me from getting to the device.
Inside the box I was presented with the unit itself, an additional elastic band, charge cable, quickstart guide and warranty information. I really liked the clean, minimalist design of Apollo’s branding; it seemed to hint at the reduction of stress it was intending to provide.
The Apollo is designed to be worn on either the wrist or ankle, and the included quickstart guide even suggests wearing the device on the inside of the wrist or ankle.
The included second strap could be used for ankle wear, but I found the device fit around my ankle just fine with the strap already secured to the unit:
The actual device itself is about the size of a smartwatch from Apple if a bit more elongated into a rectangle. The hardware is slightly curved to sit better against the inner wrist or ankle, something I found to be a nice detail.
The device isn’t overly heavy but feels solid in its construction. An elastic strap is used to secure the device, and threads underneath a metal housing on the topside of the device. This makes removing the strap and replacing it very easy if needed.
Apollo has opted to make use of a micro USB charging port that is located on the underside of the device. Before using the device, I made sure to plug it in and give it a full charge which took about 90 minutes or so.
Generally, I’ve found that the Apollo device has excellent battery life, giving me two or three days between charges even when using the unit for 120 minutes each night at bedtime. Charging the unit up from a drained state takes about two hours.
Apollo is a very simple and straightforward device to use, and after charging the device I headed over to the Apple app store to download the free iOS app.
Instead of creating an account with a username/email combination, Apollo prompts users to enter their email address and wait to receive a one-time authentication code. This code is then entered into the app before the unit will pair and you can set optional data points such as age, gender, weight ect.
While I appreciated the intent behind this method of user setup, I found that the authentication emails didn’t always arrive in a timely manner. Sometimes the email would appear in my spam/junk folder after 15-20 minutes, and one other time email did arrive quickly.
I suspect this is due to how busy the Apollo computer servers are. Having to copy/paste a confirmation code into the app by switching back and forth between my email and the Apollo app wasn’t the smoothest. The idea behind this setup process is to not have users need to remember a username/password and enhance security.
Once I successfully entered my authentication code and provided some baseline information about myself, I was able to pair the Apollo via Bluetooth LE.
The unit does have an airplane mode to disable wireless signals, something that may be of a concern to some.
Once the unit was paired to my iPhone, I only encountered one instance of a dropped/lost connection in my time with Apollo. This is in stark contrast to my struggles using Doppel, which seemed to intermittently need to be re-paired on a frustratingly regular basis.
Apollo can be controlled through the app, but the unit can also be controlled directly via hardware. The physical controls only offer limited control but compared to the somewhat unreliable touch-sensitive controls on Doppel, I appreciated physical controls that were reliable.
Using the app users can select one of several modes designed for a variety of situations and desired outcomes:
Tapping on a mode brings up the settings, that include duration and intensity. Each mode also provides a concise description of what it is intended for. The ‘Relax and Unwind’ mode for example says, “Rapidly relieves stress for deep relaxation”.
Modes have duration settings in 15, 30, and 60-minute intervals, with a 120-minute session timer available for the Sleep and Renew mode.
Apollo suggests that users start low and slow, with intensities set around 20-40%, and Sleep and Renew mode in the 40-80% intensity range. The idea isn’t that more intensity is better; rather the device shouldn’t be a distraction. Apollo advises that higher intensities will not yield better results.
While the modes are playing there isn’t any discernable sound. I tested the unit out in quiet office environments and around my house. If you wear an Apollo, no one will be able to hear anything or know its running.
I found the mobile app to be free of any bugs and smooth to operate. I appreciated the minimalist design and ease of use it provided. Only the functions needed to operate the device were presented, and nothing was buried under confusing menus.
In addition to modes, the app also has a section to display ‘badges’ that indicate total minutes used and the number of days you’ve consecutively used Apollo called ‘streaks’. These seem to be setup predetermined intervals and only update once a user has achieved the next one.
As I mentioned above, Apollo also has physical controls for times when you can’t access the mobile app.
Apollos’s two physical buttons can be pressed simultaneously to restart the last mode and duration accessed through the app, and the two buttons themselves can be used to increase or decrease the unit’s intensity. These basic controls offer limited functionality but work well (in contrast to the intermittent functionality of Doppel’s ambitious touch interface).
Wearing Apollo for long periods of time was never an issue for me. I found the included elastic and Velcro strap comfortable. Many times I even forgot I had the unit on, which is a testament to how the curved design of the hardware and soft elastic blend and fade away into one’s awareness.
I’m pleased to say that during my time with Apollo I never really ran into any issues in terms of functionality. The device does it was intended to do, and it does it well. The Bluetooth connection only seemed to get lost once in over a month of continual use. The device simply just worked each time I opened the app or pressed the buttons.
That said, there are a few tiny details I hope might make their way into a second version of the Apollo device. First, the exposed micro USB charge port on the underside of the device clearly means the unit isn’t water-resistant.
If you’re groggy and forget to take the device off in the morning, you may just ruin it by prematurely jumping in the shower. I found myself being very careful washing my hands, not wanting any water to accidentally find its way up my wrist.
Apollo suggests users wear the device on their ankle. As I used Apollo more and more, I soon figured out why this might be an appealing option. Wearing the Apollo on the inside of the wrist makes tasks like typing a bit harder.
Wearing the unit on the ankle totally solves this problem but introduces another somewhat amusing issue: it looked like a GPS house arrest monitor to some.
