Spinning the Glow to adjust its brightness is a ridiculously clever interaction model.
GIF: Shep McAllister

As a longtime wake-up light devotee, I was practically losing sleep waiting to get my hands on Casper’s much ballyhooed Glow bedside lamp. Philips Wake-Up Lights are great, but the company hasn’t done much to modernize them over the past few years, so I immediately saw the potential of Casper’s battery powered, smartphone-syncing alternative. Having finally put it to the test in my own bedroom, there’s a lot to love about Casper’s light, in addition to a few missed opportunities.

First, it’s important to realize that the Glow is not an alarm clock. It doesn’t have a clock, nor does have an audible alarm, so you’ll need to use it in conjunction with another alarm clock, or more likely, your phone alarm. What the Glow will do though is slowly brighten for 30 minutes prior to your scheduled wake-up time, which usually (in my experience at least) gets you out of your REM cycles and into a less deep sleep. That means that when your alarm does sound, you’ll feel like you woke up naturally, as if by the light of the sun, rather than jolted out of a deep dream, which can ruin your entire day.

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The Glow is also meant to be used as a bedside lamp. Flip it over to turn it on, and it’ll slowly (you decide how slowly in the Glow app) fade and shift to a warmer hue until it turns off completely, helping you ease you towards sleep at night. And if you want to keep it on, say, while you read a book, just tap the button on top at any time to pause it at its current brightness level.

So essentially, it’s a smart light. Albeit a very nice looking one. With no sharp corners and only a single, large button on either end, it’s one of the more attractive and minimal pieces of consumer electronics I’ve ever seen. Rather than using buttons to control its brightness, you just spin the entire thing around on its axis, Nest thermostat-style. At its brightest, it’s as bright as my Philips Wake-Up Light, but its dimmest setting is far dimmer, which is a plus in the middle of the night.

The Glow is battery powered and can operate untethered for several hours, say, if you want to toss it in a suitcase for a weekend. This is a huge differentiator from most wake-up lights (and most smart lights, generally), but its wireless charging base, while miles better than a grody microUSB cable, is the Glow’s one hardware misstep.

Casper should have safely assumed a few things when designing the Glow:

  • Most people will keep the Glow on its base most of the time, since that means you never have to think about charging it.
  • Most Glows will be kept in bedrooms.
  • Bedroom gadgets should operate quietly, lest they disturb a partner sleeping nearby.

Why does it have to sound like this?

Given these truisms, combined with the fact that the Glow’s primary interaction model is spinning it around, you would think that the act of turning it on its base would be quiet. Perhaps aided by ball bearings, or maybe some sound-deadening material. But no, it just sounds and feels like plastic and metal scraping against each other. It’s not rustling-potato-chip-bag-loud, but it’s definitely louder than you’d want a bedroom accessory to be at 3AM when you’re trying to sneak away to use the bathroom. If you set it on a smoother surface like your nightstand, it’ll make less noise, but then you’ll have to periodically remember to charge it during the day.

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Relatedly, you can also turn on the Glow’s dimmest light setting with a quick shake if you need a night light, but again, you’d better remember to lift it off its base before you try it, unless your partner is a very deep sleeper.

By wake-up light standards, the Glow is very smart. My Philips light doesn’t even have a battery backup (though more expensive models do). By most other modern gadget standards though, it’s pretty barebones. You connect to your Glow via a smartphone app to set its maximum brightness level, its fade-out countdown time, and your wake-up time. You can also use it to pair multiple Glow lights together to act in unison, something you won’t find in any wake-up light alarm clock.

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That said, there’s no Alexa or Google Home compatibility, no custom rules, and no real features to speak of, save for a few brightness and countdown settings tweaks. You can’t even set a separate wake-up time for weekends; you just have to remember to change it manually in the app (Update: Casper tells me they’re working to add this feature). That seems like it could easily be rectified in the future, and in fairness, my Philips Wake-Up Light doesn’t have a weekend schedule either. But the fact that the Glow is app-connected means that these sorts of touches should be table stakes.

There’s a lot to like about the Casper Glow. Its quality of its light, its beautiful industrial design, and the fact that it could conceivably get better over time are all marks in its favor. Hell, as I write this, I’m spinning it back and forth on my desk to change its brightness, just because it’s so viscerally compelling. Given the choice, I’d take the Glow over my beloved Wake-Up Light, and I don’t say that lightly.

But there are just a few small issues that prevent me from truly loving the thing, and at $99, (or $179 for two), the Glow ought to be a dream to use. Its minor issues won’t keep you up at night, but it’s so close to being perfect that they stand out all the more.