It is hard to say if this wraparound neck collar that heats up via a remote control was devised after a viewing of the movie Saw, but there is equally no evidence to prove it wasn’t. Unlike that film, in which a maniac inventor traps unwitting victims inside arcane instruments of torture, U-Neck (£64.99, stressnomore.co.uk) aims to relax you. It is a massage device with an X-Men visor design and flexible arms that snap around your neck. I love a massage, so I am excited for this. It heats up! It vibrates at different intensities! It even deploys infrared to target nerve endings!
First, though, the name. U-Neck is such a profoundly unattractive word, it almost warrants respect. Factual in a lumpen sort of way – this being a U-shape that fits around your neck – it also sounds like an obscure insult. It is as hard to wrap your head around U-Neck’s name as it is easy to wrap U-Neck around your head.
When the day comes to test it, I’m lucky enough to wake with painful neck-ache. I charge it up and switch it on. Despite all the tech, it is not too heavy. It weighs 260g (which admittedly is hard to conceptualise. Think of it as weighing 0.004% of a midcentury sideboard). It is comfortable to wear and the remote control works well, allowing you to set a timer, change massage modes and control their intensity.
The device buzzes and pulses through two metal plates covered in raised dots, built into the section hugging the back of my neck. It is strong, like someone accelerating a remote-control car inside my skull, or ringing a phone I’ve just swallowed. I’ve experienced similar with other massage devices, though U-Neck does employ a greater variety of rhythms and intensities (up to 550 permutations are possible).
However, the collar has another trick up its, er, sleeve. I become aware of it while playing with the remote. It starts with a shiver on the nape of my neck, like a devil licking me. An inexplicable prickling, and then the sensation grows broad and intense, like tattoo needles up the back of my skull and over my ears. Whereas the vibration massage was localised, this sensation spreads. When I reach to touch the plate to see what is going on back there, I find my hand shooting away. It is electricity: there is electricity on my skin. I’m viscerally alarmed. I don’t even like taking a jumper off after 6pm because I’m scared of static. (That little shock of blue, leaping from the Pringle? No thank you.) I take another look at the box. “Low-frequency electric therapy,” it says.
Is this where we are now? Are our pleasure centres so overstimulated that in search of relaxation we will knowingly give ourselves electric shocks to the head? I find the sensation painful, until I realise I am on maximum intensity, too much for me. I’m not trying to tranquilise a rhino. I turn it down to half that, and am more able to appreciate one of the most unusual sensations I’ve ever known. It really is like nothing else. Relaxtricity? It is reminiscent of that trick where a friend pretends to crack an egg over your head, and you feel it oozing down your scalp. But it is also sharper than that: a million-pin tingle, which some people may love.
It never feels dangerous, and U-Neck meets EU health and safety regulations. (Can’t wait until we shred that, so copycats can sell live wires wrapped around a boxing glove.) In fact, electrotherapy has been around for years, claiming to help with neck and back pain, and headaches. Medical research suggests these claims are at best extremely limited. Is it relaxing? I’m too weirded out to say. I don’t like the slight but involuntary muscle contraction, together with the heat generated by the collar. When I take it off, my neck is numb and hot to touch.
I guess if you don’t have a friend, or an imaginary egg, this is a pretty good substitute for one of those things. But consumer electronics still can’t match the torquing power, dexterity and sensitivity of a trained masseur’s hands. This latest offering does bring exciting new tricks to the table – I just hope it’s not a metal table. I’m no U-Neckrophile, though sensation junkies will get a kick out of it.
The name, though.
Even if U-Neck didn’t sound similar to “eunuch” and “U-bend” it would still be weird.
Wellness or hellness?
U-neckessary, but not bad. 3/5
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