This article is a part of CNN Underscored’s Guide to Sleep, a week-long focus on the best sleep-related products. We’ll be featuring new products and guides all week, so check in every morning to see what’s new and keep your eyes peeled for exclusive deals.
Having an alarm clock may seem outdated with your smartphone’s endless number of tones and apps available to wake you up. But using your phone before you tuck in can lead to lower-quality sleep, and let’s be honest: Don’t you rely on your phone for enough already? So if you want to rid yourself of the temptation and put some distance between your bed and your screen but still need to wake up on time, an alarm clock is just the thing.
To help you replace your phone’s alarm, we put 15 top-rated alarm clocks to the test — from analog tickers to tech-filled wake-up lights. For a whole month, we set alarms, let them ring and snoozed (maybe a bit too often) to find the best of the best. After all our tests, three alarm clocks rose above the others.
The Jall Wooden Digital Alarm Clock has everything you need — and more — in an alarm clock. It’s simple to set, easy to read in the dark and has an alarm that is loud but won’t scare you awake. It’s got a polished feel to it, and its wooden design gives it a look unlike any other clocks we tested. Plus, at $25, the Jall Wooden Alarm Clock is equipped with incredibly useful features, such as the ability to set multiple alarms, humidity and temperature readings and a feature that puts the display to sleep and automatically wakes it back up if it senses movement or sound.
Those in need of an alarm clock without any extra bells or whistles will be more than happy with the DreamSky Compact Digital Alarm Clock. It’s small but packs a big display, and at $18.99 you get an easy-to-use clock with an adjustable wake-up tone. It lacks the extras of our overall winner, but the DreamSky Compact Digital Alarm Clock is a solid pick to get you out of bed in the morning.
If you want a more soothing and gradual wake-up experience than the standard beep of an alarm clock, the Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520 is the alarm clock for you. Its bulbous display slowly brightens to mimic the morning sun and then plays gentle noises, such as chirping birds, to ease you awake. This sunrise alarm clock gave us one of the most pleasant mornings out of all the clocks we tested, and at $79.95 (cheaper than other sunrise options we tested), it’s a great balance between luxury and price.
PHOTO: Kai Burkhardt/CNN
Jall Wooden Digital Alarm Clock
The Jall Wooden Digital Alarm Clock scored extremely well in all of our testing, thanks to its modern design, simplicity and extra features.
Right out of the box, this clock was easy to use and setup was a breeze. It’s got a 5-foot cord that should reach most outlets comfortably, and comes with a CR2032 battery that backs up your settings (although the small plastic latch that opens the battery door snapped off when we pulled too hard, so be careful when you need to switch the battery). The Jall clock has a panel on the backside that houses all the controls, including three small buttons, four switches and a scrolling wheel. To set the time or alarm, all you have to do is press and hold a button and use the wheel to change the numbers on the screen. Setting the time and alarm took us less than a minute when we first plugged it in, which was refreshingly short compared to other clocks. The scroll wheel was especially useful, allowing you to speed through the numbers for hours and minutes instead of repeatedly pressing a button.
Whenever you set or change your alarm, you have the option to set two other alarms as well, so you can have three different alarms active at once. You can also choose if you want the alarms to go off every day or on weekdays only, which was another pleasant feature that was absent from many of the Jall’s competitors.
Speaking of extra features, this clock can show you the humidity and temperature of your room, which are actually critical factors to getting restful sleep. You can toggle the dimmable display between showing temperature or the date, as well as a “Sound Control” mode, which turns off the display and automatically turns it back on when movement or sound is detected.
While there are plenty of fun and helpful features of the Jall, one of the most striking aspects is its design. We tested the “yellow” clock, which looks like a nice pine. But it also comes in three other finishes (black, brown and white), all of which have a clean, almost Japandi look. When the clock isn’t plugged in or the display is off, it looks like a solid wooden block. But when switched on, the time appears in a gentle white light behind the wood. We can imagine one of its colors matching with nearly any interior decor.
The Jall Wooden Digital Alarm Clock looks nice, but we didn’t name it the best alarm clock just because of its looks. First and foremost, the Jall is a solid alarm clock that will comfortably wake you up. It has a tone that isn’t so loud that it makes you jump out of bed, but it also isn’t so quiet that you’ll sleep right through it. The alarm is also adjustable, with five different volume settings, so you can fine-tune the beeps to ensure you roll out of bed every time. And if you want to roll back into bed, you can snooze the alarm for nine minutes by pressing any of the buttons on the back. To turn the alarm fully off, press any button twice.
It didn’t have the best wake-up experience of all the clocks we tested (that title belongs to the sunrise clocks we’ll touch on later), nor did it have a terribly jarring alarm that scared us awake (we’ll talk more about those too). Instead, it was a pretty standard alarm that woke us up without incident, and was easy to turn off even with eyes half open. If you’re the clumsy type (or semiconscious from just waking up) and accidentally knock it off the bedside table, there’s no need to worry, because it made it through our drop test without a scratch, thanks to its sturdy and lightweight build.
