How we picked and tested
We started our research on Amazon, which yielded approximately 97,000 results for alarm clocks. From there, we narrowed the list by reading user reviews, searching Google, checking out product roundups of alarm clocks and clock radios, and combing through as many reviews as we could find. To narrow the list even further, we put a limit of $50 on models we were testing, which was the high end of what we found people expect to spend for an alarm clock. We also polled friends, family, and strangers to find out what they look for in an alarm clock. Here are the must-have features:
- Big, bright display. We looked at clocks in all shapes and sizes. However, almost all of them had displays that were visible from at least 20 feet away in daylight and at night. The exceptions were the three analog clocks we reviewed, which are small and require you to push a button to illuminate.
- Dimmable display. Although having a bright display is nice, without the option to dim it light sleepers may be kept awake at night.
- Easy snooze button. Sometimes you need a few extra minutes. If you're fumbling to find the snooze button, you may as well find your toothbrush and start the day.
- Battery backup. If your home is prone to power outages, you'll want a clock that will be ready in case of an emergency.
Here are other features that aren't really necessary, but we found available on a few models in this price range:
- Radio. Some people prefer to wake up to music, weather, news, or whatever else is playing on the radio. This feature was available on about half of the clocks we reviewed, but it adds to the price.
- Multiple alarms. Whether you have two people sharing a clock or prefer a different wake-up time for the weekends, there are several clocks that allow for two separate alarm times.
- Multiple sounds. Some clocks beep, others buzz, and some provide soothing sounds for that wake-up call.
- USB ports. Whether you use your smartphone as a backup plan or not, there are a few clocks that offer the option to charge gadgets by your bedside.
- Bluetooth. Many alarm clocks now have Bluetooth, but not in this price range. Only one of the models we reviewed included wireless music streaming.
We tested a total of 13 alarm clocks. Three of those were analog clocks, which were the only models that didn't offer AC power; they're completely battery-operated. Six of the 13 models tested also included radios.
We tested each clock in a first-floor home office and a second-floor bedroom. This helped when testing reception on the clock radios, because it gave us data from different locations. We used them during the day and at night to test out brightness levels and if they were easy to work with in the dark. We also monitored each clock for accuracy, the duration of the snooze, and if the snooze would continue after one hour.
Our pick: RCA RCD30
We think the RCA RCD30 is the best alarm clock for most people. It is the textbook definition of an alarm clock in terms of features and style, with an easy-to-use button layout, a bright display, and an alarm that should wake up even heavy sleepers. It's also the least expensive model that we tested.
Of the models we tested, the RCD30 packed the largest display size in the smallest design, so it won't take up much room on your nightstand. The illuminated display measures approximately 3.75 by 1.4 inches, which was visible in daylight and at night from at least 20 feet away. The large display size is a boon for people who wear glasses because you don't need to fumble for your glasses to check the time. If a big display keeps you up at night, know that the RCD30 does have two brightness settings.
The easy operation has a lot to do with the unit's no-frills design. It has a large snooze button across the top, so you can usually hit it without much fumbling. That snooze also doubles as an hour/minute button for setting the time and alarm. On the back, there are three switches: one for setting the time/alarm, one for turning the alarm on/off, and one for dimming the front display.
Runner-up: Travelwey LED Digital Alarm Clock
If our main pick isn't available, we also recommend the Travelwey LED Digital Alarm Clock. This model is almost identical to our main pick, but has two levels of alarm volume, a slider control for dimming, and a snooze button that doubles as a night-light. However, it's also twice the price. Like our main pick, the Travelwey clock has a loud, beeping alarm that can be heard 20 feet away. If you don't need something that powerful, there's a second volume option that belts out softer beeps that get drowned out at about half that distance.
Best clock radio: iHome iBT29
Of the six clock radios we tested, the iHome iBT29 had the best sound and best reception. It also had more extras than any other clock radio at this price, including Bluetooth wireless streaming, multicolored lights, a USB port for charging, and alternate alarm choices. This clock radio doesn't just have the best sound, it also provided the loudest music volume of the models we tested. At its loudest level, the iBT29 can be heard over 30 feet away. It certainly won't rival your stereo or the best Bluetooth speaker, but its volume is impressive for a clock radio.
Also great: Sonic Alert SBB500SS
Designed for really deep sleepers, the Sonic Alert SBB500SS was the loudest alarm clock we tested. The SBB500SS has two alarms that deliver an ear-piercing beep that's pretty loud from 40 feet away. It also features red flashing lights and a bed-shaker that can vibrate your pillow or mattress. Being shocked into each day may not be a selling point for some people, though. That and its price kept this model from snagging one of our top spots. Just know that there's absolutely no sleeping through this thing. It does allow you to lower the alarm volume or turn the sound off completely, but the flashing lights are a permanent fixture.
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