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Eight Sleep Pod 3 review: The high price of great sleep

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

I've always tried to get as much sleep as possible, but now that I have a one-year-old to look after, anything that can help maximize what little rest I do get is priceless. So when I heard that Eight Sleep was coming out with a new version of its smart mattress topper that offers better sleep tracking and temperature controls, I was curious to see how well it worked. And while the Pod 3 Cover is pricey, after a few months of testing, I never want to go back to a regular standalone mattress.

The Eight Sleep system

The company's core offerings consist of two main components: The Pod 3 Mattress and the Pod 3 Cover. The mattress itself is relatively straightforward. Its features a medium firmness that's a bit stiffer than something like the original Leesa mattress and it includes various additional layers for better heat distribution.

The Pod 3 Cover works with both Eight Sleep's mattress or the bed you already own via the company's PerfectFit encasement.
The Pod 3 Cover works with both Eight Sleep's mattress or the bed you already own via the company's PerfectFit encasement.

Then there's the Eight Sleep Pod 3 cover, which is both the heart and the brains of the company's two-pronged approach. In order to deliver your perfect sleep temperature, the cover features what Eight Sleep calls an Active Grid, which is essentially embedded tubing that carries cool or warm water to your side of the bed. There are also sensors built into the Active Grid that can monitor things like your heart rate, sleeping respiratory rate, how much you toss and turn and more, with Eight Sleep claiming that the Pod 3 offers significantly more accurate tracking than its previous offerings. And then attached to the Active Grid is the Hub, which serves both as a reservoir for the water in the Pod Cover and as a place to house important tech like WiFi, which unlike previous models now supports 5GHz networks.

Setup

While the thought of having to plug wires and hoses into your bed might seem like a bit much, getting everything working is actually pretty simple. Like a lot of foam mattresses, Eight Sleep's option arrived compressed in a box — all you have to do is remove the plastic wrapper and give it a few minutes while it expands. The nice thing is that you don't need to buy one from Eight Sleep at all, as the Pod Cover is designed to work pretty much any mattress up to 16 inches thick.

The Pod Cover's Hub functions as a reservoir for sending cold or hot water to your bed and also houses important components like built-in WiFi.
The Pod Cover's Hub functions as a reservoir for sending cold or hot water to your bed and also houses important components like built-in WiFi.

That's because while the standard Pod Cover comes with zippers that line up with matching teeth on the company's mattress, you can also order the Pod Cover with PerfectFit, which includes an encasement that accommodates third-party beds. So if you already like your current mattress, you don't need to toss it to install the Pod Cover. Not only does this lower the price of entry, it's also a welcome move toward general flexibility. Which is good because starting at $2,045 (for a full), this thing definitely ain't cheap.

Once the Pod Cover is attached to your mattress, Eight Sleep's app provides simple step-by-step instructions on how to connect the hose, fill the reservoir and power it up. Admittedly, there's not a lot to mess up (aside from maybe not leaving enough room behind your bed to prevent the hose from kinking), but the guide removes all the guesswork. And while the hub itself does take up a little space, the hose is long enough that it's not too difficult to find a spot for it. From there, you can set up or sign into your account, enter your WiFi info and that's it. All told, it took me less than 20 minutes to put everything together after unboxing it.

The tech

The Pod Cover uses a variety of sensors to track things like your sleeping heart rate, respiratory rate and more. And in the morning you get a full report along with a daily sleep score.
The Pod Cover uses a variety of sensors to track things like your sleeping heart rate, respiratory rate and more. And in the morning you get a full report along with a daily sleep score.

While the Pod 3 Cover isn't a huge departure from previous models, it does pretty much everything really well. The sensors made easy work of tracking my sleeping heart and respiratory rates. And thanks to charts and graphs that are available inside the app, it's easy to see how various factors impact your sleep. You even have the ability to add tags for things like stretching, caffeine intake and others to better correlate your daytime activities with the amount of rest you get. And every day, the app spits out a sleep score to tell you how you did.

