The first 'smart displays' running Google Assistant were released last year, including Google's own Home Nest Hub. They're all 7-10 inches across, with enhanced functionality over audio-only speakers. They can display video news briefings, place video Duo calls, show video news briefings, bring up security camera feeds, play YouTube videos, and more.
But what if you want something smaller? Amazon's Echo Spot was released in late 2017, and a five-inch Echo Show was just announced, but not everyone likes to use Alexa. Lenovo introduced an Assistant-powered smart clock at CES earlier this year, and now you can actually buy one... but maybe you shouldn't.
|Display||4-inch 480x800 IPS screen|
|Speakers||1.5" 3W speaker with two passive radiators|
|Connectivity||802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, USB 2.0 Type-A|
|Processor||Mediatek 8167S @ 1.5 GHz|
|Software||Android Things OS|
|Dimensions||4.483” x 3.14” x 3.11” (113.88mm x 79.8mm x 79.2mm)|
|Design||The Lenovo Smart Clock is covered in fabric, and won't take up much space on your bedstand.|
|Google Assistant||The world's best digital assistant is here.|
|Questionable utility||The screen isn't used for much else than displaying the time and media controls — it can't even display images from Google Photos on the clock face.|
|Price||The Google Home Mini is less than half the price of the Smart Clock, but it can do almost everything the clock can do. The Google Home Hub also regularly goes on sale for around the Smart Clock's MSRP.|
|No battery||This doesn't have a backup battery, so it's not as dependable at being an alarm as your phone.|
Design, hardware, what's in the box
The design of the Smart Clock doesn't bear much resemblance to Lenovo's larger Smart Display. It's a small device, roughly half the physical footprint of the Google Nest Hub or 7" Lenovo Display, completely covered in a soft-touch felt material.
The front screen is a 4-inch 480x800 IPS display, with a single ambient light sensor on the top and two far-field microphones. Just like your phone, the display changes brightness depending on the light level of the room. I don't really have any complaints about the screen, but it does emit a faint glow when in a completely dark room, since it's not an AMOLED panel.
The top of the clock has volume buttons and a sensor for detecting taps. When an alarm goes off, you can tap the top of the clock to either snooze or shut down the alarm. The back has a power input, a USB Type-A port, and a mute switch. The USB port is for charging your phone (or anything else that can receive power through USB), so you don't need an additional power cable running behind your bedstand.
As for sound, the internal speaker is a single 3W 33mm driver with two passive radiators. For comparison, the Home Mini has a 40mm driver. Audio quality seems slightly worse than the Home Mini, with most music sounding very tinny. Podcasts, news briefings, and other kinds of vocal-only content sound fine.
Overall, I quite like the design and hardware of the Lenovo Smart Clock. The fabric covering and compact design give it a unique feel, and the screen is large enough to clearly read text and manage controls. However, the lack of a backup battery is somewhat puzzling, as it means your phone will still be a better alarm clock than the dedicated $80 clock. The built-in speaker also isn't any better than the speaker on the $30 Google Home Mini.
In the box, you get the clock, a power cable, and some instruction manuals.
Even though the Lenovo Smart Clock has the same Android Things operating system as regular Assistant smart displays, it doesn't have nearly as much functionality as the Google Nest Hub or other similar products. It can't play videos (not even video news briefings), call people on Duo, or guide you through recipes. You can see security camera feeds, but only if they are from Nest cameras — support for third-party cameras is supposedly coming soon. Interestingly, the clock can place telephone calls, but not call anyone on Duo.
The best way to describe the Smart Clock is that it's a Google Home Mini with limited visual feedback. Some information can be displayed on-screen, like weather forecasts and upcoming calendar events, but it lacks most smart display-exclusive features. The only time I ended up finding the screen actually useful was controlling media playback or managing alarms.
The interface is similar to what you get on actual smart displays, but more condensed and limited. Swiping down from the top of the screen only gives you controls for the lights in whatever room the clock is in, not the Home View dashboard that gives you access to all your smart home devices. Swiping up from the bottom opens quick access to volume, brightness, and Do Not Disturb. Swiping right on the main screen shows your alarms, and swiping again shows you the weather forecast.
Left: Lenovo Smart Clock; Right: Google Nest Hub
The main screen shows the current time, along with a message at the bottom for any upcoming alarms. You can hold down on the screen to change the clock design, with most of the styles being the same ones you get on other Assistant smart displays. Annoyingly, there's no option to display images from Google Photos on the main screen, which has been one of the main selling points for regular smart displays.
Creating alarms is very easy — you can ask Assistant to do it for you, or you can do it yourself from the alarms screen. You can set certain alarms to only go off on certain days of the week, change the alarm tone, or make it start your morning Assistant routine. There's also a feature called 'Sunrise alarm,' which gradually brightens the screen before the alarm goes off. Tapping the top of the clock snoozes the alarm by default, but you can change it to stop the alarm instead.
As previously mentioned, this can do everything a Google Home Mini can do: stream music, answer general knowledge questions, create calendar appointments, play news briefings, and so on. The clock also appears on your network as a smart speaker, so you can cast audio content to it and place it in a group with other Cast-enabled devices.
Should you buy it?
Probably not. The Lenovo Smart Clock isn't a bad product, but there are a fair amount of missing features and artificial limitations compared to actual Assistant smart displays. The screen isn't used for much else than displaying the current time, so there's hardly any added utility over the much-cheaper Google Home Mini. The lack of a backup battery is also puzzling, and it means your phone will probably be a more reliable alarm than the Smart Clock.
If the Lenovo Smart Clock was closer in price to a Home Mini, I wouldn't mind these limitations as much. The Google Nest Hub frequently drops below $100 (even going below the clock's price a few times), so for just a bit more money, you can get a smart display with far more functionality and a much better screen. The clock's direct competition is also far more compelling — Amazon's new Echo Show 5 is similar in size and costs $10 more than the Lenovo Smart Clock, but it has every single feature of larger Alexa displays.
At the current price of $79.99, I can't really recommend the Lenovo Smart Clock. I have no doubt this will eventually go on sale, but for now, most people would be better off buying a Google Home Mini.
Buy it if:
- You really want a smart speaker with a screen... because otherwise why not buy regular smart displays?
- You have a Nest cam and want to check it from your bedside.
- You don't already have a Home Mini or other smart speaker.
Don't buy it if:
- You're used to the features from larger Assistant smart displays.
- You want an alarm clock with a battery backup.
- You already have a Google Assistant speaker.