The humble alarm clock is fading out of popularity because of smartphones. A July 2011 report from research firm Prosper Mobile Insights stated that 61% of smartphone/tablet users say that their mobile device has replaced a traditional alarm clock. For those who still prefer that trusty nightstand appliance, you can now purchase alarm clocks that roll away from you, are made inside wooden blocks, or can project the time on the wall or ceiling. There’s even alarm clocks that double as a dock for your smartphone or tablet! Even with these innovations in the alarm clock market, the smartphone has them all beat for portability, form factor, and ease of use.
Wake Smarter is dubbed as the first voice-controlled alarm clock for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. Just tell Wake Smarter when you want your alarm, and that’s it! But this app has more under the surface than you think. Let’s take a look and see what really makes it stand out.
(In the App Store, there are versions of Wake Smarter for the iPad and the iPhone/iPod Touch. For this review, I am using the iPad version of the app.)
First Run and Home Screen
Once you start the app, you’ll see the Wake Smarter splash page and then go directly to the Home Screen. There are three important notices which are shown:
- This app must be kept open for the alarm to work. This will not harm your screen.
- Voice commands are specific and limited. Please check the Help Manual under “Settings” for instructions.
- If you have any problems, please request support via “Talk to Us” from the “Settings” tab.
Because the app’s primary method of control is with your voice, it’s a good idea to check under the settings first to get an idea of how best to navigate the app. There are three icons at the bottom of the home screen: a half-shaded circle, a microphone, and an alarm clock. Tapping the half-shaded circle switches the app from Day Mode to Night Mode. As you can see below, the Day Mode features a clock with a photographic background, and the Night Mode has an all-black screen with LED-simulated numbers.
Tapping the microphone triggers the voice recognition engine for the app, and tapping the alarm clock takes you to the settings panel. The voice recognition panel gives you a few suggestions of phrases you can use like ‘today’s calendar’ or ‘Facebook’. The voice recognition technology is provided by SemVox, a German company which works with semantic technologies and voice solutions. Let’s take a look at the settings panel.
Most of the functionality of the app is in the settings panel. There are four categories: Alarms, Alarm Actions, Sleep Timer, Settings. The Alarms category tab is shown first, and you can tap the “Add Alarm” button to create your first alarm. Type the name of the alarm, set your alarm recurrence, and the time, and click the “Save” button to finish. You can activate or deactivate your new alarm once it’s created. Tap the Alarm Actions, and you’re presented with a blank “Add Action” button. Press that and you can add any of Wake Smarter’s seven alarm actions listed below. If you install multiple actions for an alarm, you can drag these into your preferred order of execution from this panel as well.
For the Alarm Sound, you can choose the duration of your alarm, or from one of three audio modes (Radio, Playlists, Alarm sound). The Radio option is quite impressive, and includes 140 Internet radio stations across eighteen different genres. There’s something for everyone here whether you prefer talk radio, alternative, hip-hop, or classical music. The Playlists option picks up any playlists you’ve created on your iOS device, and the Alarm sound lets you choose from twenty-one installed little tunes.
The Custom Message alarm action gives you three options: you can type a message, record a message, or use a preset recorded message. If you type a custom message, the app will speak the message using the built-in speech engine. You can also record a message up to thirty seconds long, or use one of the seven pre-recorded wake up messages such as Barack Obama or Homer Simpson.
The Weather alarm action uses your current location to provide you with the either the current temperature or the temperature with the highs and lows for the day. Temperature and wind speed units can be specified in English or metric.
The Calendar Events alarm action uses the calendar on your iOS device and dictates your daily schedule. It will only list the agenda for that day.
The News Feeds alarm action turns Wake Smarter into a news ticker. Choose from any of the dozens of feeds available across twenty-one categories in the Category section. In the Source section, you can choose your news feed by country, and in the Custom section you can add your own RSS feed. Once you’ve chosen your news source, you can set the alarm action to read between 1-10 items from that source.
Once you sign in with your Facebook information, Wake Smarter can read off up to 30 of the most recent events posted from your friends. You can also choose to have the alarm dictate Facebook events and the birthdays of your Facebook friends.
By connecting your Twitter account to Wake Smarter, the app will read off up to 30 of the most recent tweets from your timeline.
The Sleep Timer allows you to set the app to play audio for up to 2 hours before going into sleep mode. You can choose any of the radio stations or playlists on your device for this feature, or you can play any of the app’s
eleven sleep sounds (including rain, ambient tones, or jungle sounds).
The Settings tab has four sections: Alarm, General, Speech Interaction, and Support. Under the General section, you can change the clock style and background for the Day View, and change the color of the LED-simulated display in Night View. For the Speech Interaction section, you can control the volume, pitch, and tempo of Wake Smarter’s voice engine, and enable “Magic Word Mode”, which keeps the voice recognition for the app on at all times, and the user can cue Wake Starter for voice recognition by saying any of seven included magic word phrases. And finally, the Support section includes an in-app support channel (powered by Crittercism) to send suggestions to the developers.
Some of the drawbacks I found related specifically to the iPad version of this app. For starters, the Settings panel only takes up 1/4 of the iPad’s screen, and feels oriented to an iPhone or iPod Touch. Also, the app doesn’t have a landscape view for the iPad, so everything is stuck in portrait view.
The other drawback I found is that the Help manual (which includes the voice controls for the app) is 4 taps away from the home screen. There are eighteen voice commands, so it will take a bit of tapping and speaking trial and error to get the hang of using the voice recognition. I found it easier to just set the alarm manually rather than speaking it out. Through my own trial and error, I found that there is a slight tutorial for the voice commands. Simply tap the microphone button and say “Help”, and the app will begin listing a few commands. However, you have to repeat this process three times in order for it to go through all of the commands. Simply put, the voice recognition takes a bit of work to master.
There are some slight drawbacks for some of the Alarm actions. For example, while you can set a playlist as your Alarm sound, you cannot select a song just by itself. If you type a custom message, you can’t hear the speech engine try to say the phrase until you set it as an alarm action and your alarm goes off. Also, I found the speech engine hiccups on a few things, such as Twitter usernames (it ignores them completely). This is something that could probably be fixed in future versions of the app.
The last drawback I found dealt with the Magic Word functionality. You can’t add your own Magic Word phrase, and the phrases included are limited in scope (Hey Wake Smarter, Hey Computer), other people’s names (Hey Isabella, Hey Christine, Hey Jennifer), or sugary sweet talk (Hey Sweetheart, Hey Girlfriend). Keeping the Magic Word feature active is also a huge battery drain; in my tests, my iPad went from a full charge to zero percent in less than an hour while this feature was active. Unless you really enjoy talking to your iOS device in this way, it’s a bit of a wasted feature.
Wake Smarter is a voice-controlled application that allows you to set alarms, check your calendar, listen to Internet radio, and more. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a learning curve for the voice recognition, and the app can easily drain your device’s battery if you keep the automatic voice recognition feature active for too long. Spotty voice recognition also means you may spend more time fiddling in the settings than actually controlling the app with your voice as intended.
Maurice Cherry is a web entrepreneur, freelance technology journalist, and technology consultant for non-profit organizations and politicians. He is best known as the creator of the Black Weblog Awards, the world’s premier event for showcasing bloggers, podcasters, and video bloggers of the African diaspora. Maurice is also Creative Principal at 3eighteen media and an adjunct professor with DeVry University. Maurice is an honors graduate of Morehouse College, and currently lives in Atlanta, GA.