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Product Review: Lacrosse Technology ‘Atomic Clock’ (WS-8418U-IT)

The short version: Don’t bother. This product is manufactured by a company that does not stand behind its products.

While visiting my brother-in-law a few years ago I noticed a large digital clock on the wall of his family room. On closer inspection I discovered it was even cooler than it first appeared. It had a built-in radio that received signals from WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Radio geeks like myself will likely already know about WWV, but for those that do not, it is a radio station run by a federal agency known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST.

NIST operates a radio station with the call letters WWV that transmits powerful signals on the shortwave bands that include extremely accurate time information. They use atomic clocks to send out these precise time signals that anyone can tune into to find out exactly what time it is.

I can recall running into these signals as a young boy when I first started tuning around on the shortwave bands using a portable radio that belonged to my father. They have been broadcasting those signals for a long time. I tuned in to WWV many times through the years while setting a clock if I was feeling particularly fussy about making my setting accurate.

The clock my brother-in-law had was able to monitor those signals pretty continuously and that enabled the clock to adjust itself and pretty much always be displaying the time about as accurately as possible for a typical consumer that did not have access to an actual atomic clock.

When I saw my brother-in-law’s clock I knew I had to have one.My wife knew how impressed I was with it so she decided to get me one for Christmas and in November, 2016 she ordered what was advertised as an “Atomic Digital Wall Clock” on Amazon.com. The term atomic clock is not entirely accurate but it sounds cool, right? Since this clock is capable of receiving time signals from a source that actually does use atomic clocks, I suppose they think that is close enough to use that term when describing their product.

The one my wife purchased for me was from La Crosse Technology, a company that makes a wide range of clocks, weather stations and other products. I actually don’t know if my brother-in-law’s clock is made by the same company but the one my wife got for me looked pretty good. The one I have is called the “WS-8418U-IT Atomic Digital Wall Clock with Moon Phase by by La Crosse Technology.”

WS-8418U-IT-Atomic-Clock

Another nice feature of the clock I purchased is that it also displays both the inside and outside temperature but mine only displays dashes now where the outdoor temperature should be.

In order to display the outside temperature the clock relies on a small sensor unit that must be placed in an outdoor location and provided with cover that is sufficient to keep it from getting wet.

I found the perfect place for the sensor on my covered back deck and mounted it there. It started working right away and up until about a month ago, it displayed the outdoor temperature faithfully.

The clock seemed to work fine. I could tell from the on-screen icon that it was able to receive the WWV signal much of the time so I was confident that the time that was displayed was quite accurate. I was a happy camper.

I noticed one day about a month ago that the outdoor temperature was no longer being displayed. Naturally I assumed that the two AA batteries that power the sensor had drained. They had been in the unit for a long time and I was impressed with their longevity but I knew they would not last forever.

I purchased a fresh set of brand-new batteries and installed them before returning the sensor to its mounting bracket on my back deck. I was a bit surprised when the outdoor temperature still wasn’t displayed. I waited a few hours, knowing that sometimes these things can take a while to synchronize so I gave it plenty of time.

After a day or so of still not seeing the outdoor temperature displayed, I went out and retrieved the sensor to make sure I installed the batteries properly. I had indeed.

I messed around with it a bit trying to get it to work but the only real option I seemed to have was to remove the batteries from both the clock and the sensor and see if that managed to somehow reset things. It didn’t work and the clock still refused to display the outside temperature reading.

I then decided to consult the La Crosse Technology website to see if I could find any hints that might help me resolve the problem.

I will give credit where credit it due and gladly admit that their website has a lot of very useful information, including instructional videos for installing and setting the clock as well as an extensive FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document that included some good troubleshooting tips.

That is one thing they are doing right.

About the only thing I seemed able to find to attempt to correct my problem was a “Clock Factory Restart” procedure. That involved removing the batteries from both the clock and the sensor, pressing some buttons a bunch of times on the clock to “clear it” or something and then waiting at least 15 minutes before inserting the batteries in the clock and sensor.

I decided to give it plenty of time so I waited about an hour before I reinserted the batteries. I was disappointed to find out that my problem was still not resolved.

At this point I was convinced that the sensor had stopped working entirely and it had not stopped displaying the outdoor temperature because the batteries were drained.

Since I knew the sensor transmitted its signal on 915 MHz, I tested with a receiver to see if the sensor seemed to be transmitting anything. As far as I could tell, it was not.

