A perfectly serviceable alarm clock and timer app comes with your Android phone, so you might not think you need to download another one. That may be true, but if you’re looking for more features, more customization options, and more powerful alarms than your stock clock comes with, Gentle Alarm is here for you—and we think it’s the best Google Play has to offer.
Set as many alarms as you want, at any time of day, in both 12 and 24 hour formats
Create pre-alarm, alarm, and snooze “profiles” where you can customize the alarm sound, volume, fade-in volume, duration of the alarm, even display brightness. Comes with three profiles by default: “workday,” “day off,” and “nap.”
Can be configured to play music, playlists, or even an internet radio stream as an alarm, so you can wake up to your favorite song or playlist, and can even be configured to only play songs by specific genres or artists
Can be configured to sound an alarm that slowly increases in volume or vibration intensity until you dismiss it or after successive snoozes
Can schedule multiple alarms, each with different songs or playlists, or to play a random song or playlist
Can be configured to require you to solve challenge questions or simple math problems before the alarm can be snoozed or dismissed
Lets you flip your phone over to snooze, or shake the phone to disable the alarm
Can be configured to launch a specific application when the alarm goes off
Can display a countdown timer on-screen until the alarm sounds, making the app useful for a timer as well as an alarm clock
Has a built-in “dock” mode and a “night mode,” where the clock and alarm settings are displayed on-screen or the current time is displayed on a dimmed display, making it useful as a desk clock or bedside clock, respectively
Supports speech input for alarms, the same way the default clock and alarm does
Allows you to auto-dismiss or auto-snooze alarms
Allows you to customize the color and background of the alarm display
Has a downloadable home screen widget, and downloadable extra alarm sounds if you don’t like the default selection
Has a built-in flashlight
Has full support for third-party apps like Tasker and Sleepbot, so you can even add more customization features or use the app to help track your sleep
Where It Excels
The age of dozens of alarm clock apps all over Google Play is over, but there are still a few that offer customization options and flexibility you won’t get in the default clock on your phone. Gentle Alarm has always been popular, but the reason it gets the nod from us is the sheer myriad ways you can customize the way you wake up. Here’s an example: With Gentle Alarm, you can tell the screen to light up to 20% so you’re not blinded when you pick up the phone to disable the alarm. You can also tell Gentle Alarm to play your favorite internet radio stream at 7am, but only at half-volume, and to slowly fade in from there until you flip the phone over to snooze it for exactly 20 minutes, at which it’ll bump up the volume to full and fade in from 20% volume to full volume if you don’t turn it off.
That’s a ridiculous amount of flexibility, and the fact that the app has so many ways to really dial in the details so you wake up the way you want—or in a way that wakes you up but not anyone else in the same bed or bedroom as you—makes it a winner. All of those customization options and features are easy to understand and configure, too.
Beyond that, Gentle Alarm has all of the features you would expect from a good alarm clock app. Multiple alarms, one-button “all off” and “night” modes are a nice touch, as is the included dock mode, which (on a personal note) makes the clock really useful to leave running while you have your Android phone docked or charging on your desk while you work. The third party support is also a really nice touch, so Tasker fans can really get under the hood with the app and customize it even further without essentially having to rewrite many of the things that Gentle Alarm already does.
Where It Falls Short
Gentle Alarm is great, but it’s by no means perfect.
First, its interface looks like something straight out of the Gingerbread/Ice Cream Sandwich days, and that’s probably because it hasn’t had a significant UI overhaul since then. To be fair, an alarm clock doesn’t need to be pretty to work, but in an age where every app is moving to Holo and Material Design and a more streamlined, modern look, it’s kind of a jarring look backward to install Gentle Alarm on Lollipop or Android M and see those big chunky grey buttons with black text in them again from Android’s earlier, uglier days. Even the default font of the clock itself is reminiscent of those days. On the bright side, the developer listens actively to the user community and updates the app to fix bugs and add requested features almost monthly. I’m sure a UI overhaul is somewhere on the to-do list.
Second, all of the features and tools that Gentle Alarm offers can actually be a detriment to just setting a quick alarm for a nap, or setting a timer for eggs or something. You may find yourself using Gentle Alarm to build your perfect “wake up in the morning” scenario, but still using your built-in alarm for something simpler and easier to operate when you just want to nap for a little while, or when you want to remember to check the roast in 45 minutes without diving into menus and buttons (and yes, even Gentle Alarm’s “Quick Alarm” option is a bit much when you could just tap the microphone or pull up Google Now and say “set a timer for 45 minutes” or “set an alarm for an hour from now.”)
