Voice powered smart speakers are now ten-a-penny, and it seems that smart displays, whether powered by the Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa, are set to follow suit. The Lenovo Smart Clock is the latest to join the fray.
However, whether through the added expense of the display, or the busier nature of a device that juggles both touch and voice controls, smart-screen devices haven’t had quite the impact their speaker counterparts have had.
With many also housing a camera (ostensibly for video chat purposes, but also fuelling conspiracy theories surrounding privacy), there’s been some reticence to bring them into the bedroom, which would otherwise seem a natural home for them.
The Lenovo Smart Clock very much wants a place on your bedside table however, and thanks to some clever design choices, it probably deserves the spot, too.
Price and availability
The Lenovo Smart Clock is available now, priced at $79.99 / £79.99 (around AU$115). That’s cheaper than the Google Home Hub, the Amazon Echo Spot and the same price as the forthcoming Amazon Echo Show 5, all of which would previously have been our top suggestions for a bedroom smart display. Though we’ve not yet been able to test the Echo Show 5, our gut now points to the Lenovo Smart Clock being the in-bedroom smart device to beat.
The Lenovo Smart Clock wants to smarten up your traditional alarm clock, but really, it’s more than that. It’s a cheap way to get a Google Assistant smart home speaker adorned with a clock face on it and a special 'Good Morning' dashboard into your bedroom.
You could of course put it anywhere in your house, but the AI-powered speaker is ideally meant to sit on a nightstand, as its has a small 4-inch touchscreen that displays the time with various clock faces. It has a screen resolution of 480 x 800 pixels, which is adequate for what it’s trying to show at such a small size. Designed to sit next to you in bed, you’ll likely be close to it when using it, so we didn’t find its diminutive stature a problem. If anything it was a bonus, making it more discreet in a bedroom where you’re unlikely going to want overbearing tech to intrude. You’ll likely want a larger-screened smart device for other rooms though.
Like the Home Hub, there's purposefully no camera built in, and that’s actually being touted as a feature here. Lenovo wants you to feel comfortable bringing this into the more intimate rooms of your home, and senses that the presence of a camera could undermine that. Personally however, we’d have still welcomed having a camera onboard – albeit with a physical shutter included to block it off when we don’t want it peeping. Choice is always best.
The Lenovo Smart Clock has a subtle wedge-like shape, covered in a grey fabric mesh. A chunky border surrounds the screen, curving off the edges, but taking up a fair amount of real estate on the device’s front face. Up top, a plus and minus sign offer volume controls. There's a microphone mute switch on back (which, somewhat counter-intuitively announces itself very loudly when in use), with a port for power and a USB port.
Why is there a USB port on this thing? To charge your phone at night. This way, you're not losing a precious outlet behind the nightstand to your phone charger. It’s worth noting though that this isn’t a particularly fast charger, so you may still want to keep your mobile device’s standard-issue plug handy. Still, it’s useful if you just want to give some constant juice to a phone, tablet or ereader while in bed.
6W speakers are inside too. That’s not shockingly loud, but that’s not really a problem given the device’s purpose. Sure, you’ll need another speaker if you want to have a real party in your bedroom (ahem), but if it’s just for listening to news reports, podcasts or the odd tune here or there, it’s fine. It’s a clear speaker, and the Google Assistant always rings out when it responds to your requests.
Yes, it’s a clock. Yes, it’s an alarm. But that ‘Smart’ bit of the Lenovo Smart Clock’s moniker is what sets it apart. It may be small, but it’s every bit as capable of controlling your smart home as any other smart speaker or smart screen device out there.
If you’re at all familiar with Google Assistant, you’ll know what to expect here. After setting up the Smart Clock through the Google Home mobile app (which ties all your accounts and settings to the device) you’ll be able to command it to do all manner of things.
Want to set a reminder? Just say ‘OK Google’ and ask the Smart Clock. The same goes for timers or alarms, or to play any song from your music streaming service of choice. If you’ve connected smart equipment plugged in your house, like smart lights or locks, they too can be controlled by voice. Ask a question, get an answer, make a request and so long as it’s solution is web based, there’s a good chance that the Google Assistant will be able to fulfil it.
