We’ve purchased five copies of this tabletop Sharper Image Atomic Alarm Clock, to use in our own homes as well as for classy Christmas gifts.
Radio controlled atomic clocks such as this, receive broadcasts from the master atomic clocks near Fort Collins, Colorado, and synchronize themselves almost every night to those signals. So the time it displays is usually accurate to within one second of the official world time. Not only are these highly accurate, but they feature a sleek, atomic age look. The silver-gray coloring fits in well with most any room décor.
We paid roughly $50 for this battery-powered atomic clock. Back then, as the technology was still emerging, this seemed fairly reasonable if not slightly expensive. But the price was cheap enough that we gave one as a Christmas gift; one each to Mom, as well as several sisters. This was a fair buy for all that you get in an atomic alarm clock. The sisters are still enjoying these highly accurate timepieces, even today, some six years hence.
Benefits, Features, Pros, and Advantages
Automatic time setting each night. This was one of the first atomic clocks for the consumer market. Thrilling to finally see clocks appearing that you do not have to fiddle around with setting so much. This clock sets itself for the most part.
Radio controlled atomic accuracy. Of course, like all atomic clocks, the Sharper Image version keeps highly accurate time, so long as it receives the controlling radio signals periodically.
Automatic day and date setting. In addition, it also sets its date information from the WWVB atomic master clock radio transmissions, and can be configured to automatically adjust itself to account for daylight saving time (DST).
Adjustable ferrite antenna included. An attached, extend-able antenna is included (pictured below) that you can pull out an inch or two away from the clock body for better WWVB radio control signal (RCC) reception.
Alarm works even during power failures. Since this atomic clock is battery-powered by two AA batteries, it keeps running during power outages, with typical battery life approaching two years when fresh name brand alkaline batteries have been installed. It can always be read during power failures thus.
Works anywhere in North America. The clock can receive the WWVB radio control signals (RCC) from the atomic master clocks in Colorado at just about any location throughout the USA. So whether you live in a big city or off of a single-lane dusty road in rural America, the RCC signal should always be available (at least at night anyhow), and thus, this atomic clock will remain accurate for you.
High contrast LCD readout. Also displays the date, day, alarm time, and AM / PM indicator along the left side of the large time digits that are easy for even me to read from several feet away.
Full, evenly distributed backlight across the entire display. The turquoise-blue backlight makes for effortless spotting of the current time and date. This light fully illuminates the LCD display in a highly uniform fashion (no one part of the lighted display is brighter than any other), and it remains lighted long enough to fully read the display before turning off again.
Large LCD display. The LCD display is easy to read overall so long as the ambient light in the room is sufficient. Otherwise, you must turn on the backlight to see it. You activate the backlight by pressing on the clear plastic panel that covers the LCD elements.
Sufficiently loud alarm signal. The alarm is loud enough to wake up most anyone sleeping nearby, but not obnoxiously so.
Backlight drains battery little. Since this backlight is electroluminescent, its battery drain is quite small. So press that panel a lot without worries about the batteries going dead.
Disadvantages, Concerns, Problems, Limitations, and Cons
No model number. We could not locate the model number of this atomic clock anywhere on or within the unit. It may not have one.
No signal strength meter. This clock does not have a WWVB signal strength meter. So positioning it for best reception can be difficult. You either get the signal well, or you don’t get it at all. Generally however, positioning the clock so that the broadside of the extendable antenna is perpendicular to the west here in north America east of the Rockies, and east if you are located to the west of the Rocky mountains. Depending on your actual latitude, you’ll have to aim the clock just south of west if you’re in the north east, just north of west if you’re in the south east, south east if in the north west, and north east if you’re located in the south west.
WWVB signal easily disrupted. Positioning this radio clock on or near metal surfaces can interfere with WWVB reception.
Backlight duration is too short. The electroluminescent backlight remains lighted for only two seconds, and then automatically shuts off again, saving the batteries. But we wish you could set this to stay lit for or ten seconds. After just two seconds, the eyes have only just focused on the display, which then goes dark. So we sometimes must press the light on again to actually read the time. In fact, given the notoriously low power drain of electroluminescent lights, we expected Sharper Image to incorporate the option to have a much longer on-time for the backlight.
The built-in ferrite loop stick antenna is too directional. This atomic alarm clock seems somewhat sensitive to position. That is, it picks up the atomic signals best when you position it broad-side to Colorado so that the signals hit this unit at near right-angles. If you position it at too great an angle from this, this atomic alarm clock might not always receive enough radio control signal to lock to.
Atomic signal may not be received for weeks at a time. Even if you’ve positioned this atomic clock properly, it does not receive the signal every night. Sometimes it can go for days or weeks even, without “hearing” from the master atomic clocks at the National Bureau of Standards and Technology. But fortunately, the built-in clock keeps pretty accurate time without daily refreshes from WWVB. However, too long a stretch without the time sync signal, and the clock will definitely drift.
Electrical interference may prevent WWVB reception altogether. The RCC signals are located in a very low frequency band (60 KHz), which means that they are easily and often interfered with by atmospheric storms, light dimmers, the arcing in brush type motors, solar flare activity, et al. This can affect the accuracy of the displayed time.
Clock does not keep very accurate time without WWVB. Some regions, rarely pick up clear reception of these frequencies; the clock may go for weeks at times, without synchronizing with Colorado. In the absence of these sync signals, this clock does drift off of the correct time fairly quickly. Now given the proliferation of the Internet to near-ubiquitous status during the first decade of the 21st century, devices like this, that rely on radio signal propagation to function fully, have become rather obsolete. Nowadays, time synchronization can be conducted anytime via an Internet connection and a bit of simple software.
Non programmable daily time sync. To extend battery life, this atomic clock only listens for the WWVB signals one time each day, and this time cannot be changed by the user. The listen time is somewhere between midnight and 1:00 AM. Would be nice if this scheduling, as well as how often the internal radio is activated, could be user-programmed. This would allow accounting for radio propagation phenomenon differences among the various regions throughout North America. WWVB often is not received best at the same time each night in Altoona, PA, as it is in Las Angeles, CA.
We’re pleased with the amount of and generally good reliability of the technology contained in this Sharper Image battery powered atomic alarm clock. Four of the five copies I purchased a half a decade ago are still functioning today, and my sisters still comment favorably about them. I doubt that Sharper Image makes this particular model anymore. I’d rate this clock at 93 out of 100.
Where To Buy The Sharper Image Atomic Clock
I found mine at Circuit City while they were still in business. However, I’ve not seen it anywhere else. But try eBay, as these units occasionally show up there.
- Atomic Clock on Wikipedia
- Electroluminescence on Wikipedia
- Sharper Image Web Site
- WWVB Radio Web Site
- 2017-02-06: Revised tags list.
- 2016-12-23: Added a featured image as well as some additional content.
- 2015-11-12: Added appropriate tags.
- 2014-10-29: Added pictures, revised content, and extended the References section.
- 2012-08-22: Originally published.