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Lenovo Smart Clock review: Google Assistant and a touchscreen help make a better alarm clock

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The Good The Lenovo Smart Clock is an affordable and attractive way to put Google Assistant on your nightstand. You can choose from a variety of clock faces, and the alarms are highly customizable. The sunrise alarm feature is particularly neat.

The Bad The touchscreen is much more limited than other smart displays -- you can't watch videos, access a smart home control panel, look at pictures or use the touchscreen for anything beyond a few prescribed functions. At night, the clock doesn't hit the right balance of visibility and minimal glow.

The Bottom Line While not perfect at any one task, the Lenovo Smart Clock does a lot of things well enough to be a helpful addition to your nightstand.

7.7 Overall
  • Features 7
  • Usability 7
  • Design 9
  • Performance 8

The Lenovo Smart Clock with Google Assistant is cute and clever, and I expect a lot of people are going to love it. It's a smart display trimmed and tailored specifically for your nightstand. You can swipe through screens that show you the weather, your calendar and your commute. It will even suggest alarms based on your first scheduled meeting the next day.

You can smack the top of the Smart Clock when the alarm goes off to get it to snooze, and the alarms are highly customizable. You can change the alarm tone, the snooze time and even set a sunrise mode so the display gets gradually brighter starting 30 minutes before your scheduled alarm to ease you into your morning.

Read moreThe Amazon Echo Show 5 helps Alexa fit on your nightstand

A lot of these smarts are powered by Google Assistant, which is the same Assistant powering the full-size Lenovo Smart Display. On the clock, Google Assistant brings almost all of its usual repertoire of voice-powered features, which means it can do almost everything you can do with a Google Home Mini smart speaker in addition to all of the alarm tricks.

Because of all these well-designed features, the $80 Lenovo Smart Clock is greater than the sum of its parts, although I have a few issues with it when you look at each of those parts individually.

It's basically a smart speaker, but you can't make calls like you can with the $50 Google Home Mini ( $25 at Walmart). It's a trimmed-down smart display, but unlike the Google Nest Hub (formerly the Google Home Hub ( $79 at Walmart)) and even Lenovo's smart display, you can't watch videos, look at pictures, get an overview of your smart home, search for recipes or use the touchscreen for anything else other than a few prescribed functions.

Even as an alarm clock, it's customizable and easy to use, but compare it to our favorite ordinary alarms, and it falls short. It can't wake you up with your own music. It doesn't have a built-in radio. Worst of all, although you can pick from a wide variety of clock faces, colors and brightness levels for the screen, none strike the right balance of clearly showing you the time at night without casting a sleep-disrupting glow.

Depending on what you're looking for, you can probably find a better device for any of the individual features of the Lenovo Smart Clock. You can regularly find the Nest Hub on sale for $100 or less if you want a smart display. The Google Home Mini is only $50, and solid alarm clocks can be had for as little as $10.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the Lenovo Smart Clock more than once during my testing. You can swipe down from the top of the screen for shortcuts to play music or set an alarm, and these controls change throughout the day. At night, you can trigger your bedtime routine with a button press, and that same button will start a nap timer in the afternoon. Some of the clock faces look cool, and the adaptive brightness does minimize the glow if you don't need to see the time at night. Plus, the sunrise wake-up feature is great.

While it's not perfect, it's reasonably priced at $80, and all of its features together do make a compelling combination. If you're specifically looking for a smart alarm clock, the Lenovo Smart Clock is the best one out there right now.

A closer look at a tiny smart display

lenovo-smart-clock-2

You can swipe through cards on the smart display to see the weather, your commute and your calendar. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Lenovo Smart Clock is smaller than I expected. I'd seen it before at CES and it still surprised me when I took it out of its box. The roomy packaging actually belies just how petite this thing is. It has a four inch screen and overall it's about as long as my palm. It weighs less than a pound and has an inoffensive gray fabric exterior.

Along the top, the clock has tactile buttons for volume that stick out enough that you can find them in the dark. The back of the device has a spot for the plug (it's not battery powered), a mute switch, and a USB port for a phone charging cable. That's it. There's not much to the hardware of the Lenovo Smart Clock. It is genuinely cute with a solid three watt speaker and two passive radiators for sound.

Plug it in, and the display will guide you to the Google Home app for setup. The app makes the process simple and it works the same as setting up any of Google's other smart speakers. You choose a Wi-Fi network, assign it to a room in your home if you have those established in the app, set up voice recognition if you'd like and you're done.

Making music

You can also add music services to the Smart Clock. It offers Google's standard mix for smart speakers -- YouTube Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, Pandora and Deezer. You can sign into whatever accounts you have and indicate one as your default so when you ask to play a song, the Google Assistant built in to the Clock will look in that service first.

Once it's set up, the Lenovo Smart Clock functions a lot like a Google Home Mini. You can ask it a variety of questions, you can control your smart home gadgets, you can check the weather and more with a voice command.

Start playing a song, and the sound quality is similar if even a little fuller than the Mini. Don't expect premium audio, but turn it up and it will more than fill your bedroom with music. It's solid for background listening with little to no distortion even at max volume. Surprisingly, it sounded even a little better than the tinny Nest Hub in a head-to-head test.

A limited touchscreen

The touchscreen isn't as robust as Google's other smart displays, but it uses the same Android Things software which is a trimmed-down version of Google's mobile operating system meant for smart home gadgets.

You can swipe through cards showing info relevant to the start and end of your day -- your alarms, the weather, your commute and your calendar. You can't watch videos on the Smart Clock, but you can pull up a live feed for any Nest Cams you have synced to your account if you want to check on things one last time before you go to sleep.

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