When it comes to alarm clock docks, it's no longer enough to have good sound quality. Most systems now offer apps that provide increased functionality for your dock, such as Internet radio and weather forecasts. Gear4 is trying to stay ahead of the curve by adding a sleep monitor, which uses a radio transmitter to measure your body movement and breathing while you sleep, and lets you know how long you slept and how restful it was. But any alarm clock dock has to be able to wake you, and sound good doing it, too. So how does the $199 SleepClock stack up against the competition?
Gear4's Renew SleepClock is one of the stranger-looking docks we've come across. The device, which bears a passing Click to Enlargeresemblance to the bottom of Darth Vader's helmet, measures roughly 9.5 x 7.5 x 5.5 inches, taking up about as much desk space as the Stem TimeCommand, which has a 7.6-inch diameter, but is only 3.3 inches tall. The top of the SleepClock is home to the dock connector and the unit's six glossy black buttons. The rest of the bulbous top has a black matte finish and serves as the iPhone/iPad stand.
The lower half of the SleepClock's frame is sheathed in a cloth speaker cover, and an LCD screen is positioned prominently on the dock's face. Time is displayed using small white dots, while the audio source and day are displayed in block text. Below the LCD is a silver faceplate with the SleepClock and Gear4 logos. Around back are the SleepClock's A/C adapter port, Aux-In and FM antenna. There is, however, no AM antenna, so good luck listening to sports radio.
Setup and interface
Setting up the SleepClock is as easy as plugging in the unit and dropping your iPad, iPhone or iPod onto the dock connector. From there, like most other docks, the clock will sync with your device, meaning you don't have to set the time. Connecting your device also gives you an automated prompt to download Gear4's free SleepClock app. The app provides options for listening to music, setting your alarm and tracking your sleep habits. Both the alarm and sleep tracking features were easy to use and offered a good amount of functionality.
Strangely, there is no way to set the SleepClock's alarm from the device itself. That means if you don't have your phone handy, you won't be able to set your alarm when you hit the sack.
What makes the SleepClock unique is its sleep monitor sensor. The sensor emits low-frequency radio waves that measure your breathing patterns and body movements to determine if you are sleeping or not. If you don't move for a while and you are listening to music, the sensor will determine that you are sleeping and begin to lower the speaker's volume.
The sensor can also determine when you are at lightest point of your sleep cycle and gently wake you up, so you feel more refreshed. The app records your sleep patterns, which you can then compare across days, weeks, months and even years. You can also enter your age and gender and compare your sleep habits to the norm for your age and gender bracket.
In addition to the sleep sensor, the SleepClock includes two alarms that can be set for specific days of the week and be used in conjunction with the radio, your iPod or your choice of soothing nature sounds, which come preloaded with the SleepClock app.
We tested the SleepClock's speakers by listening to Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild." While the sound was clear and offered a suitable amount of bass, The SleepClock's speakers sounded a bit flatter than the Philips DC390, though certainly better than the Tick Tock Dock. Guitar riffs from 36 Crazy Fists were spot on, but large harmonizing sections sounded somewhat muddled.
The sleep sensor was difficult to understand at first. There's no explanation of the various colors that appear on the screen when the sensor is active, nor does the app tell you the exact point you fell asleep. Once we figured it out though, the sensor proved to be fairly interesting. The sensor readout functions much like an EKG: no activity registers as a stationary line on a moving graph, while activity registers as peaks and valleys.
We sat in an empty office and waved our arms around wildly to see if the sensor would respond to our movements. Sure enough, the Gear4 displayed a large group of peaks. When we stopped, it picked up only slight movements; it even noticed when we took especially deep breaths. All sleep data collected by the SleepClock is aggregated within the app.
We wouldn't suggest that you use the SleepClock to test for sleep apnea, but if you want to get a basic idea of whether you've been getting restful sleep or not, the SleepClock is worth trying. One thing we would have liked to see in the SleepClock app is suggestions for improving sleep habits.
Sure, alarm clock docks are great for when you're awake, but the $199 Gear4 Renew SleepClock is useful when you're asleep. While we wish the audio were on a par with the $179 Philips DC390, the SleepClock's ability to automatically lower the volume when you nod off and track your sleeping patterns makes this one of the most versatile--though priciest--options available.