CSCI 1300 Critique Journal: Philips DC320 alarm clock

I’ve had this alarm clock/speaker/iphone dock for a long time, at least as long as it has been since Apple changed its iPhone charging cable from the 30 pin connector to the lighting cable. It was a cheaper alternative to Apple’s iHome and had better sound quality, but frankly 30% of its usefulness went out the window when I got an iPhone with the new connector shape. This problem is a mere inconvenience, though, compared to the disgust I have for the alarm clock’s user interface.

As is the case for many new electronics that came out in the late ’00s, this device tries to do too much. Beyond giving you the ability to set 2 separate alarms, the device is also a speaker and a radio, it has multiple brightness settings and sound settings, and it charges your iPhone. All of these functions can be taken advantage of by pressing some combination of the ill-defined buttons on the device or on the included remote control (which I have never found any use for).

Although some of the buttons are fairly self-explanatory (e.g. pressing VOL+ raises and VOL- lowers the volume, MUTE mutes the sounds, and ALM 1 probably has something to do with the first alarm), it seems like several of the buttons exist just to confuse you. For some reason, there is a button called AUTO SCAN/TIME SET that controls the two unrelated functions of auto scanning for radio stations and setting the time. There are two sound-modifying buttons on the right side called DBB, which apparently stands for dynamic bass enhancement (DBE?), and DSC, which modifies the sound quality according to a certain genre and doesn’t seem to stand for any phrase given in the manual. DBB and DSC could easily be changed for something like “BASS” and “GENRE SETTING,” and it would be much clearer to a new user.

The SLEEP button is very similar to the word “snooze,” a word used on almost every other alarm clock, and for a long time I thought that pressing that button would snooze the alarm when in reality that had nothing to do with the alarm, and, instead, I should have been pressing the REPEAT ALARM/BRIGHTNESS CONTROL button, which is also used to control the brightness of the screen.

The physical layout of the buttons was clearly also not designed with the user in mind. First of all, all the button are very flat and do not provide much tactile feedback when pressed. The grooves between buttons are very shallow and it is difficult to tell which button you are actually pressing without visual confirmation. Next, the buttons on each side cannot be pressed with one hand, because the whole alarm tips to one side if a second stabilizing hand is not used. And finally, the REPEAT ALARM button on the top, which is presumably pressed by a heavy half-awake hand, is also at an awkward angle such that pressing too hard will cause the alarm clock to tip.

Clearly many of these design choices were aesthetically motivated — perhaps as an aggressive attempt to steal the spotlight from similar devices like the iHome. But making the buttons more logically named and more compatible with the human hand would make the device far more enjoyable for the user and likely result in greater brand loyalty in the future.

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