Back in my teen age years, I thought it would be a great idea to quietly listen to my favorite radio stations in bed. For a couple of dollars, I bought disc-shaped speaker that plugged into the headphone jack on my transistor radio. The setup worked fine, but it had unintended consequences: Instead of keeping me entertained deep into the night, it quickly put me to sleep.
Years later, I remembered that little pillow speaker when I was offered a free sample in exchange for a review of the Q-Sleep Soundwave Sleep-promoting pillow. This is a high-tech system that goes way beyond that cheap speaker that attached to my radio. It includes both a foam pillow and a mobile app that plays soothing music to lull you to sleep and records your sleeping habits.
I thought I would be a perfect candidate to try the Q-Sleep system. I’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea. I snore (or so I’m told). And, I occasionally trouble falling asleep. That’s probably because I often do what sleep experts tell you to avoid if you want a good night’s rest - I turn on my mobile phone and start browsing the news and social media. Although my body is tired, my brain is soon filled with new information and that’s not a healthy combination.
The Q-Sleep pillow and I got off to a great start. The pillow measures about 12 by 22 inches in a wedge shape. The actual pillow is a sculpted piece of foam material encased in a soft fabric cover. The cover has a zipper that allows you to remove the foam before laundering the case and the underside has a grommet that lets an audio cable and plug emerge
The first thing I noticed was the soft and pleasant feel of the cover. I could rub my hand over the surface without encountering any snags on my rough skin. I considered putting the pillow inside a standard pillowcase, but I liked the feel of Q-Sleep fabric better than anything in my bedding drawer. Just touching the pillow was a relaxing experience.
Getting the pillow to work with the Q-Sleep app daunting and complicated experience that started with poorly-written instructions written in tiny type on a tiny folded card I found inside the pillow box. The instructions directed me to download the Q-Sleep app from either the Apple iTunes Store or the Google Play Store.
The app was easy enough to find and install but getting it working was a nightmare. The app requires registration with an email address and password but never explains why that’s necessary. It also requires that your email address be confirmed by responding to an email sent by Q-Sleep. That email never arrived.
After several failed login attempts, I tried the “Forgot password” option which produced a screen asking for a phone number to receive a text message. My phone numbers were repeatedly rejected and I was later informed that Q-Sleep did not actually have the capability to send a text message in the US.
I switched to a different phone and a different email address and finally got a confirmation message. It was written entirely in Chinese, except for the confirmation link, so I was eventually cleared to use the app on my iPhone 6. I have the app on my iPhone 7, but it has no audio jack. I would have to use a Apple converter dongle and those things are notoriously easy to loose and expensive to replace.
Now that I was registered and had access to the Q-Sleep app, it was time for bed. The app displays a large round button where you a long press launches the sleep recorder. The bottom of the screen presents my options for bedtime music. There were dozens of selections available, but all the descriptions were in Chinese, except for a few graphics with English words, one of them offering music from Plants vs. Zombies.
I connected the cable to the phone’s headphone jack, selected one of the music options and pressed my ear to the pillow. Silence. I fiddled with the cable plug and heard some faint crackling noise. I turned the sound up to full volume and heard some soft, soothing music sounding as if it were being played far away.
And that’s just what I needed. Back in the days with my portable radio, I wanted to hear a disk jockey’s patter from Chicago or St. Louis. Now I wanted quiet music with no voices to help me drift off and that’s just what I got. I was asleep in less than five minutes. The app lets you set the music music to shut off after 10, 20, 30 or 60 minutes. There appears to be a fifth setting but it’s in Chinese, so don’t know what it does.
In the morning, I awoke feeling rested and refreshed. The phone was still connected to the pillow and had used about 25 percent of its battery power. The app’s Sleep Health report gave my sleep a rating of 72 percent or Ordinary - the middle spot between Excellent and Improve. It said slept for 7.4 hours, split almost equally between deep sleep and light sleep. I took that as a passing grade.
There are many elements in the Q-Sleep system that need improvement. A functioning registration process and labels written in English would be a good start. Even the text that is nominally in English is often indecipherable. Here’s an example from one of the app’s introduction screens:
Warm tip: before opening monitoring please ensure clear enjoy APP allowSend notification (in settings - notification management view)
In the end, the Q-Sleep system did what it promised to do. It analyzed and scored my sleep quality and, more importantly, it provided a comfortable place to put my head while it transported me peacefully off to dreamland. This pillow and I are going to be spending many nights together.
I started reporting on gadgets and gear when Atari ruled electronic games and computers used floppy disks. My weekly column ran in the The Louisville Courier-Journal and online at USAToday.com and ABC News.com. I regularly attend CES, the CEDIA home theater convention and other tech events. You can follow my Twitter posts @ricmanning and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org