What are the best daily meditation apps of 2021? Who wins in a fight of Calm VS Headspace? How about Synctuition VS Calm? Aura VS Buddhify? What is the best free meditation app of 2021?
As a meditation teacher, I’m naturally pretty darned interested in different mindfulness applications. Reviews for Headspace, Calm etc. are all over the internet. But I thought I’d share my opinion as a teacher.
There are so many different options available at the moment. I’ve been stuck on a perpetual cycle of Download / Install / Meditate / Repeat. So I thought I would review all ones I’ve tried, and give you my opinion on the best free meditation apps of 2021.
One thing I would like to mention, however, is that meditation apps are not as effective as traditional meditation according to research from Harvard Medical School. Indeed, Mindfulness guru Jon Kabat Zinn calls them “McMindfulness”. Andy Puddicombe might pretend that they are the real deal in his marketing for Headspace, but true gurus like Thich Nhat Hanh state otherwise.
Use apps at the beginning of your practice, when you are just starting to learn to meditate. Then when the time comes, book an actual proper meditation lesson.
You might also like to see my picks of the best gadgets.
What’s The Best Daily Meditation App Of 2021? Calm? Headspace? Or Something Else?
Trying to pick the very best app is not easy. Because there are a lot of them. It’s certainly not just a Headspace VS Calm situation.
For starters, there’s:
- Buddhify 2
- Insight Timer
- Simple Habit
- 10% Happier
- Or perhaps you’d prefer a game
Here are my picks.
Headspace (Free, optional monthly subscription)
Headspace is one of the most popular mindfulness applications. It’s been downloaded and installed by millions of meditators. And no wonder, because it is definitely one of the best meditation apps of 2021 and it is easy to see why. Headspace is one of the best daily meditation apps because it does legitimately help you to get into the habit of meditating.
Simplicity is what sets Headspace apart. If you look at Headspace VS Buddhify (below), for instance, Buddhify offers lots of different ways to meditate in your daily life, where Headspace is entirely about developing a habit of meditating each and every day. It is the quintessential app for daily meditation.
Do you struggle to develop the habit of meditating? As an online meditation teacher, I speak to a lot of people who struggle to get into a daily habit. I personally recommend things like including Buddha statues in the home, using mindful reminders, and using the Four Foundations of Mindfulness to develop the habit. But if you must be on your phone, then Headspace is perhaps the best option.
Former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe has poured his personality into this app. And it shows. If you look at Headspace VS Calm, for instance, you will see that Headspace has way more character. So, for simplicity and personality, choose Headspace. It’s the best app for beginners and for people who want to develop the habit.
Headspace VS Calm: Headspace helps more with the journey and with getting in the habit. Calm has more features, including music and wallpapers.
Headspace VS Insight Timer: Insight has more courses and a free timer which is helpful for your sessions.
Headspace VS Waking Up: Waking Up offers lessons on the philosophy of the practice but isn’t as good at helping you get in the habit.
Headspace VS 10 Percent Happier: 10 Happier offers talks, which can help you let steam off, but Headspace is a lot easier to use.
Calm Review (Free, optional monthly subscription)
Calm is both an application and website. This one’s all about learning different techniques. When you download and install the free version of Calm you will gain access to a number of guided meditations, and you can unlock more by signing up for a monthly subscription. My favourite thing about Calm is that it looks beautiful. The design is gorgeous.
If we look at Calm VS Headspace I think you’ll agree that Calm has far more appealing visuals.
She’s a beauty. Not only does Calm look beautiful but it also comes with nature sounds, background music and animated backgrounds. In the battle of Calm VS Headspace, Calm scores big points for its superior presentation.Plus there is a lot you can get out of this app. It helps with anxiety, stress, and depression too… it’s not just about meditation.
There are definitely daily meditation apps with better voices. If we look at Calm VS Insight, for instance, the latter has lots of recordings with noted teachers like Jack Kornfield, Bodhipaksa, Sadhguru, and Sharon Salzberg who know how to present guided meditations more effectively. But this is a relatively minor setback for a truly wonderful app.
Calm is the best app in terms of presentation and is ighly rhecommended for anyone who wants a beautiful application with stunning production values.
Calm VS Insight Timer: Calm is better for beginners, but Insight Timer has more content and courses.
Calm VS Breathe: Calm looks better in my opinion, but Breathe is a really good way to relieve stress with its guided breathing sessions.
Calm VS: 10 Percent Happier: 10 Percent Happier offers more teachings and ultimately more content.
