Brain Builder Review: Train, Track and Relax

by ToriDeaux on March 2, 2009

Brain Builder, from Advanced Brain Technology

Never one to turn down free stuff, I agreed  greedily eagerly when Alex  Doman offered me a review copy of
Brain Builder – the brain-training software from Advanced Brain Technologies.

The company doesn’t have any online demos available yet (and I was too lazy busy to fully check out their site in advance) so when the delivery guy handed me the box, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

It was  a brain-training blind date.

First impressions count in blind dates, and Brain Builder hit a home run; it showed up wearing a real box and shrink wrapped jewel cases for the CD (the software equivalent of a sports coat) and it was bearing romantic gifts!

What more could a girl ask for?

Seriously, a lot of developers neglect those extras these days. Yes, I know I know…. the real “value” is in the bits and bytes of the program itself, but I always feel a bit ripped off when I pay hundreds of dollars for software and all I get is a non-descript CD in a white paper sleeve.

All the cool stuff that comes wth Brain Builder -  I tried to take a Blame it on my kinesthetic learning style if you must, but I want something tangible for my money, and Brain Builder delivered with  a “getting started” type CD, the main program disk, a brain diary, nutrition guide, and two “Sound Health” CDs with high quality recordings of classical music on them. Related to ABT’s work with their other product, The Listening Program, the music is intended to increase focus and performance – but I suspect a hidden motive of setting a romantic ambience for the blind date.

Ok, enough with the extras and the dating anaology.

On with the Brain Training!

Brain Builder includes a few unique stand out features:

Brain Builder Screen Shot: Video Clip
Meditative Video Clips: Each training session begins and ends with a relaxing audio-visual clip of nature scenes set to classical music.   The video quality of the clips varies a bit (a few appear pixelated on my monitor) but it doesn’t detract from the calming effect.  The clips are artfully arranged, I often find myself smiling during them…   The video bookend effect turns what could be a stressful mental challenge into an almost meditative experience – and the closing clip its like a little reward for getting through the session.     It may seem odd to the more “just the facts” type personalities, but I suspect the de-stressing effects of these clips may make the training more effective overall.

Brain Training Diary: Included in the software is an electronic journal that allows you to rate yourself on a few brain-crucial aspects like sleep, diet and exercise, as well as jotting down any relevant notes for that day.   It’s a feature I’ve asked other software developers to include, in the past, and something I’ll include in the brain fitness course I’m developing, too.

A brain diary is a great tool for becoming more aware of which lifestyle factors affect your cognitive functions the most, and I’m excited to see it included in Brain Builder.  (It would be even better if, when I finished a session, I was prompted to fill out the diary)

The Music: Along with the SoundHealth CD’s and the music behind the video clips, the visual exercises in the sessions have classical music in the background, making it surprisingly more fun and less draining to focus on some pretty tedious tasks.   The choice of music makes me think the company may actually know what they’re talking about when it comes to their software offering for professionals,  The Listening Program.  Go figure! ;)

Then there is the brain training itself…

I‘ve been working through the sessions sporadically, more to gain familiarity with the program than to actually test its effectiveness, but again I found some interesting features.

Brain Builder Screen Shot: Visual Focus ExerciseThe exercises fall into 3 groups: Focus, Visual, and Auditory.

The auditory exercises are most intriguing to me, since its an area ignored by most of the other trainers.  This makes it a possible substitute for the  Posit Science auditory program, which is priced too high for many users.

The auditory exercises consist of a spoken series of random letters and numbers, which you have to remember and repeat by typing on your  keyboard. What makes it interesting is the variety in voices, ranging from very young children to older adults, both male and female.  The spacing of the letters/numbers varies as well, with unexpected pauses between some of the tones.   In theory, I’d think this would train auditory attention so that it is applicable to more real world situations – and the variety in voices forces you to listen more carefully, training your hearing skills as well as your memory… and the higher levels require you to reverse the order of the input.  Challenging stuff, that!

The visual exercises also deal with letters and numbers, but add in nonsense syllables, and a visual arrangement element that moves beyond just memorizing an order.

The focus exercises train your attention, reaction times, impulse control, and ability to ignore distractions.  I have yet to progress to a point where the program deems me capable of handling distractions, so I can’t tell you what they’re like ;)

Every so many sessions, the program runs you through some of the exercises as a progress test, and calculates your “Brain Speed”.   Much like Nintendo’s “Brain Age” it seems to be just a handy, user friendly label for your progress – the program doesn’t include any fancy medical equipment to measure just how fast your neurons are firing (though it would be cool if it did). The “Brain Speed” label doesn’t bother me, but I’m sure we’ll eventually hear from the Anti-Brain-Game Brigade on the subject eventually!

