On the Usability of My Old Samsung Cell Phone

For years, I lived without a smart phone. (Looking back, I’m not sure I was truly living, but it was something resembling life.) My little Samsung phone had great battery life, clear call quality, and it fit nicely in my pocket. The phone never failed me when calling or texting (although I don’t care for T9). Overall, great usability! For all its good, however, the alarm was really funky! I’m not sure how the interactions developed. Let me illustrate with a few examples:

  • Once, while traveling overseas the alarm went off despite the phone being powered off. After that, I made sure alarms were inactive before I turned off the phone.
  • If the alarm went off and you pressed the volume up button on the side of the phone, the alarm was snoozed; however, if you pressed the volume down button, the alarm was canceled. Neat that you could control the alarm without opening the phone! But the buttons are small to begin with and they’re adjacent to one another so it is very hard to hit the proper one. ¬†I used the alarm for ¬†appointments as well as my primary wake-up call. Many mornings I fumbled in the dark to grab my phone; in the process I would hit the mute button. If I was really tired, this meant I slept undisturbed for an extra couple hours. Whoops.
  • You could not snooze or accept the alarm by opening the phone while it was going off. Near as I could figure, opening the phone while the alarm rang was equivalent to snoozing. Instead, you had to go into the alarm menu, toggle the alarm on then off. This reveals another odd feature:
  • There were only two states: on and off. Snoozing the alarm would show the alarm as off, yet it would continue to buzz periodically. Confusing!

So how would I fix it? A couple simple things: the alarm should properly convey the three possible states: on, snooze, off. A bell icon in addition to off could take the place of a more explicit “SNOOZE” state, but the information should be present. Next, make both external buttons snooze. Now, a user can quiet the alarm or give themself an extra few minutes sleep. Once you open the phone, you can tell what state the alarm is in and take the proper action. Et viola!