>Buddify 2 : Meditation & Mindfulness App ($2.99)
As you can tell by the name, this is a mostly Buddhist meditation app that is inspired by traditional Buddhist methods such as Anapanasati, Vipassana, and Samatha (although God knows you are better off booking a lesson with a proper meditation teacher if you want to learn proper meditations like these).
Buddihfy 2 is a truly impressive app. What’s best about it is that it is so unique. Even if you already have a mindfulness application you should probably download and install Buddhify 2 anyway. It has features no other app does.
Buddhify 2 is designed for people living in urban environments. If you live in a city, Buddhify 2 will help you to find mindful moments in the chaos of city life. It does this by showing you how to meditate at different times. Buddhify 2 has meditations to do while exercising, while using the internet… so you basically meditate while doing all the stuff you already do.Guided meditations are presented by various guides, and they range from okay to brilliant.
Oh, and on a side note, I love the colour-wheel presentation.
Buddhify 2 sets itself apart from the pack. If we look at Headspace VS Buddhify 2, or even Calm VS Buddhify 2, it’s easy to say that this one Buddhify 2 has far more unique features. The guided meditations are useful for day to day life and it makes it easy for even the busiest of people to start meditating.
Overall, tis so I have to say this is one of the best daily meditation apps if only for its uniqueness
Insight Meditation Timer
The original Insight Timer is incredibly popular, with more than two million users.
That popularity is partly thanks to its versatility and ease of use. The ability to just time a session and use interval bells as markers… It’s all so easy.
Insight also offers guided meditations for free.
- There are more than 5000 different exercises published by more than 1150 teachers. And they feature recordings from the likes of Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, who are two very highly respected teachers.
By far the worst part of it is its design.
Take a look at Headspace VS Insight, or VS Insight VS Aura, and there’s just no competition. Insight desperately needs a paint job. And that’s a shame, given that everything else here is fantastic
Beautiful, she is not. Alas.
Even though it is not the best-looking option, it is definitely one of the best functioning, and highly recommended. There are tons of great free functions when you download and install it.
Insight Timer offers incredible content. I’d just prefer it if this sweet application came wrapped in better packaging.
Aware Mindfulness Meditation (Free with in-app purchases)
Aware is entirely focused on mindfulness.
Aware offers a great introduction to mindfulness with high quality guided sessions.
I particularly like the friendly voice that the guide has.
When I consider Calm VS Aware I have to tip my hat to Aware in terms of the voice. It’s so soothing and relaxing.
- Another fantastic aspect of Aware is the quality of the guides. All the instructions are presented in meticulous detail. Being a teacher, this wasn’t particularly important for me. However, many of our Facebook readers have said that they found the guides on this app incredibly helpful.
If you have been looking for something to help you manage your thoughts, boost your concentration, and achieve other personal development skills, Aware is the best choice for you.
It’s also worth looking at Headspace VS Aware because both help you develop the habit. Personally, I find that Headspace offers more direct help, where Aware is more versatile and actually teaches you much more.
Simple Habit, Meditation For Busy People (Free / $9 a month subscription)
If you struggle to keep a mindfulness routine, Simple Habit will help.
Simple Habit specialises in five-minute sessions, so they’re perfect for even the busiest of bodies.
These five-minute sessions cover a variety of topics and they come from highly experienced teachers, so you know that the instructions here are top dollar.
Simple Habit includes sessions for stress, sleep, and other common problems.
So, let’s look at Simple Habit VS Headspace VS Calm etc.
When you compare Simple Habit to the other options in this list, you’ll find that this one is a middle-of-the-road app in almost all ways. The voices are better than Calm but not as good as Insight. The presentation is better than Insight but not as good as Calm. And the habit-forming part is about equal to Headspace. So, this app sits perfectly in the middle, making it a good choice for most people.
I consider this one of the best meditation apps of 2020 because it does everything you need and does it well.
Aura: Mindfulness (free // $12.99 month subscription)
One of the best ways to boost your happiness is to develop a positive mindset.
Aura Mindfulness offers practices that help us to have a positive mindset throughout the day.
One thing that sets Aura apart is that it has a little bonus feature that helps you boost your gratitude.
Another fantastic aspect of the Aura app is that it uses your demographic and mood to determine the best type of meditation for you.
The Aura app sets itself apart with advanced functionality. The presentation is beautiful, too.
Overall, Aura is one of the best apps for anyone who wants to make mindfulness a habit. The advanced functionality helps you to know which exercise to use at any given time, and this makes Aura a powerful app for boosting your happiness.
