How bad can it really be?

Customer reviews are the lifeblood of shopping on Amazon, but because of their importance they’re also highly susceptible to tampering. So, to get a better sense of how far we can truly trust these ratings of one to five stars, our reporters sometimes go slumming in the one-star bin.

This time Masanuki Sunakoma took the plunge and bought an alarm clock from Amazon Japan that had an average rating of 1.1 stars based on 12 reviews as of this writing. Generally, if just one or two people give something a bad review, there’s still a fair chance that it’s just misunderstood, but when 12 people are saying a product sucks it certainly seems like that’s the case.

The box had “Cover” printed on it in a subtly sophisticated style. The calm package design gave the feeling of a high-end electronics product, and suddenly made the price of 2,599 yen ($23) seem not so steep.

Also, inside the box where two AAA batteries, which was a nice touch in this batteries-not-included world.

Masanuki then reached in and pulled out his new alarm clock…which was a big red button.

This actually wasn’t a surprise since he could see the product before buying. This item is labeled as a “time signal device” to be used by the elderly and visually impaired. In that way it sounds like a pretty good idea as a clock that literally tells the time, and is even good for those chronic over-sleepers too tired to open their eyes to know the time.

However, that’s where the problems begin. According to the reviews, this clock’s Japanese is “clumsy” and “hard to understand” which is really the worst problem you can have for a voice-based clock.

But to find out the truth, Masanuki would first have to set this clock. This works by a simple two-button process. A tiny button near the battery compartment switches between hours, minutes, years, months, days, alarm hours, alarm minutes, and a toggle to set the alarm on or off. The main red button is then used to set the number for each category by pressing it that number of times. 

▼ We highlighted the setting button with a red square

This is all very easy in theory, but in practice it can be quite maddening. Masanuki was just lucky he wasn’t setting it at 11:59 p.m. on 31 December.

▼ The clock setting process

That was a bit of a hassle, but considering the clock was intended to be used as an audio interface, there probably weren’t many other options. While watching the above video, those familiar with spoken Japanese might have noticed that the voice had a certain accent to it, possibly Chinese.

According to the box the clock was made in China, so that was likely the case. Still, with all the available computerized voices out there, it’s interesting that they sold a clock that spoke Japanese with a fairly heavy Chinese accent.

Once it was set up, Masanuki took it for a test drive.

He pressed the big red button once like a contestant on a quiz show.


Pressing the button once again soon after will make it say the date.


▼ The time-telling process

There technically wasn’t anything wrong with what the clock said, but Masanuki could kind of see why some people might have trouble with the stilted delivery and accent. Still, he could see himself getting used to it just fine, and when he closes his eyes he could feel like he was in China.

The oddest idiosyncrasy is that the voice designates the minutes as “minutes” but doesn’t say anything for the hours. This can cause some utterances that might cause a double-take, like how “seven fifty-two minutes” could be interpreted as “7:52” or “752 minutes.” It’s a little more confusing in the Japanese numbering system, but still isn’t horribly hard to understand. However, considering the role of this clock, it’d probably be much better without this way of speaking.

A more pressing problem for Masanuki was that when you remove the batteries, the memory completely resets and you have to set the time all over again. He wasn’t sure if that was a common problem with most alarm clocks, but it was really compounded with this one, given how tiresome the setting process is.

In conclusion, it certainly is a product with some rough patches. Especially given the number of readily available and affordable professional voice actors in Japan, there really isn’t much of an excuse not to invest in a good voice for a clock that does nothing but talk. 

Still, there’s a bright side to everything and this clock does have the ability to magically whisk you away to a Beijing hotel, and just in time for next year’s Olympics!

Related: Amazon Japan
Photos © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]