It’s hard to think of a formerly essential device that’s been as thoroughly replaced as the alarm clock. I’m not sure I know anyone anymore who has an actual, physical alarm clock on their bedside table, when even just ten years ago, before the ascendance of the smartphone, it was an essential bit of tech. People still have cameras; they still wear watches; but the smartphone has more or less completely replaced the alarm clock. It shouldn’t have.
It’s true that phones make very good alarm clocks. They can wake you up at any time, obey any pattern of complex wake-up times, play any song or tone. You’re already carrying one around in your pocket, and probably looking at it before bed.
But it’s also very likely bad for your sleeping habits to use your phone as an alarm clock. Most obviously, it’s been well documented that the cool, bright light of a smartphone screen makes it much harder to go to sleep; it stands to reason that if you’re using your phone as an alarm clock you’re much more likely to be using it before bed. But there are also so-called “sleep hygiene” reasons to keep your phone out of your bedroom: the stimulation of flicking through your phone — and of keeping emails from your boss only an arm’s length away all night — is only going to make it harder to relax yourself enough to sleep.
And, face it: Your phone also has no charm whatsoever. Clocks — most of them at any rate — are a really very lovely objects: soothing in their predictability and reliability, comforting in the singularity and simplicity of their purpose, and, in some cases, very well designed. Replacing all the many possibilities of the alarm clock — Digital! Analog! Bright colors! Simple minimalism! Flippy-floppy numbers, you know those ones! — for a black rectangle of a screen laid flat on its back is an abdication.
Also, to see the time on a phone you have to pull out the phone and check it. With an alarm clock you can look at the clock. This is a nice feature.
I’ll admit that I have a thing for clocks. It would not be very difficult for any first-year psychology student to figure out why; I am late for literally everything, all the time, and constantly suffer just enough anxiety about it to feel bad but not enough to get me to actually change my behavior. I keep an extensive collection of watches, almost all Swatch-brand plastic watches of mostly ridiculous patterns and colors from the late 1980s.
And no matter how good my smartphone, no matter how good the Rock’s alarm clock app is, I will not use my phone as an alarm clock. I use an alarm clock as an alarm clock.
One of the nicest things about alarm clocks is that there’s no “best”: They do basically one thing, and most of them do it well enough that your choice is really about personality. (The most popular are often the least interesting: Amazon’s best seller is a boring-ass black rectangle with big red numbers.) If you want one, I highly recommend venturing deep into eBay, Craigslist, or Etsy to find killer, weird alarm clocks: baroque 1950s filigreed silver things that bang little bells, fake-wood-paneled 1970s radio-alarm clocks that feel as though they should play Creedence Clearwater Revival songs and nothing else; minimalist Braun cubes for your mid-century-inspired condo; cartoonish brightly colored Memphis-design-inspired clocks from the 1980s.
Here are a few of my favorites, just to get you started.
This clock is so rad I might actually buy it myself. It has that Marimekko kind of childlike look that pairs so well with the boring minimalist mid-century furniture that’s trendy now. Also the seller refers to the clock as “he,” which rules.
I had this same GE clock when I was a kid, and am just realizing now that it was probably 20 years old when I had it. How did I even get this thing? Incredibly fake-looking wood paneling, big freakin’ snooze button, can wake you up to FM radio. You may have to Google what the FM stations are near you.
Ah yes, the Braun alarm clock. Classic, clean, simple. This clock tells the world that style is important to you but not enough to get something that isn’t appealing to literally everyone in the world.
Love the color, love the flippity-floppity numbers, love that there’s a little window that shows you what time the alarm is set for.