I decided to contact the company’s “support” department through their website and explain the problem. I hoped they would be able to provide me with some useful suggestion that would get things working again.

A day later I heard back from La Crosse Technology “support” with their conclusion. In addition to suggesting something I had already tried numerous times, they did say they were “sorry” I was having difficulty with their product. Gee, thanks.

Other than that, they told me that it appeared that I might need to replace the sensor and gave me the link to their online store along with a coupon code. I had already visited their store and discovered that the sensor was priced at $14.95, which did not please me too much but I had hoped the coupon code might enable some kind of discount when I entered it into their store website during purchase.

I accessed their store website and went through the required steps to purchase a new sensor but discovered that they were “out of stock.” To test my coupon theory, I selected another sensor that was listed as compatible with my clock and followed the steps to purchase one. When I entered my coupon code I found that it did not provide any discount or anything else useful as far as I could tell. I did not follow through with the purchase.

I replied to La Crosse Technology’s email to let them know how disappointed I was with their product and their “support” but have not heard anything back from them, which does not surprise me.

I have no plans to ever purchase anything manufactured by La Cross Technology ever again and these are the reasons:

When I (or my wife) pay $40 to purchase a product, I do not expect to pay almost half of what was originally paid for it less than three years later just to get it to function the way it is supposed to.

Since it would cost me $14.95 plus $2.00 shipping (of course!) to replace the sensor that would total about $17.00 – just $3.00 shy of half the price my wife paid for it.

Even if I did purchase a new sensor, could I do so with the confidence that the replacement sensor would also not stop working before three years has passed? I don’t think so and here’s why.

I decided to check Amazon.com and look at the reviews for this product. While looking for the clock I purchased on Amazon in 2016, I instead discovered that they sell the exact same sensor I would need to replace the one I have. Unfortunately, it too is listed for about $15.00.

What was interesting, however, was the reviews that were posted for this sensor. It was abundantly clear that I was not the only one to have one fail in an unreasonably short amount of time. In fact, there were reports of failure that happened well before the nearly three years that passed before mine did.

A few quotes from different Amazon reviews for the sensor:

“Transmitter units died quickly. Unit 2 died in 3 days and Unit 3 died 2 days later.”

“Newest sensor lasted 4 days!!! Yep, 4 days.”

“My first unit lasted 8 months.”

“…these ‘outside’ monitors, all go bad in weeks.”

“…the first thermometer quit after a couple years.”

“Cannot keep unit transmitting for more than a day with new batteries. Now it has stopped working all together even with new batteries. Very unreliable.”

“HOWEVER, the outside temp sensor only lasts a short time.”

“The temp sensor I had that came with the station stopped working after 7 months.”

You get the idea. If these reviews are accurate – and I have every reason to believe they are – it seems clear that these sensors are an inferior product that does not last.

It’s advertised as an “outdoor sensor” so it certainly cannot be said that these sensors are dying because they are exposed to extremes in temperature. They should be designed to withstand that.

Like so many other things these days, both the clock and the sensor proudly display that they were “Made In China” on their identification labels.

And like so many other companies these days, it appears “La Crosse Technology” (I wonder how you say than in Mandarin) is a company that contracts with manufacturers in China that are interested only in manufacturing cheap products as quickly as possible for maximum profit and with minimal attention to quality.

On the other hand, I have at least one product that has been superbly reliable and long-lasting that was also manufactured in China. That goes to show that it can be done right when a U.S. company devotes the right amount of time and effort to see that a product is manufactured in a responsible way.

I have computers in my house that were probably manufactured in China as well and are older than 10 years old that are still functioning and have been used every day.

Surely a PC contains many more parts than a clock and a sensor and is a bit more complex. How can a PC (which generates a lot more heat, making it even more vulnerable to failure) last so long and a small sensor with a very limited number of parts fails in less than three years? And in some cases a lot sooner if the Amazon reviews can be believed.

I guess I will just chalk this up as another consumer lesson learned. If I ever desire to purchase another clock or weather station, I will look high and low to find one without a label that reads “La Crosse Technology.”

I should not be expected to spend an additional $17 (or perhaps $34 or $51 or more depending on how many sensors fail) to keep a product working properly.

By the way, I have a Davis weather station that has been in service every day for at least 15 years and it has not given me any trouble whatsoever. I will have to find out if they make an “Atomic Clock.”

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