Ten Smartphone Apps That Improve Your Sleep

Studies and surveys consistently show that most of us are not getting enough sleep each night. And while modern technology such as smartphones are often implicated as one of the culprits keeping us up, the truth is that there are many apps out there that can actually improve your sleep.

This article details ten great apps that can help you get a better night’s sleep.

ShutEye (Android)

This app was initially created for research at the University of Washington. This app notifies you when you should take a nap, exercise, relax, eat, take caffeine, or go to sleep.

All of these activities have an impact on your sleep, so keeping track of when you do them can help improve your sleep. This app helps by increasing your awareness of your habits and how they affect your sleep.

Sleep Cycle (iPhone)

This app claims to track your sleep cycle based on your body movements. The app uses this information to wake you with an alarm at the best time during your sleep cycle.

Sleep Cycle iPhone App ScreenshotThe idea is that if you are awakened when you are in your lightest stage of sleep, you will be less disrupted by being awakened. The app uses the accelerometer to measure your body movement.

Sleep as Android (Android)

Similar to SleepCycle, this Android app aims to wake you at the optimal time.

The app also includes the ability to record the sounds you make while asleep and allows you to rate and comment on your sleep. It even includes music to help you get to sleep.

ResMed (iPhone)

This iPhone app is a test for sleep apnea of sorts. The app allows you to record audio of yourself sleeping, and then compare that audio to recordings of people who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. By comparing the two, you can determine if there is any similarity and whether you should seek further testing for sleep apnea.

Relax Melodies (iPhone)

This app helps you get to sleep by playing ambient sounds while you fall asleep. The app includes 70 different sounds that include crickets chirping, running water, birds singing, and rainfall.

The app has the ability to layer different sounds over each other to create custom relaxing melodies. This is a great app if you have trouble falling asleep in silence.

White Noise (iPhone, Android, Blackberry)

Like Relax Melodies, this app is an ambient noise generator. This app is multi platform, so you can use it no matter which smartphone you have.

Sleep Tracker (iPhone)

This is a sleep journalling app for the iPhone. It lets you record how long you slept and how you feel afterwards. Journalling is a great way for you to notice patterns in your sleep and mood. This app presents your info in an easy to reach chart, which helps you spot patterns.

SleepBot (Android)

This app is similar to Sleep Tracker for the iPhone. It is a sleep journalling tool that lets you record mood, notes, and sleep times. The sleep tracking function uses a simple clock-in and clock-out interface and includes a sleep questionnaire.

Count Sheep (iPhone)

This app digitizes the old standby of counting sheep to fall asleep. The app has sheep jumping over a fence while it plays soothing music from the app or your own tunes. The screen is dimmed to avoid keeping you awake longer and you can set the app to automatically turn off after a certain amount of time.

Spot (unreleased)

This upcoming app aims to test your alertness levels by testing your response time. Great for late night driving, this app can let you know when it is time to pull over and get some rest. The tests are based on the Psychomotor Vigilance Test.

So rather than using your smartphone to keep you up all night playing games and surfing the internet, download these app and turn your smartphone into a powerful sleep aiding tool.

To find the apps just search for their names, and you should be able to find them. Please be aware that some of the apps do cost.

Shopping online – tips and advice

When shopping online, there are loads of things to look out for, and loads of ways to get a better deal. In this article I hope to share some of the experience I have got from shopping online, and some of my tech knowledge in order to help you get a better deal – what you want, at a reasonable price.

The first thing to say is that what you are shopping for, is crucial to how to go about buying it.

Virtual Goods

If you are buying an online or ‘virtual’ good/service, then the key thing to check is that you are buying from a reputable firm. Checking the firm is reputable and reliable is key for all online shopping, but especially so if you are buying something virtual – e.g. a website, anti-virus software, access to a game, music etc.

There are a few ways you can go about checking if online firms are reputable. The first is to see if the firm exists in reality, do they have shops in the real world, or are they totally online? Firms with physical property are less likely to be fraudulent, as they are easy to find and locate. Totally online firms can be just as reputable, look at the likes of Play.com and Amazon.

Play.com's LogoThe second way to get an idea of whether a firm is reputable or not is to check their stats. Does the site have a good Alexa rank – top 500,000? If not, people may not be visiting the site for a reason: it has just been set up, and after a few quick cons will be gone. You can check the history of the site using the Way Back Machine for more info on its past.

