The Zeeq, which hit Kickstarter today, isn't the first smart pillow. However, most sleep devices tend to focus on fixing one problem, and they can be pricey. Zeeq packs enough features to justify replacing your current bedding setup. It'll track your motion and the volume of your snoring, calculating a "SleepScore" to indicate the overall quality of your rest. But the Zeeq isn't a passive observer of your nights: Speakers inside the pillow make it so you can fall asleep to your favorite tunes, and a motor inside vibrates to wake you up or nudge you to stop snoring.
In fact, music is why REM-Fit's director of technology, Miguel Marrero, hacked together the original Zeeq prototype in the first place. He finds it hard to sleep without some music playing in the background -- a state of affairs that doesn't make his wife very happy lying next to him. So he came up with the idea of putting a speaker inside the pillow that only he could hear. But while he was in there, he realized he could pack a lot more into the hardware, so he did -- tying it into REM-Fit's existing monitor system as well.
Because REM-Fit is a subsidiary of Protect-A-Bed, a manufacturer of mattress protectors, Zeeq doesn't slight its bedding aspects in any way. At first glance the Zeeq looks like any other premium king-sized pillow, with a quilted outer cover and a stylish stripe of purple fabric running down each side. The cover is removable for easy laundering, and the interior of the pillow itself is easily accessible via a series of zippers. The pillow is filled with shredded memory foam, which makes it easy for users to customize the exact shape of the bedding to their individual needs. In fact, that was one of the first things I did before spending four nights with the Zeeq, gutting its Grimace-colored innards to get it to a height that would be more friendly to my neck. If that sounds somewhat grisly, it should: The memory foam was extremely messy, sticking to my hands and leaving little bits of purple fuzz all over my bed.
However, I did appreciate the options the Zeeq's design gives you. Being able to launder the cover and replace the innards means that you can use it for a lot longer -- justifying the extra cost that the embedded tech adds.
Buried deep within the Zeeq are three loosely connected speaker pods. The whole thing is jointed so that users can fold up their pillows if they so desire -- yet another sign of REM-Fit's desire to put sleep first and make this thing as flexible and comfortable as possible. The speakers are a bit large, but they're buried deep enough that the sound doesn't extend far beyond the surface of the pillow. Someone sitting up or lying next to you wouldn't hear a thing, unless you cranked up the volume really high -- high enough that even you couldn't get to sleep.
However, I could hear the motors in the pillow quite well from across the room. Not a roar but still distinguishable when I was testing the various functions in the app. Zeeq doesn't require that you take advantage of all of its features. You need the iOS or Android app to set them up, though. A small remote in the Zeeq itself permits some basic functions: on/off, volume and starting a sleep cycle. But the team behind the smart pillow would prefer you use the app, if only because of the wellness survey the app presents in order to build a more complete picture of your health. Questions include how stressed you are, how much you exercised that day and how much alcohol you consumed. In the long run it's useful, but when you're exhausted and want to drop off to dreamland, it can be annoying. What's more, I haven't seen any way to skip the questions and answer them later instead.
During my time with the Zeeq, I used the app exclusively to start my sleep cycle and experiment with the various functions. Unfortunately for this hands-on, I don't snore, so I couldn't tell you if that alarm actually works. My roommate took a pretend nap on the pillow, which registered his fake snoring, but the snore alarm never went off -- possibly because he was never deeply asleep and the pillow detected that.
The first night I elected to try out the music. The app lets you set up a playlist that can draw songs from three sources. The first option, "Zeeq Sleep Tracks," is a selection of free mood music and sound effects. The second option, "Music," is whatever's available on your phone, while a third option is available to Spotify Premium users, allowing them to connect their account and stream music to the pillow from there. I don't pay for Spotify, so I opted to use tracks from my phone. Unfortunately, all of my downloaded music is in my Google Music account, which is invisible to Zeeq. (There went my idea to fall asleep to the Hamilton cast recording.) Since I lacked the patience to load tracks directly into my phone's storage, I decided to give the Sleep Tracks a try.
I downloaded a selection of forest noises and lay down. And it was nice, for a bit. The sound of leaves in a breeze and the murmur of insects was soothing enough, a pleasant change from my usual soundtrack of traffic. However, there was this one particular bird noise working against me: Every time I started to drift off peacefully, the bird would trill, pulling me back to wakefulness. Luckily, the music was only set to play for 15 minutes, so I was still able to get a good night's rest. The pillow was comfortable too, though I realized I needed to rebalance the stuffing, as one side was underfilled.