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?


raluke said...

Mike, the secret of life really is the iPhone. The clock is kept up-to-date by the cell phone system, it has a great voice mail system, and the "clock" app has a number of neat functions, including an alarm clock. I use the alarm clock function whenever I travel out of town and it works great. And, just in case you're weakening, the new version of the iPhone is supposedly going to be announced on Monday. Dunno how long after that we'll have to wait before they're available in stores.

Mike Marsh said...

That'd be fine if I only needed a travel clock, but for everyday use I suspect the iPhone would drive me crazy. It's also not great as a home answering machine, since I'd have to leave it plugged into my land-line while out, if it can even do that.

Julie said...

I use my Blackberry Curve for all that stuff. I haven't had a personal land line since 2004. Plus, it has a data plan, so I can check mobile-compatible websites, get email, check Facebook updates, etc. The only bad thing is I can set only one daily alarm time on this version. My old cell phone allowed me to set multiple alarms. I set the phone to remind me to take my birth control, and I use my little Oregon Scientific clock for wakeups ( It's super nifty. I've had it for just over 5 years. At first, I dismissed it, but when I figured out that the lights from my old digital alarm clock were contributing to my insomnia, I switched to this one. It won't light up unless I tap the projection button. Plus, it takes up so much less room. I had no idea they cost so much. My division boss gave one to each of us for Christmas presents.

Julie said...

Oh, man--the website I linked to says the clock comes with an AC adapter . . . I wonder where that thing went. I probably tossed it. I haven't had to change the batteries since I got it. The crescendo alarm is very nifty, too.

Mike Marsh said...

I don't trust not having a land line. Of course, now that I have fiber-optic service from the phone company, I don't have a real land line. There's also something reassuring about a real clock. It's certainly not going to get lost.

Basically, I just want what I want.

And on a completely unrelated aside, I haven't had a blog request in quite some time.

Anonymous said...

So an iPhone 3GS averages out to $200/mo for the first 2 yrs you own it. That's the solution for an answering machine/ travel alarm?

I'm with you Mike. Somebody needs to make decent versions of these products. I'm afraid the problem is the focus on price, which is made worse by shopping comparison on the internet where the easiest thing to compare is price. Easiest way to make it cheaper: sacrifice features.