Recently I’ve been pondering wether its possible to enhance your mental fitness. I mean its easy to improve your physical fitness – you can go to the gym, run, improve your diet etc – but when it comes to brain power is it really possible to see progress? Back in 2005 Nintendo certainly thought so with the introduction of Brain Age for the popular DS console. Brain Age had you solve simple math problems and complete basic tasks with the premise of making you smarter. Today however, there are several excellent options available for your smart device which make similar claims.
The three most popular brain training apps for mobile are Elevate, Peak and Luminosity. For me, Luminosity is way too expensive (£7.99/$11.99 per month) and as such I have opted to leave it out of this comparison. The two apps which really stood out for me as viable options were Elevate and Peak. Both apps offer a similar experience but they go about delivering it in a slightly different way. I subscribed to both premium services and have been using them frequently for about a month.
Probably the most popular brain training app at the moment is Elevate. Although only launched in May 2014, at time of writing the app has been downloaded 5 million times. What makes Elevate great is its intuitive, bold design and slick execution. Recently Elevate hit the headlines when it was voted as Apples App of the year for 2014. New users to Elevate will first have to complete a quick diagnostics test which will tell the app the areas which need improving on etc. According to elevate the service focuses on your reading and writing skills, along with memory and focus. The app offers a customised service which adjusts appropriately to your performance over time.
Elevate comes with a pretty comprehensive free to use service but if you really want to reap the benefits you will want to subscribe to the premium service for £2.99/$4.99 a month or £31.99/$44.99 for the year. This will give you access to 8 exclusive premium games, unlimited access to all 25 games and also the ability to compare your performance to other Elevate users.
Peak brain training comes from the London based company Brainbow. It offers a very similar experience to Elevate and also comes with some very positive review. Peak also comes high in many app rankings and to date has been downloaded 2 million times. Like Elevate, Peak helps improve your language skills, but puts more of an emphasis on mental agility and problem solving. The service allows you to set your own training goals and like Elevate offers a customised service which adapts to you performance over time.
Sign up to Peaks pro subscription and gain access to the 6-game daily personal workouts, more comprehensive analytics and unlimited access to all games. The premium package will cost you £2.99/$4.99 a month or £24.99/$34.99 for a yearly subscription. There is also a pretty decent free version, although like its competitor you will need to subscribe to the premium service if your serious about seeing improvements.
Games and design
The structure of Elevate has improved recently and now comprises of three main sections: These ‘Training’, ‘Games’ and
‘Performance’. The ‘training’ tab gives you access to your daily training session and comprises of three specially selected games. The ‘games’ tab gives you access to all 25 games and allows you to practice them as much as you like, and the ‘performance’ tab gives you access to all you statistics and tracks your performance (more on this later).
The games are beautifully designed and incorporate bold colours, slick animations and great sound effects. Because the games
are so well designed and such fun to play you would hardly know you are working out at all. It is clear that a lot of effort has gone into creating this type of experience. Some games are locked until you reach a certain level in associated games, and others are only available in the premium service. There is usually a goal in each game (like maintaining propulsion of a space rocket or navigating a boat across an ocean) and it all helps to make Elevate both interesting and engaging.
Peak also has a lovely design which is easily recognisable. The app basically comprises of two screens. The first screen is centred around your daily goal and workout, and the second contains all you performance stats and progress. You can move between the two screens by swiping with you finger. There is also an icon in the top left hand corner which takes you to the menu, and another in the top right which takes you to the games archive. The interface is very slick looking and fairly easy to use. The games themselves are also very fun to play and offer enough variety to keep you interested. Unlike Elevate though, the games feel more functional rather than recreational.
Whilst both apps are exceptionally designed and lovely to use, Elevate is possible slightly simpler to navigate due to is tab based design. That said, I think Peak’s home screen design is a little bit more interesting and dynamic, particularly when you get used to it. Whilst games on both are great, Elevate perhaps shines a little more due to its use of animations and sounds.
Your performance in Elevate is based on what has been coined ‘Elevate proficiency quotient’ (EPQ). This is based on you
performance over time, how often you play and the variety of of games you play. It gives you a score ranging from 0 – 5000. Your EPQ is will give you an idea of how well you are performing in the five areas: Speaking, Writing, Reading, Listening and math and for each category Elevate will tell you which is your best game. You also get a percentile ranking which compares you against Elevate users. This is pretty cool although I’m not sure my writing skills would actually put me at 96.8% against other users. The scores do seem a little exaggerated.
Peak on the other hand does things a little differently. Importantly it gives you a single score based on your overall Peak Performance. This is scored out of 1000. There is also a graph which shows your score over the past week. If you want more in-depth statistics then Peak also breaks things down in much more detail. A very cool function is the ability to compare your Peak score to people within your age group or profession. This is great as it gives you a feel of how well you compare to others. The information is displayed in a spider chart which includes Peak brain score, memory, problem solving, language, mental agility and focus. As if this wasn’t enough there is also a graph charting your performance in each category over the last month and a break down of how you perform in each category compared to your age group.
The app further breaks down your performance and gives you a Peak brain score for every game you have played. It even tells you which day of the week you have performed best.
Whilst both Elevate and Peak have excellent performance trackers, there is no bout that Peak’s is more comprehensive. I also much prefer having a single score to keep me motivated. I find this gives me a target to focus on and means I don’t have to get bogged down in statistics if I don’t want to.
According to the Elevate website ‘Elevates games are designed in collaboration with experts in neuroscience and cognitive learning and are based on extensive scientific research’. Furthermore ‘Elevate’s brain training algorithms further focus the learning experience by drawing from research in memory studies to develop a personalised training program for each user’.
Peak makes a similar claim ‘Designed in collaboration with experts in neuroscience, cognitive science and education, Peak makes brain training fun and rewarding. The scientific advisors involved with Peak includes Bruce Wexler, Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist at Yale, and Amir Konigsberg, PhD from Princeton in cognitive psychology‘.
What this all means, I’m not really sure. Both claim to be based on scientific research but neither goes any way in explaining what this actually means to the end user. The subject of brain training is a slightly controversial subject at the minute. It has been suggested that there is actually little evidence to suggest that such activities actually have any positive impact on mental agility. That said, doing any sort of task repetitively will surely have some sort of benefit. If your interested you can take a look at this
study which suggests mixed results concerning the effectiveness of computer based cognitive training.
From my point of view it is difficult to say wether I have personally seen results. Looking at my analytics from both apps, I seem to do well some days and then terribly bad on others. It is difficult to judge wether I have actually improved in any of the given areas or wether I have just become well practiced at particular tasks. I’m sure in the long term however I will start to see more positive results. That said, I’m not sue how all this transfers to the real world.
Wether or not these brain training apps are actually having a positive effect, they are certainly fun to play and I can see that there must be some benefit to exercising my brain regularly. To which app is best is a difficult question to answer. Both are excellent and tailored for slightly different needs. Peak offers a more all over experience, but Elevate focuses more on language and math. Both are beautifully designed and offer a lot of variety to keep you engaged.
I would say that Elevate certainly has a more bold and dynamic design, but in my opinion Peak offers better analytics and progress tracking. It is very difficult to recommend one over the other but if I had to continue just one of my premium subscriptions it would probably be with Elevate.
If you have had any experience with Peak, Elevate or any other service then please let me know.