The third way is a much less reliable way, but can be useful to back up your decision. Try looking at the websites PageRank. If they have say a PageRank 3+ homepage, they are more likely to be legitimate than a site with all PageRank 0’s. People link to shop websites when they buy things and then review them, so shops should acquire PageRank. If they have no PageRank, they may still be legitimate, but check, as that may mean they have not been trading for long, therefore have just set up to scam, and will be shut down soon.

Finally are they a big name. Say you are buying anti-virus direct from the supplier. Most people have heard of the likes of Kaspersky, Sophos and Norton, but if the company is called something like ‘SpywareBeGoneSolutions’ then they are a lot less likely to sell you a good product, if any product at all.

Kaspersky's LogoFinally, when checking that the firm you are going to buy from is going to give you the product(s) you want, watch the news, or research them on news sites! Is the firm about to go bust or being run by administrators? If so, buying from them may lead to you loosing your money!

Services

If you are buying a service, such as a holiday, insurance or a meal at a restaurant, then there are loads of really useful sites that can help you, by giving you an incite into what others thought of that service.

Say for example you are buying a holiday, you can use websites like TripAdvisor.com to see if the place you are looking at staying at has positive reviews. If not, you can maybe choose somewhere else. Be careful though, as sometimes these sites can be misleading, as Jonny recently wrote about.

There are other websites too like MoneySavingExpert.com and Yelp, which can offer similar services for other things like insurance, banking, restaurants, shopping etc. MoneySavingExpert.com is especially worth a look, as aside from reviews, they can give really good advice, to help you save money when buying all sorts of things.

Products

The key to ensuring you get value for money and what you want when buying products online is to make sure you read what other people think about it. Reviews are really useful, and can help you determine which product is right for you.

Don’t be afraid to venture out of the companies website itself, and look for more reviews elsewhere online. Some firms will only publish the positive reviews they receive on their own site, in order to try to persuade more people to buy that product, from them.

A really important bit of advice is not to discount the high street, it can still be a very good place to buy things. Often things are cheaper online, however you can usually see and sometimes try products when in a shop, whereas online, all you have is pictures and possibly video.

Once you know the product is for you, make sure that you shop around. Find the best deal using price comparison sites like MoneySupermarket.com and PriceRunner.co.uk.

Once you have your product and the shop, don’t forget to go to coupon sites to see if you can get an even better deal. Sites like MyVoucherCodes usually have some great discount offers, you just need to look.

To conclude

In summary, when shopping online, make sure that you are buying from someone reputable. Make sure the product or service is what you want. Check out other peoples reviews. Look for the best deal, and then finally don’t forget to check if there are any vouchers that could further slash the cost.

Hopefully these tips have been useful, good luck shopping online!

The Pocket Boom – Review

A week or so ago, a company approached Technology Bloggers and asked if I would be willing to review some of their products. I thought that this could be some fun, so I emailed them back saying: why not! They then send me a Pocket Boom to test and then review – this article is that review.

Please note, the opinions in this article are mine, and are completely honest – I am not being paid to write a review for them.

What is the Pocket Boom?

The Pocket Boom is a device that can turn pretty much any surface into a speaker. You just plug in your music – be it from your iPod, computer, tablet, stereo or whatever (anything that has a 3.5mm headphone jack) and place the vibrating speaker onto a surface, and it will vibrate the surface to turn it into a speaker.

The Pocket Boom

The Pocket Boom with its vibrator head and headphone jack out

What Surfaces Does the Pocket Boom Work on?

The clever technology in the vibrating head on the device is able to vibrate any surface and turn it into a speaker. However, on some surfaces, it vibrates it so little that the vibrating head is louder than the surface. Surfaces that I have found to be bad speakers include:

  • Brick walls
  • Solid wood – some thin wood works well
  • Clothing – some clothing does work, but not very well
  • Other solid objects with little capacity to vibrate

Surfaces that I have found to work really well include:

  • Cardboard – and other paper products
  • Thin wood – notice boards, some tables and chairs all work well
  • Metal – due to its ability to vibrate, metal is one of the best materials I have tried, filing cabinets, kitchen hood extractor fans, hole punches, beds, and much more!
  • Thin plastic – tubs, especially DVD (and Blu-Ray, Wii, PS3, Xbox etc.) cases and even washing baskets!

Does it Actually Work?

You may be wondering if it actually works, it seems too good to be true. Can the Pocket Boom really: turn anything into a speaker, turn anything into an amplifier; and turn anything into an equaliser?

My answer is simple. Yes.

You can be sceptical, but I have one and it does. As I mentioned above, some surfaces it really surprises you by how well it actually transforms that object into a speaker, whilst with others you can be left somewhat disappoint with the sound level – but never the less it does turn it into a speaker.

