The simple bedside alarm clock is a timeless concept, offering you a quick and convenient way to see all the information you need as soon as you wake up. It also lends itself very well to modernization; add Internet-based intelligence to a device that already occupies a privileged place in your home. Strangely, not many manufacturers make this type of product, and Lenovo is among the few that do. The company’s latest product in this segment is the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential, priced at Rs. 4,499.
A smoother and more affordable version of the Lenovo Smart Clock I’ve reviewed, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential simplifies the screen and brings the price down. At its core, it’s still a smart speaker, but with a basic monochrome display for telling the time. Is this the ideal smart device for your nightstand or table? Find out in this review.
Lenovo Smart Clock Essential design and specifications
While Lenovo Smart Clock has a color screen, Smart Clock Essential has a touchless 4-inch monochrome LED screen. It shows the time, day of the week and a weather report (temperature and conditions) for the location you set using the Google Home app. The screen also displays symbols for active alarms, when configured. At the top of the screen is a set of four lights that light up when the volume is being adjusted or to let you know that the device is listening to voice commands after the activation words have been spoken.
The screen is angled slightly upwards for easy visibility, making this device equally suitable for use beside the bed or on top of a table. The rest of the body narrows back and is wrapped in fabric on all sides. The bottom of the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential has rubber handles to keep it securely in place on a smooth, hard surface.
The back of the device has the power socket for the included power adapter, a physical mic mute switch for privacy, and a handy Type-A USB port; you can connect a charging cable and use Smart Clock Essential to charge other devices this way. Just above the screen are two microphones, and the top of the device has physical buttons for controlling volume and playback, as well as setting alarms. Of course, all these functions can also be controlled by voice commands.
For voice commands and controls, Lenovo Smart Clock Essential uses Google Assistant and works like any other smart device with Google Assistant. The speaker has a nominal output of 3W and is on top of Smart Clock Essential, firing upwards. There’s dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5 for connectivity, 4GB of RAM and an Amlogic processor to power the device. Interestingly, there is also a night light around its body, with a nominal brightness of up to 31 lumens.
Essential Lenovo Smart Clock Features and Performance
While the first smart speakers with Google Assistant came from Google itself, brands like Lenovo, Xiaomi and Sonos entered the segment with their own products. They work with Google Assistant in the same way Google’s own smart speakers do: always-on microphones are listening to wake-up phrases, and the speakers can perform a variety of tasks, including answering questions, operating smart devices, and playing content of audio.
Lenovo Smart Clock Essential display is in addition to the full smart speaker functionality. It’s uncomplicated and does exactly what it’s supposed to, showing basic information like time, weather and day of the week. You can’t customize this or control what the screen shows, but I don’t see this as a problem; it should be worn like a watch and serves that purpose well. You can set the screen brightness using voice commands, and the darker setting doesn’t harm your eyes in a dark room.
Since the device does not have a touch screen, there are buttons to control some functions, including adjusting the volume, playing and pausing content, and setting alarms. While the volume and playback controls are quite simple, setting alarms using the buttons is incredibly complicated and error prone. I preferred to set alarms using voice commands, which were also much faster to execute.
Interestingly, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential also has a night light on the back, which can be turned on and off using voice commands. It is useful to have, and the soft lighting, working as a small night light.
However, I had to use very specific voice commands as they often didn’t match the voice commands I use to operate other smart lights in my house. For example, the “Hey Google, turn on the light” command turned on both the smart light in the same room as the device and the Smart Clock Essential night light. A separate “Hey Google, turn off night light” command was needed to correct the situation.
Sound quality in Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is not particularly good; the speaker’s awkward angle, its size and output rating, and the sound signature itself make for a shrill sound that I didn’t find very pleasant. While I didn’t mind the sound quality of Google Assistant’s voice responses, and even for voice-based content like podcasts, Lenovo Smart Clock Essential didn’t sound too good with music.
Hearing a cover of Postmodern Jukebox Maps of Maroon 5, the highs and mids sounded piercing, with the cymbals, top hats and retro-inspired vocals all a bit unpleasantly crisp. This could be minimized by lowering the volume, but this defeated the purpose of using it as a speaker for much more than just listening occasionally at very specific settings. You can, through voice commands, customize alarm tones and have specific tracks or playlists to wake you up, but you will need to be able to give the correct voice commands to do this.
A small but not inconsequential issue I’ve had with the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential involves its microphones. While they worked fine for me and accurately captured the wake-up phrases and voice commands for Google Assistant at close range, it occasionally caused my Google Nest Audio (placed in a different room) to pick up and act upon the command, though I was closer to the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential. This has been overcome by speaking softly and moving closer to Smart Clock Essential. Maybe better mics had avoided this weird problem in the first place.
Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is very similar to Smart Clock, but with one obvious difference – the screen. The monochrome LED display makes Smart Clock Essential a better and more effective bedside or table device than Smart Clock, and the lower price improves overall business. Except for a few minor quirks involving the microphones and night light, this device works very well.
Poor sound quality is its biggest weakness, and that’s a pretty significant point to consider in a device that’s presented as an intelligent speaker (or of some sort). While Google Assistant and all associated functions work fine, Lenovo Smart Clock Essential has a strangely unpleasant sound that makes it somewhat unsuitable for listening to music. This device is worth considering for its shape, features and bedside alarm functionality, but you would definitely look better at Rs. Smart Speaker 3,499 Mi if you invest in the Google Assistant ecosystem and sound quality is an important consideration.
The HomePod mini is the best smart speaker with less than Rs. 10,000? We discuss this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.