Hands-on: Gentle Alarm for Android is a beautiful way to wake up
ProfilesOne of the best concepts in Gentle Alarm is that not all alarms are exactly alike. The Profiles screen lets you set up individual alarm "types". As you can see, each profile has its own complete set of options: You can select whether or not you'd like to have a pre-alarm (more on these later), the duration of the alarm, the initial and final volume, the alarm tone (or MP3 tune), and more.
Separating the profiles from the actual alarms is brilliant, because it lets me quickly set up a "nap" alarm (i.e, a one-time alarm) using one of my existing profiles, so it takes mere seconds.
Pre-alarmsWhen we sleep, we constantly shift between REM and deep sleep. When we're woken up from the middle of a deep-sleep phase, we feel groggy and out-of-it. But if we happen to wake up while in REM, we're not as groggy – it's easier to focus and start the day.
Some applications try to "catch" the light sleep phase by monitoring your movement patterns – you're supposed to put the phone on your bed, and it uses its accelerometer to sense when you're moving and when you're lying still. This is problematic for people who don't sleep alone, or even if you just have a cat who likes to jump on and off the bed during the night (and early morning).
Instead of trying to figure out your motion patterns, Gentle Alarm takes a statistical approach: near the end of the night, light sleep and deep sleep alternate every 30 minutes or so. This is where the pre-alarm feature comes in: 30 minutes before the time you're supposed to wake up, Gentle Alarm rings a very quiet alarm. The theory is that if you're in the lighter stages of sleep, this should be enough to wake you up, and you'll feel refreshed. But if you're in the middle of "deep sleep", you'll sleep right through the alarm, and the scheduled alarm would wake you up.
Quite surprisingly, this works. Gentle Alarm is very configurable, so you can adjust the volume of the pre-alarm, make it fade in, adjust its duration, and adjust how prematurely it fires. There's even a "calibration" feature that lets you hold the phone in a specific distance while playing the alarm and helps you figure out the optimal volume. This feature is not for everyone: many people savor the end of the night, and even if you do use it, you'd might have to re-calibrate it after a few days if you discover the pre-alarm constantly wakes you up (or fails to wake you up at all). But for me, it's quite effective.
Adjustable snoozingThe snooze button is a key feature for every alarm application, and Gentle Alarm does not disappoint. Not only can you set a maximum number of snoozes (after which the alarm refuses to let you snooze), you can also have the snooze duration become gradually shorter with each snooze. So you can start off with a 10-minute snooze, have a 5-minute snooze next, and then a 2-minute snooze. Very nice.
Alarm quick-changeLet's say I usually wake up at 7am on Mondays; but tomorrow is different for some reason, and I want to wake up at 9am. Rather than cancel the planned alarm and set up a new one, Gentle Alarm lets me quick-change just the active alarm – I can delay tomorrow's alarm by some time, or make it ring earlier.
CAPTCHA on wake-upThis is my favorite feature. It has happened to me in the past that I shut off the alarm, groggily thinking, "I'm awake, I'm awake", and then promptly fell back asleep. This feature makes sure this never happens: whenever I shut off the alarm, it plays a random pattern of "lights" on a 16-button grid. Once it's done playing the pattern, I need to repeat the same exact pattern from memory.
True to form, this feature is very configurable. The default is a 3-button sequence at a rather slow pace. I went for 5 buttons at a moderate pace, and it works every time. It's actually a fun way to start off my morning.
Night modeGentle Alarm has a beautiful night mode. It basically shows the current time in a huge font, which is configurable, and you can reduce its size using the volume buttons. It can also put the device into flight mode so that no calls interrupt you.
When you slide your finger down the left side of the device screen, the brightness changes. But the best part is that it interfaces with Sleep Bot for tracking the amount of sleep you get: as soon as you switch into night mode, it "punches in", and when you wake up in the morning it punches back out. This makes for a very effortless way to track your sleep patterns.