TRIED & TESTED / Lord of the rings: In a quest to find the best of all time, our wide-awake panel tests alarm clocks

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The Independent Culture
As long nights and cold, grey winter weather start to close in, getting out of bed in the morning becomes more and more difficult. This week we test alarm clocks, for those whose extra hour of sleep last night was a temptation to begin hibernation in earnest. Our selection is made from wind-up or battery-operated clocks stocked in high street stores - from chubby, retro-styles to sleek, modern matt black. We recruited a panel of junior doctors and hospital nurses who work irregular hours and long shifts, and are often on call; a challenge for any alarm. Read on, to find out which clocks ease you gently into the new day, and which pick you up by the scruff of the neck and hurl you wide-eyed into the middle of next week.

THE EXPERT PANEL

Dr Chris Farnham, Dr Niyati Keni, Dr Frances Page, and staff nurses Debbie Ellis and Eddie McInally.

THE TEST

Each tester marked each clock out of 10 for wake-up factor, ease of use and looks. Scores were converted into a best-buy star rating.

**BRAUN AB7

Pounds 7.99. Stockists: Boots, John Lewis, Alders, Selfridges, Bentalls, independent retailers and chemists

Scored well all round.

Smart, compact, unobtrusive and reasonably priced, this clock was popular with all our testers. It scored particularly well for having one of the least irritating rings. 'This alarm breaks you in slowly, getting louder till you struggle to the 'off' button,' observed Chris Farnham. 'Good, solid efficiency. But no snooze]' Eddie McInally. 'Good to look at, easy to use,' according to Debbie Ellis. 'But alas, no snooze button.' Apart from the missing snooze, our testers' only criticism was of the rotating buttons used to set the clock. 'Awkward to use,' said Eddie McInally.

EUROSTAR COMPACT LCD

Pounds 3.99. Bought from market stall

Scored well for looks, less well for ease of use - and failed to wake one of our testers.

This budget clock is very small, handy for travel or using on the move - but our testers found it fiddly. It was, however, Frances Page's favourite: 'It's very neat and ideal for travelling. But strictly for the nimble-fingered as the buttons are very small.' 'Sadly, not loud enough to wake me up]' complained Debbie Ellis. 'The alarm is quiet and only just woke me up,' said Eddie McInally. Chris Farnham yawned: 'By the time I had worked out how to set this it was way past midnight and I was exhausted. And you need fingers capable of intricate neurosurgery to operate this one - particularly if you are trying to immobilise it at 6am.'

*GRAYSHOTT POTTERY 'WESTBURY'

Pounds 21.95. Stockist: H Samuel

Scored well for effective alarm and ease of use.

Our trendy young testers found that while this ceramic clock worked well, its floral design was not to their taste. It received several recommendations as a gift for mothers and grandmothers. 'Ideal Christmas present,' suggested Niyati Keni. 'Pretty, inoffensive.' 'Aesthetically pleasing for a mature eye,' said Eddie McInally. 'More my mum's style,' agreed Debbie Ellis. 'Hard to turn off when you are not quite awake, but not loud enough to wake up the rest of the flat before I worked out how.'

*** 'NEXT' LARGE DOUBLE-BELL ALARM

Pounds 10.99. Stockist: Next branches/Next Directory (tel: 0345 100500)

Scored very well all round; our testers' top choice.

This traditionally-styled chrome clock scored very highly. A favourite with Chris Farnham ('Great] Really solid, no buttons to fiddle with - a reassuring row like 10 fire engines all in my bedroom at once') and Niyati Keni ('rather handsome - alarm loud enough to wake the street'). 'It looks fun and would wake the dead, but a noisy tick,' complained Frances Page. 'Easy to use and I like the large, bold face,' said Eddie McInally. 'Good traditional clock, loud enough to wake me, but no snooze facility,' said Debbie Ellis. 'Not one to use in the nurses' home - sounds too much like the fire alarm.'

WESCO STAR TREK TALKING ALARM

Pounds 16.99. Stockist: Argos

Completely polarised our panel.

This novelty alarm clock, which wakes you with the sound of Captain Kirk's communicator rasping 'Landing party to Enterprise, beam us up Scotty' and a beam of light from the model starship, was a favourite with Debbie Ellis and Eddie McInally. 'I loved the way this clock is designed - it was easy to set. It woke me up easily,' commented Debbie. She added, 'My cats found it very interesting but I don't think they were very impressed.' 'Fabulous,' said Eddie. 'Original, eye-catching, amusing.' The rest of the panel found it anything but. 'Truly horrible, tedious,' said Niyati Keni. 'A degree in astrophysics would have been helpful as the instructions were missing,' commented Frances Page. Chris Farnham complained that his clock induced surreal nightmares. He found it difficult to set and was 'beamed up' every hour: 'left me in a state of heightened anxiety, a nervous wreck - it has a mind of its own.'

WESTCLOX 'BIG BEN'

Pounds 16.99. Stockists: include Ratners, Argos, Boots, Fenwicks, Littlewoods Scored well for ease of use and wake-up factor, poorly on looks.

This old favourite was effective and easy to use, but its retro styling did not appeal, and all our testers criticised its very noisy tick. 'Not very pretty but practical,' said Debbie Ellis. 'But with a tick that loud it wouldn't stay in my room long enough to wake me, it would be thrown out of the window.' 'It scores highly for short, sharp, shock treatment,' commented Eddie McInally. 'The ticking drove me insane.' Frances Page gave it full marks for wake-up factor - 'especially as the tick stops you ever getting to sleep in the first place' - but felt it was 'ugly'. 'Irritating tick, obnoxious alarm,' said Niyati Keni. 'Suitable for use in an adjoining room, or an adjoining house.'

(Photographs omitted)

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