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Lenovo Smart Clock Essential Review: user-friendly smart display

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is like an antidote in the current smart display market. We live in a world of excess where every device tries to punch above its weight. Smart displays are no different. They now have so many functions that finding a minimal straight forward device is rather difficult. With the Smart Clock Essential, Lenovo is trying to appeal to that kind of audience.

Also Read: Google Nest Audio Review: a well-priced smart speaker

My first experience with a smart display was way back in 2018 when Amazon launched the Echo Spot in India. It was a circular window into the possibilities with a smart display. Fast forward to 2021, we have Amazon, Google and others populating the market with smart displays that aim to do a lot more than just telling you the time. With the Smart Clock Essential, Lenovo is trying to keep the essential stuff while eliminating the abundance of features. Does it succeed in this quest? Let’s find out.

Design and Display

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential Review

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential sports a 4-inch display 

With a device like a smart display, you are going to be doing two things a lot: 1. Looking at the display and 2. Talking to the digital assistant powering the device. So, the obvious place to start critiquing the device is by looking at the design and the display. In a nutshell, the design of Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is what I would describe as a balanced compromise between materials and overall build quality.

As soon as you unbox the product, you are greeted by a display and a device that looks extremely small. Don’t go by the pictures here, because they don’t do enough justice to show you how compact this thing is. It is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. At the front, you get a black-and-white segmented display. I peeled the plastic on top of it, which I regret because the plastic layer covering the display does not inspire confidence.

The display is not going to break like that plastic panel seen on Samsung’s original Galaxy Fold but it is better to leave that protection in, if possible. This display shows white numbers on a black background, giving it an analogue style that my dad was more appreciative of than I was. This black-and-white display shows basic information such as current time, day, temperature, weather conditions and your currently set alarms.

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential Review

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential has a compact design with a grey fabric speaker

The information presented here is minimal but still useful. Since Lenovo has chosen to use a big font for the current time and smaller fonts for other data, it is an efficient use of space. For current alarms and weather conditions, Lenovo is simply relying on icons and symbols. Depending on your preference, you would either like this or not. I prefer this minimal information being thrown at me that serves a very clear purpose.

Since it is a black-and-white display, I did not find any issues with it. But the best part of this display has to be that it automatically adjusts the brightness depending on the ambient light in your room. In other words, you won’t find this display blinding you in the middle of the night. In comparison to a fully featured smart display like the Amazon Echo Show 5 or Google Nest Hub (review), it cannot display photos or videos. You cannot even view your camera feed on this display, at a time when you can even turn a Google Pixel phone into a digital picture frame by placing it on Google Pixel Stand.

This is all about preference and I have chosen to avoid these fully featured smart displays in favour of an Amazon Echo (4th Gen) and Google Nest mini so far. If you are wondering why I haven’t touched upon the design of Lenovo Smart Clock Essential yet, it’s because the design is merely an extension of the display here.

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential Review

There is a USB-A port and dedicated switch to mute the microphone at the back

The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential invokes memories of old CRT TV. It has a rectangular block behind the display that tapers to form an oval shape at the end. This oval piece houses an LED strip that enables what Lenovo calls as Night Light feature (more on that in a bit). This wedge-shaped enclosure is wrapped in a grey fabric material that reminds me of Google’s work with its Assistant-powered Nest speakers. While it might get dirty over time, I like the finish and texture of this fabric material.

The top of the device houses four buttons that can be used to increase or decrease volume, play or pause your music and manage your alarms. There is a USB-A port at the back that can be used to charge your smartphone or any other device while a dedicated button to enable or disable the microphone sits right next to it. The back plate is rounded by a barrel plug for the power cable.

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential Review

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential has a LED strip at the back that acts as a night light

Let’s finally talk about that Night Light feature. This feature is meant to replace the traditional night lights found in homes. I found it quite effective as a replacement for night light. It gets plenty bright and some might even argue that it is too bright for a night light. You can change the brightness using voice control but Lenovo should have opted for a toggle or button to set the brightness maually. The ingenuity of this night light feature lies in the fact that Lenovo used existing space on the device and yet kept it compact. It would be great if Lenovo added auto adjustment for the night light based on ambient light with the next release.

Speaker and Google Assistant

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential Review

The four buttons at the top offer media playback controls and the ability to set alarms

Don’t mistake the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential for just a smart display, because it is also a smart speaker. The 3-watt speaker inside the Smart Clock Essential is not something you would want to use to listen to music. Instead, it does a good job of playing back a podcast or focus music while you are at your desk and trying to get work done. The problem with this speaker is that it seems to lack bass and at high volumes, the sound lacks clarity.

When I played Fleet Foxes’ Shore, the audio lacked the depth that comes naturally from this Seattle-based band’s production. But when I listen to narrative podcast series like Wondery’s Against The Odds, the tone mapping stays consistent and the pitch does not deviate a lot. It is understandable for a device of this size and I won’t call it an afterthought, but Lenovo didn’t put too much emphasis here. The speaker is actually there to sound out the weather reports or wake you up. The speaker can suffice for listening to podcasts, news reports or weather updates, but don’t expect this device to replace your primary speaker.

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential Review

The USB-A port on the back can be used to charge other devices

While the speaker fails to impress, the Google Assistant does a really good job. I was able to trigger the assistant easily from across the room and nine out of ten times, the Assistant managed to understand me. I was able to control the smart lights in my home effortlessly and it was also able to hear my commands and trigger action for streaming music via Spotify, weather updates and news reports.

Bottomline

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential Review

The fabric material used to cover the device might get dirty after a point

I have been using the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential for more than a month and during this time, I really see the case for its existence. At Rs 4,499, the smart clock is priced similarly to the Echo Dot (Rs 4,299) and Nest Mini (Rs 4,499), both of which lack a display.

The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential’s display offers information in an easy to read format, and the voice commands using Google Assistant work reliably most of the time. The function to set an alarm can be jarring since you need to first press the dedicated alarm button and navigate through hours and minutes using volume button. By the time you set the alarm, it can be frustrating but there is a workaround thanks to Google Assistant.

The night light feature is useful and that additional USB-A port can charge your other smart devices too. The buttons are clickable but lack feedback. In sum, if you’re considering a compact smart speaker like the Nest Mini or Echo Dot, the Smart Clock Essential from Lenovo offers the same functionality with a few extras thrown in, making it an ideal purchase.

Pricebaba’s rating: 8/10

What works

  • Displays time, weather and alarm
  • Google Assistant works well
  • Compact and easy to use
  • Inbuilt night light

What doesn’t

  • Speaker isn’t ideal for listening to music
  • Setting alarm with the dedicated button is cumbersome
  • Buttons could have been more responsive
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