The iTunes App Store features more alarm clocks than you could ever hope to use, so it can be difficult to find one that stands out above the rest. We feel that one is Nightstand Central, thanks to its thoughtful feature set, choice between free and paid versions, and a great, informative layout.Note: Picking a favourite alarm clock, to a large extent, comes down to a matter of taste. Although we really like Nightstand Central and think it pretty much covers everything you'd need from an alarm clock (including things you don't think you know you need), that doesn't mean it's going to be your ideal option. There have been plenty of different takes on the alarm clock, many of which are mentioned in the competition section. Be sure to check them out as well.
Additionally, it's important to note that an alarm clock app currently cannot perform its function when it is suspended in the background. While it can provide an alert message -- which is, by default, relegated to a banner in iOS 5 -- it needs to be the app in the foreground to work properly. If you're not careful, you can very easily miss your alarm. This is not the fault of any app, but simply a problem with the restrictions Apple has put in place. All alarm clock apps, with the exception of the built-in Clock app, have this drawback.
- Main view displays the time and the weather
- 12 or 24 hour format
- Slide your finger up and down the screen to adjust the display's brightness
- Schedule multiple alarms with different sounds or music (note: music only works when the app is foregrounded due to Apple's multitasking restrictions)
- Sleep timer lets you listen to music (or any other audio content) for a set time and then pauses it so the content doesn't play endlessly while you sleep
- Shake your iPhone to turn its LED light on and off so you have a torch when you need it
- Change wallpapers in the app so you can customise its look
Nightstand Central is an alarm clock app that integrates the time and weather into one good-looking display. This is not groundbreaking, as you can make that argument for much of its competition. Just like everything else, it handles background alarms about as well as iOS allows (which, in iOS 5, is not particularly well -- the alarm doesn't make any noise if the app is in the foreground and your device is set to vibrate/silent mode). It even has a sleep timer so you can fall asleep listening to music, a podcast or an audiobook without the need to worry about it playing throughout the night. None of these things are particularly novel at this point, since most apps can do these things. Even the built-in Clock app can handle a sleep timer. What makes Nightstand Central great is the little things it thought to add. First, you can shake your phone to turn on its LED light in the event you need a torch to guide your way when you wake up in the dark of night. (You can also shake the iPhone again to turn it off.) Second, you can just slide your finger up and down your device's display to make it dimmer or brighter. This is very nice to have because nobody wants a bright light in their face while they're trying to sleep or when they wake up and want to check what time it is. These features point to the kind of forethought that make Nightstand Central really great.
The main drawback is something Nightstand Central can't help. Basically, if your device's vibrate/mute switch is engaged, alarms won't go off in the background. (This was the case for me, anyway.) You will get a message saying your alarm is sounding, but you just won't hear any sound. The app works fine so long as it is in the foreground, but it's easy enough to make a mistake and close the app. Again, this is not Nightstand Central's fault but rather a restriction imposed by Apple. Developers simply can't make an alarm run in the background the way their built-in Clock app can. It's annoying, and it definitely gives every third-party app have a serious drawback.
Clock is the built-in app that Apple provides and it's very good. It's not as good an alarm system as Nightstand Central and some of the others on this list, but it runs perfectly in the background because Apple has the advantage of doing whatever they want on their platform. While you'll definitely forego some of the nice features the other apps provide, you can remain confident that the alarm app will not neglect to wake you up in the morning. (Well, unless Apple messes up daylight saving again.)
Alarm Clock Pro ($0.99) was my other favourite, at least in terms of looks. It handles almost as much as Nightstand Central, but looks like a standard digital alarm clock. It's a nice option if you want to save a dollar.
Wake N Shake ($0.99) helps you wake up in the morning by forcing you to shake your iPhone until you fill up an on-screen meter. The idea is that this physical activity will keep you from going back to sleep. If you don't shake the phone, you'll have to listen to your alarm endlessly. Not a bad idea if you have trouble getting up in the morning. (More info here.)
The Alarm Clock ($0.99) is very simple. It has standard functions and works well. If all you want is the time on a screen and customisable alarms, you'll be satisfied.
There are tons of other alarm clock options and this post only scratches the surface. We've highlighted some of our favourites, but if you've got any of your own please share them in the comments.
Lifehacker's App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.