A simple beep-beep alarm costs £4.99, so every pound after that must be spent on something useful or fun, not just a gimmick.
Ease of use
How complicated is it to set the time? Can you be confident that you’ve set the alarm for the hour you want?
Can the alarm actually rouse you, even if you went to bed much too late and need to get up at ‘horrible’ o’clock the next day?
State of mind
How do you feel when you wake up? Groggy and homicidal, or bright-eyed and bushy-tailed? An overly aggressive alarm will quickly get sidelined.
Best for… a touch of class
Every man dreams of being Bertie Wooster and now we can be woken from those dreams by the reassuring tones of Jeeves the butler, as voiced by Stephen Fry. The Voco is a perfectly ordinary alarm clock in every other respect, but it’s great for both your mood and self-esteem to be woken with a little birdsong, a gentle throat clearing and then one of 130 different obsequious messages. Unfortunately, it’s so gentle that it’s quite possible to sleep through. But for light sleepers, it’s a lovely way to start. If only the tea and ironed newspaper came with it.
Best for… seasonal blues
Instead of a blaring alarm in a pitch-dark room, the Bodyclock gently wakes you by gradually brightening the light on the top, mimicking a sunrise. At full brightness it will then either turn on the FM radio or play nature sounds at you. On a dark winter’s morning, the value of waking to a bright room filled with the sound of birds tweeting or waves on a beach can’t be overstated. At the other end of the day you can also have a simulated sunset, as you drift off to sleep. The controls could be simpler but the results are, literally, brilliant.
Best for... not interrupting your dreams
The Zeo comes with a headband to monitor your brainwaves. These are sent wirelessly to the base unit, which graphs your sleep state through the night. Half an hour before the time you’ve set, the Zeo begins watching for the best time to wake you. We all cycle through phases of deep and shallow sleep, and by catching you on a rising crest, the Zeo makes you feel as if you’ve woken naturally. It’s expensive as just an alarm clock, but you can also upload sleep graphs to your computer to track your sleep if you want to get really obsessive about it.
Best for… not oversleeping
When this alarm goes off, you’ll be treated to the pervasive bleating, mooing or crowing sound of a farmyard animal, chosen randomly each day. To silence this cacophony, you must take the corresponding animal shape from the plastic paddock and stick it in the slot on the top of the barn. Simple as this task sounds, it requires more effort than just pounding the snooze button and there’s no ignoring the noise – those animals are really loud! By the time you’ve shut them up, you should be awake enough to get up and milk them.
Best for… early starts
Fishermen, shift workers and other early risers have always had the problem of waking hours before their partner. The Shake-n-Wake has a wristband and uses vibrations instead of sounds. If you wear it on the wrist furthest from your partner, they won’t notice it go off at all. The clock is fairly bulky though, so if you sleep on your side or thrash around a lot, you might find it uncomfortable – although you could just place it under your pillow. Waking to the buzz and tingle on your wrist is less aggressive than an audible alarm, but it’s also harder to sleep through.