We should also note that a number of people have complained that Lollipop users have had some issues with notifications with Gentle Alarm. We didn’t have the same problems when we tested, but the dev has already acknowledged the issues and promises an update.
Clock (Free) is Android’s built-in alarm clock and timer. It’s since been decoupled from Android itself, so if for some reason you don’t have it, you can grab it from Google Play. For many people will get the job done just fine, and its integration with Google Search on your device means that setting alarms and timers is as easy as a voice command or a couple of taps. You can set up multiple alarms, set some active and disable others, and the app doesn’t have to be in the foreground for it to wake you up when the time comes. It’s not particularly feature rich, but if you just want something to go off to wake you up or remind you to do a thing, this will work just fine and not cost you a cent.
Timely (Free) was actually going to be our top choice. It’s beautiful, just customizable enough to get the job done, packed with features (although not quite as many as Gentle Alarm) that give you control over how your alarm goes off, when, how long you can snooze, and it even can sync across multiple Android devices so you don’t have to re-configure your alarms when you switch phones or move from one device to another. It’s a gorgeous app that gives you tons of control over the visual look and feel, it looks just as good on Android tablets as it does on phones, and like any alarm, it can be set to challenge you with puzzles to make sure you’re actually awake before snoozing. It also has a timer and stopwatch built-in, which is nice.
The reason we can’t make it our primary pick is because the team behind it was acquired by Google back in February, and users report that even though the app’s been updated as recently as February, it’s completely broken in Lollipop due to changes in the notification system, and given the dev team is now a part of Google (and that they’ve been completely silent on social media since before the acquisition) the odds of an update are pretty slim. If you’re running an ICS or KitKat device, or want to gamble on it, it’s worth a look, but otherwise, steer clear.
Alarm Droid (Free, $1.68 via in-app purchase to remove ads) boasts a great looking UI, complete with attention to Material Design. You can set multiple alarms, and the ability to snooze your phone just by flipping it over on your nightstand. You can set recurring alarms by date and time and the snooze screen has multiple large buttons for different snooze durations. It even features a speaking clock that can speak the time aloud to you at set intervals, and the option to back up your alarm settings and restore them from a file. Local weather displays on the screen when the alarm goes off. Beyond that, it doesn’t do much that the other apps (or the stock alarm clock) don’t also do, but the other developers could take a page from the design.
Alarm Clock Xtreme ($2, Free, ad-supported version available) was our previous favorite pick, and it’s still a great app. If you have it and like it, there’s no reason to switch here, and unlike our top pick, its design and UI has come along way with the times. However, there’s no getting past the fact that it just doesn’t have the same features as Gentle Alarm. It still has all of the things that made it great originally—as many alarms as you want to set, puzzles or challenges to snooze or disable the alarm, a tablet-friendly version and an updated UI, auto-snooze and auto-dismiss, a built-in timer, the option to wake to music instead of sounds, and so on. Still, we’ve bumped it down mostly because while great, it’s nothing really that the default alarm app doesn’t already do, and the features it does have that Gentle Alarm doesn’t don’t make it worth the ads or the price tag when compared to something that’s more feature-rich for the same price. We do love the UI though—maybe Gentle Alarm can take a cue.
My Alarm Clock ($2, Free, ad-supported version available) is a great looking alarm clock, especially if you’re looking for something to rest on your nightstand. Local weather displays when you wake, along with a dimmer, sleepy-eye-friendly blue-on-black text style that’s easy to read in the dark. The app comes with its own built-in flashlight, clock widgets and home screen widgets that you can customize to keep a clock on the home screen if you prefer, customizable alarms, multiple alarms, and background alarms, and more. The nightstand mode is great, and the app has a built-in sleep timer that will play white noise to help you get to sleep, and then wake you up again when it’s time to get out of bed. Beyond that though, it doesn’t offer too much more in the way of customization, and many people have reported that there are issued with Lollipop. Even worse, the free version consumes massive amounts of data to pull down and stream advertisements—enough that some people say it’s eaten through their monthly mobile data allowance, which is a huge turn-off.
Lightning Bug (Free) is a little different. Most people use it to help fall asleep to soothing sounds of nature, but the app can just as easily be set to lull you to sleep with sounds of rain falling, monks chanting, or traffic on a city street outside your window, or wake you up with an alarm in the morning. $0.99 will buy you additional soundscapes to enjoy, like the sounds of the forest, or an ocean lapping at a tropical beach.
Lifehacker’s App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.