Best Free ESM Apps for Research in 2023: An Comprehensive Guide by ExpiWell

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Greetings, research community! At ExpiWell, we love enabling and helping researchers easily implement real-time experience capture. We support more than 4,000 researchers worldwide on our platform and have excellent ratings on our platform and apps. That's because we go into the trenches with you to support your research all through data collection. From our almost 10 years of experience now with researchers collecting experience sampling data, things can get hairy with experience sampling!

For researchers who are on a tight budget, we want to be a resource to find FREE experience sampling apps for their research. Remember, it's crucial to balance cost-effectiveness with other aspects like quality, security, convenience, and technical support.

Understanding Experience Sampling Method (ESM)

Before we jump in, its important to know what ESM is. ESM is an innovative approach to gather real-time data on individual experiences. It's instrumental in various fields, offering a lens into participants' daily lives. However, the effectiveness of ESM largely depends on the tool you use.

The Landscape of Free ESM Apps:

We have tried out all these different apps to identify the best features and incorporate them into our platform. In addition, a number of customers have also used these apps before using the ExpiWell ESM apps and they have shared some of their likes and dislikes about these platforms. So, here is a quick overview of what we believe to be the pros and cons of each of these free experience sampling apps. We show how ExpiWell helps overcome some of these issues.

1. PIEL Survey:

Pros: Great for basic surveys

Cons: It can be cumbersome as you need to send a project syntax file to participants to upload into the downloaded app. After completing the project, they then need to email the data back to you. This can be a security concern and often trips up the IRB.

With ExpiWell, starting and completing the project is seamless and the data are encrypted end-to-end from the mobile apps to our servers so participants do not need to manually send in their data.

2. ExperienceSampler:

Pros: Well documented open access app and customizable for detailed studies. Created by well-known researchers.

Cons: Requires heavy technical setup. It requires you to create a project specific app, set up your own server, and even pay for Apple Developer costs (~$299). There is also no technical support team.

With ExpiWell, you do not worry about any of the technical setup and can focus on just the project design and data collection.

3. SEMA3:

Pros: Strong in data analysis tools. Created by well-established ESM researchers.

Cons: It is unclear if the app is HIPAA or GDPR compliant. It also does not seem to adapt to different participant time zones or daylight savings changes which can pose problems. It is also unclear if they provide technical support as researchers have to agree to using the apps as is.

With ExpiWell, we have third-party checks on our HIPAA and GDPR compliance so you can easily use it across different contexts. In addition, we have spent a lot of time working on our adaptive time zone features so all schedules are adapted to participant time zones (and daylight savings changes) and even changes in their time zones when they travel. We are also committed to providing technical support throughout your experience sampling design and data collection.

4. PACO:

Pros: Offers versatile experiment designs.

Cons: As stated on the site, it is not GDPR compliant so cannot be run in EU or the UK.

Because ExpiWell is GDPR compliant you can easily plan and conduct your research in the EU and UK. We have quite a number of researchers running projects on our platform in the EU and UK!

5. MobileQ:

Pros: Simple and efficient for quick sampling.

Cons: Requires a lot of programming and as of 2021, they are no longer supporting the app.

With ExpiWell we seek to provide a simple and convenient interface to conduct your experience sampling research. We also recognize the importance of technical support and so provide this from the get-go, even when you are creating your project and doing pilot testing.

6. myCAP:

Pros: As part of REDCap, it has been used for clinical research and provides secure data collection.

Cons: The app interfaces are basic for participants and all the notifications are scheduled locally on the device. This can often cause issues as we have experienced this on multiple projects for ExpiWell researchers and participants. Instead, we strongly advocate for the use of push notifications sent from our servers.

Push notifications have several advantages:

  • Researchers can change the timing of the notifications if they decide to change the project schedule during data collection, which often happens
  • Our push notification timings will adapt to changes in participant times when they switch time zones and encounter daylight savings changes
  • Researchers can ensure push notifications reach participants. We notice that local notifications cannot be tracked well and that is linked to poorer response rates

Choosing the Right App: Balancing Free and Premium Features

While free apps provide a starting point, premium features like those in ExpiWell offer a seamless, secure, and more comprehensive research experience. Consider the support, user interface, and the security of your data – essential factors where ExpiWell excels.

The ExpiWell Advantage:

At ExpiWell, we pride ourselves on providing a platform that combines ease of use with powerful functionality. Our commitment to data security, coupled with an intuitive UI/UX, makes us the preferred choice for researchers aiming for high-quality, reliable data collection. Our global community of over 4,000 researchers is a testament to our platform's effectiveness.


While exploring free ESM apps is a valid starting point, the importance of a well-supported, secure, and user-friendly platform like ExpiWell cannot be overstated. Our aim is to empower researchers with tools that elevate their work and ensure data integrity. Check out our FREE basic subscription that allows you to do event-based experience sampling data collection projects! Sign up today!

If you have an idea and interested in learning more about how ExpiWell can support your work, schedule a FREE DEMO AND CONSULTATION today!

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