Last year Google impressed the tech world with the Home Hub, an excellent smarthome management tool and miniature entertainment center. Lenovo’s Smart Clock, despite the disparate branding, is a smaller sequel. And it’s every bit as good.
Sporting a 4-inch screen, a 6-watt speaker, an understated cloth-covered design, and excellent integration with Google’s Assistant and Home systems, the Smart Clock is a fantastic add-on to any compatible smarthome setup. But what surprised me is that, thanks to some smart design choices, it makes a great little bedside alarm clock in its own right. And at $80, only a bit over half the price of the Home Hub and a reasonable $30 more than the Home Mini, it’s also an excellent value.
The Smart Clock is a great product that gets an unreserved recommendation. It’s a nearly perfect gadget if you want a Home Mini with a display, or just an alarm clock with a few web-enabled tools and audio options.
Smart, Understated Physical Design
The Smart Clock looks at first glance like a miniaturized Google Home Hub. The understated grey cloth covering means it will fit into almost any home decor. And it’s small enough to fit anywhere, too: about the size of a soda can. In terms of absolute volume, it’s only a little bigger than the Home Mini.
But where the Home Mini is designed for voice commands only, with touch controls thrown in as an afterthought, the Smart Clock expects you to interact with it in a much more tactile fashion. Only two physical buttons are on top, volume up and down, with an invisible sensor between it for touch. (More on that later.)
The screen is unblemished with any physical controls, though if you look closely you can spot two microphones straddling a light sensor on the top bezel. There’s no camera to be found. In the rear, you have a proprietary power cable (no internal battery), a microphone on-off switch, and a full-sized USB port for easily charging any phone.
And that’s it. The slanted body and cloth covering are reminiscent of Google’s home products instead of the original bamboo-covered Lenovo Smart Speaker. But with its size and tactility, I’m reminded of the Chumby, a nifty web-powered, small-screened gadget from 2008. It was also positioned as a connected alarm clock, among other things. Chumby is long dead, but I think its unique design (if not its independent, hack-friendly spirit) lives on in the Smart Clock.
A Perfect “Goldilocks” Gadget
The original Google Home speaker is ostensibly the product between the Home Hub, with its seven-inch screen and decent speaker, and the Home Mini, a tiny screen-free, USB-powered booster point for smarthome voice commands. Lenovo appears to have built the Smart Clock as both a replacement for the original Home (in terms of price) and a midpoint between the Home Mini and the Home Hub (in terms of features).
The Smart Clock nails this midpoint, giving users the screen interactions of the Home Hub with the size and accessibility of the Home Mini. Standard Google Assistant voice commands are easy to use, as expected, and the usual lights, music, and pre-programmed smarthome routines are accessible from the screen if you want more fine control. Actual management is best left to the Home app on your phone, but accessing anything you’ve already installed and set up from the Smart Clock is a breeze.
Oh, and there’s a small but very appreciated technical touch: the Smart Clock works with 5 GHz Wi-Fi networks. Plenty of smarthome gadgets cheap out on a less capable Wi-Fi chip that insists you keep a 2.4 GHz band up and running—and I’ve even seen some Lenovo budget laptops that do the same—but that isn’t the case here. I’m very much obliged.
You’d think that, like the Home Hub, the Smart Clock’s utility is limited if you don’t already have a fairly well-connected home on the Google Home/Assistant platform. And it’s certainly true that this is where the device shines. But it’s also an amazingly capable alarm clock in and of itself.
Clock it to Me
With the small size, integrated phone charger, and a customized screen interface, it’s clear that Lenovo didn’t name this thing the “Smart Clock” for nothing. The design decisions on display make it an amazing bedroom companion.
Um, maybe that description needs a little elaboration.
