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Lenovo Smart Clock Essential review: A useful bedside smart speaker

Lenovo's simple smart alarm gets plenty of the basics right and gives good sound quality at an attractive price.

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Andrew Gebhart/CNET

The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential looks a bit dated, despite being the newest addition to Lenovo's lineup of gadgets that make use of Google Assistant. Designed for your nightstand, the Smart Clock Essential is a trimmed-down version of Lenovo's previous Smart Clock, which was itself a trimmed-down smart display

First and foremost a smart speaker with capabilities similar to Google's own Nest Mini ($49 at Walmart) smart speaker, the Smart Clock Essential has a simple LED screen so you can check the time and the weather at a glance. The back has a nightlight, the top has a few buttons for setting an alarm or adjusting the volume and that's pretty much it. 

7.5

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential

Like

  • Has a simple but helpful display
  • Responsive mics and good sound quality for its size
  • Uses its nightlight for sunrise alarms

Don't Like

  • The display casts a glow even at its dimmest
  • The physical controls aren't intuitive and don't offer much customization.

While I do think it looks like something you'd find on a shelf at a Radioshack in the '90s, I wasn't turned off by the lack of physical features. It's arguably a more focused product than its predecessor and does what it promises -- brings Google Assistant to your bedside in a simple but functional alarm clock. Top it all off with a fair $50 (£50, AU$59) price that matches the Nest Mini and the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is worth your consideration if you're looking for a smart alarm.

The usual Google Assistant repertoire

Google has yet to release a first-party smart speaker with a time display similar to the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock, which leaves room in the lineup for a third-party gadget: Enter the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential. 

I'd categorize the original Lenovo Smart Clock as more of a smart display than a smart speaker. You could swipe through different screens to check traffic and the weather. You could look at pictures or pull up a feed from your connected cam. It lacked videos, smart home controls, and a lot of other depth offered by full smart displays like the Nest Hub ($90 at Best Buy), but it was simplified for your bedside and I thought it did enough for a reasonable price.

The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is definitely closer to a smart speaker than a smart display, as the screen isn't interactive and really only shows the time, weather and temperature. In that way, it kind of works as the missing piece of Google's lineup. The $50 price helps make it appealing. Amazon's normal Echo Dot costs $50, like the Nest Mini. The Echo Dot with Clock is $60.

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Before you set it up, it looks even more like a '90s gadget. 

Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Because it features Google Assistant, you can issue a wide variety of voice commands to the Smart Clock Essential. You can control your smart home, check the weather, ask a trivia question and play music from a variety of streaming services, including Spotify, Pandora and YouTube Music

You set it up with the Google Home app, so you can even sync it with other Google smart speakers like the Nest Mini for synched playback. Setup is simple and only takes a couple of minutes. Afterwards, expect your Smart Clock to be ready to answer a huge number of intuitive questions and commands.

Bedside manner

In addition to the voice commands, the top of the Smart Clock Essential has buttons to adjust the volume, play or pause music, and check or set your alarm. The back has a switch to mute the microphone and a USB port in addition to the port for the power cord. A ring around the back panel lights up as a nightlight.

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The nightlight is a nice touch. 

Andrew Gebhart/CNET

The device is a petite half-pound pyramid with a gray fabric cover and a 1.5-inch, 3-watt speaker. It looks a lot like the original Smart Clock, just even smaller. 

You can set alarms with your voice and you'll see an indicator show up on screen. Tap the alarm button to scroll through the alarms you've set. You can also turn on the nightlight and adjust the brightness with your voice. 

Once the alarm starts sounding, you can smack the top or give a voice command to snooze. You can also simply say "stop" without the usually necessary wake words ("Hey, Google," or, "OK, Google") to shut it off. 

Thanks to the voice commands, you can do quite a bit to customize your alarm. You can tell Google to snooze for a specific amount of time. You can set your alarm to play a specific music playlist. You can even use the Smart Clock to trigger grouped commands called routines

That said, the physical controls are a little lacking. You can set an alarm with the buttons, but it isn't intuitive. You can't customize the alarms at all or adjust the brightness of the nightlight without a voice command. If you don't like using voice commands, you can easily find better alarm clocks for less

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The physical controls don't offer much customization. 

Andrew Gebhart/CNET

I was also annoyed to find the screen cast a glow in my room at night. The LED numbers adjust in brightness based on the ambient light in the room, but even at their dimmest, they still made my room a touch brighter at night. This happened with the Echo Dot with Clock and the original Lenovo Smart Clock too, so I've yet to test a smart alarm that gets this right. 

While I'm nitpicking, the default snooze length if you smack the top of the alarm is 10 minutes. I'd prefer shorter and you can't adjust it. So this isn't even a robust, feature-filled alarm clock, really. It's more just a smart speaker with a nice clock display. 

I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that it does offer a version of my beloved sunrise alarms. Sunrise alarms gradually get brighter as you get closer to your wake up time to ease you out of your sleep. I love this feature as it helps me wake up feeling rested

The original Lenovo Smart Clock used its touch display to animate a bright wake up scene. I didn't think the Essential would have something similar given the simple LED, but it uses its nightlight to the same effect. Of the couple of nights I used it to wake me up, I did indeed wake up feeling more rested one morning, but given that the nightlight is somewhat dim, I didn't notice the effect the other morning.

Rocking the bedroom

As a smart speaker, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential fares well given its size and price. The mics heard my commands from the next room in my apartment, and the sound quality sounded surprisingly good. 

It's a small, $50 speaker, so don't expect a symphony, but I never noticed distortion after playing a variety of music genres at max volume. The bass was clear and the vocals were crisp, so it certainly does enough to fill a bedroom with rock. I even forgot I was testing when listening to Enter Sandman and startled my cat with some wicked air guitar riffs. 

Should you buy it?

The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is an appealing device for $50. It offers you a Google Assistant smart speaker with a clock in case you're a fan of Google and jealous of the Echo Dot with Clock. The nightlight and the sunrise alarm feature are nice touches. It sounds great for its size and it offers all of the features you'd expect from a Google Assistant smart speaker. 

While it's not perfect, most of my issues with the Smart Clock Essential are minor. This isn't an earth-shattering device, but it's a solid one well worth considering if you want a bedside smart speaker.