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Gear4 Renew SleepClock review: Gear4 Renew SleepClock

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I admit that I don't get enough sleep. Whether it's because I'm working late, watching DVDs of "The Wire," or getting lost in the black abyss known as 4chan, I usually get about four hours of sleep on a good night.

Gear4 Renew SleepClock
7.0

Gear4 Renew SleepClock

The Good

The <b>Renew SleepClock</b> monitors your sleeping habits, presents data in a easy-to-read app, and has decent sound quality.

The Bad

The SleepClock may be too expensive for some, and its large build takes up a lot of nightstand real estate.

The Bottom Line

The Renew SleepClock is a user-friendly gadget that also keep tabs on how well you sleep without the need for wires, headbands, or watches.

That's why I was excited to try out Gear4's Renew SleepClock. In addition to being an audio speaker and alarm clock, it also monitors your nightly movements and breathing patterns while you sleep through a radio frequency emitter.

By keeping track of how well you sleep and presenting it in a clear-cut free app, Gear4 hopes that users will become more aware of their sleeping habits, work to improve them, and eventually get a better night's sleep.

Currently, the device is going for $199 at Apple stores, which is expensive for an alarm clock. It works for iPhones 3GS and up, the third and fourth generations of iPod Touch, and the iPad and iPad 2.

Design
The Renew SleepClock looks like a misshapen bowling ball with a quarter of it cut out. It's all black and weighs 1.86 pounds. It's 5.5 inches tall, 7.25 inches wide, and 5.75 inches deep. Although it sits sturdily on a nightstand, it isn't exactly compact. The unit took up a significant amount of space on my own nightstand, so be sure you set aside some nightstand real estate.

At the top there's a pin connector to plug in your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. Once placed, your device can lean on the solid dome of plastic that resides behind the dock.

The Renew SleepClock's control buttons. Josh Miller/CNET

In front of that are two sets of buttons. The first strip of keys include volume up/down, the scan button to browse through radio stations, the power button, and a mode button that lets you pick music either from an auxiliary source like an iPhone, or the radio. The second set is just one large button for snooze and activating sleep mode.

At the front is the clock's interface, which tells you the time and day of the week. The speaker occupies the bottom half of the device and is covered by speaker cloth, which wraps all the way around. On the back there is a DC port for power, an auxiliary port, and the FM radio antenna.

Features
The majority of the Renew SleepClock's features lie in its free app, Renew, which you can download at the iTunes store. Though you can set the clock and alarm, listen to the radio, and increase the volume without a docked Apple device like an iPhone, there's nothing much else you can do without the app.

With it, however, you can do all the previously mentioned actions and more. If you want to be awakened slowly, for example, you can set a time window for your alarm instead of an exact time. These window frames range from an hour to 20 minutes, so instead of waking up to a blaring sound at precisely 8 a.m., SleepClock can steadily increase the volume of the radio starting at 7:40.

You can also choose what you want to wake up to: songs from your own music catalog, the radio, or seven preloaded sounds like "Birdsong Early Morning," "Waves," and "Garden." Users can have up to two alarms, and customize the days of the week that they go off.

Other sideline features include a music tab that lets you play music from your device, as well as change the radio station. In addition, there's a meter to adjust the clock's brightness, and a journal module where you can write down notes from your day or just choose from a list of keywords that describe what your day included, like "coffee," "illness," or "stress."

Renew SleepClock monitors your movement and breathing patterns with its radio frequency emitter. Lynn La/CNET

The device's mainstay, however, is its low-power radio frequency emitter that sits behind the clock's interface. With a maximum range of about 5 feet, it tracks your motion and breathing patterns while you sleep. Gear4 execs reassured me that the levels of radio waves emitted from the SleepClock are less than what you get from a Bluetooth-activated phone or a Wi-Fi router. To get the clearest readings, it has to be placed nearby, facing your body as you sleep, without any obstructions in between.

Once you wake up, you can turn off the motion sensor and all your sleep data will be logged into the app in an easy-to-read layout. You can see how many hours you slept, how many hours of deep sleep you got (by monitoring your breathing movements, SleepClock can tell when you're in a state of deep, REM sleep), how long it took you to fall asleep, and how many interruptions you had while asleep.

Weekly, monthly, and yearly summaries give an even broader view. These stats allow users to see if they have a consistent sleep routine, how they compare with the average person of the same age and sex, and whether they're reaching their ideal sleep target. You can also share all this information to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, though I can't really imagine why anybody would want to do that.

Performance
On the whole, the Renew SleepClock was easy to use and setting up the alarm and motion sensor was a breeze. The user experience, however, is a little harder to gauge when it's 7 in the morning and all I do is grunt and try to find the snooze button. Though I couldn't tell how well it measured such small movements like breathing, it was accurate when I moved around a lot. Waving my hands several times near the clock, for example, would immediately register on the app.

The device's sound quality was also ample. Though it's not designed to deliver the best audio quality on the market, the music sounded crisp and rich. With a strong signal, the radio was clear and increasing the volume to its maximum filled my whole bedroom with music. Despite not having much bass, sounds came off full-bodied, with no extraneous buzzing or tinniness.

The SleepClock's sound quality makes it an adequate audio player for public spaces. Josh Miller/CNET

I especially enjoyed being woken up through a gradual increase in music volume. The default sounds that are included in the app offer a wide variety of calming noises to start off your day (though waking up to the "rainy morning" sound was a little confusing since it contrasted with the sunlight that poured in from my window). At first, I was worried these sounds were too peaceful to be able to wake me up, but they never failed. And because of the 20-minute window I set up, I was pleased whenever I woke up a few minutes before I absolutely had to.

All the data was interesting and easy to read. Graphs and stats were presented in a clean and attractive matter, and it didn't take much time to conclude that compared with the average twenty-something woman, I wasn't getting enough sleep. Written summaries were also clear-cut (if not a little reprimanding) and included things like: "You go to bed too late to get enough sleep."

My sleep hours for the week of June 24 (blue) compared with the amount I should be getting (brown). Lynn La/CNET

I do have some complaints, however. You can't set up exact times for your alarms in the app, for instance, only times with intervals of five minutes. True, rarely do I need to wake up at 5:53 a.m., but one never knows. Also, for all its customizable options, you can't adjust the snooze time, which is set to 5 minutes.

Conclusion
After spending several weeks with the Renew SleepClock, I did become more aware of how little sleep I was getting, but it didn't drive me enough to start changing my habits drastically. And while I did enjoy being woken up more peacefully, I couldn't say that I felt less tired or groggy. Sure it's more pleasant waking up to an Australian rainforest than a jarring bell, but it made no real affect on how tired I felt in the morning. If I did somehow start off the day more refreshed and energetic, it certainly wasn't noticeable.

Whether this device is right for you depends on your priorities. If you're determined to gather information about your sleeping hours, or are extremely curious about your nightly habits, the SleepClock will help you with that. It'll also provide several alarm clock features and the sound quality is good to boot. But if all you want is a simple alarm dock with a fantastic sound system, perhaps it's best to look elsewhere.

Gear4 Renew SleepClock
7.0

Gear4 Renew SleepClock

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7