Sometimes it's the little things. And while Windows Phone 7 certainly has its share of big-bang moments, innovative new features like the beautiful panoramic experiences and truly useful live tiles, it also has an abundance of tiny little enhancements that were designed by people who truly understand where today's smart phones fall short. None of these features is reason enough to choose Windows Phone over other platforms. But taken as a collective whole, it adds up.

The Alarms app is one of those features. It's not flashy or even particularly interesting on the surface. But if you actually use your phone as an alarm--and millions of people do, every single day--then it's actually a pretty big deal. And the Windows Phone implementation is pretty sweet.

The basic UI is, well, basic. Alarms is a standard, single-screen app--that is, it's not a game or multi-screen panoramic experience--that presents a very simple UI. By default, no alarms have been created for you, and there is a single App Bar button, called Add, that lets you make one.

Click Add and you're presented with the New Alarm screen shown below. Here, you can specify the time of the alarm, whether it repeats, and if so, how frequently, the sound to use when the alarm is triggered, and, optionally, a unique name for the alarm.

If you've never used the Windows Phone time picker, you'll be interested in the Choose Time screen. Here, Windows Phone presents what looks like a pretty simple screen, with three static boxes, one each for hour, minute, and AM/PM.

But when you tap one of the boxes, the genius of this UI is revealed; each box is essentially a point on a virtual spinning wheel, and you can literally flick up or down to scroll between all the available choices.

 

The Repeats option is indeed optional. If you enable the alarm and don't set up anything here, the alarm will sound only once, the next time the alarm time is reached. If you do tap on Repeats, you can choose which days of the week you'd like the alarm to repeat.

 

The Sound option lets you choose between 16 built-in sounds; at this time, Alarms does not allow you to choose other files, like an MP3-based song, for the alarm. These built-in sounds are divided between 6 alarms (Alarm 01, Alarm 02, and so on) and ten alerts (Alert 01, Alert 02, and so on). The Alert sounds can also be used for other notifications in Windows Phone.
On the Choose an Item screen for the alarm sound, you can tap the graphical Play button to hear the sound, or just tap the name to select it.

 

The Sound option lets you choose between 16 built-in sounds; at this time, Alarms does not allow you to choose other files, like an MP3-based song, for the alarm. These built-in sounds are divided between 6 alarms (Alarm 01, Alarm 02, and so on) and ten alerts (Alert 01, Alert 02, and so on). The Alert sounds can also be used for other notifications in Windows Phone.

On the Choose an Item screen for the alarm sound, you can tap the graphical Play button to hear the sound, or just tap the name to select it.

Finally, to provide the Alarm with an optional name, just tap the Name field and the virtual keyboard will appear so you can do so.

Tap the Save button in the App Bar to save the alarm. When you do, the alarm will be added to the Saved Alarms list with the On slider enabled. To disable an alarm, slide this to disabled.

Note that saved alarms, even one-off alarms, will stay in the Saved Alarms list. Oddly, you cannot delete alarms using the standard Windows Phone "tap and hold" (similar to right-click) gesture. Instead, you must select a saved alarm; when you do so, you'll see a new Delete App Bar button in the next screen that will allow you to delete the alarm.

This is all very basic and obvious. So what's so special about Alarms? Unlike other smart phone alarms that awake you with a three-alarm-fire blaze of obnoxious, full volume sound, Windows Phone's Alarms app takes a gentler approach. When the time for the alarm arrives, Windows Phone doesn't suddenly destroy your peace and quiet and abruptly catapult you into the day. Instead, it comes on very quietly and slowly builds up in volume, creating a far more natural and peaceful way to wake up.

Like other alarms, the Alarm app supports vibrate along with the alarm sound, and it can snooze in five minute increments.