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Lenovo’s Smart Clock is small, simple, and limited

Of all the various available smart displays that use Google Assistant, the one with the most obvious purpose is Lenovo’s new Smart Clock. It’s right there in the name: this little smart display is designed to sit on your nightstand and be used as an alarm clock that you can control with your voice.

But the $79.99 Smart Clock can do more than just set alarms. You can also use it for anything that you might use a Google Home Mini for, like playing music, asking about the weather, getting sports scores, or controlling smart home gadgets by voice. But despite having a four-inch touchscreen, the Smart Clock doesn’t really do much more than the much less expensive Home Mini, and it doesn’t match what the larger Nest Hub (née Google Home Hub) offers.


Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Very small footprint, but still easy to read the screen from across the room
  • Loud, customizable alarm sound
  • Has all of the Google Assistant features available

Bad Stuff

  • Can’t do much with the screen (no video, limited touch interaction)
  • Doesn’t display Google Photos albums
  • Sound quality is merely average, not great

The Smart Clock’s greatest asset is its size: if you have a very limited amount of space where you plan to use a smart alarm clock, the Smart Clock’s footprint is much smaller than a Nest Hub or other smart display. It’s similar in size to Amazon’s Echo Spot, but with a rectangular wedge shape instead of the softball-like design of the Spot. It has a couple of volume buttons on top, a mute switch for the microphones on the back, and a clever USB-A port that can be used to charge your phone.

Even with the small size, the Smart Clock’s screen is easy to see and read from across the room, thanks to the large-sized fonts it employs in most of the software. It also does an excellent job of automatically adjusting the brightness of the screen for the available light in the room, so it doesn’t become blinding or distractingly bright in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep. It doesn’t have a camera to worry about, which is a nice thing for something that’s designed to live in your bedroom. (I put a googly eye on the Echo Spot’s camera specifically to block it in my bedroom.)

The Lenovo Smart Clock next to the Nest Hub.

The Lenovo Smart Clock next to the Amazon Echo Spot.

But reading the time is about all you’ll do with the screen because, unlike the Nest Hub and every other smart display, the Smart Clock cannot play video content, whether it’s on YouTube or cast from an app on your phone. It also cannot display images from Google Photos, which is one of my favorite features of the Nest Hub. The only video you can watch on the Smart Clock is feeds from Nest cameras (though Lenovo says support for other home security cameras will be available “soon”).

The Smart Clock does offer some limited weather and calendar information on its screen as well as basic controls for music and smart home gadgets. But you can’t browse anything through the touchscreen, nor does it have a dashboard of smart home controls like on other smart displays. I understand why Lenovo and Google wanted to limit how much the small screen does, but it makes the Smart Clock more comparable to a Home Mini than another smart display as a result. Even things like sports scores are limited to audio only, as opposed to the richer displays of information you get on Google’s other smart displays or even Amazon’s Echo devices with screens.

The thing you do most with the touchscreen is set alarms, which is simple to do and gives you the option to choose from six different alarm sounds. There’s also a “sunrise alarm” function that will gradually make the screen brighter before the audible alarm goes off, and you can have it trigger Assistant’s Good Morning routine to brief you about the weather, your commute, and news when you silence the alarm.

Interestingly, there’s no way to program the Smart Clock’s alarm with music from Spotify, YouTube Music, or another service, though you can craft a workaround using a Google Assistant routine on your phone. It’s clumsier than it probably should be, though, since waking up to music is something radio clocks have offered for decades. Finally, you can use your voice to set the alarm by asking Google Assistant to just wake you up at whatever time you specify. That’s the method I found most useful in my testing.

Silencing an alarm can be done via the touchscreen, a single hard tap on top of the clock, or by saying “stop” without having to say “Hey Google” first. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for snoozes; if you want to spend another 10 minutes in bed, you’ll have to say, “Hey Google, snooze” or touch the screen.

In addition to the alarm options, the Smart Clock has 10 different clock designs to choose from, with a few of them offering a handful of customization options. I found the weather clock design to be the most useful and demonstrative of what a smart display can actually help you with. Also I’m just a sucker for weather information wherever I can get it.

In terms of speaker quality and volume, the Smart Clock is decidedly adequate and similar to the Home Mini or Echo Spot. It won’t keep a party going and has virtually no bass response, but it certainly gets loud enough to wake you from a deep slumber and tell you the depressing news of the day.

On its own, the Smart Clock is perfectly fine, and I could see a lot of people having no trouble spending $80 for what it does. But compared to the other smart displays available, it feels incomplete and less useful than it could be. We haven’t yet tested Amazon’s forthcoming Echo Show 5, but for $10 more, it offers a bigger screen and the full Alexa smart display experience without any compromises. And while Google’s Nest Hub is a bit larger, it’s not so much bigger that it couldn’t occupy the same space as the Smart Clock in most situations. Google’s aggressive price promotions and frequent sales on the Nest Hub don’t do the Smart Clock any favors, either: while the Hub’s full price is $129.99, you can frequently buy it for $100 or even $75, which makes the $80 Smart Clock seem like even less of a value.

Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge

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