The other big part of the Pod Cover's kit is its heating and cooling tech. The cover supports dual-zone controls, so you can set the temp for each half of the bed independently. That's really nice because while I typically prefer things on the cool side, my wife is often chilly at night and has her side set to warm. Honestly, even without all the sleep tracking, the Pod Cover is worth it for its cooling and heating alone.

In the Eight Sleep app, you can set your beds temperature to various degrees of hot or cold, while the optional Autopilot features (which requires a $19 monthly subscription) can adjust temperatures automatically.
In the Eight Sleep app, you can adjust the Pod Cover's temperature settings manually or let the Autopilot feature make suggestions automatically, though sadly you'll need to pay for the company's $19-a-month subscription for the latter.

At this point, the science is pretty clear, your thermal environment has a huge impact on how well you sleep. Too hot or too cold and you're almost certainly going to wake up feeling less rested. But with the Pod Cover, you can select your perfect temp and set a schedule for controlling heating and cooling levels throughout the night. For me, it's like laying on the cool side of the pillow, except all the time and across the entire mattress, which makes a huge difference in both how fast I fall asleep and how I feel the next morning.

Of course, you can change things as needed, which really came in handy when I started running a fever. So instead of having my side cold as normal, I was able to pump up the heat to help combat the chills — something that made being sick just a bit more tolerable. In less extreme circumstances, the adjustability also means you can tailor your temps depending on the season, as I found I prefer things a bit colder in the summer and a bit warmer in the fall and winter.

On top of that, Eight Sleep takes its temperature control and sleep tracking tech a couple steps further with its Autopilot and Sleep Insight features. Autopilot uses data gathered by its sensors to automatically make your bed hotter or colder as needed. In my case, after noticing in the summer I was tossing and turning more often, it suggested a slightly cooler temperature schedule, which later resulted in higher sleep scores.

By tracking various metrics including heart rate, the Pod Cover can notify you when you had a particularly good (or bad) night of sleep.
By tracking various metrics including heart rate, the Pod Cover can notify you when you had a particularly good (or bad) night of sleep.

But what might be even more powerful is Sleep Insights, which are observations based on your metrics that tell you how well (or badly) you slept. It's kind of like a robo-coach that sorts through your data to provide tips so you don't have to. While reports generally amount to notifications about your sleeping heart rate being higher or lower than normal, I appreciate that it calls attention to things like eating late or having a drink or two before bed which can negatively impact your sleep. Annoyingly, both Autopilot and Sleep Insight are locked behind the company's optional 8+ Pro subscription that costs $19 a month, which is frankly just too much. I know companies these days are looking for steady revenue streams, but these features really ought to be free.

Comfort

Of course, all the fancy tech in the world doesn't mean much if this thing is uncomfortable, and thankfully it's not. It's actually quite the opposite. One of my gripes about the original Pod Cover is that you could feel the tubing inside. But on the Pod 3, you can only tell that it's more than a dumb mattress topper when you touch it with your hands; laying on it, the tubing is almost impossible to discern. Admittedly, the topper makes your mattress feel a touch firmer than it would otherwise, but aside from that, it feels a lot like a bed with a thin foam egg crate pad – just slightly pillowy.

Wrap-up

The Pod Cover features a relatively streamlined design, though you will need to find space to position its water hose and spot for the hub.
The Pod Cover features a relatively streamlined design, though you will need to find space to position its water hose and spot for the hub.

The thing that made me realize what a huge impact the Pod 3 Cover had on my sleep was how much I missed it while traveling. Even the softest, coziest hotel bed couldn't make up for the lack of temperature controls. Other additions like the Pod Cover's upgraded WiFi make the smart topper even easier to set up while more precise sleep tracking helps you better figure how well you’re sleeping and what you can do to improve.

The only real downside (and it's kind of a big one) is that with a starting price of over $2,100, it’s out of the reach of most people. And that doesn't even include the optional 8+ Pro subscription, which feels like an unnecessary tax required to unlock all of its features. That said, even without Autopilot and Sleep Insights, the Pod 3 Cover has delivered some of the best sleep I've ever had.