Synctuition Mindspa Meditation (download here)
Synctuition prides itself on being the most advanced mindfulness app. It is backed by more than 106 scientific studies and is the third largest mindfulness app in America. It uses 3D audio technology to and soundscapes to produce truly relaxing effects. And to be fair, it is stunning. If we looked at Synctuition VS Headspace, its beyond obvious that Synctuition has way better production values and is a lot more advanced than Headspace. Highly recommended.
Stop, Breathe & Think Guided Meditation
Stop, Breathe & Think is another one packed full of guided sessions. It separates itself with the inclusion of yoga and acupressure videos.
Stop, Breathe & Think also offers a great way of controlling your emotions. It has trackers that let you keep track of your feelings.
This is one of the best free meditation apps of 2020 for anyone dealing with complications like depression, stress and anxiety.
Pacifica – Anxiety, Stress & Depression Relief
Pacifica is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
This app is designed with the express purpose of helping people deal with negative thoughts. This, in turn, helps counteract anxiety, depression and stress.
Pacifica comes fully-loaded with thought-recordings, daily challenges, a mood tracker and audio lessons.
Mindful Meditation Pro
Mindful Meditation Pro focuses on using the subconscious mind for relaxation and wellbeing. It combines mindfulness with hypnosis to help you get into a deep state of relaxation and focus.
The developers state that combining meditation with hypnosis creates a powerful tool for conquering stress and improving mental health.
The app has an average review of 4.6 from 658 Ratings at time of writing. It’s a fantastic mind therapy app. I particularly enjoy the Sound Method, which I find wonderfully relaxing. It also has specific sections dedicated to problems like confidence and self esteem.
Sattva Meditation App
Sattva is similar to Headspace in the sense that it helps you develop the habit.
It comes with the standard bells and whistles—guided practices, timer, mood trackers…
The most interesting feature in Sattva is an insight engine that shows you how your practice is changing your life.
What makes Sway different to other apps in this list is that it is what the developers call an “Interactive meditation”. Well, not to argue with the developers, but it’s really a form of dynamic meditation. These types of movement-based mindfulness are a great alternative to regular, seated exercises.
Sway focuses on mindful movement. It asks you to continually move—to “sway”, if you will—by moving your phone from side to side while lying down, or moving your entire body while standing up (you can even sway while you’re on the bus, the official website tells us).
While you’re swaying, it plays ambient sounds and music that calm and focus your mind. There are six different “levels” that push you towards developing mindful habits, and you must complete certain goals to progress to the next level, in a way reminiscent of a video game. Miss a day and you get pushed back a level.
So, is Sway any good?
One of my favourite things about Sway is that it has excellent production values. The sounds and the animations are delightful. And as for the actual exercises, they are simple and helpful. This app can definitely be used as a supplement to traditional practice.
What I appreciate most about Sway is that it is a truly unique product. There are hundreds of applications on the market that do precisely the same thing. Sway gives you a different way to meditate.
Sway is worth the $2.99 price tag. Whether you’re a well-seasoned meditator or a newcomer, you will enjoy Sway and find it very beneficial.
The best thing about all these applications s is that they offer different styles and different functions.
There is a clear winner for every purpose.
Best For Habit Building: Headspace or Simple Habit
Best For Beginner Meditators: Aware
Best For Relaxation: Calm
Best For Practical Applications Of Meditation: Buddhify 2
Best For Learning Different Meditation Techniques: Insight
Best For Making You Happier: Aura
What I realised when I did all these reviews is this: there is something for everyone.
Each one offers something different. They all have unique features.
My choice? As a mindfulness teacher, I have to tip my hat to Insight Meditation Timer because it has recordings from my favourite teachers.
Which do you think is the best meditation app?
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Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison
Thanks for this great article! I’ve been an Insight Timer for more than a year, and like it, but wasn’t to learn more mindfulness. So now I’m going to try Aura.
Thank you for the detailed review. This was really helpful b/c I need to learn how to control my emotions but there were so many options out there it was hard to know where to start. I’m going to start meditating using headspace.
My pleasure Brian. Thanks for your comment.
Paul, thank you for this comprehensive article that you’ve taken the time to write.
However, despite the 2019 headings I feel it’s a little out of date now, particularly regarding Insight Timer. Insight timer now has 12 million users, not 2 million and this, I believe, is largely because it’s ENTIRE content library of single meditations (which is actually 32,000 now) is available to use completely for free… like you say, from the likes of Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Thich Nhat Hanh etc. This is the biggest difference between it and the 2 “big guns” Calm and Headspace. Both of those offer very limited content for free (like the first 7 or 10 days) and expect you to pay to unlock further content so they’re very limited for people on a budget.
