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The Caeden Sona stress-fighting tracker caused me anxiety instead

Engadget Engadget 23/08/2016 Cherlynn Low

It sounds like a great, if somewhat abstract, idea. The Caeden Sona is a gorgeous wristband with a heart rate monitor that constantly measures your pulse, in an attempt to gauge how you respond to stress. It then teaches you to build resilience to stress through daily focus and breathing exercises. I tried out the Sona for about a week and was ultimately so overwhelmed by its design flaws that I was, ironically, overcome by stress.

I was really excited to try out the Sona; the band's elegant rose-gold accents and white leather strap looked so classy that I wanted to put it on immediately. However, it was so difficult to close the band's clasp that I nearly gave up. That's because I didn't notice, until Caeden spelled it out to me with a six-step visual aid, that the clasp had to be pried open and that the free end of the band had to be looped through the hinge. The way I had been closing the strap had it loop inside itself, making the peg-and-hole mechanism hard to see and almost impossible to reach.

I asked a Caeden spokesperson for the reason behind this awkward design, and he explained, "The Caeden team designed Sona to look like a bracelet/piece of jewelry. The clasp that comes with the leather band is similar to a standard metal watch clasp, and they wanted it to be discreet."

A screenshot of the visual aid Caeden sent me.

A standard metal watch clasp snaps on with a simple press, though. It doesn't require you to set up the enclosure yourself. Also, you shouldn't have to remove the whole wearable from your wrist to tighten or loosen the strap, which is what you'll have to do with the Sona.

That frustrating clasp aside, the Sona was also tedious to set up and pair with my iPhone 6s. I had to lift the strap from the module's housing to press a button under it. On my review unit, it wasn't easy to tell if I had pressed the button hard enough. It didn't even feel like a button; there was no real travel or a click or light to tell me that I had actually pressed it. So when I failed to pair the Sona to my phone, I couldn't tell if it was because I had missed the button, if the device's battery was depleted or if it wasn't strapped on firmly enough for the heart rate monitor to detect my pulse. The latter is one of the conditions that has to be met before you can link it to your phone -- as in, you have to be wearing the Sona and it needs to find your pulse.

Finally, the stars aligned. I fully charged the Sona, which took slightly more than an hour, and went through the setup process via the companion app. I also held the module down on my wrist so it could detect my pulse; the strap was slightly loose on my petite wrist. The pairing process took about three minutes.

After the device paired, the app explained how to read the so-called Active Time and Resonance charts on the home page. It features a number (your current heart rate) encircled by two wheels of spokes. The outer ring is the Active Time chart that shows your pulse throughout the day, while the interior shows your "resonance," which, according to the company, is "a paced breathing meditation to help build resilience to physical and mental stress." I don't know how you can track meditation other than how much time you spend doing it, but I imagine Caeden meant your resilience to stress.

That quality is calculated by your heart-rate variability (HRV), which is the difference in time between your heartbeats. Caeden says a higher HRV indicates an overall more healthful and less stressed system, and the app shows your resting heart rate and daily HRV so you can analyze your progress.

The Sona also monitors basic fitness metrics such as distance traveled, calories burned and heart rate throughout the day. But your active time and resonance goals are front and center. However, the app doesn't offer alerts to encourage you to meet them. It simply measures your activity, and it's up to you to achieve those targets.

I initiated a meditation session one evening after a particularly stressful day, and really enjoyed the calming sounds of crashing waves and the soothing voice that instructed me on breathing exercises. There are six types of sessions available: "Rise," "Relax," "Breathe," "Boost," "Rest" and "Free." These are designed to be carried out during different times of day to help you be more at peace.

While the sessions were effective at getting me relaxed, I'm not sure they helped me better manage my stress. When I'm approaching a deadline or thinking about the work I have to do, my first thought is rarely to meditate to calm down. Indeed, after days with the Sona, I haven't noticed a reduction in my stress-related breathing and sleep troubles.

I also doubt that my week with the Sona was enough to have any lasting impact on my behavior. I imagine that with software improvements (such as adding alerts to remind the wearer to meditate) and a simpler setup process, Caeden could help keep people at peace. But right now, other than being a truly gorgeous fitness and heart rate tracker, the Sona has too few benefits to live up to its claim. That said, at its $150 preorder price, it's still a worthy alternative to the bland-looking Fitbit Charge HR or similarly staid activity bands.

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