Review: Aro Home
First off, I refuse to blame anyone's phone addiction on a lack of self-control. I now find it almost impossible to accomplish even the most minor task without the help of my smartphone. Not only is my iPhone my alarm clock and my kitchen timer, it's also my calendar and my grocery list. I text my husband and check my work Slack and look up recipes and play podcasts while cooking.
So if you have trouble putting yours down, I don't blame you. Our entire infrastructure revolves around everyone using some type of mobile device. I was going to install a landline in our house for our kids to contact emergency services, but then it occurred to me that I could just repurpose old Apple Watches for my kids' use. Moreover, there's some debate as to whether phone addiction actually exists.
That said, it's hard for me to not fall into black holes. One recent morning, I absentmindedly clicked over to TikTok while brushing my teeth and became wholly absorbed in watching videos of small dogs sitting on large mushrooms instead of getting my kids ready for school. If you can pay a company to block sites and apps on your computer while you work, it starts to seem more reasonable to pay a company to help you put your phone away.
Aro is both an object and a membership. You can join at either $18 a month or for slightly cheaper year or two-year subscription plans. Each subscription covers every member of your family.
Once you've joined, you get your Aro Home, which is a largish white box, 12.5 inches by 8 inches. A smoothly opening bamboo lid with a metal nub reveals four interior slots for four phones, one wireless charger, and four Lightning connectors. (An Android app and version is coming soon.)
The app connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Once you place your phone in the box, it automatically starts tracking your phone-free session, which ends once you remove your phone from the Aro. When you check the Aro app, you can tag your session with a label. My most frequently used tags are Breakfast, Working, and Family Time.
Aro starts with an initial goal of setting your phone aside for one hour a day and will adjust once you spend more time, but after a few weeks I haven't seen any changes. The subscription also apparently covers challenges and lets you look at your accumulated data, but so far these are pretty basic. For example, I've currently achieved challenge badges for a seven-day streak and 10 sessions. You can also compete against groups, but I don't know anyone else who owns an Aro.
I placed our Aro in the kitchen, since that's where I tend to juggle the most tasks and have a hard time paying attention to the one at hand. But I would probably have more or longer sessions, including overnights, if I kept the Aro in my bedroom. Fortunately, I don't have any problems setting my phone aside to sleep. (I'm not better than you, just exhausted.)
Putting the Aro Home in such a prominent position did have one immediate effect. My kids, who don't have phones, could see that I was committed to getting off mine. More important, they had a safe place to put it when they forcibly grabbed it out of my hands.
I know what you're thinking. "One hour a day? Ha ha, pfft." But it's not as easy as you might think, especially for a mom of two elementary schoolers who also works full-time from home. There were so many times when I put it in the box only to find that I had to retrieve it a few minutes later.
During dinner? Oops, the kids want to FaceTime their dad. While practicing violin with my son? Oh no, I filmed the exercises we were supposed to do and have to play them back! While cleaning up after the kids are in bed? I'm not a bad person because I want to listen to a podcast while washing the dishes, am I?
When you can see how reluctant you really are to spend time away from your phone, however, it does nudge you to start developing distraction-free habits. It's just too embarrassing to log in to the app and see that I've managed to put my phone in the box for only 20 minutes that day. I've begun walking downstairs in the morning and immediately putting my phone in the Aro while I make the kids breakfast and get everyone dressed and ready for school.
That's about 30 minutes right there. And I don't really need to have my phone while I'm working--Slack is on my computer. Weirdly enough, not being on my phone while I'm getting ready for bed does make it a little easier to remember whether I've taken my inhaler.
There's one huge downside to this, though, which is that there's a much cheaper and wholly subscription-free way to make sure that you get off your phone. That's a cardboard box. (There are also slightly pricier locking options.) The Aro doesn't even stop your phone from getting notifications or any other functionality--I can hear it buzzing and dinging in there.
And if you opt for a cardboard box, you can also fit other mobile devices in there, like the iPad that I have to take away when my daughter has played Minecraft for too long. You can also decorate it to your own personal specifications!
You might not be able to see the specific number of minutes you've spent away from your phone, and you certainly won't be able to compete with your family. But with luck, you'll probably notice other side effects, like a greater ability to concentrate.
If that fails, you could try grayscale mode to make your phone less appealing, or even carry a second dumb phone when you're trying to be off-hours. Aro has nudged me to change my life for the better. But paying a subscription for an app to get off your phone, that you check on your phone, is a bridge too far.