The Apollo is a rather unique wearable, focused on improving mental health and wellbeing through touch therapy. Its silent, haptic vibrations are designed to improve cognitive performance, reduce stress and boost heart rate variability. We put it to the test to see what impact this novel device would have after a month of regular use.
What Is Apollo Neuro?
There are a myriad number of wearables that claim different health benefits, many unfounded. Apollo is unique in that it is backed by science.
We first wrote about Apollo Neuro earlier this year and were intrigued by the promise of a wearable that was focused on improving a user’s mental health through active intervention, rather than just capturing biometrics. Apollo Neuroscience (Apollo Neuro), makers of the Apollo wearable, are a company founded by CEO Kathryn Fantauzzi and her husband, Dr. David Rabin, MD, PhD (Neuroscientist & board-certified Psychiatrist). Inspired by David’s years spent studying chronic stress and resilience, the duo built the company on the belief that the human body is capable of healing itself and that people have the ability to take control of their health and wellbeing through self-regulation of their nervous system.
In developing the technology behind the Apollo, these beliefs were put to the test via a series of lab studies and clinical trials. The research looked into several facets of mental and physical health, including sleep, recovery, stress, clarity and heart rate variability (HRV). Results of the completed trials (as of writing there are nine ongoing clinical trials) indicated that use of the Apollo over a three-month period increased sleep quality and duration, improved HRV, increased cognitive performance and reduced stress. It is important to underscore this point, as there are a myriad number of wearables that claim different health benefits, many unfounded. Apollo is unique in that it was not only founded with Hippocratic principles in mind but it is also backed by science.
How Does It Work?
The patented haptic vibrations emitted by the device are designed to mimic the sensation of gentle touches. These sensations activate the areas of our brain involved in pleasure, releasing neurochemicals that elicit feelings of relaxation and wellbeing. This ‘touch therapy’ mechanism has the potential to help to change how we feel and is a highly useful function. In fact, it’s designed specifically to be engaged during stressful and demanding situations, when we aren’t at our best, caught up in the moment or otherwise at the effect of our immediate environment. Use of the device during these less-than-optimal times is directly linked to what’s known as heart rate variability (HRV), the second piece of the tech behind the Apollo wearable.
HRV is a measure of the variance between heartbeats, which is in turn controlled by your autonomic nervous system (ANS). As your HRV increases, it indicates that your ANS is more balanced and able to adapt to the ups and downs of everyday life. The opposite, a low HRV, means that your body is not coping well to stress and instead spending too much time in the ‘fight-or-flight’ mode – the bodies adaptation to stress activated by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Ultimately, you want to increase your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity, also known as the ‘rest and digest’ response, where the body delivers important nutrients like glucose and oxygen to the places it is needed, improving recovery, sleep and the immune system.
A high HRV is emblematic of a balanced nervous system and indicates the ability to both adapt to and bounce back from stress. The regular, gentle vibrations of the Apollo have been shown to encourage PNS activity (and thus HRV) with repeated use, leading to improved stress resilience. Arguably, the most important outcome of high HRV is an improvement in overall health due to better adaptations to stress, as many chronic diseases and health conditions have been linked to inadequate stress management, including heart disease, stroke and poor mental health outcomes.
Coming in at a svelte 40 grams (1.4 ounces), there were times that I completely forgot I was wearing it at all.
From a design perspective, the Apollo is reminiscent of early, screenless Garmin or Fitbit devices and it would be easy to mistake it as a fitness or activity tracker, albeit a larger take on modern versions of these type of wearables. The front of the device is screenless, with a raised metal sheath adorning its face and securing the band, which itself sits between the metal and the device. Styled in an ‘X’ design with side cut-outs, this form also allows for easy manipulation of the band when swapping it out for a different size or colour. The left side of the device is blank, while the right features two buttons used for power, app-connection and controlling the Apollo’s modes, along with a LED status indicator. Flipping to the underside you’ll find a micro-USB port for charging, some legal text and with the device’s serial number.
