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Gentle Alarm is everything I could wish for in an alarm clock. Its paid version (linked) costs around $3, and yet has over 50,000 downloads with a 4.5-star average out of 7,475 reviews. In fact, it is so good, we put it on our Best Android Apps page.
So what’s so great about this alarm clock? Let me explain and you might be convinced at least to try its free version.
Pre-alarms are an interesting concept, and they are at the core of of Gentle Alarm. As developer Mobitobi explains, sleep is a cyclic thing. When we sleep, we switch between light sleep (REM, the phase when we dream) and deep sleep throughout the night. As morning draws near, the phases become shorter, until at the last few hours of sleep, a cycle takes about an hour. So you spend about half an hour in deep sleep, and about half an hour in REM. During REM, you would find it easier to wake up. Even soft sounds will wake you up, and you will feel more refreshed and may even remember your dreams more easily. So if your alarm happens to ring during this stage, consider yourself lucky.
But what if it doesn’t? This is where pre-alarms enter the picture. A pre-alarm is a very soft alarm that rings some time (30 minutes, by default) before the regular alarm. If you’re in REM, the pre-alarm will wake you up and you will actually feel alert. If you’re in deep sleep, you will simply sleep through the pre-alarm. Probability says that by the time the “real” alarm sounds half an hour later, you will already be in REM, and thus will find it easy to wake.
It’s a win-win, really. No need to use the device accelerometer to sense your movement in the bed, or to use any other sophisticated tricks.
This is what the main Gentle Alarm interface looks like. You can see the current time and when the next alarm is due, and the top bar lets you easily access key parts of the app. If you press the next alarm, you get a menu that lets you quickly tweak it:
The “quick-change” option is my favorite: It lets you shift the next alarm time by up to two hours, in 15-minute increments:
So I can very quickly decide I want to wake up 30 minutes later tomorrow (if I have a late night, for example). With just a couple of taps, I can reschedule the alarm, and I don’t have to fiddle with tiny text boxes or complex interfaces. Nice.
Quick alarms let you schedule a one-time alarm, either “in” a set amount of time (in an hour, etc.) or “at” a preset time of day. This works well for power naps, and also makes the app into a simple timer. I set up a “visual only” profile that sounds the softest alarm possible (5% volume, nearly inaudible), but lights up the screen when it rings. When I need a timer, I sometimes place the device where I can see it and set up a quick alarm.
Setting Up Alarms
Of course, there’s no need to set the alarm every night manually. Most of us keep a steady routine, so it’s easy to schedule alarms for certain days of the week. The Safe Alarm is an option for users who fear they may not wake up: It’s an alarm that rings after the “regular” alarm finishes, and uses full volume of the device.
If you have a really complicated routine, you can also uncheck the Weekly Alarm and get a more granular interface for setting repetitions:
If alarms are the “when”, profiles are the “how”. Profiles define what happens once the scheduled time arrives. Does the phone start blaring like crazy, or does it fade in gradually? Is there a Pre-alarm?
This is the profile overview screen, and the cryptic icons let you see what each profile does, at a glance. Look at the profile called “With pre-alarm”: The icons show how a pre-alarm rings 20 minutes before the main alarm at 5% volume and doesn’t fade in. The main-alarm allows a 7-minute snooze, goes up to 60% of device volume, and fades in during 1:30 minutes. It will keep ringing for 30 minutes if I don’t stop it manually.
You can set up many other options for every profile, but I’ll just show you a few:
Rising Sun means the display gradually becomes brighter with time. TTS stands for text-to-speech, and can read out a message as the alarm rings. But my favorite feature is…
This is absolutely crazy, and is an awesome way to make sure you actually wake up. This grid of sixteen dots lights up in a random pattern, and you need to repeat it, “Simon Says” style. You can set the speed as well as the number of dots in the pattern. I have mine set to six dots and medium speed, and it’s a fantastic way to really wake up. I just can’t solve the puzzle when I’m half-asleep, and the alarm keeps ringing until I solve it.
Once that’s done, the alarm goes off, but I’m wide awake. While you’re trying to resolve the puzzle, the alarm volume decreases, to make for a less stressful experience.
If you’re mathematically inclined, you may like the other challenge type:
This pits you against several math questions which you must solve correctly to make the alarm stop. This shows the easiest level, but it can become really tricky. I’ll stick with the patterns, thank you very much.
Last but not least, the Night Display can be used as a simple bedside clock. It has several modes, including a mode where the screen is black and the numbers only show up when you touch it. I would only suggest using it if your phone is charging throughout the night – it can be quite a battery drain. For me, the main reason to use Night Mode is that it can mute all notification sounds. It can also put the phone into Airplane Mode, if you prefer.
So, what do you think? Is it worth a spin? Or do you already have an alarm clock which you love? Let me know in the comments!
Image Credit: ShutterStock