The first time I wore my Apollo on my ankle, I had no less than three people ask me what was on my ankle, and one joked that it looked like I was under house arrest. This honestly isn’t something that should prevent anyone from purchasing it, but it is something to keep in mind!
Lastly, one minor issue I encountered was using Apollo at night with the ‘Sleep and Renew’ mode. I’m a side sleeper, so wearing the Apollo on the ankle wasn’t a comfortable option.
If I put the Apollo on my wrist, I found that the vibrations dissipated into any bedding material it touched (mattress, blankets, pillow). And while the Apollo unit is extremely quiet in everyday operation, I could hear the unit vibrating if it was in contact with any bedding material.
Many may want to know if Apollo really works. I have been using the device for over a month, what I can say is a tentative yes for ME.
I wore the Apollo daily, and used it each morning with the “Energy and Wake Up” and each night with the “Sleep and Renew” set at 120 minutes. During my days I alternated between the other modes depending on the situations I found myself in, and winding down my evenings with the “Rebuild and Recover’ before switching over to the “Relax and Unwind” mode before bed.
I didn’t want to constantly be using the Apollo, so I generally kept the sessions on the 15 and 30 minute presets, giving myself time in between to adjust.
During my use of Apollo, I wore both a Biostrap and Oura ring to track any changes in HRV or sleeping metrics. Looking at my data exported out of the Oura, I do see a 13-minute average increase in my deep sleep over the previous month without Apollo.
When it comes to my sleep latency (how fast I fall asleep) I reduced my time to sleep by 1.6 minutes over the previous month. My HRV averages for month with Apollo increased from 64.77 to 66.14. In all three of the metrics that Apollo themselves claim to improve, I did see small improvements.
My Biostrap data is a bit less clear on whether or not Apollo had a positive impact. Biostrap’s web dashboard doesn’t have a latency metric to export, so I wasn’t able to compare that data. Looking at what the device captured over my month of consistent Apollo use, Biostrap shows my HRV increasing from 74.75 to 75.88. When it came to deep sleep, however, Biostrap reported my deep sleep went from 3.35 hours down to 3.28 hours.
One thing to keep in mind is that Biostrap doesn’t separate out REM in their sleep metrics. Biostrap only tracks “awake”, “light” and “deep” sleep. Oura further separates out REM in their metrics, giving different numbers that make direct comparisons a bit tougher. I may have actually increased my deep sleep, but because of the way Biostrap’s data is reported it’s not making itself as clear compared to Oura.
Did I feel Apollo from a subjective standpoint?
The answer to that is very similar to that of what I experienced with Doppel. Using the modes for relaxation or concentration didn’t give me any immediate and noticeable effect. There wasn’t a time when I went “wow, I really feel something here!”. With both Apollo and Doppel’s morning wake up modes, I was able to discern a direct and immediate effect. I think having something vibrating rapidly on your body first thing in the morning is going to likely have that effect.
The numbers clearly show improvement, so I wonder with enough time and experimentation if I could dial in Apollo’s modes to yield even greater results. Subjectively I do feel like the device has potential and Apollo is onto something with their research.
Apollo just works and took zero effort to integrate into my busy life. Even with modest gains Oura and Biostrap reported, I feel it would be worthy of further experimentation. There aren’t any complicated rituals or cumbersome software with Apollo, and modes can be replayed without having access to your phone.
Even with the fact I didn’t see drastic increases in my biometric data, I’ll be a bit sad having to send my test unit back to Apollo.
I don’t have a diagnosis of PTSD or ADHD, but for those who do the research being done by Apollo is quite compelling. Apollo might be a product that has an inverse efficacy scale: the more you need it, the more effective it becomes.
My sleep and HRV values have never been a struggle or issue, nor has my sleep latency. Optimizing these metrics has always proven to be a challenge for me, as any gains are hard-fought and marginal at best. That said, the data I collected did show that even for me Apollo did provide improvements, however small. To me, this indicates that if someone had a larger margin for improvement, they may see more profound gains with Apollo.
The price for Apollo might be off-putting for some, but the option to split the price into installment payments may be an attractive option. Compared to the $219 USD price tag of the Doppel, I feel that the reliability and functionality of the Apollo make it a more solid choice. Doppel is a cheaper option, but with that lower price comes unique quirks and connectivity issues. Doppel also doesn’t appear to be as heavily invested into ongoing research as Apollo, which is also something to keep in mind. Doppel doesn’t seem to be very active as a company, whereas Apollo seems to be growing.
The Apollo is a novel wearable in a world of data-centric reporting tools. It doesn’t give you numbers but actually seeks to actively influence your body.
The hardware is solid and the app intuitive and attractive to use. Outside of a few extremely small nitpicks, I found the device to be effortless to use. It sat comfortably on my wrist or ankle, and only required a charge about every other day or so with regular use. I do wish a version 2 device would use wireless charging so that it could be made water-resistant.
The price is a bit steep, but you are buying a quality product made in the USA that has all the essential features biohackers and health-centric users look for.
I thoroughly enjoyed using Apollo and compared to so many wearable tech devices found it to be rock solid in construction, design, and functionality. It’s rare to find a company that produces a tech device that just does what it’s supposed to reliably. Apollo delivers here, and their commitment to ongoing research on their technology makes me excited to see where the future leads for them.
This blog post was written by David Baker. David has years of biohacking experience with an emphasis on testing gadgets. He's also got 15 years of amateur bodybuilding involvement.
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