In terms of variety, the Apollo wearable comes in six different colourways, grouped into light and dark variants. Light models have either a white or grey housing, strap loop, band and buttons, whilst dark models are all-black (save for the front plate) with aqua accented buttons. For our review, we received the Twilight model, distinguished by its rose-gold front plate. Additional bands in small, medium and large sizes can be purchased, available in either black, white or gray, allowing for even more colour variations. The bands attach via long Velcro-like strips and allow for considerable stretch due to being made from elasticised neoprene. Though comfortable, the strips do pick up fluff and do not appear to be very durable, as our model has already begun to show slight signs of slight fraying after one month of use. If you position the device on the inside of your wrist as intended, the strap (and wearable itself) will naturally come into contact with any surface you rest your hands on, such as a desk or table, which could lead to more surface friction and further degradation. It would be great to see some additional bands which are made from more durable materials, such as silicone or woven nylon, or that secure in different ways. A watch-style clasp, loops or magnetic overlay would help make the device feel more premium and justify the price tag.
The housing of the wearable itself is made from plastic, along with the two raised buttons on the side. The design is unique, if not large, and this is somewhat perplexing, considering it does not contain a heart rate monitor or array of health sensors. For perspective, it is approximately 1cm deep (.4inch), 5cm tall and 3.5cm wide, or .4″ x 2″ x 1.4″ respectively. Fortunately, the device is contoured, which does improve the comfort level of wearing it, but those with smaller wrists will still notice the overall larger size. What they won’t notice however is the weight of the Apollo. Coming in at a svelte 40 grams (1.4 ounces), there were times that I completely forgot I was wearing it at all, which I can’t say is true for my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus, a device that is nearly double the weight at 77 grams (2.7 ounces). Future Apollo revisions should focus on reducing the size of the device, which would increase its appeal, especially among those with smaller wrists (or ankles) or who are seeking a wearable that is more discrete, to go alongside the other one they will be using to track the Apollo’s benefits with.
What’s In The Box?
The minimalistic design of the Apollo carries through to the unboxing experience, although there were a few extras to speak of. The device comes with a medium size band attached and ships with a second, larger size strap in the box, allowing the device to be worn on ankles or larger wrists. Also included was the obligatory paperwork (a quick start guide and legal documentation), as well as a handy FAQ and primer on the various modes available (and when to use them). Much of the guidance is provided in the app, but it was nice to have straight forward documentation to quickly read over whilst waiting for the device to charge. Last but not least, a micro-USB charging cable was also included.
Set Up Experience
Configuring the device was incredibly easy. The Apollo connects via Bluetooth to an app of the same name, which is how you will send the different modes to your device and control them (though the side buttons do allow for some basic controls when a mode is in use). An Apollo account is required to use the app, but once you are signed up and connected, that’s it. No additional subscriptions, no additional set up, nothing else to worry about. During our time with the Apollo, we were prompted to update the firm wear via the app twice – once during initial setup and again mid-way through our testing period. The app also received an update which brought several improvements (including dark mode!) and fixed a bug where certain modes could not be cancelled after the timer elapsed. Both updates were quick to apply, leading to virtually zero downtime, and it’s good to see the device supported through regular fixes and quality of life improvements.
Using Apollo for 30 Days
In order to test out the efficacy of the Apollo, we measured the results of daily usage over a period of one month and cross-checked various health markers with a Garmin Fenix device. Throughout the trial, sleep, exercise and nutrition were also kept as consistent as possible, in order to reduce any confounding factors. Of course, bear in mind that this was a single case study, of relatively short duration and results may vary for each individual.
