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 quite well to modernisation; adding Internet-based smarts to a device that already occupies a prime spot in your home. Strangely, not a lot of manufacturers make this kind 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 toned-down and more affordable version of the Lenovo Smart Clock which I have already reviewed, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential simplifies the display and brings the price down. At its core, it's still a smart speaker, but with a basic monochrome display to tell you the time. Is this the ideal smart device for your bedside or table top? Find out in this review.
While the Lenovo Smart Clock has a colour screen, the Smart Clock Essential has a 4-inch monochrome LED non-touch display. It shows the time, day of the week, and a weather report (temperature and conditions) for the location that you define using the Google Home app. The screen also displays symbols for active alarms, when set. At the top of the screen is a set of four lights that illuminate when the volume is being adjusted, or to let you know that the device is listening for voice commands after the wake words have been spoken.
The screen is tilted just a bit upwards for easy visibility, making this device equally suitable for use by your bedside or on a table top. The rest of the body narrows towards the back, and is fabric-wrapped on all sides. The bottom of the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential has rubber grips 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 switch to mute the microphones for privacy, and a rather useful USB Type-A port; you can connect a charging cable and use the 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 to control the volume and playback, and set alarms. Of course, all of these functions can also be controlled through voice commands.
For voice commands and controls, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential uses Google Assistant, and it works like any other Google Assistant-powered smart device. The speaker has a rated output of 3W, and is at the top of the Smart Clock Essential, firing upwards. There's dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5 for connectivity, 4GB of RAM, and an Amlogic processor powering the device. Interestingly, there is also a night light around the back of its body, with a rated brightness of up to 31 lumens.
Although the first smart speakers with Google Assistant came from Google itself, brands such as Lenovo, Xiaomi, and Sonos have since entered the segment with their own products. They work with Google Assistant in the same way that Google's own smart speakers work: always-on microphones are listening for the wake phrases, and the speakers can carry out various tasks including answering queries, operating smart appliances, and playing audio content.
The display of the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is additional to the full-fledged smart speaker functionality. It is uncomplicated and does exactly what it's supposed to, showing basic information such as the time, weather, and day of the week. You can't customise this or control what the screen shows at all, but I don't see this as a problem; it's meant to be used as a clock, and serves that purpose well. You can set the brightness of the display using voice commands, and the dimmest setting isn't harsh on the eyes in a dark room.
Since the device doesn't 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 simple enough, setting alarms using the buttons is incredibly complicated and prone to errors. I preferred setting alarms using voice commands, which were a lot quicker to execute as well.
Interestingly, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential also has a night light at the back, which can be turned on and off using voice commands. It's useful to have, and the soft lighting, working just as a small night light would.
I did have to use very specific voice commands though, as they often clashed with voice commands I use to operate other smart lights in my home. For example, the command “Hey Google, turn on the light” activated both the smart light in the same room as the device, as well as the night light on the Smart Clock Essential. A separate “Hey Google, turn off the night light” command was needed to fix the situation.
Sound quality on the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential isn't particularly good; the odd angle of the speaker, its size and output rating, and the sonic signature itself make for a shrill sound that I didn't find too pleasant. While I didn't mind the sound quality for voice responses from Google Assistant, and even for voice-based content such as podcasts, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential didn't sound very good with music.
Listening to a cover of Maroon 5's Maps by Postmodern Jukebox, the highs and mid-range sounded piercing, with the cymbals, high-hats, and retro-inspired vocals all somewhat unpleasantly sharp. This could be minimised by reducing the volume, but that defeated the purpose of using it as a speaker for much more than occasional listening in very specific settings. You can, through voice commands, customise the alarm tones and have specific tracks or playlists to wake you up, but you'll need to be able to give the right voice commands to get this done.
A small, but not inconsequential issue that I had with the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential involves its microphones. Although they worked well for me and accurately picked up wake phrases and voice commands for Google Assistant from up close, I occasionally had my Google Nest Audio (placed in a different room) pick up and act on the command instead, even though I was closer to the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential. This was overcome by speaking softly, and moving closer to the Smart Clock Essential. Perhaps better microphones would have prevented this odd problem in the first place.
The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is very similar to the Smart Clock, but with one obvious difference - the screen. The monochrome LED display makes the Smart Clock Essential a better and more effective bedside or table-top device than the Smart Clock, and the lower price sweetens the overall deal. Save for a few small quirks involving the microphones and night light, this device operates fairly well.
Poor sound quality is its biggest weakness, and that's a pretty significant point to consider on a device that is pitched as a smart speaker (of sorts). Although Google Assistant and all allied functions work well, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential has an oddly unpleasant sound that makes it somewhat unsuitable for listening to music. It's worth considering this device for its form factor, features, and bedside alarm clock functionality, but you would definitely be better off with the Rs. 3,499 Mi Smart Speaker if you are invested in the Google Assistant ecosystem and sound quality is an important consideration.
Is HomePod mini the best smart speaker under Rs. 10,000? We discussed this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.