You can also use the four-inch touchscreen to carry out some of these tasks, but you’ll do most of the heavy lifting with your voice – the Smart Clock has a few panels you can play with, and a pull down menu that lets you adjust a few settings, but the vast majority of features are accessed by voice. Note that the majority of this functionality is Google Assistant-based, and not unique to the Lenovo Smart Clock.
However, it is one of the first devices using Google’s smart helper to take advantage of a few new features coming to the platform. For instance, can you not only tap the Lenovo Smart Clock to stop your morning alarm, but you can simply say “stop” too – no ‘OK Google’ wake word needed. With the alarm ringing, the Clock simply keeps an eye out for the pertinent ‘Stop’ command too, as it’s unlikely that you’re going to be referring to anything else. Finally!
Elsewhere there are routines that can be programmed through the Google Home app. Say “Hey Google, good night”, for instance, and you can have the Smart Clock dim your lights, turn down the volume and trigger a meditation app’s sleep helper.
There’s also a unique ‘Sunrise Alarm’ feature. This slowly raises the brightness of the screen over the course of the 30 minutes leading to your sonic alarm going off. This should in effect help you wake more naturally – but it’s not as effective as the best SAD wake-up lamps whose feature it apes.
It simply doesn’t go bright enough to envelope a room with sunrise-imitating light. That said, on the reverse end of that scale, the Smart Clock’s ambient sensor dims the light expertly at night time – dark enough to not distract, but with its text just visible enough to read with no lights on as you open your groggy eyes.
The Lenovo Smart Clock works like a treat. Its microphones easily pick up our voice requests, and Google Assistant is smart enough to successfully answer the majority of our queries satisfyingly.
Google Assistant, at the heart of this gadget, is slowly growing into a great smart helper, and the knowledge that its repertoire of abilities will continue to grow over time gives the clock a degree of futureproofing. Like all the best alarm clocks, the Lenovo Smart Clock is reliable – even when it’s feature set is exponentially more complicated than your old bell ringer.
But the smaller form factor, and belief that a device aimed at the bedroom has to be less of a distracting presence, is a mixed bag in practice.
With a smaller screen than any Google Assistant smart display that’s gone before it, the Lenovo Smart Clock uses a tweaked interface compared to previous Google powered devices like the Home Hub. It’s basically a lot more stripped back – while key screens like calendar, weather and alarms offer rich visual feedback to accompany the Assistant’s audio responses, elsewhere you’re presented with just a pulsing Google Assistant logo.
For instance, ask the Google Home Hub on info about US Presidents, and it’ll present visual information alongside a spoken description. On the Lenovo Smart Clock, you just get the Google Assistant logo on a black background.
It’s a shame – there’s more than enough room even on a display this size for some more detailed visual feedback, and it’s hard to fathom why it’s been cut here. The same goes for Google Photos integration and the lack of a YouTube player – yes, it’s designed to be as distraction-free as possible, but again we’d prefer users were given the choice as to whether or not they want that sort of content on their device, rather than prescribing the stripped back experience.
That may be a deal breaker for those also eyeing up the Google Home Hub, which isn’t much bigger or more expensive, and does offer those features.
By putting privacy first and cutting down on distractions, the Lenovo Smart Clock will be the go-to choice for many in the bedroom. It handles connected home commands with ease, is reliably alert to voice requests, and works well as a bedside speaker too. The addition of a USB charging port for your phone is thoughtful too, cutting down on the plug socket wars you’ll encounter come bedtime.
The Lenovo Smart Clock however does consciously cull some standard features in an effort to be less distracting come bedtime, from rich-media visual cards to that absent camera, which ideally would be present but with an optional physical shutter for maximum flexibility.
But as far as working to a feature set focussed directly into the most intimate room of your home, it ticks (and tocks) almost all the boxes and is well worth your money.
Additional reporting from Matt Swider
All image credits: TechRadar
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