Time is of the essence, especially when ignoring it means you'll miss a plane or a chance to seal a business deal. Hotel alarm clocks are not always easy to set, and you know what can happen when you rely on a wake-up call. Cellphones have alarms -- but batteries die at the worst times. So travel clocks are still vital.
THE SOFT TOUCH
First look: Sharper Image's Travel Sound Soother 20 (SI601TNM) was a hit with the Travel staff. The 6-ounce clock, about the size of a fat BlackBerry, includes 20 "sound environments" to lull you to sleep. You can choose among wind chimes, city sounds, foghorns, steam trains, ocean waves, heartbeat, white noise or 13 other sounds. It requires three AAA batteries and comes with ear buds.
Likes and yikes: The clock has a backlighted display with dual time, date, year and temperature. The settings are fairly easy to figure out. We thought it would make a good gift and would come in handy to drown out the ice machine or a nearby interstate. The downside: The Sound Soother is expensive and its digital numerals are relatively small.
The 411: $59.95; (800) 344-5555, www.sharperimage.com.
First look: Tidy, digital and all business, the oval-shaped Super-Loud Travel Alarm Clock by TimeVision (ATC826) does its job with grumpy efficiency. Two alarm levels, 84 and 100 decibels, plus a backlight-snooze button. Runs on four AA batteries (not included).
Likes and yikes: When set on the high level, the piercing beeps could rouse the whole firehouse -- or anyone in your room or possibly next door. They blasted through my earplugs, which have a noise reduction rating of 29 decibels. The clock is mostly intuitive to use. Portable but hardly petite, it measures 4 3/4 by 2 by 2 1/2 inches and weighs half a pound, including batteries.
The 411: $14.85; (800) 962-4943, www.magellans.com.
First look: The versatile Shake Awake vibrating alarm clock crams a lot into a case the size of a deck of cards. Slip it under your pillow and it will vibrate you awake. It also has an audible alarm. Has a large digital display, snooze setting and carrying pouch.
Likes and yikes: Ideal for hearing-impaired people and deep sleepers. Set on vibrate, the clock easily woke one tester -- but it wasn't silent. The low growl and vibrations may disturb a light-sleeping bedmate. The audio alarm was adequate. The clock is easy to set, with a thoughtful design. Weighs 5.5 ounces, including one AAA and two AA batteries.
The 411: $23.50; (800) 852-7085, www.walkabouttravelgear.com.
THE PINT-SIZED PRO
First look: Magellan's Mini-Time Travel Alarm (AC413) is for people who want to simplify life. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, this clock is easy to use and set. It has luminous numbers and hands and a dial light. Its snooze feature gives you five minutes of extra shut-eye.
Likes and yikes: This midget alarm clock has much to commend it: It's lightweight, inexpensive, has a loud alarm and uses only a single AA battery. The negatives: Its petite size may make it hard to find -- or the face hard to read -- in the dark.
The 411: $9.85; (800) 344-5555, www.magellans.com.
THE PRETTY ONE
First look: The Dual-Time Travel Alarm Clock from Sharper Image (SR362) is a folding clock about the size of a woman's compact. It comes in a sleek, hinged metal case and has a large digital time display that shows home and away time zones. Also listed on its face are day and month. It uses one AAA battery.
Likes and yikes: You'll probably need to glance at the instruction manual to set this model, but it's fairly easy to use, weighs in at just 4.2 ounces and has inch-tall numerals that can be spotted across the room. Globetrotters will like the dual-time and 24-hour clock functions.
The 411: $19.95; (800) 344-5555, www.sharperimage.com.