Kevin Hunt: Retro Geneva Model XS alarm turns back clock

Large-gauge phone also courts older sensibilities


The Geneva Sound System Model XS is an extra-small travel alarm clock that looks about as modern as "Mad Men."

A travel alarm clock, circa 1960s, was a neat little foldaway case, often trimmed in faux leather like the Model XS. Inside resided a windup analog clock.

The Model XS is slightly larger, almost 7 inches wide, and its clock is neither windup nor analog.

The Model XS runs on a rechargeable (and, hallelujah, replaceable) lithium-ion battery that also powers a speaker system appointed with a 2.25-inch driver for lower frequencies and two 1-inch tweeters for highs. It's all concealed behind a convex bulge in the middle of the speaker grille.

With these tiny drivers and a measly 12 total watts of power — six to the biggest driver, three each to the tiny duo — the Swiss company somehow coaxes sound that surpassed, in my informal evaluation, the Nuforce Cube, the Soundmatters foxL and the Logitech Mini Boombox. That makes it a king among diminutive portable speakers.

The Model XS, like the others, uses Bluetooth technology to play music wirelessly from any suitably equipped device within 30 feet like an iPhone, iPad or Android phone. But it does not double as a speakerphone.

This is no retro timepiece: Even when accounting for inflation, a travel alarm clock never cost the equivalent of $250 today, as the Model XS does.

But when was the last time you saw a telescoping FM antenna on an alarm clock? The Model XS, indeed, has a digital FM tuner (no AM), with an antenna that extends from the retractable speaker's base. With the clumsy antenna, no station presets and so-so reception, I'd prefer an FM-less Model XS at a lower price or with a USB connection for computer use and charging.

In FM mode, the Model XS is powered by analog amplification for better reception.

In either Bluetooth mode or with a device connected into the Model XS' line-in jack, the speakers run on digital power for higher fidelity.

From a travel alarm clock? Oddly, yes. The Model XS sounds best, and plays loudest, with its plug-in power adapter. Though the clock always runs, the Model XS plays and its behind-the-grille LED display illuminates only with the case opened and the speaker unit locked by two seemingly fragile plastic teeth inside the clamshell case.

All the touch-sensitive controls, which also illuminate, run in a row along the top of the main unit. Aside from some reservations about the need for an FM tuner, the Model XS is a well-designed, if expensive, alarm clock/sound system for the modern traveler.

For those less frequently traveled, it could be time to look elsewhere for portable entertainment.

A new Pal

The Clarity Pal cellphone isn't designed for generations X-Y-Z, tweeners or techies, but this not-so-smartphone should hit a sweet spot with seniors and the hearing-impaired.

The Pal is an old-style, rectangular brick of a cellphone with 25 decibels of amplification, which might not sound like a lot — in the everyday world, it's a whisper — but in the ear it's loud.

These ears, with normal hearing, were not a fair test. But I could quickly hear the difference, not so much in the volume (fortunately, adjustable) but in its laser focus, as if the signals were beamed directly into the ears.

Marcia Hunt, soon to be 80 years old and near deaf without hearing aids, was a better audiological match for the Pal. (Disclosure: She's also my mother.) After several hours of testing, she declared it the best phone she has tried and the first that didn't require her to remove her hearing aids.

She'd buy one, she said, if Clarity, a division of Plantronics, would sign up Verizon as a service provider. For now, the Pal's biggest carriers are AT&T and T-Mobile. Clarity says it's working at adding more service providers, including Verizon.

The Pal, an unlocked (GSM) phone with a 2-inch LCD screen, has several other features that might appeal to seniors: a highlighted dial pad with oversize buttons, a talk-back function that announces numbers as the user dials them, talking caller ID and a one-touch emergency button that calls and texts five programmed numbers.

The Pal, which does not require a long-term contract, costs $99 at clarityproducts.com.

khunt@tribune.com

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