The Apollo was worn on the wrist, each day, with usage and intensity slowly and steadily increasing over the 30-day period. Initial utilisation was around 2-3 hours per day, finishing the month at 5-6 hours (the company recommends 3 hours daily use). Each of the seven modes were regularly cycled through, though on average 3-4 were used each day. Notably, the modes designed for morning and evening (Energy and Wakeup, Relax and Unwind and Sleep and Renew) saw most use on an ad-hoc basis (none were scheduled). Guided by the recommended intensity settings as suggested by the app, I slowly increased both the duration and intensity, ending on around 60% strength and 60 minutes for most modes by day 30. My experience was more centered around starting and ending the day in a stress free, relaxed manner, thus early morning and late night were more a priority for me than midday meditation or afternoon pick-me-ups. I also used the device immediately after cardio and daily strength training sessions, specifically the Rebuild and Recover mode, in order to test out the recovery benefits of the device.
Interestingly, my Garmin-supplied stress score did drop from 31 to a low of 23 during the trial and a slight reduction in my resting heart rate was also recorded (from 56 to a low of 52 beats p/min), though my sleep quality (REM, deep and light) did not change. That said, I only used the device once as I was going to sleep, and found the haptics actually prohibited me from falling asleep within the usual 5-10 minute window. This could be related to the fact that I rely on my Garmin’s alarm each morning, which notebly features vibrations, perhaps triggering my brain to stay in a state of arousal due to the Apollo’s haptics mimmicing the sensation of the alarm?
Anecdotally, I did feel a greater sense of calm during times in which I would use the device, including meetings, creative work and winding down each evening. It’s unclear if this state (and decrease in stress levels) were the direct result of the touch therapy as delivered by the haptic vibrations, whether the device acted as a placebo of sorts or if I was just focusing on my mental state more than normal. Either way, there was a marked improvement over the course of the month, and I did feel more peaceful and focused during my time with the device. It could be reasoned that a byproduct of its usage was to act as a mental health touchstone, a pacifier that helps the wearer slip into a state of being present, in a similar manner to mindfulness meditation.
Regarding recovery, I could not detect any significant improvement in physical activity as a result of using the device, other than the normal, progressive overload that occurs over the course of my training cycles. A follow up study with additional biometrics such as dedicated heart rate variability, cognitive testing or controlling for physical performance would be beneficial. Overall, there was a measured drop in stress during my time using Apollo, and it would be interesting to test whether that would continue over a long time period and if additional benefits would present with additional usage and precision health and cognitive tracking.
The Apollo is a unique device that shows a lot of potential. There are many clear areas for improvement, such as battery life (we achieved only six hours off a single charge), switching to USB-C, more durable (and variety of) bands and a slimmed down design. A few tweaks such as metal-capped buttons would greatly improve the build quality, though it’s unclear what impact this would have on the haptics, which are a standout feature. Whilst the Apollo specialises as a touch-therapy device, it would be fantastic to have at least one sensor that measures its efficacy included in the device, such as a heart rate monitor, stress or sleep tracking module onboard. This way, even more people could experience the Apollo, especially if you do not already own a health or fitness wearable and one would not have to rely on a secondary device to measure its impact. More official modes, or even those made by the Apollo community would also be appreciated. Most of these issues can be chalked up to it being a first-generation product and we are optimistic that future versions that take on board even a few of these suggestions would greatly improve the user experience. If nothing else, the device was a conversation starter for those curious as to what other device I was wearing, leading to some interesting discussions around mental health, sleep quality and the importance of stress reduction.
Overall, we recommend this device, albeit with a few caveats. If you are someone who is seeking to better manage their daily stress levels, already own a health wearable and are looking for an alternative to manual touch therapy or mindfulness meditation, then the Apollo is a good fit. It’s an evidence-based device which did show improvement health markers during our limited time with the device. If however, you do not meet the above criteria, you should look to more traditional methods to improve your wellbeing, such as meditation, nutrition and physical activity and see what the next generation of Apollo brings. ■
- Unique device/conversation starter
- Lightweight and comfortable
- Good app experience
- Customisable modes
- Excellent haptics (also silent)
- It works!
- Premium price
- Large, bulky design
- Delicate band
- Poor battery life
- Micro USB
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