I love to outfit my home with smart speakers and displays. From day one I’ve been adding various devices to my home with Google Assistant capabilities, slowly taking up all of my power outlets.
A few years ago I added the Lenovo Smart Clock to my bedroom and have loved having it on the nightstand next to my bed. It’s a great alarm clock with a number of customizable features, a decent speaker, and a handy personal assistant.
I’ve spent the last few weeks using the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa, putting the $40 unit through its proverbial paces. How does it fare? Is it worth the asking price or should you opt for a more capable Smart Clock 2 and spend a few extra bucks?
As much as I love the original Smart Clock, I can admit that I don’t always use all of its features. Even the display, really, doesn’t matter to me all that much. I just need it to tell me the time and maybe display a graphic or two with weather. Other than that, it’s a speaker and a clock.
I was interested in the Smart Clock Essential as it seemed to address some of that. It’s not a full color screen, it’s a bit smaller, and it’s a lower price. It’s a smart clock without a bunch of frills. Cool, right? Not entirely.
My home has very little in the way of Amazon Alexa devices. Some of them have the capability but I often have it disabled or outright ignore it. I’m a Google Assistant guy though and through. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who love the Amazon ecosystem and its myriad devices and tie-ins.
Knowing that the clock would not feature Google Assistant, I was curious as to whether I’d still find it usable or worth having in the bedroom. As it turns out, I can certainly do without.
I care little about the display not being full color, or that it more closely resembles a traditional alarm clock. In fact, I sort of embrace that concept as it marries the traditional alarm clock with today’s modern aesthetics. Even though it’s an LED screen the clock resembles the LCD stuff of yesterday.
Now, to be sure, this is not a touch screen so you may have to resist the urge to swipe or tap in the first few days. Fortunately, the screen does provide quite a bit of information on it and it feels intuitive in its layout.
Setup is interesting in that you cannot just plug it in and turn it on. You’ll have to walk through the Amazon Alexa app the first time and that process takes but a few minutes. You will basically connect your phone to it and teach the Smart Clock Essential the Wi-Fi settings, and assign it to a room.
Beyond that, if you want to adjust configurations, you will need to work with the Amazon Alexa app. Things you may, or may not, tweak can include time zone, sound settings, Wi-Fi, and Do Not Disturb. And if you want to adjust more basic things like brightness, toggle Fahrenheit and Celsius, or 12/24 hour clock, that’s also in the app; however, it’s in a slightly different spot. Some features and settings can be managed via Amazon Alexa voice controls but it’s not entirely obvious as to what those are up front.
This isn’t the time or place to argue Google Assistant versus Amazon Alexa so I won’t get into that. Suffice it to say, it does have a microphone and can take your commands. In my testing I found the mic to be accurate from a variety of angles and distances in the bedroom.
In a related note, there is a physical mute button on the back of the alarm clock. If you’re not planning to use Alexa here, or don’t like the idea of something that could potentially listen to you, simply toggle it and you’re good.
The buttons at the top of the device are pronounced, easy to identify, and responsive. You can quickly locate them while lying in bed and pressing without looking.
One area where the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa shines is the speaker. It’s louder than expected, and does a pretty decent job of providing a balanced audio. I don’t often play music but the clock’s speaker works great for those times when I’m putting laundry away, cleaning the house, etc.
I would have liked to see the inclusion of a USB port on the back of the unit. Given this uses one of the outlets on my night stand, it would be nice if I could plug a device in and piggyback the charge. It wouldn’t have to be fast charge or anything special, just functional.
I do appreciate that the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa comes with a nice long power cord. I was able to plug it into a lesser-used outlet, freeing up the one closer to my night stand.
I like the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa but I don’t love it. To be fair, some of that comes from being partial to Google Assistant.
I don’t like having to work with the app as much as I do, or did at the start. Setup was a bit more contrived than I would have wanted.
As for a clock that largely sits idly by, passively displaying the time and temperature, it does a great job. And when you pair a phone to it for Bluetooth music, it delivers the goods. But truth be told, there are other alarm clocks out there priced around half of this which offer most of what we get here. And that’s good enough for most people.
To ask for more from this speaker would contradict the “Essential” aspect of the product. It’s a good option if your house has a lot of Amazon Alexa tech in place but it’s a little too pricey for an otherwise standalone experience.
Lenovo has a few options in the Smart Clock 2 line that currently come in around $40-$60 and I would recommend spending the extra money.