What I mean is that the Smart Clock is the ideal gadget to sit on your nightstand, with an interface and physical design that means its features as a clock are always at the front of the design. Take the volume buttons, for example: unlike the Home Mini, where volume controls are non-obvious unlabeled touch zones, the “+” and “-” buttons on top of the Smart clock are prominent and easy to find even with your eyes closed.
That’s not all. The Smart Clock has a single unlabeled touch button too, but it’s smartly placed in between the pronounced volume buttons. That’s so you can slap at the clock’s top to disable the alarm or “snooze” it (it’s a choice in the settings menu), in the style of an old-fashioned digital alarm clock—again, without needing to open your weary eyes first thing in the morning. The included phone charger port is a smart addition, though I wish it put out more watts; my Galaxy Note 8’s fast charging mode wasn’t activated when I plugged it in, so I assume it’s only using 5w.
Even the screen’s interface is optimized for all the stuff you’d want to do first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Swiping left and right on the home screen goes through the clock, alarm control, local weather, and music controls (if it’s playing). Swipe down from any of these screens, and you have quick access to set a new alarm, play music, turn off the lights in your bedroom (assuming they’re connected to your Google Home system), or activate the default “Good Night” Home actions.
Pretty much any smart home or alarm function you’d want to use from your bed, you can do with the Smart Clock. That’s true of the Home Hub too, of course… but the former is half the price, a fraction of the size, and includes a phone charging port. Specific design for specific purposes is on full display here. Though I should point out that, since there’s no dedicated battery, you might miss an alarm if your home loses power in the night.
A Few Drawbacks
I was tempted to give the Smart Clock a perfect score. But there are a few drawbacks. The first one you might notice when you’re setting it up is that it uses a proprietary charger, with a big, chunky wall-wart. That’s not necessary these days—a more friendly USB charging system wouldn’t be so easy to come unplugged (which happened to me a few times). And Google’s own Home devices show that you don’t need a huge plug for the power needs of this gadget.
The Smart Clock doesn’t have the near-magical screen dimming and brightening powers of the Home Hub, alas. It can’t go completely dark without a voice command, for example. But once I found the automatic brightness control (oddly hidden as a second press on the “sun” icon when the brightness slider is active), it got dark enough for me to sleep only a few inches away.
The Smart Clock is also a little lacking in terms of media management. Its integrated music player can only pause/play or select new tracks on compatible music services, it can’t change your playlist, or even do thumbs up/down on Pandora. It expects you to do that on your phone… but since you can launch music directly from the user interface, I would have liked to see at least the option to select one of my favorite channels instead of just the last one playing.
Google’s Home software system treats the Smart Clock as an audio-only device, so you can cast music or spoken word apps, but not video like Netflix. Sure, your phone’s screen is almost certainly bigger than the one on the Smart Clock, but I know plenty of people who’d like to fall asleep to a Futurama rerun. Lastly, the speaker isn’t anything to get humble about. It’s plenty loud for basic music or alarms, but if very “buzzy” even in the midrange at higher volumes. If you’re looking for something with high fidelity, this six-watt driver isn’t it, even with the “dual passive radiators” on the spec sheet.
Conclusion: Go Get One
The above drawbacks are minimal at their worst. The Smart Clock is a fantastic smart home device and an even better Wi-Fi alarm clock. It’s a perfect midpoint in Google’s Home system (even if it’s not technically supplied by Google itself). If you want something that integrates your bedroom with Google Home and Assistant, while also being easy-to-use, unobtrusive, and useful in its own right, it’s damn near perfect.
At $80, the Smart Clock is a more than reasonable for its hardware and capabilities. It doesn’t hurt that these devices often go on sale. Go get one for your smarthome—in fact, get one even if all you want is an alarm clock that listens to your phone.
Here’s What We Like
- Fantastic physical design
- Excellent screen user interface
- Tiny size with the integrated screen and speaker
- Works great as an alarm clock on its own
- Good value at $80
And What We Don't
- Wall charger is big and proprietary
- USB charger is only 5 watts
- Music management is basic, no video options