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Lenovo Smart Clock Essential Review: Tech meets nostalgia

lenovo smart clock essential review 2 of 9
Lenovo Smart Clock Essential Review: Tech meets nostalgia
MSRP $50.00
“The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential will wake you, but it's a snoozer knowing what else is out there.”
  • Compact design
  • Clearly displays the time
  • Affordable price
  • USB port for charging gadgets
  • No way to set alarm through Google Home app
  • Requires a firm tap to snooze
  • Not great for music playback

More than any company except Google itself, Lenovo has been in the business of making Google Assistant-powered smart home devices. From smart displays to hybrid tablets, Lenovo has one of the more robust portfolios out there. While this isn’t the first time the company has delved into the world of alarm clocks, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is the latest product aimed at giving consumers even more choice on what should win over that prime real estate by their bedsides. Its $50 sticker price seems like it’s a home run, but it’s going to need to distinguish itself to make it a better buy than the competition.

Bringing back the alarm clock

Today’s smart home devices can sometimes be overwhelming, especially as Google’s smart home ecosystem continues to evolve. What’s evident here is Lenovo’s intention to simplify the design of its smart alarm clock. Unlike its previous effort, this one doesn’t sport a touchscreen — opting instead for the LED-style design of traditional alarm clocks. In that sense, the Smart Clock Essential has a bit of nostalgia attached to it.

Taking up approximately the same space as the Google Nest Mini, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is a fitting addition to any bedside table. From the front, its large LEDs make it convenient for me to quickly make out the time — and without straining my eyes whenever I wake up suddenly in the middle of the night. It’s also great that the temperature and weather conditions are indicated by icons. Around the top lip of the unit are physical controls for volume and pause/play, as well as a button to manually set alarms. If you’re like me and have a charger nearby for your smartphone, you’ll appreciate that there’s a full-sized USB just for that purpose.

You could argue that its design is nothing more than a shrunken version of its sibling, the Smart Alarm Clock, but the Essential’s use of LEDs instead of a touchscreen display makes it less of a distraction. It’s simple, clean-looking, and a space saver.

All the Google Assistant smarts

Interaction with the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is achieved through voice actions and commands via Google Assistant. In that regard, it functions like any other smart speaker or display. Compared to the Google Nest Mini, the Essential definitely presents itself as the better option when you consider the visual element it provides in telling the time, day of the week, temperature, and weather conditions. It’s just more convenient than, say, asking Google Assistant for all of those details.

The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is a fitting addition to any bedside table.

Setting an alarm can be done one of two ways: You can tell Google Assistant to set one, or you can manually set one on the Essential. In an age where voice actions are quicker, this method may seem archaic, but those who grew up using an actual alarm clock will appreciate this bit of nostalgia. In a more modern touch, I find it convenient that I can simply respond with “stop” to turn off the alarm when it goes off.

But what if you need just a bit more time to wake up? Well then, you can just say, “Hey Google, snooze for six minutes.” You can also snooze an alarm by pressing any of the physical buttons, with the exception of the alarm button. You can also tap the top of the Essential to snooze it.

I really would have liked to see more controls within the Google Home app as well, like the ability to set alarms. On one hand, I understand that voice commands have become the preferred way of setting alarms, but it still wouldn’t hurt giving users the option to set one through the Google Home app.

Some minor quirks

Don’t expect the sound quality to blow you away, which is kind of expected given its size. It’s on par to what you’d hear out of the Google Nest Mini. For responses from Google Assistant, its 3-watt speaker is sufficient enough to discern, but it lacks the robust tones and punchiness of other audio-centric smart speakers — like the Google Nest Audio or Google Home.

I did find some minor quirks with the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential that I hope get ironed out with future software updates. For some reason, it doesn’t like competing against other Google Assistant speakers or displays in the same room. Whenever I ask it to turn on/off its nightlight, my Google Nest Hub responds with an error. However, if I mute the Nest Hub and speak the command again, it works like a charm. Also, the snooze function doesn’t work when I tap on the top of the unit.

Our take

It’s a tough call on the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential. It’s a dose of nostalgia, but it doesn’t really bring anything new to the (bedside) table.

How long will it last?

Since it’s going to remain stationary, it’s unlikely that it’ll end up breaking. It’s sturdy and well-built, so I’m confident it’ll withstand a fall. There’s a 1-year limited warranty that covers defects.

Is there a better alternative?

There are a couple products within Lenovo’s own portfolio that are better alternatives. The logical suggestion is the $80 Lenovo Smart Alarm Clock, which features a touchscreen display that offers some “lite” smart display functions such as the ability to access smart home controls (like turning on the lights) and live feeds of security cameras. The Lenovo Smart Display 7 presents itself as the best solution, since it’s a full-featured smart display with a camera that costs $100.

Should you buy it?

Yes, mainly for the cost savings if you don’t need the extra features of the other alternatives I mentioned above.

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