end kvetch

Macs, productivity, &c.

Software Sumo: Alarm Clocks

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Yes indeedy, time to review alarm clock applications: Aurora, Awaken and Alarm Clock 2. I have decided to review the Aurora 4 kinda-private beta rather than the stable version 3. I know I may be criticized for this just as I was for comparing an old version of MacJournal to Journler, but deal with it. (I was originally planning to review Alarm Clock Pro as well, but my trial has expired and I do not know it well enough to review it without playing around for a while).

Interface

The new version of Aurora boasts a nice new interface. Although it is basically the same as the old one functionally (meaning users of Aurora 3 will have no problem using it) it has nice new graphical elements that really bring it up to speed with the new OS. I love the new toolbar icons, and although the sheep was cute, I’m glad to see it go. Overall, Aurora 4 presents a nice, simple interface that is really all about the alarms, making it very easy to do what you’re supposed to– wake up. That said, it does lack a full screen option for both alarms and the Fall Asleep option.

Awaken also has a nice interface with a semi-transparent clock as the centerpiece. Although the clock looks nice, it doesn’t serve any real purpose in my mind and just serves to distract from the alarms (in Awaken, there is a dropdown box for editing alarms). I’m not too crazy about the “back-end” interface for Awaken, but the full screen interfaces can’t be beat. For both alarms and falling asleep, there is a gorgeous full screen display showing album art et al (similar to Front Row).

Alarm Clock 2 hasn’t been updated in a while and is starting to show it. A couple years ago the simple transparent alarm was nice, but now it is starting to age. Combine this with pre-Tiger graphics in the back-end and you’ve got a problem. The back-end is also accessible only from the menu item which really annoys me. Perhaps this application would be best for your blind aunt.

Aurora: 8/10 – A gorgeous, clean interface. But no fullscreen.

Awaken: 9/10 – Not the best back-end, but the fullscreen is to die for.

Alarm Clock 2: 6/10 – It seems my alarm clock has woken me up in 2003.

Features

Aurora has the two main features we have come to expect in alarm clock apps: the alarm, of course, and also the fall asleep option. The alarm is clean, easy to use and reliable because it uses Aurora’s built in player rather than iTunes (I quit using Aurora 3 because its iTunes reliance effected dependability). The alarms play in a pane of the main window that shows album art and a variety of other information and options. Although the fall asleep pane has more options than the one in Awaken (you can choose to fall asleep after a number of songs, at a specific time, once a movie has finished or after a set number of minutes) I find it annoying that Aurora will not start iTunes/Quicktime/DVD Player like Awaken does (because, let’s face it, I’m a lazy bum. However, some people probably won’t mind this). In addition to iTunes, Aurora also has EyeTV support but I haven’t had a chance to use it. Otherwise, Aurora doesn’t have a ton of extra features (this isn’t a bad thing however, it has everything I need).

Awaken has alarms and fall asleep just like Aurora, but no EyeTV support. To make up for it, it has a timer (and of course, full screen). By far my least favorite part of Awaken is the fact that it still uses iTunes for just about everything. You can use sound alarms that play right from Awaken, but these are limited to certain file types (and you miss out on album art). However, I have not found this reliance to effect reliability (not much anyway, the first time it didn’t go off because iTunes wanted me to update). The only option for falling asleep is after a certain amount of time. This is kind of a pain, but overall I think the fall asleep option is stronger here than in Aurora. The timer is pretty simple– you tell it when to go off and it does. Easy as that.

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Alarm Clock 2 does not have a fall asleep option. However, it does have both a timer and a stopwatch. Surprisingly, Alarm Clock 2 plays alarms locally and because of this it has never missed an alarm (I used it for quite a while). Also nice is the ability to choose a specific song in a playlist rather than having to play from the beginning.

Aurora: 7/10 – Has the two most important features but no fullscreen (and the fall asleep option isn’t the best).

Awaken: 7/10 – The biggest weakness is its use of iTunes for playback.

Alarm Clock 2: 6/10 – No fall asleep but some other handy features.

Overall

Because Aurora and Awaken are so close it really comes down to personal choice. If you’re not big on fullscreen, Aurora is probably the way to go. However, if you really like the fullscreen and other showy effects, Awaken is probably the way to go. And, if you’re hard-up on cash, Alarm Clock 2 (or Aurora 3) will do in a pinch. Bottom line, pick up your trial of Awaken and the Aurora beta and see which you prefer.

Aurora (v3 is free, but v4 will sell for an unknown price): 15/20 – Great interface even without fullscreen. Easy (and fun) to use. Definitely a strong contender.

Awaken ($12.95): 16/20 – The fullscreen really makes up for some rough bits. A great, great-looking app that’s pretty good as far as first things to see in the morning go.

Alarm Clock 2 (Free): 11/20 – Bad interface and a mixed bag of features. That said, the price can’t be beat.

Additional screenshots for this edition of Software Sumo can be found here.

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