Lenovo Smart Clock review: Great form compensates for a lack of function

 techhive.com  06/14/2019 10:00:00   Michael Simon

When it comes to screens, the general rule is the bigger the better. The Lenovo Smart Clock turns that belief on its head. With a screen thats smaller than most smartphones, the Smart Clock is a full-featured, great-sounding Google Assistant-powered smart speaker with just enough display to comfortably view photos, videos, and, of course, the time, which should make it the perfect mix of sight and sound.

Except Lenovo hasnt properly taught it to do the things you expect a smart speaker with a display to do. It doesnt link with Google Photos to show pictures youve snapped. It cant display videos. And it doesnt use the new Home View for controlling lights, thermostats, and other connected devices. So basically, the $80 Lenovo Smart Clock is really just a smart clock.

But its a really good one. The Lenovo Smart Clock is an excellent (and cute) addition to the ever-expanding smart display lineup, one thats smaller than the both Google Nest Hub and the new Echo Show 5 that Amazon is shipping later this month. And if youre tired of using your phone to wake up, itll definitely make a great addition to your nightstand.

Small and sophisticated

The Lenovo Smart Clock clearly takes its design cues from the Nest Hub. While significantly smaller than Googles device, the Smart Clock has a gray fabric-wrapped back that covers its 1.5-inch 3W speaker and passive radiators. Its a bit bulbous at roughly 3 inches deep and I could do with thinner bezels, but the Smart Clock is still plenty small enough to keep on a nightstand.

lenovo smart clock side Michael Simon/IDG

The Smart Clock is a bit bulbous but itll still fit on your nightstand.

And thats probably where youll want to keep it. The Smart Clocks 4.48- x 2.9-inch frame is about the size of an old-fashioned alarm clock, a one-time bedside staple that was long-ago replaced by a smartphone on a charging stand. But where even the best always-on displays and wireless charging stands feature tiny numbers that arent so easy to see with bleary eyes.

The Smart Clock doesnt have that problem. Like alarm clocks of yore, its display can easily be seen from across a room, and a variety of faces will keep it looking fresh each morning. There are 10 different styles to choose from, and theyre all refreshingly different. There are analog, digital, minimal, and colorful faces, as well as weather-themed faces and a funky word-based one. An option to randomly cycle through them would be nice to have, but its easy enough to change and customize the various faces by long-pressing on the screen.

A really smart clock

The Smart Clock doesnt actually do anything a Google Home Mini cant, but its a much better bedside companion. Its not just that it has a screen. Lenovo has carefully considered the ways in which you will use the Smart Clock to emphasize features that arent as prominent on other smart speakers. For example, if your Wi-Fi goes out, itll still display the clock rather than the an error screen.

lenovo smart clock main Michael Simon/IDG

The bezel is big enough, but theres no camera on the Lenovo Smart Clock.

For one, it doesnt have a camera. Lenovo understands that the majority of Smart Clocks will be placed in a bedroom, so rather than implement a set of switches and toggles to turn it off, it simply eliminated the risk altogether. The lack of a camera might be a deal-breaker for some, but Im willing to bet most people will buy it because it doesnt have a camera rather than despite it.

But the best feature of the Smart Clock is a simple one: alarms. Theyre always a tap or a swipe away, but like any other Assistant device, youll mostly set them by asking. Like the Sunrise feature on Pixel phones, alarms start off low and gradually increase in volume, so as to not jerk you out of a deep sleep. The speaker is surprisingly good too, so its a bummer that you can only set it to play one of six preset tones rather than a song or station.

Its been so long since I used an alarm clock with actual buttons that I hadnt quite realized how much of an annoyance snoozing has become on smartphones and smart speakers. On the Smart Clock, you can tap anywhere on the screen to snooze rather than struggle to tap a small smartphone target or hope it can understand your groggy mumbles. And theres a setting to adjust the length of snooze time, too: a small but welcome addition. Theres even a Nap Timer, which starts a 20-minute timer for a quick stretch of shuteye.

lenovo smart clock menu Michael Simon/IDG

A cat nap is never more than a swipe away on the Smart Clock.

Amazon offers the same features with the Echo Spot (and presumably the Echo Show 5 as well), but no other Google Assistant device has such a stellar alarm experience. Its what separates the Smart Clock from other Assistant speakers, and my guess is it will be the start of a new line of diminutive smart displays. Google recently rebranded its 7-inch display as a Nest product, and I wouldnt be surprised to see a smaller one introduced in time for the holiday shopping season.

A semi-smart display

For as good as it is at alarms, however the Smart Clock isnt as great at being a smart display. While it dutifully does the things a smart speaker shouldhome control, general knowledge questions, music playback, etc.it doesnt take advantage of its screen beyond showing the time. So you dont get maps, song lyrics, or the Smart Dashboard on the Google Nest Hub.

lenovo smart clock maps Michael Simon/IDG

You wont be see Maps on the Lenovo Smart Clock.

The biggest deficiency is that it cant display photos. While its screen is a good deal smaller than the Google Nest Hub or even most smartphones, its still plenty large enough for photos, especially when the 2.5-inch circular Echo Spot manages to do it. Google Photos integration should be a tap and a toggle away. Alas, it remains out of reach.

You also cant watch videos on the Smart Clock. While it connects with a Chromecast to beam things that Assistant finds, it cant actually show them on its tiny screen. That means if you put a Smart Clock in your kitchen, you wont be able to use it to view recipes. Instead, Assistant will read you the steps like it would on a Google Home, but all the speaker will show is the colored circles logo. Its a bummer since the Smart Clock display is the perfect size for a countertop.

Should you buy a Lenovo Smart Clock?

The Lenovo Smart Clock is one of the most intriguing smart speakers to come along in a while, mainly because it doesnt try to be a do-everything device. It shirks many of the features weve come to expect in visual smart speakers, but in the process it creates a new type of device.

lenovo smart clock alarms Michael Simon/IDG

Alarms are a revelation on the Smart Clock.

As its name suggests, the Lenovo Smart Clock is truly a smarter clock. And its a great one. The only problem is the price. At $80, its only $10 less than the upcoming Echo Show 5 and about $20 less than the going rate for the Google Nest Hub. If youre patient, youll probably be able to get it for closer to $50, but waiting for a sale to bring a device down to the price it should have been at in the first place is hardly a strong buy recommendation.

But even if you pay full price, you wont be disappointed with the Smart Clock. You just might want to buy a more capable smart display to go with it.

To comment on this article and other TechHive content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
« Go back