The Jall Wooden Digital Alarm Clock ended up being the highest-scoring clock in all of our testing and rightfully earned its place at the top of our list. Its functionality, simplicity and design really shined.
PHOTO: Kai Burkhardt/CNN
DreamSky Compact Digital Alarm Clock
The DreamSky Compact Digital Alarm Clock was neck and neck with the Jall Wooden Clock throughout our testing and, in the end, finished just one point shy of the overall winner. Even though it only got second place, we still believe this clock is one of the best on the market and checks all the boxes of a great alarm clock.
This clock doesn’t have the additional features the Jall does, instead touting just one alarm and an extra USB port. The DreamSky clock had a simple setup, and with four buttons and two wheels on the back, along with a snooze button on top, it isn’t too difficult to use. Just plug in the clock with its 5-foot, 2-inch cord, pop in two AAA batteries as a backup and set the time. To do this, you press and hold a button to enter the settings mode, then press the plus (“+”) and minus (“-“) buttons to change the time. While you will be mashing some buttons, your fingers won’t get fatigued since you can toggle between the hour and the minutes and go up and down.
The alarm itself is similar to the Jall’s, providing a nice and loud beep that isn’t too startling. The beeps increase in speed and volume the longer the alarm goes, and you can adjust the volume so you never accidentally sleep through until noon. The snooze button isn’t really a button but rather a sensor on the top of the clock that will allow you another nine minutes of zzz’s until it beeps again.
The DreamSky scored extremely well in nearly all of our tests, including durability, appearance and wake-up experience, but what made it one of the top contenders was its big and bright display. The numbers occupy basically the entire display of the DreamSky, instead of just being in a small window like some other clocks we tested. It’s easy to tell what time it is with the DreamSky, even if it’s the middle of the night and you’re as blind as a bat. This large screen easily made it one of the most readable clocks, tied only with the Magnasonic Projection Alarm Clock, which can project the time onto your ceiling. While we loved its ultra-visible display, the DreamSky has a dial on the back that allows you to fine-tune its brightness all the way down to a dark screen that won’t bother you at night.
If you’re looking for a solid alarm clock and don’t need the extra features of the Jall, the DreamSky Compact Digital Alarm Clock could be the one for you.
PHOTO: Kai Burkhardt/CNN
Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520
If a normal alarm clock just doesn’t do it for you and any beep is too harsh, then a sunrise alarm clock might be the thing you need. Sunrise alarm clocks can help jump-start your circadian system in the morning and can help improve sleep quality. In fact, 92% of Philips Wake-Up Light users say the lights wake them up pleasantly and make it easier to get out of bed.
To see if we felt a difference and how sunrise clocks compared to more traditional options, we tested four of them, including three of Philips’ famed Wake-Up Lights. After our testing, the best sunrise alarm clock — and one of the best all-around alarm clocks — was the Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520.
To be transparent, the title for best sunrise alarm clock was extremely close between the Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520 and its more expensive sibling, the Philips SmartSleep Connected Sleep and Wake-Up Light. The SmartSleep Connected Light was a fantastic alarm clock and almost took the crown. It has all the features of our winner and more, but during our drop tests the port where you plug in the power cord broke, making it unusable. Even though it scored higher and offers more benefits than the cheaper Philips light, the fact that it broke, not to mention its lofty $199.95 price, make us believe the Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520 is the smarter and better investment.
So let’s get into why this Philips Wake-Up Light really is so great. First and foremost, the wake-up experience was second to none. We live in an apartment lucky enough to get some morning light, so even though it probably didn’t impact us as much as someone who has blackout curtains, the light still eased us into the morning, and the pleasant natural noises were a gentle alarm that was a much better experience than the other clocks we tested.
The natural sounds were truly our favorite part of this clock, with tones including waves, chirping birds and a calming piano that increase in volume as you wake up. There are five options to choose from, so you can pick your favorite, or you can even tune the clock to the radio if you prefer.
Besides the outstanding morning routine, the Philips Wake-Up Light has tons of features that many other clocks didn’t have, such as a radio and wake-up profiles that allow you to choose a different experience for weekdays and the weekends. Plus, you can use the light as a standard lamp while you’re winding down or reading during the evening.
The setup was also extremely easy, thanks to the small screen at the bottom of the light that has little touch sensors so you can quickly navigate through the menu and change the time and alarm settings. Programming the alarm was simple and intuitive, even though you have to pick several settings, including your time, brightness, sound and volume.
