Hybrid digital devices combine two or more previously separate technologies and into one device. For instance, camera companies tried for years to create devices that capture both photos and video clips with equal quality. They never succeeded in producing such a product (before 2008). But Apple did with the iPhone, which not only shot photos and videos, but also played music, had a clock, a calculator, could send emails, etc. Oh! And it you could make phones calls and text, too!
These days, digital smart clocks, like the Sandman Doppler USB Charging Smart Clock, are also hybrid devices, but they have a different mix of technology: You have two rather basic types of technology — digital clocks, which display the current time and give you the ability to set alarms to wake you up in the morning, and a charging station. These two basic technologies are paired with features that are both, in different ways, at the other end of the spectrum, since there are potentially many more variables that go into making them.
The Sandman Doppler includes easy-to-follow steps, printed in large type, that are very helpful in getting you up and running quickly.Terry Sullivan/GearBrain
First, the Sandman Doppler is a wireless speaker — and wireless speaker quality can range from speakers that produce sublimely resonant audio and those that sound tinny or harsh. Second, this smart clock is "smart" because it can be paired with one of the most prominent digital assistant technologies in the world: Amazon Alexa.
So, in this review, I'll focus on features that worked as well as ones that simply need work or need more work. But it also might be helpful to ask yourself: What features are most important in such a hybrid device? That's because I believe some consumers might only focus on the digital clock features, while others might be looking for a smart device for interacting with their smart-home ecosystem.
In the box and setting up
When you open the box, you'll find easy-to-read directions on how to safely unbox the Sandman Doppler, so you don't damage it. Aside from the main rectangular unit, which measures 11.6 x 4 x 4.7 inches, it also comes with large AC/DC "brick" adapter and plug. I was impressed with how the manufacturer went out of its way to help consumers set this device up by printing each of the four steps in large type, right on the box. They also included QR codes to access the user manual (which is online) and to download the app to your mobile device. This made downloading the app a simple process.
This clock has large clearly labeled buttons. The top row has buttons for setting alarms, connecting to Bluetooth, turning the microphone on and off and turning on Amazon Alexa. The bottom row are media controls, that let you increase and decrease volume, play, pause, move ahead or go back to a specTerry Sullivan/GearBrain
Sound quality and the mobile app
When it comes to how most consumers use a smart clock, I think it's safe to say that most would find the audio quality of its speaker relatively important, but I don't think they'd consider it the most important factor in choosing one.
Still, the both the website and the product package indicate that the speaker has "powerful sound with great bass." Unfortunately, that's not the case. Overall, the audio was clear, and not muddled or muffled, but it had a compressed quality that lacked a full-sounding bass. This compressed-sounding audio also lacked some of the finer details you'd also hear in some mid- and treble tones.
In the online manual for this smart clock, the company suggests you download the mobile app for this clock, which is called Sandman Clocks mobile app (compatible with Apple iOS and Android devices). This allows you to connect via Bluetooth and then Wi-Fi, and it allows you to open and then connect the Amazon Alexa app.
However, your progress depends on having a secure and reliable Bluetooth connection, and that's something I didn't experience, at least with my Apple iPhone 12, which would often drop the Bluetooth connection. I felt I had a better experience when I used a Google Pixel 3a phone to connect to my networks, including Amazon Alexa. Better yet, I think the app needs to be reworked so that you can still use the app if there's a problem with the Bluetooth functionality. At the very least, you need to have more options.
You can use the big buttons on top to change the color and brightness of the type on the display.Terry Sullivan/GearBrain
Smart features and basic features
One of the exciting features on this clock is that you're able to integrate it within your Amazon Alexa smart home or ecosystem. Once the speaker was connected to the mobile app, and my Amazon Alexa account was connected, I found it easy to ask Alexa to set an alarm as well as ask Alexa other questions. However, as I mentioned, this relied on having a reliable Bluetooth connection. Once that was made, it was simple to set up an alarm, and also to ask Alexa other questions.
But the Sandman Doppler just doesn't have smart features. In many ways, many of its basic features — like change the color or brightness of the display—are its best features. You can change the clock display to one of 29 different hues, and you can set it to a variety of brightness levels, which is important when sleeping. Overall, I was impressed with the big clearly labeled buttons. That's important if you can't get access to your phone and your need to turn off your alarm. On this clock, you can just tap the bell button to turn off the alarm. Or hit any of the bottom row of buttons to snooze.
The Sandman Doppler has some nicely designed features, like this small gap underneath the clock, which lets you run cords to the front of the clock without creating a tangle of wires.Terry Sullivan/GearBrain
The charging station, which is on the back section of the clock is perhaps the most basic feature, but it serves an important need, since these days, most of us are charging all kinds of devices—phones, smart watches, wireless earbuds, tablets, etc. I thought the design of the charging section was impressive, since it includes a narrow space underneath the clock where you can run USB wires from the six ports on the back of the clock to the front without creating a tangle of wires. For those who may want to charge newer products, like some laptops, you can buy a module that allows you to replace three of the older USB ports and replace them with newer USB-C ports. However, the upgrade costs $25.
It was a pleasant surprise to see that the manufacturer included a quick to useful features right on the bottom of the Sandman Doppler clock, since it's easy to lose track of physical user manuals as well as online manuals.Terry Sullivan/GearBrain
Price and is it worth buying
At $199.99, the Sandman Doppler USB Charging Smart Clock, which comes in three different colors — Blackout, Moon Grey and Midnight Blue, is quite expensive for an alarm clock, although it's on par with most smart displays that include digital time displays. However, the clock is beautifully designed and solidly built. It also has a big, beautiful display for displaying the time and the day of the week. I did find some usability issues with the Sandman Clocks mobile app, which I hope are rectified. But the good news is that, unlike hardware, a mobile app can be updated to include new features.
- Display is crisp, clear, but can be changed to different colors and different brightness levels
- Very easy to set up
- Controls are large and are clearly labeled
- Clever design allows you to keep cords from getting tangled
- Powerful 6-port charging station
- Pricey for a wireless speaker with middling audio quality
- If you want newer USB-C ports, it costs an extra $25
- Sandman Clocks app needs to include easier access and fix bugs
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