Registration and Other Technical Stuff:

Unlike most of the trainers out there, Brain Builder does not require an active internet connection to play.  Registration does require a connection, but you can play quite a few times (20, I think it was) before registering, so if you don’t have an always-on connection, or want to send it to your non-web savvy parents, no problem.   When I registered, there was a glitch with the sign up server, but an alternative set of instructions meant signing up was still simple.   A phone number is available if you have any problems.

The software allows for up to 5 players to have their own accounts, and unlike some of the competing products, it’s not just intended for seniors, but for teens and children as well as adults;  the five user slots will come in handy for those with kids.  One caution:  The accounts aren’t password protected, Brain Builder tries to encourage me after I failed to increase my so if you don’t want your kids to know just how many senior moments you may have, you might want to set your account up on a separate and secured  computer ;)

And Brain Builder gets points for hitting the major criteria in assessing brain- trainers…  automatically adjusting difficulty, offering encouragement,  history tracking, and easy to follow, pre determined sessions.   There are just enough choices to make that you feel “in control” –  you can choose 15 or 30 minute sessions, and select your own base level of difficulty: easy, moderate or challenging.(Based on personal experence, I’d recommend that every so often, you select the challenging level, then back it down again)

There are also options to play some simple memory games, and practice  skills outside of the training sessions.

The program sells through the Brain Builder website for 199.95 + 14.95 shipping and handling.   (They break the charges up into 3 payments of $66.65)  – so it’s in the middle range, price wise….  affordable, but not cheap.

There are no online demos available, but there is a 30 day trial period – send it back in that time, and you won’t be charged. (Alex has been a very straight forward, upright sort of guy, his company has been around a while, and I trust him to honor the guarantee)

Lets see, what else might you need to know…  Brain Builder is currently available only for the PC, but a Mac version is promised soon… and there seems to be some internet chatter about an iPhone version coming soon, but you’ll have to ask Alex about that.

imageThe Verdict?

Brain Builder definitely gets added to my list of top recommended programs. It fills a need for programs available without internet connections, affordable auditory training, and  it has those nifty relaxation videos.

I’m definitely up for a second date.   Maybe it’ll bring me chocolates next time…  chocolate IS good for the brain, you know!

Check it out:   http://www.BrainBuilder.com

And the parent company:
Advanced Brain Technologies http://www.Advanced Brain.com

And if you work with special needs or learning disabled students?
t http://www.TheListeningProgram.com

Ok, I think that’s all!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 MindTweaks.com- BrainBuilder Review: Train, Track and Relax « The Brain Understanding Itself 03.02.09 at 6:35 pm

[...] says blind dates don’t work! Read Tori’s review: http://www.mindtweaks.com/wordpress/?p=1125 Posted in brain fitness, brainbuilder. Tags: brain age, Brain Builder review, brain fitness, [...]

2 Ginger Kenney 03.02.09 at 8:11 pm

What a great review of BrainBuilder Tori, and you kept me laughing at the same time. It is very interesting to hear feeedback from someone who has experience using a variety of the brain training products out there now. Thanks!

3 Erin Matlock 03.03.09 at 3:18 pm

Awesome review, Tori! I’ve got to agree, when BrainBuilder showed up on my doorstep, the presentation was beautiful. Alex and his team put a lot of thought into the design and packaging.

Of course the real test is the program itself. We’ve spoken a few times via email, and you’ve been extremely happy with it. I’m only beginning my training, but I like what I see so far.

I’ve actually been listening to the SoundHealth CDs while working on a coding project and I love them! They’re stimulating without being distracting.

4 Tori Deaux 03.03.09 at 6:26 pm

@Ginger I’m glad it kept you laughing; I figure that laughter should be part of any well ballanced brain fitness program ;)

I’m finding it really interesting to compare the different programs. I find that there is no clear “best” program – though there may be a “best” program for a particular individual’s lifestyle and needs.

@Erin I’ve really enjoyed the SoundHealth CDs, too – they seem to be just as effective as the entrainment tracks I sometimes use : )

5 Brain Builder Review - Exercise Your Brain In 15 Minutes Flat | Brain Training 101 06.24.09 at 3:09 pm

[...] Each session starts out with an introductory meditation where you are shown relaxing scenery accompanied by soothing background music. This was a favorite of Tori Deaux who mentioned how much she liked it to me in conversation as well as in her MindTweaks review. [...]

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