One aspect of the Philips Wake-Up Light that knocked it down a few points, though, is its sheer size. The face and light itself is about 9 inches in diameter, and the base is quite big at about 4.5 inches, so you’ll have to clear out a bit of space to put it next to your bed. And you’ll want to make sure it’s close to your bed, as Philips suggests placing the light 16 to 20 inches from your head.
Since it is such a big alarm clock, it’s also got some weight to it, which made the drop test extra scary. Smaller clocks, such as the Jall and DreamSky, can probably fall off a bedside table dozens of times before anything happens to them, just because they’re so light and the impact is minimal. The Philips, on the other hand, weighs in at about 2.5 pounds, so the drops had a lot of force behind them, so we could see it breaking after a few more falls.
The Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520 is quite an investment for an alarm clock at $79.95, but for the price, you’re getting the best wake-up experience on the market that will make your mornings brighter and happier.
We researched and found top-rated alarm clocks and selected a wide-ranging pool that included 15 digital, analog and sunrise alarm clocks. We opened each alarm clock and set the time and alarm, playing with all the settings and testing out any and all extra features. We listened to the alarms during the day, and woke up to each one to get a genuine wake-up experience. Over the duration of one month, here are all the tests we ran:
- Readability: We took note of how visible and legible the numbers or analog hands on the clock were, both in light and in the dark.
- Ease of setting alarm: We noted how difficult it was to set the alarm on each clock, and how much time it took.
- Wake-up experience: We tested the alarm and noted the volume, tone, harshness and general experience of waking up to the alarm.
- Dimmability: We tested how dimmable each clock was, testing each one in the light and the dark.
- Snooze: We tested how easy it was to snooze the alarm, and took note if it was customizable and easy to set.
- Power: We noted if the clock needed batteries, a power cord or both. If it needed a power cord, we measured the cord.
- Materials: We felt each alarm clock and judged how nice or cheap it felt, including buttons and dials.
- Durability: We knocked each alarm clock off the same bedside table five times, noting any damage after each drop.
- Appearance: We noted its size and color options, and rated its aesthetics.
- Extra features: We noted and tested any and all extra features and how useful they were.
Based on the criteria above, we gave each alarm clock a score for each test, totaling into a score for each category, which we then added up for a final overall score. Here’s a full breakdown:
- Performance had a total of 70 points: readability (15 points), ease of setting alarm (15 points), wake-up experience (15 points), dimmability (10 points), snooze (10 points) and power (5 points).
- Build had a total of 30 points: materials (10 points), durability (10 points) and appearance (10 points).
- X factors had a total of 5 points: extra features (5 points).
Philips SmartSleep Connected Sleep and Wake-Up Light ($199.95, originally $219.99; amazon.com)
Philips SmartSleep Connected Sleep and Wake-Up Light
Like we said earlier, the Philips SmartSleep Connected Sleep and Wake-Up Light is an outstanding alarm clock. The wake-up experience is just as good as our winner for the best sunrise alarm clock — and this light comes with more features, such as a customizable snooze, more alarms you can set, relaxation exercises and more. Plus, you can control the clock from an app, so there’s no fussing with buttons.
However, on the last drop of our durability test the clock unfortunately broke. We don’t expect people to be dropping their alarm clocks that often, but accidents do happen, and if you pay so much for something, you want it to last. Even if it didn’t break, the extra $100 you’d have to pay over the Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520 is a lot, and compared to other clocks we tested, which have price tags around $20, it was just too high to justify. But if you have the extra money and want to buy a sunrise clock that helps you not only wake up easily but go to sleep faster and help your entire sleep experience, the Philips SmartSleep Connected Wake-Up Light is an amazing device to have in your home.
Magnasonic Projection Alarm Clock ($25; amazon.com)
Magnasonic Projection Alarm Clock
The Magnasonic alarm clock was a nifty and all-around solid clock that we thoroughly enjoyed testing. It comes with a radio that you can listen to or use as your alarm, an aux cord and a projector that displays the time on your ceiling. While the red digits on the ceiling kind of looked like a doomsday clock at first, it’s actually an extremely useful feature if you tend to get up in the middle of the night and want to know the time. If you like the idea of the projector, definitely consider the Magnasonic alarm clock, as it scored quite well in most of our other tests as well, just not as good as our winners.
Philips SmartSleep HF3500 Wake-Up Light ($49.95; amazon.com)
Philips SmartSleep HF3500 Wake-up Light
This smaller sunrise clock from Philips was nice, but its bigger counterparts really outdid this $49.95 option. This clock doesn’t have the natural sounds, and it’s so light and tall that it can easily be knocked over, especially since you have to tap the top to snooze it. The beeps of the alarm aren’t too harsh, and the alarm-setting process wasn’t terrible, so if you want a sunrise clock but don’t want to spend a ton of money, this could be a great buy.
