Review: Lenovo's Google-equipped Smart Clock is a solid choice when bedtime means bedtime
You'll have to go elsewhere if you want all the features of a Google Nest Hub or Echo Show, but for smartspeaker buyers who just want a cheap wake-up and bedtime option, the Lenovo Smart Clock doesn't disappoint.
When displays first came to smartspeakers there was a certain amount of backlash. Part of the point of a smartspeaker, after all, is having computer-like controls away from your PC or tablet.
People gradually realized however that there are some advantages. Depending on the platform you can see an extended weather forecast, browse the news, check security cameras, or even watch YouTube if you're trying to fix something, follow a recipe, or fall asleep. My wife bought me a Lenovo Smart Display after my review, and I now regularly fall asleep to things like e-skate videos or "Best of the Worst."
The Smart Clock originates from a place where smart displays — we'll call them all that for the sake of convenience — are not only taken for granted, but getting a rethink.
The first thing you'll notice is that the Clock's screen measures just 4 inches. That's considerably smaller than the the 10.1-inch Echo Show, or the 8- and 10-inch formats available for Lenovo's regular Smart Displays. It's smaller even than the new Echo Show 5.
That's because the Smart Clock is intended to sit on a desk or a nightstand, and it shows in all details. It has an incredibly small footprint for instance, such that I was able to sit it next to my Smart Display with a little shuffling. There's a USB port for charging your iPhone, and a fabric covering adds that hygge touch.
Both because of its purpose and size the device uses a stripped-down version of Google's Smart Display platform. Instead of bringing up recommendations for news, music, and YouTube videos for example, swiping from the right instead defaults to active alarms. Swipe again and you'll see Google Calendar events.
UI elements have been reduced and given oversized text and buttons, which is handy when you're trying to tap "Stop" or "Snooze" in the morning. You can even just slap the top of the Clock to snooze, if you like.
There are sacrifices. While you can choose from several clock styles for example — I stuck with "Clouds," which includes a weather thumbnail — you can't set custom wallpaper or complications, and controls are limited mostly to what makes sense in a bedroom context. A smarthome panel, accessed by swiping down from the top, brings up buttons for alarms, room lights, playing music, and your "Good morning/night" Assistant routines — that's it.
In fact you can't play YouTube videos at all, which may be an immediate deal-killer for some people. Media options are restricted to music, radio, sound effects, and streaming Nest security cameras, although more camera platforms should be compatible down the road.
With all this in mind, there's a lot to love. The Smart Clock offers the same core voice commands as any Google Assistant speaker, such as streaming Spotify or Pandora, controlling smarthome accessories, and setting alarms and calendar events by voice. It's incredibly convenient to say "wake me up to NPR weekdays at 6 a.m," or "shuffle my Bedtime playlist." No, Apple Music isn't an option yet, but YouTube Music should be free.
Audio doesn't get loud or bass-heavy, but it is surprisingly crisp. It's ideal for gently waking up or falling asleep.
The Smart Clock may simultaneously pacify some of the privacy concerns people have about smartspeakers. While you do have to be logged into Google Assistant, there's a physical mic mute switch and no video camera whatsoever. Once you've got alarms set you might never have to let Google listen in.
Score: 4 out of 5
Above all I appreciate the simplicity of what Lenovo's going for, and its resulting $79.99 pricetag. The product feels more at home on a nightstand than any other smartspeaker, except maybe the Echo Show 5. At one point I even found myself wishing I could replace my Smart Display, except that I would miss functions like YouTube and checking our nursery Arlo camera.
Lenovo, if you're listening, this product would be nigh-on perfect with YouTube and better security camera support. All it would take is a few software updates.
Where to buy
The Lenovo Smart Clock sells for $79.99 and can be ordered from B&H Photo with free expedited shipping within the contiguous U.S.