Available from 3 June in the UK, Lenovo’s Smart Clock is a brilliant bedside companion
- Very small
- Sounds good
- No Google Photos on homescreen
- Can’t be woken by radio without setting up routines
First announced at CES 2019, Lenovo’s Smart Clock is a teeny-weeny smart display that’s designed to sit atop your bedside table. In many ways, it’s the perfect introduction to Google’s Home ecosystem; it can do practically anything its larger stablemates can, but at £80 it’s firmly within impulse purchase territory.
Along with telling the time and setting alarms, you can use it to play music and radio, interact with Google Assistant and control smart home devices such as light bulbs, Nest cameras and coffee machines. That smaller design brings some compromises, which I’ll come to below, but overall the Smart Clock is a worthy addition to Lenovo’s growing smart speaker family.
Lenovo Smart Clock review: What you need to know
Aside from its considerably smaller physical size, the main difference between the Smart Clock and Lenovo’s larger Smart Displays is that the company has done away with the front-facing camera. That’s no bad thing unless you particularly feel the need to make video calls from bed. As the user interface has been rethought for its tiny 4in display, there’s also no Home View dropdown or any Ambient Mode for displaying your Google Photos albums. If you want that kind of thing, you’ll need a larger Smart Display or Google’s recently rebranded Nest Hub.
But it’s not all bad news. The Lenovo Smart Clock comes with a handy USB-A slot on its reverse, which you can use to charge your phone, and there are some neat alarm clock features that you won’t find on other Google Assistant smart speakers. The Sunrise Alarm feature, for instance, means you can set the speaker to wake you up gradually with increasingly bright light from its display, rather than some harsh alarm tone.
Otherwise, practically everything about the Smart Clock works in the same way as the Lenovo Smart Display. You can use the card-based system to check the weather and upcoming events and, crucially, ask Google Assistant for help with anything from measurement conversions to travel info. Last but not least, you can cast music to it from your Android phone or connect via Bluetooth to use it as a wireless speaker.
Lenovo Smart Clock review: Price and competition
Available from June 2019, the Lenovo Smart Clock is priced at just £80. That makes it one of the cheapest Google Assistant smart speakers you can buy, with only the screenless Google Home Mini (£50) undercutting it by a significant margin.
Google’s excellent Nest Hub will set you back around £120 and, if you want something that doubles as a digital photo album, there’s no question the Google speaker is the way to go. However, this lacks many of the features that make the Smart Clock a great bedside companion.
With its 5.5in display, though, Amazon’s recently announced Echo Show 5 arguably represents the Smart Clock’s greatest competition in terms of value for money. It’s not primarily intended as an alarm clock but comes with a front-facing camera for making video calls and a 3.5mm audio port.
If you’re more interested in having a traditional alarm clock radio than smart features, you might be better off with something such as the Pure Siesta Rise.
Lenovo Smart Clock review: Design and display
Dominated by its 4in screen when viewed from the front, Lenovo’s Smart Clock is a small, cute and boxy thing. Unlike Google’s Nest Hub, which resembles a tablet stuck to a pumice stone, the Lenovo speaker is a single, cohesive unit covered entirely in fabric – and it looks all the better for it.
Two buttons on its top let you control the speaker’s volume, while the Smart Clock’s rectangular rear houses a USB-A port alongside a power input and the mute switch for the microphone. To stop it from sliding around on your bedside table, the Smart Clock has two grippy rubber strips on its underside – one at the front and one at the rear.
As for the smart speaker’s 4in screen, it’s an 800 x 480 panel. That’s not especially high-resolution for a screen of its size, but it’s not really a problem when the Smart Clock isn’t intended for looking at photos or video. For reading the time and viewing calendar entries, it’s more than adequate and the screen appears bright with vibrant colours.
The Smart Clock makes it easy to read what’s on the screen, regardless of the light conditions, because it has an ambient light sensor that adjusts the brightness according to your surroundings. By swiping up from the bottom of the screen and opening Display Settings, you can also set the Smart Clock to use a monochrome clock and a “darker” minimum brightness at night so it never wakes you. This is a very nice touch.
Lenovo Smart Clock review: Clock and alarm features
With no Ambient Mode that you find on other Google Assistant-powered smart displays, the Smart Clock defaults to a large clock on its homescreen. A long press on this screen gives you the option to choose from a range of different stylish clock faces, which you can customise to show the weather, reminders, alarm suggestions and more.
Swiping right through the interface reveals an additional card compared to what you’ll find on its larger siblings, too: an alarm menu. From here, you can toggle existing alarms on and off and set new ones, and decide whether you want them to repeat. There are also options to enable the sunrise alarm feature – which wakes you gradually over half an hour by increasing the display’s brightness – and to activate your “Good morning routine”.
Routines are one of the most powerful tools in Google Home’s arsenal and they can be used to do just about anything – from adjusting your lights and thermostats to telling you about your upcoming calendar entries and playing your favourite podcast or radio station. However, while there’s huge scope for customisation, it still frustrates me that it won’t enable you to use the Smart Clock (or indeed any other Google Assistant smart speaker) in quite the same way as a traditional alarm clock radio.
To elaborate, there’s no option to be woken by your favourite radio station or Spotify playlist ad hoc. Instead, you’ll have to make do with setting up a routine from the Home app that wakes you in the same way at the same time on the same days every week, or you’ll have to make do with the “Good morning routine” starting only after you’ve silenced the alarm set from the Smart Clock.
It’s not the biggest inconvenience, but I’d love to have the option to choose a radio station instead of an alarm tone within the Smart Clock’s alarm menu. Lenovo has at least thought of making the speaker easier to silence than some of its predecessors. When the alarm sounds, you can tap its top to silence (or snooze) it and there’s also the option to just say “Stop!” without first giving the “OK Google” wake command.
Lenovo Smart Clock review: Sound quality
So how good does it sound? Such a tiny device is never going to reproduce music in a way that excites audiophiles, but I was pleasantly surprised by the Smart Clock’s 3W speaker and dual passive radiators. Indeed, mid-range and treble frequencies are noticeably clearer and more refined than on the larger Google Nest Hub, although it doesn’t have quite the same presence.
This makes it well suited to listening to spoken word and music alike, assuming that you’re sitting relatively nearby, which you will be in bed. If you’re looking for something that can be your primary listening device and truly fill your bedroom with sound, though, you’re better off looking for something more powerful such as the JBL Link View.
Lenovo Smart Clock review: Verdict
Until Amazon announced its Echo Show 5, there was nothing quite like the Lenovo Smart Clock in the smart speaker market and, if you’re already invested in Google’s ecosystem, that’s still very much the case.
Thanks to its small build, natty design and well-thought-out interface, the Smart Clock would have a certain appeal even if were a dumb clock. When you consider that it packs in all of the powerful features of Google Assistant into such an attractive and competitively priced package, however, it’d feel an injustice not to award it a Best Buy.