Don’t snooze on the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential. Even if it does look like a retro bedside gadget that’s been boxed away in your parent’s basement, this $50 Google Assistant speaker is one of the least complicated — and most useful — smart home devices you’ll find right now.
With its humble 4-inch LCD display and sparse controls, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is even simpler than the $80 Lenovo Smart Clock, which also packs Google Assistant but offers a small touchscreen display. While the touchscreen comes in handy for customizing your clock face, a fingerprint-free timepiece is just as tempting (if not more.)
But can it eclipse the orb-shaped Amazon Echo Dot with Clock? This Lenovo Smart Clock Essential review reckons whether a no-frills bedside gadget can keep up with the best smart speakers.
Lenovo Smart Clock Essential price and availability
Lenovo Smart Clock Essential costs $49.99, which is $30 less than the touchscreen Lenovo Smart Clock and $10 less than the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock. You can purchase the Smart Clock Essential now at Best Buy and other major retailers.
Lenovo Smart Clock Essential review: Design
Like the Lenovo Smart Clock, the Smart Clock Essential features a trapezoidal design. Its monochrome face measures a charming 4.7 inches by 2.5 inches, while the cloth-covered speaker base is 3.3 inches deep. This compact size should work for any nightstand.
It can be a bit of a dust magnet, but the display itself is a breeze to read in both well-lit and dark settings. Plus the clock’s built-in light sensors automatically adjust the LCD screen based on room brightness. That way you can see time, weather, and a few other, ahem, essential pieces of information at a glance. Unlike the Smart Clock, which can show you directions and feeds from some of the best home security cameras, you're getting just the basics here. However, you can see more at once than on the LED-equipped Amazon Echo Dot with Clock, which can only show the time, temperature or timer status.
The top of the device has physical controls for music much like Echo speakers, as well as an alarm button. On the back, you’ll find a USB port, which can be used to charge the device of your choice, and a switch to turn off the Smart Clock Essential's microphones if you’d prefer some privacy.
Another pleasant addition to the rear is an LED nightlight that encircles the back, and casts a soft glow (it's rated at 31 lumens). You can turn the light ring on by holding the volume down button, but I prefer asking the assistant for some help so I don't have to fumble around in the dark.
Lenovo Smart Clock Essential review: Google Assistant
Although the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential might not look all that smart, it benefits from many of the best Google Assistant commands and best Google Home commands. It can’t make calls like Google Nest Audio or launch a YouTube video like the Google Nest Hub Max, but it can answer questions, adjust the clock settings and control your music hands-free.
I appreciate having a voice assistant by my bedside for several reasons. Although I live in a mixed ecosystem of Alexa, Google Home and HomeKit gadgets, my living room’s C by GE smart lights bulbs and lightstrips are all paired to Google’s assistant. Before I fall asleep I can ask Google Assistant via the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential to turn all the lights off, and then ask for them to be turned on if I need to grab some water from the fridge in the middle of the night. Mumbling to Google Assistant to set an alarm for the morning as I drift into snoozeland is excellent, too.
You can also sync the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with some of the other best Google Home speakers, like the Google Nest Mini, for synched playback. This way your tunes from Spotify, YouTube Music and more play on multiple devices, which I find handy when I’m moving between rooms while cleaning up my apartment.
Lenovo Smart Clock Essential review: Audio quality
The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential packs a single 1-inch, 3-Watt speaker. I didn’t expect it to be the best-sounding speaker (that title is held by the $199 Sonos One,) but I was surprised by how well it keeps up with other devices in its price range.
Next to both Amazon and Google’s $50 speakers, the Lenovo Smart Essential sounded most like the first-generation Google Home Mini. The infectious bassline of “Come On Eileen,” didn’t sound as full as it does on the Google Nest MIni or even the new spherical Echo Dot with Clock, but the clarity of the vocals impressed.
Still, I don’t think I’d rely on the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential as my primary music source, but I have taken to listening to podcasts or morning newscasts on this nifty bedside clock. The sound profile complements narration well, especially Michael Barbaro’s exaggerated tempo in episodes of The Daily.
Lenovo Smart Clock Essential review: Verdict
Simple-to-use tech wins every time. That’s how the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock came to be one the best smart home devices overall. Now, there’s a worthy alternative for Google Home users in the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential.
Although it’s $10 more, I still prefer the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock because of its updated design and superior sound. Alexa is also ahead of Google Assistant in terms of helpful home skills, like Alexa Guard — a microphone-based security feature that doesn't require a camera system.
That said, the fact that the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential lets you see more than just one item of information at once arguably makes it more useful than the Dot with Clock. The perks of an easy-access USB port shouldn’t be slept on, either.