Alarming design

Okay, so who's responsible at Sanyo?

I've had an old Sony alarm clock for a few years now, and it's served me extremely well - because 'it works'.

It has a large display of well light green panels, which can easily be read in bed, or from across the room (with contacts out, I need a little help at night). It has radio or buzzer, two alarms (I have a working partner with a different wake time) and it's pretty simple to operate. But, one of the time buttons was starting to fail, so it was time to go looking for a new one. And since I was shopping for a new one, I thought I'd look for one that supported my iPod touch.

Last week I was wondering through a K-mart store, and there on the shelf next to me was a Sanyo DMP-P7 alarm clock. It seemed to tick the boxes I needed - two alarms, buzzer, iPod playability. It didn't specify which iPods it supported, but I thought I'd give it a shot and try. It's a fair cop, I didn't research or review the product, I just picked up the box and paid.

Sure enough it fitted the Touch, so the old clock was ceremoniously retired and the Sanyo took pride of place. I figured out the buttons - of which there were a few too many - set the two alarms, and we were ready for the first night's road-test.

And here's where the problems started.

First problem was the screen. The Sanyo has a bright blue display with three settings of brightness and with a dark grey number format. In daylight this seems pretty cool - but at night, after allowing your eyes some time to adjust, even the lowest level of brightness is way too bright for me. With the clock sitting next to me on the bedside table I found it was a bit like having a mini torch shined into your eyes. In fact, it's so bright you can navigate the room with ease. Not exactly conducive to a good night's sleep, and by the morning I had a headache and a stiff neck, from sleeping facing the opposite direction all night.

In fact, the only solution I could come up with after a couple of nights playing was to switch off the display entirely, and to switch on a clock application on the plugged-in iPod Touch. Not exactly ideal, although it works.

Now the second problem. I'd set the radio alarm, and (unfortunately for me) I have a 5am wake-up. 5am rolls around - and the radio screams. Stupidly, I'd assumed that the radio would switch on at the station and volume I'd previously set. That happened on my previous alarm, it's happened in fact on every previous alarm I've owned - but not here. I checked, and sure enough the radio had been set low (volume 3) as I'm a light sleeper - but it had switched on at an ear splitting volume, waking half the house. Yeah, I was real popular....

After some investigation, it turned out that this clock has a feature whereby you set the volume you want when you set the alarm time. It had never occurred to me that this feature might even exist, so I hadn't set the volume. Now that I knew it did, I tried setting my alarm volume to three - and found problem number three.

It won't let me.

It seems that Sanyo, in their wisdom, have decided to save me from myself, and enforce a minimum volume for the alarm. Nothing less than volume 10 is allowed - which for me, is way too loud. Whereas previously I woke to a soft radio playing and would listen for a few moments before rising, now I wake to a blaring tune and have to leap for the off button, lest I wake the house again.

I can only guess that they've done this to avoid the user accidentally setting a too low volume. But that minor safety benefit overrides a basic core user freedom and need - bad design.

Which brings me to my final problem.

My old clock had a great layout. Control buttons for time on the right, massive sleep button in the middle, off button to the left. Waking up and reaching for the button, it was generally really easy to get it right.

With this Sanyo, there are three large wheel buttons, all designed to be quite similar. One controls fast forward/rewind/channel hopping, another brightness on the display, the third volume. There is a larger snooze button in the centre of the centre wheel, smaller buttons in the centre of the other two wheels. Between these wheels are seven other buttons, all the same size, controlling various features including radio band, mode, power and switching alarms on and off.

All of which means your chances of finding the off or snooze button on first try are pretty low. Twice already - and I've only had the thing less than a week - I've accidentally pressed the alarm button and changed settings, instead of turning it off.

Which brings me back to my opening statement - who's responsible at Sanyo? Surely even minimal testing would have shown that the device is difficult to use at night, overly complicated and unfit for the (seemingly) common tasks I've been trying to perform.

Shame on you guys, shame on you....