Lenovo Smart Clock review: Google Assistant and a touchscreen help make a better alarm clock
Lenovo combines a Google Assistant smart speaker with a highly customizable alarm to ease you into your morning.
Editors' Note, August 22, 2019: Google is rolling out an update to the Lenovo Smart Clock that will let you look at pictures with the display and use personal albums as a screensaver. The update also allows continued conversation so you don't need to use the wake words for subsequent commands. We'll test the new features soon and update the review accordingly.
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.
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 . It's a trimmed-down smart display, but unlike the Google Nest Hub (formerly the Google Home Hub ) 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
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.
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.
Scroll up from the bottom for a quick settings menu including volume and brightness. Swipe down from the top of the screen for a shortcut menu that changes throughout the day. If you've added the Smart Clock to a room with connected lights in the Google Home app, you'll have the option to turn those lights on or off with the drop-down menu as well.
Google's other smart displays show a control panel for your smart home when you swipe down from the top and you can access a room-by-room view of all of your devices. The Lenovo Smart Clock doesn't have that, but you can still control your gadgets with a voice command, and the individual device controls will pop on the screen if you want to fine tune what you said. For example, change the temperature of your smart thermostat, and you'll see a slider to tweak it further.
Sounding the alarm
If you long press on the screen, you can scroll through a wide variety of colorful and interesting clock faces. You can customize some of the coloring of each.
From the card listing your alarms, you can set the alarm volume, tone, snooze length and what happens when you tap the top of the Clock. I liked smacking it to get the alarm to snooze. You can make the alarm shut off entirely with a smack if you prefer.
The Smart Clock will suggest wake up times based on your calendar, or you can set alarms with the touchscreen or with a voice command. You can set any alarm to repeat on various days of the week, and you can turn on the sunrise feature in the alarm's menu.
If you turn on sunrise, the face of the alarm will gradually start getting brighter 30 minutes before your scheduled wake up time. The brightness makes steady progress over the 30 minutes, but the bright glow strangely turns off when the alarm starts sounding. If you need to wake up when it's still dark, you might find it disconcerting to see light, hear your alarm, and find yourself back in darkness.
I let the sunrise alarm wake me up on a couple of different mornings. I noticed the effect once and it really did make the process of getting up seem easier. I didn't notice any effect the other morning, but I might have been turned the other way.
If you're primarily interested in this sunrise feature, the Philips HF3500 does it better for $43. It casts a brighter glow and stays lit while you hit snooze a couple of times instead of turning off at the first buzz. You can also create a sunrise effect with a Pixel phone as well as with Philips Hue smart lights.
In addition to the sunrise switch, you'll also see a toggle for "Good morning routine" in alarm settings. Flip this on, and it will trigger Google to go through a customizable grouped command when you shut off your alarm. It smartly won't trigger if you just hit snooze. By default, the routine tells you about your calendar and your commute then launches news podcasts.
Using the Google Home app, you can customize and remove any of those aspects. You can also train the routine to control various smart home gadgets or perform any other command within Google Assistant's repertoire.
You can similarly customize the Good Night routine in the app and trigger it with the shortcut menu as you're heading to bed. Everything about the Lenovo Smart Clock's screen is meant for your nightstand, and most of the functions of the touchscreen are tailored for when you're getting to sleep or waking up.
A spot for Amazon
The Lenovo Smart Clock somewhat follows in the footsteps of the $130 Amazon Echo Spot. The petite, circular Spot is also meant for your nightstand, but keeps more of the functionality of Amazon's full sized smart display, the Echo Show . It has a camera, which might be a positive for some, but isn't something I'd want in a device next to my bed.
The upcoming $90 Amazon Echo Show 5 looks like it might also have a place by your bedside. It will let you watch videos, control your smart home and some of the other smart display features missing from the Lenovo Smart Clock. Unlike Lenovo, the Echo Show 5 has a video camera, but it also has a physical shutter for extra peace of mind. Plus, it has the sunrise alarm option, so the Show 5 looks like it will combine features in a way that addresses my concerns with Lenovo's Clock.
I'm genuinely torn by the Lenovo Smart Clock. I'd bet most people just use their phone as an alarm clock. If you want an alarm to check the time at night, look for one with big red or orange numbers so it doesn't cast a glow. You can find a few for $10 to $20. If you want an alarm so you can turn your phone off at night, you can tell your smart speaker to wake you up. If you like the idea of a smart speaker with a touchscreen, the Google Nest Hub is often on sale for a similar price, and the screen can do much more.
Still, that's a lot of devices to replicate what this one can do and the cuts Lenovo made to the smart display make sense for your bedside. I wish it had more smart home touch controls in particular, but what's there and isn't there is intentional and mostly well chosen. I was even surprised to find it sounds better than the Nest Hub and Google Home Mini when playing music.
The Lenovo Smart Clock crushes other smart alarms from companies like iHome in features, customization and functionality. If you want a well-designed alarm clock with Google Assistant smarts, the Lenovo Smart Clock lets you set multiple alarms and customize each one in helpful ways. It will show you the info you need to get your day started when you wake up and it can ease you out of your sleep with a simulated sunrise. Set your expectations properly, as it isn't a smart display, but the Lenovo Smart Clock is the best smart alarm clock on the market right now.