Friday, June 05, 2009

What is Wrong with Electronics Manufacturers?

I currently have a clock radio and an answering machine that are driving me crazy. We've just started thunderstorm season, so I've had a few opportunities to lose power for extended periods of time. Neither of these gadgets performs what I'd consider well during these events.

The worse is the clock radio. It doesn't have a battery backup, just a capacitor. When I lose power for more than, say, thirty seconds, I lose the time, the alarm settings, and all of the station presets. I have another clock radio that does have a battery backup, but it has an analog tuner and no presets, and the clock tends to run fast on the battery.

The answering machine has battery backup, which lasts for a few hours. If the outage is too long, however, it too loses the time, but it also loses the outgoing and incoming messages. Yes, any messages that were stored on the machine are now gone.

Now, I've had both of these for awhile. The answering machine is from the mid-90s, and the clock is from 2001 or 2002. So I've been considering replacing them.

The thing that I find maddening is that, in 2009, clock radios still don't use non-volatile solid state memory to record their settings. The closest I've been able to find, in a form factor appropriate for my nightstand, is an Oregon Scientific weather radio. It uses non-volatile storage for settings, and even gets the time signal from the atomic clock in Colorado. It doesn't have a normal AM/FM tuner, though, only the weather stations.

Answering machines are no better. There's one model from AT&T that seems to have non-volatile settings. If you have caller ID an incoming call will even reset the time after an outage.

How much memory do you need to store settings and messages? Settings take almost nothing, the cheapest thumb drive would serve adequately. For a clock, it's 3 bytes per alarm setting, 4 if you want to specify on which days of the week the alarm should be active. A radio station is 1 byte. Voice recording takes substantially more, but still not ridiculous amounts. Yes, there are devices out there that have non-volatile storage, but seriously, one of each type?

One thing I've noticed, looking at clock radios online, is that they're either bare-bones pieces of garbage, or they can dock an iPod and produce concert-hall-like sound. Really? For an alarm clock? An alarm clock has a pretty simple function: to keep track of the time, wake you up when you've told it to, and do all of this with as small a footprint as possible. You would never know it from what's on the market today.

Answering machines almost seem to have been written off completely by their manufacturers. I don't get it. Voice mail is under someone else's control. (No, the irony of posting this on a blog controlled by Google isn't lost on me.) Voice mail can't tell you if your power's still out. Most answering machines these days are remotely controllable, and you don't have to remember a special number to call. You can walk through your door, look right at your answering machine, and know immediately if you have any messages. (Well, unless your power went out and your machine dumped all of them.) Mine has a number: "Hey, here's how many messages are waiting for you!" though I know some just have a little blinking light.

I guess what I'm really trying to say here is, can anyone recommend a good clock radio or answering machine with non-volatile storage?