The only thing you don’t get for free with Insight Timer is the ability to fast forward and rewind meditations and access to their multi-day courses, although these can be purchased individually for around £5 each or unlocked with the subscription, which is about £40 per year.. half of Headspace and about the same as Calm I think.
The design of Insight Timer has also come on leaps and bounds so to class it as being inferior to the others in this respect in 2019/2020 in my view is incorrect.
As a lay person (I don’t work for Isight Timer!) who, in 2 years, has gone from zero meditation to meditating 30-60 mins per day and attending workshops/retreats etc. this would be my humble opinion:
Headspace – fantastic for beginners and starting a 10-15 min meditation habit per day. Andy Puddicombe is great and makes the practice super-accessible. Not so great for longer meditations as these tend to be the same meditations but with added pauses to lengthen them out. Worth using for a year. A bit expensive but I’ve seen Anxiety UK actually offer it as a free value-add to their £40 annual subscription. It’s all about Andy though so don’t expect much variation in technique or style.
Insight Timer – Also has great beginners courses but really shines if you want access to buckets of meditation content COMPLETELY FREE. The size of the library can be a bit overwhelming but it allows you to find some teachers and styles that you really like and stick with them and explore others whenever you want. The timer and stats also help you cultivate your own non-guided practice which, in my view, is an essential component to combine with guided practice, once you’re ready.
Calm – I haven’t paid the subscription for Calm so I don’t have the full experience and I can imagine Tamara Levitt is very good but something about the app puts me off. To me it feels a bit more commercial and “designed to get you in” than the others. Although you could say the same about Headspace I suppose. The celebrity angle they’re going for doesn’t sit that well with me personally. I will try it one day though.
I won’t comment on any of the others that I don’t have experience of but I can say that Insight Timer is the only app I’ve tried that “truly” feels free. I pay the subscription both for the extra features and to support their ambition to keep it free.
I am a beginner to meditation. Thanks to this article I downloaded Calm and Headspace. I really liked both the apps. The guided meditations are great in these two. I also found another app called Meditaide which tracks your breathing and alerts you when your mind starts wandering when you are doing unguided meditation, the kind I mostly do because I learnt Vipassana.
Thank you for taking the time to explain and share. I really needed guidance and found your blog, like most things I’ve needed.
I am an avid Calm user, live with MS and do do a (real) meditation session with an instructor weekly.
Looking to expand what’s available, this article is fantastic. I have tried others (many listed above) and I now may try Aura, Insight and Aware.
Remaining nonjudgmental with thanks,
From the “dangers of guided meditations” that you referenced in this article, you said, “But for most people they are ineffective.” I read your reasoning and explanation, but do you have any scientific sources that back-up this claim? I’m not being argumentative, I’m just curious. It seems a very strong claim against something that a lot of people are using to help manage day to day stress. And many people anecdotally claim it helps. Thank you. (No comment section on that article).
I used Headspace for a while, but I found the look is too cartoonish for me. Calm is an app that I used the most, it is beautifully designed with great features. I tried Simple Habit and Aware too, but I didn’t attach to those apps much. Recently, I tried a new app called Masters of Mindfulness, I found the functionalities are pretty interesting, and it’s beautifully designed too. And I just tried Aura from your suggestion, looks great so far, I’m going to test it out more.
How do you feel 10% happier compares? I’ve been trying an assortment of apps to see which works best for me. I like Simple Habit but the meditations seem almost too short to have a real impact. I like Insight but I don’t find there is enough structure. Calm is good but I like exploring different teachers. Thanks!
Thanks, Paul, for writing this helpful article. I have used Calm for almost three years, since its beta phase, and love it, but I did not know about the new options. I just downloaded Insight and Stop, Breathe & Think to complement Calm – Thanks!
For me personally, it has to be Aware – unarguably. I am saying this after trying out every other app you have mentioned except Aura.
For meditation, one needs a consistent progress, guidance and a curated journey. Only Headspace and Aware offer that. Aware beats Headspace hands down in the quality of their meditation sessions. Headspace, after a while, confuses you, contradicts in their guidance; while Aware teaches mindfulness exactly the way it should be (I am saying this from the years I have spent in Bhutan learning meditation). I guess Aware is built in India, the country of origin of the practice.
Most importantly, Aware has a terrific support team – they go beyond what is required to personally assist people. The developers of Aware personally wrote to me, called me and guided me when I wrote to them how I was suffering after my divorce. It blew me out. They really care for their users. They really do.
Hi Robert, thank you for your comment. I agree, Aware is a fantastic app with great staff.