Travelwey Digital Travel Alarm Clock ($11.97, originally $15.97; amazon.com)
Travelwey Digital Travel Alarm Clock
While this itty-bitty alarm clock didn’t score very high, we think it’s actually a fantastic alarm clock if you travel a lot. It’s so small it can fit in your pocket, plus it unfolds, so you can put it on basically any surface next to your bed. It’s battery-powered, so you can take it anywhere, and it has a standard alarm that’s easy to set. There’s nothing fancy about this clock, but if you need just the bare bones to take with you when you’re traveling or camping, the Travelwey Digital Travel Alarm Clock is a great, portable option.
HomeLabs Sunrise Alarm Clock ($20.99, originally $21.99; amazon.com)
HomeLabs Sunrise Alarm Clock
This sunrise clock really couldn’t compare with the options from Philips. The numbers on the clock itself were fuzzy and hard to read, and while it’s equipped with natural sounds to wake up to, the audio quality is so bad that it sounds like it’s coming through a tin can. We’d recommend you spend the extra money for one of the nicer options from Philips.
Sony ICF-C1 Alarm Clock With FM/AM Radio ($22.90; walmart.com)
Sony ICF-C1 Alarm Clock With FM/AM Radio
This alarm clock from Sony scored decently well, but none of its features stood out above the pack. It’s got a radio, which is a nice feature, and the design is simple, but the display was hard to see in the dark. Plus, every time you hit the snooze button, the time of the snooze increases, which seems counterintuitive.
Travelwey Home LED Digital Alarm Clock ($15.99; amazon.com)
Travelwey Home LED Digital Alarm Clock
This Travelwey alarm clock reminded us of a classic childhood alarm clock, with the bright red numbers and huge snooze button at the top. The snooze button can function as a light, which is a nice feature other digital clocks didn’t have, but setting the time and alarm was a slow and unforgiving experience. You have to hold one button and press another to set the time, and you can only increase the digits. So if you miss your time by one minute, you have to circle around the full 24-hour cycle to get back to your desired time.
Peakeep Small Battery-Operated Analog Travel Alarm Clock ($10.97; amazon.com)
Peakeep Small Battery-Operated Analog Travel Alarm Clock
Peakeep’s small clock scored the highest out of the analog clocks, which scored lower in general due to their lack of visibility in the dark and other features. This clock is the only analog option we tested to have a snooze button, and it was easy to set the alarm (though not an exact science, since you’re moving an analog hand instead of entering a digit). It has a light, but like other analog options, it’s only on when you hold it.
RCA Digital Alarm Clock ($12.87, originally $14.99; amazon.com)
RCA Digital Alarm Clock
The RCA alarm clock had one of the harshest alarm tones we tested. It rattled the plastic inside the clock and had a screeching sound that had us jumping out of bed to end our ears’ suffering as soon as we could. It wasn’t incredibly easy to set the alarm, and even if you need an extra-loud alarm to wake you up, we wouldn’t recommend this one. If you are an extremely deep sleeper, check out the Sonic Bomb.
Sonic Bomb Dual Extra-Loud Alarm Clock With Bed Shaker ($33.40, originally $52.95; amazon.com)
Sonic Bomb Dual Extra-Loud Alarm Clock With Bed Shaker
Not going to lie, we were terrified of this clock. When we tested the alarm for the first time on a table, we were shocked to see how violent the buzzing bed shaker was. But after weeks of putting it off, we finally slept with it — and, in reality, it wasn’t as bad as we thought. The beeps don’t start on full blast and go off right before the shaker, so we had a second to brace ourselves for the vibrations. The alarm does increase in volume and speed, and I don’t know what kind of person could sleep through that bed shaker if they put it underneath their pillow. So while it didn’t score too well in our testing and broke during our drop tests, if you have a bad habit of sleeping through multiple alarms, the Sonic Bomb Dual Extra-Loud Alarm Clock should be enough to wake you up.
Jall Analog Alarm Clock ($10.99; amazon.com)
Jall Analog Alarm Clock
The analog clock from Jall was quite a nice contender; however, since analog clocks had a few key features absent, it didn’t score well overall. The Jall looks cute, comes in five different colors and, most importantly, doesn’t tick, making it a solid analog alarm clock if you want something a bit heftier than the tiny Peakeep clock.
Peakeep Twin Bell Alarm Clock (starting at $13.99; amazon.com)
Peakeep Twin Bell Alarm Clock
The Peakeep Twin Bell Alarm Clock had an alarm so loud and shocking that it frightened us up out of bed from the other room. We put it outside the bedroom in the first place because the second hand ticked. And even though we live in New York City and we hear cars drive by our apartment pretty regularly, we couldn’t stand the sound of a ticking clock. There wasn’t much good from this clock that could outweigh the ticking and the alarm, so if you want an analog clock, we’d recommend the Jall or the smaller Peakeep.
More from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: