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Smart phones seem to have killed off the alarm clock, and I think that’s kind of a shame. It may be more convenient to set a quick alarm with Siri and fumble for a phone in the morning, but something about that routine can seem kind of lacking. I miss having a clock to glance at when I stumble out of bed, and I think everyone knows the simple pleasure of a well-placed snooze button.
Since the folks at Withings have been putting out some really interesting stuff lately, I’ve had my eye on their Aura connected alarm clock for a while. Does it do a better job on your nightstand than your trusty smart phone? Read on to find out!
What Does It Claim to Do?
The Withings Aura is a “connected alarm clock” that features a built in lamp, clock, speaker, and a sleep tracking accessory (in the package I tested). It claims to be able to help you fall asleep, wake you up gently, and be a generally great bedside companion.
- Ambient lamp with adjustable light
- Built-in speaker (for alarm and music)
- Support for Spotify and 20,000 radio stations
- Tracks temperature, light, and sound levels
- Detailed sleep analysis available through optional REM Sleep Tracker
Let’s dive in to the details…
Look and Feel
I feel like the design team at Withings marches to the beat of their own drummer, and I mean that in a very positive way. This is only my second Withings product to live with (the first being their Home camera), but these guys make some truly interesting design decisions.
The alarm clock/lamp unit embraces a futuristic minimalism that somehow fits just about any bedroom you would put it in. It’s the right size to place on a nightstand, and I love the way the clock glows behind the cloth just enough to be noticed (but not enough that it’s bright or distracting in a room).
The lamp itself might surprise you, as it’s actually a concave “reflector” of sorts that has a bright LED unit located in the bottom. Think of it as a giant glossy ice cream spoon that reflects light into a beautiful diffused glow.
The controls on the device itself are wild, and probably unlike any other gadget in your house. Tap the top to turn on the light, and slide your hand up and down the right side to change the dimness. It’s funny, this took me a while to get accustomed to, but my kids love doing this; it’s always interesting when a UI seems immediately obvious to children.
As for the app, it’s kind of a mixed bag. It’s functional and effective once you get used to it, especially if you’re using the sleep tracking features. As far as the other functions like sleep programs and alarm clocks go, I actually had to do some research online to find out where to set those up via the app. Again, it’s fine once you find out where those settings are located, but the app can make some of the Aura’s core features seem kind of like afterthoughts.
Setup was quick and easy. Plug the device in, download the Withings Health Mate app (tested on my iPhone 7), and walk through the prompts to connect the Aura to WiFi and get the REM Sleep Tracker installed under your mattress. The whole process took me about 90 seconds (not including a slight wait to let the crazy sleep tracker calibrate itself). Just like the Home camera we reviewed a short time ago, it’s obvious that Withings designs their setup processes for normal human beings (and not just gadget nerds).
Using It as an Alarm Clock
Withings promises some really interesting stuff with the alarm features on this, but I have a feeling these features are highly subjective to the person using it. The Aura offers programs to both lull you to sleep and gently wake you up, both of which were hit or miss with me (as someone who is a bit of an insomniac). Long press the top of the unit, and the Aura will attempt to help you fall asleep with a gently dimming light and some ethereal music or sounds (try the Siren song, which is both soothing and slightly unnerving). It can also keep track of your sleep cycle in the morning (if you’re using the optional sensor like I was) and use the same tools to wake you up in a 30 minute window where you’ll be more refreshed.
Due to my odd sleep habits, I found neither of these to be particularly effective for me over a traditional alarm experience, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t benefit from those features. What I did love was the ability to wake up to a preset Spotify playlist or song (I’ll discuss the speaker quality in a second).
Using It As a Lamp
Depending on how you plan to use the Aura, you’ll either find the lamp to be lovely or lacking. Personally, I like it.
As mentioned above, you simply tap the top to turn it on, and slide your hand up and down the right side to adjust the color tone and dimness. As a bedside lamp, it’s just enough light to read by and set a mood, but it definitely won’t meaningfully illuminate a room. It’s a great complimentary ambient light, though, and my daughter is begging for me to put it on her little nightstand.
Using It As a Sleep Tracker
You might think the sleep tracking on this would be more of an afterthought, but I found it to be one of the most compelling features.
My Aura included a sleep sensor accessory that plugs into the back of the lamp via USB and places a large(ish) pad directly under the mattress that is apparently full of all sorts of magic. Seriously, I was expecting some sort of pressure sensor that just knows when someone is sitting it bed, but whatever voodoo is going on inside of the pad somehow detects your pulse and breathing patterns to know exactly when you’re asleep (and and what sleep cycle you’re in). I’ve been judiciously testing it for a month now trying to trick it and look for errors, but it seems to be something like 95% accurate.
Feel like you had a restless night? The Withings Health Mate app will tell you exactly how much sleep you got. In bed all night but still feel tired? It’ll tell you if you had a deep sleep or were just tossing and turning.
Now, is all of that data useful? I guess that depends on the person. If you’re like me and like living a quantified life, I think you’ll at least have a lot of fun with it.
Using It As a Speaker
The Aura includes a speaker that you can use with your alarm clock, but it can also pull double duty as a fun little speaker for Spotify (which will even show up as an output source in the Spotify app!). It sounds much better than just playing music through your phone, but don’t expect it to have the dynamic range of something like a dedicated Sonos speaker, or even something like the Amazon Echo. I’d put the sound quality something near a $50 bluetooth speaker, which I think is great as an extra feature on a gadget like this.
Integration with Other Platforms
This is a great self-contained device, but the integration with services like Spotify and even some tie-ins to hub apps like Apple Health add some great value. I’d love to see some links to Wink or SmartThings in the future. Wouldn’t it be cool to have the heat turn on downstairs the second you hit snooze on your alarm, or maybe the lights turn off once it knows you’re asleep?
Build Quality and Reliability
This is my second Withings gadget, and their hardware is just top notch. There’s an unusual amount of polish present in the Aura, and all of its functions (speaker, sleep tracking, alarms, and much more) all work without a hitch.
If you’re just looking for a lamp or nice alarm clock, you can probably find a better product for cheaper. If you’re ready to double down on some really innovate sleep tools, a beautiful ambient light source, and a really fun smart gadget that’s absolutely packed with features and sensors, the Aura might be exactly what you’re looking for.
The Aura may not be for everyone, but it could be exactly what your bedside table is looking for. I’ve really enjoyed the unique features it’s added to our smart home, and if you’re interested in sleeping better or living a more quantified lifestyle, I think you’ll enjoy this connected alarm clock.
AUTHOR: Eric Murrell
Eric is the creator of At Home in the Future and has been a passionate fan of the future since he was seven. He's a web developer by trade, and serves as the Director of Communication and Technology for a large church in Nashville, TN (where he and his family are building a high tech home in the woods).