The Pocket Boom with all leads stowed away

The Pocket Boom with all leads stowed away (Compact)

From my personal use of the speaker, I would say that I think it works amazingly well on around 15% of objects, well on 70% of objects, and rather disappointingly on the other 15% of objects. So around 85% of objects to hand should be able to be converted into a good speaker pretty easily!

Check out this video to see it in action 🙂

Is it Easy to Use?

Clearly a lot of work has gone into designing the Pocket Boom, it has some great ideas behind it. The ergonomics need some tweaking before the product is 100% perfect.

The 3.5mm headphone jack lead that comes out to plug into your device is way too short to be practically used with most devices. That is a major flaw, but this has been fixed, as included in the box is an extender lead, so you can get an extra 40cm (ish) of reach.

The Pocket Boom and accompanying items

The items that come with the Pocket Boom

Inserting the batteries is really easy, literally slide back a cover, put them in and slide the cover back on. Dead simple.

The enclosed instructions do tell you how to pull out the speaker wire, so that you can place the vibrating speaker head on a surface, however I found them very hard to follow. I found a video on YouTube about how to do it though, and that cleared things right up, just pull the wire out whilst rotating it round at the same time – effectively pulling and unwinding.

The Pocket Boom's Instructions

The instructions that come with the Pocket Boom

One thing that I am still a bit puzzled about is the suction pad system. The speaker head has an adhesive suction pad on it so that you can stick it to surfaces easily. It does get dirty, and I have found that covering it with sellotape and then slowly removing the tape cleans it up and it becomes sticky again. In the pack some extra adhesive are provided, however I can’t seem to find any instructions as to how to change the pad. Hopefully when I need to it will be pretty easy.

What is the Battery Life Like?

I have so far been very pleasantly surprised by the life of the battery. Considering this is a device that is designed to effectively replace most speakers, it uses very little power. Normal speakers can be power hungry, however the Pocket Boom takes just two AAA batteries.

I have had my Pocket Boom vibrating and turning objects into speakers for around three hours now, and despite it being powered by just two AAA batteries, it is still working just as well now as it was when I started using it. The Pocket Boom would appear to be a great saver of energy, considering that two speakers would be unlikely to last that long, producing the kind of sound levels that the Pocket Boom can.

 How Good is the Sound Quality?

Okay, so it is portable, can turn almost anything into a good speaker, uses less power, therefore its weakness must be in its sound quality right? Wrong.

Personally I am very impressed with the quality of the sound the Pocket Boom can produce. I have used it on many surfaces, and found that everyone produces a slightly different quality, pitch and intensity of sound. Some produce music with much deeper bass levels, whilst others just produce really loud music! Some substances I would like it to go louder, but the volume level is always reasonable.

Depending on the song you are playing, the sound produced will vary. Sometimes you need to turn the volume down slightly, as the speaker head vibrates too much and doesn’t sound that great, but turning down the volume easily fixes this.

The Environment…

One thing I have noticed about the Pocket Boom is that it works better in quieter environments. Also, the size of the room seems to affect how well it produces sound, as it can really affect the acoustics. I have personally found that it works far better in small rooms than it does in bigger ones. If there is also a lot of noise, it doesn’t work as well, but for most environments it works really well.

I currently have it plugged into my PC, using the machine (metal) as the speaker, and it works really well. The environment is relatively quiet, and the volume of my PC is only on 20%, yet the sound is much louder than if it were through headphones!

Is the Pocket Boom Value for Money?

When I reviewed the Kymera Magic Wand I bought, I concluded that it was a great novelty product, but not really value for money at £50.

I think the Pocket Boom also has some novelty element to it, which you get when you first use it. I ran around testing it on everything I could! That has slightly worn off now, but the product is very practical and does work. As I said, I am using it as a speaker for my PC, and it is working very well.

The Pocket Boom retails at £20 (£19.99) which I think is a very reasonable price. I think that the novelty factor of the boom is probably worth £5 to £10, but after that you have an extremely practical product, which you find uses for in your every day life.

If you prefer to listen to high quality music, amplifiers and professional loudspeakers are probably for you, the Pocket Boom is not the best of speakers, but it is a bit of fun.

If however you are someone who just likes to casually listen to music, and the occasional bit of fun (as you find a new surface to try out!) then the Pocket Boom is a must have gadget!

The Pocket Boom and its packaging

The Pocket Boom in its packaging

As I said at the beginning of the article, this product has been sent to us to review. This company is called GearZap. Our thanks to GapZear for providing us with the pocket boom 🙂