Sometimes what you need is simply to sit, marking the time with something slightly more ceremonial than your kitchen timer or your device’s built-in alarm. These five timer apps are our top picks for the no-frills practitioner. Each offers an appealing and intuitive interface and a selection of basic features to help you free your mind from minding your screen.
Easiest to Use: Enso
This timer app offers enough features to lend ceremony to daily practice without tethering you to your phone—including bells, a progress and statistics screen, and social sharing. You set a preparation time, a meditation time, and an “interval” time (a periodic refocusing during each session). As its name implies, and like many comparable timers, Enso uses a Zen circle motif: a red ring erases itself onscreen as your set time elapses. You can choose to display a countdown clock and/or inner circles tracking the preparation and interval time. The app has one satisfactory default bell; additional bells are $.99 each or $2.99 for all 11. An upgrade to Enso Pro allows you to set reminders featuring exclusively designed alert tones and access an in-app audio player for music and guided meditations (both pulled from your phone’s existing audio library). The upgrade also includes Intelligent Presets, which lets you save various settings (such as “morning” and “evening”) and configure them to turn on automatically. However, Enso is still suited for those who like an app as uncluttered as their mind.
Most Minimalist: Zenso
When you open this app, you see “Start Sitting” at the bottom of an austere grayscale screen: that’s what you’re here for. Above the words are counters for start time and end time. During your session, a gray circle fills in with black around an optional countdown clock. A wheel icon opens Zenso’s equally minimal settings: the volume and a choice of eight sounds for the beginning, end, and intervals, including the sound of “one hand clapping”—i.e., silence.
Most Conventional: Center
Center elaborates on Zenso’s simplicity by incorporating some of the most popular and common features of meditation timers. Colorful squiggles rotate around the word “Start”; tap the word and they dissolve into a black screen. The gradual inscription of a white enso marks the elapsed time. In addition to a choice of meditation times, the app features include a delay time, an interval bell, a daily reminder time, and a statistics screen that includes brief meditation tips.
Best Simulation of Seated Practice: My Meditation Timer
This app turns your device into a portable Buddhist altar. The home screen displays two shelves mounted on a white wall: on the bottom shelf rests a variety of instruments—stick, gong, singing bowl, or bell—to mark start, finish, and intervals. On the top shelf are four cards displaying your times for preparation, meditation, cooldown, and intervals. (The first three are adjustable down to the second, a rare feature.) Hit “Begin,” your instrument sounds, and the altar fades into darkness as the session progresses.
Most Appealing Graphics: Lotus Bud
A generic name and cheesy lotus flower icon belie this app’s clean graphics and minimalist features. In the center of a sky-blue screen is a scribbly white line, like a tangled circle of thread, around a digital countdown clock. Tap the clock to adjust the time and begin. The thread unwinds and erases itself as time elapses, until it disappears. The only settings are an optional start sound and daily reminders.