At a Glance
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My quest to find the perfect alarm-clock app brought me to Gentle Alarm. This one, I'm happy to say, performed much better than the last replacement alarm I tested. As I've said in other reviews, I think the stock alarm clock for Android works quite well, but when we have the whole Android Market to choose from, why not be a little greedy when it comes to extra features? Gentle Alarm has some nice ones.
Gentle Alarm's main feature, as you might have guessed from the name, is its ability to wake you up gently. It has two ways of going about that. The first, "Traditional" way is that the alarm tone (or music or playlist, etc.) fades up very slowly; in fact, you can choose how slowly it fades up. I can't emphasize enough just how much nicer it is to wake up this way.
The second way is the "Pre-Alarm" (which you can decide to enable or not). The Pre-Alarm plays music (or a ringtone, depending on your preferences) at an extremely low volume starting half an hour before your alarm is set to go off. Why would you want to do that? The science that it's based on indicates that as you sleep you alternate between phases of deep sleep and light sleep, changing roughly every half hour. Researchers say that you want to wake up when you're in a light sleep-cycle, otherwise you'll be groggy. So when the Pre-Alarm music starts playing very softly, if you're in a deep sleep cycle you won't hear it and will keep sleeping. If you're in a light sleep cycle then you will wake up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Some people swear by this method, but for others it seems useless. It's definitely worth trying to see if it's right for you, but you will have to experiment with the volume (otherwise it may wake you up no matter what).
The app also offers a Safe Alarm mode, in case you really want to make sure you get up in time. This consists of a ringtone that plays at full volume after your quieter MP3 has played. Smart. It also offers Quick alarms, which are easy to set either as a wake-up at "HH:MM" or as a wake up in "HH:MM" (like a countdown timer). You can enable Captcha On Dismiss, too, which will force you to solve a quick memory puzzle (with adjustable difficulty) in order to turn off the alarm, to make sure you're really awake. The app also has a dock mode (with adjustable color and brightness) so that it functions well as a bedside clock, though it doesn't have built-in weather, music, or slideshow widgets like some others do.
Another big difference is that Gentle Alarm has customizable profiles, meaning that you can save different configurations of how you want the alarm to behave; then, when you set a time, you just choose which profile to use. This is a great idea. It comes with the "Traditional" and "Pre-Alarm" profiles already set up, but you can add more and have the app do things like switch into airplane mode, or silent mode until the alarm goes off.
All of these great features do come at a small price. First of all, the app is much more complicated to use than the stock alarm. I can see a person accidentally messing up while setting this alarm, fairly easily. If you're someone who is overwhelmed by options, this app probably isn't for you, as it isn't quite as intuitive as it could be. Accidentally setting the alarm for the wrong day is also painfully easy: If it's just past midnight on a Wednesday, for instance, and you hit the 'Tomorrow' button, it will set the alarm for Thursday morning, not Wednesday. So you have to pay more attention than normal when setting the time.
Additionally, in my tests, alarms stayed 'checked' (turned on) even when they were one-time alarms that occurred in the past; although they wouldn't ring, it just added to the confusion. And there's more interface funkiness that the developers need to fix. It would be nice to see them beef up the dock mode a bit, to make it more functional, but ease of use (or the lack thereof) is the main flaw.