(Pocket-lint) - If there's one device that everyone owns – or let's say used to own, given the prevelance of the smartphone in recent years – then it's an alarm clock. Be it a two-bell classic with mechanical ringer by the bedside, or a simpler digital one complete with harsh "beep beep" sounds or random radio tune-in to awaken you each morning, the alarm clock is a household staple.
For 2019 the alarm clock is being dragged into the future; the Google future, via Lenovo, with the aptly named Smart Clock. Designed with simplicity in mind, this bedside buddy houses a 4-inch screen and is the voice-controlled portal onto your Google-organised life (the Amazon Echo Spot isn't a million miles off for an Alexa equivalent, if you're an Amazon user instead).
Back in 2018 we saw the Google Home Hub – which has since been re-named Nest Hub – make for a great central control centre using both Google Assistant voice and touchscreen controls. The Lenovo Smart Clock is like a smaller, stripped down version of this, minus the built-in camera for security reassurance. But is it the classic alarm clock reinvented, or just technological overkill?
Design & Display
- Integrated speaker (1.5in 3W with peak power of 6W) and 2x passive radiators
- Dimensions and weight: 114 x 79 x 80mm; 328g
- Volume up/down physical controls
- 4-inch screen with touch control
- USB port to rear
- Bluetooth 5.0
With the 4-inch display at the front tapering off in a cut-off prism-like shape, the Smart Clock is simple and unfussy by design. It's finished in a soft-touch grey material cladding that looks a lot like the Google Nest Hub's finish – making it look like part of that family, in a sense, even though it's a Lenovo product (with no planned Google branded equivalent, the company says).
That screen is small in scale, but spot on for an alarm clock size. Why would it need to be any larger? After all, it doesn't need to display loads of data: ultimately it's a clock face (multiple faces are selectable), with various Google 'cards' available to swipe through. These displays will vary depending on what you have installed through the Home app: by default it's Alarms and Weather, but more are available through account associtation, such as Calendar.
The Smart Clock has an integrated speaker which, considering the size, sounds perfectly fine. It's not an epic soundsystem by any means – but as a bedside radio it's suited to purpose to get your day started with some tunes. There are physical controls to adjust the volume if you don't want to bark instructions at Google Assistant using your voice; max it out at 10, however, and the sound isn't quite as clear, so we'd leave it towards the middle.
There's also a USB port to the rear which makes a lot of sense, as you can plug your phone into this to recharge, so you won't need a spare plug at the wall. It's not as fast to charge devices from here, though, which is something to take into consideration.
Faces and Brightness
- 10 clock faces to choose from
- Brighter, Dim, Darker low-level brightness
- Manually adjustable brightness and automatic ambient light sensor
The clock face also has an ambient light sensor, so while it's bright in the day, it dims accordingly at night and becomes a black-and-white monotone visual when it's particularly dark to avoid disturbing your sleep.
Well, that's the theory. By default the auto-brightness feature isn't active and it's not obvious how to turn it on really – especially as it can't be sorted by voice and differs to an Android phone setup. On our first night with the Smart Clock we became so disgruntled with its bright light that we unplugged it, vouching to dig through every menu setting on night two. Technology, eh?
- Automatic dimming not working on your Google Home Hub, Nest Hub or Lenovo Smart Clock? Here's a simple fix
But when it does work, it works very well. That mono screen is very dark as to not disturb your slumber. We still think an OLED screen rather than LCD would have been an even more savvy solution, for the ultimate in black-out, but what Google has managed to do with this LCD panel is impressive. There's no way to get the screen to completely switch off, though, which we think some might have found a handy feature.
The clock faces available range from the quirky to the common, easily adjusted by pressing-and-holding the screen and scrolling through the 10-strong collection.
- Google Assistant built-in voice control
- Nest Cam stream (if you own one)
- Physical mute switch to rear
- Chromecast integration
- Multi-room audio
The real feature about the Smart Clock that brings it into the future is how it integrates with other smart products. Much like Google Nest Hub, the Lenovo product can be used as an interface to switch on smart lights/plugs, trigger Google Routines at given times – Good Morning and Good Night feature at the relevant times via a swipe down from the top, but you'll have to set these up within the app – and so forth.
As this is Google-centric, any Google Calendar appointments will sync between Android phone and the Smart Clock if you sign in with your account, with the software not only able to present your calendar – but also suggest alarm times and talk you through your upcoming day. It'll likely only get smarter in the future with routings and timings based on additional data too, with things like pre-warnings if traffic is going to be bad and mean you ought to wake up earlier.
Alarms can be switched on or off by using your voice, the touchscreen or physically tapping the product itself to trigger a morning Routine. It's not possible to adjust alarms at present, however, only deactivate them and create a new one, which feels like a removal from how 'smart' Google's system is supposed to be. Downtime can also be set within the app, but not on the Clock itself.
To stop Google listening there's a physical mute microphone button to the rear. Switching it over sees the product bleat out "the mic is muted" / "the mic's back on" – which is far from ideal if someone next to you is trying to sleep, and it can't be adjusted in the settings. A little refinement here, however, and this necessary feature would be spot on.
The Smart Clock can also pair with other multi-room speaker devices on your smart network. There's Chromecast integration too, so you can use it as a controller to project content onto a larger screen if you want to watch something before getting some shut-eye. There's Spotify too, so selecting your favourite tracks as a wake-up call is no bother either – although you'll need a pay-for membership to get specific selections.
So is the Lenovo Smart Clock the alarm clock reinvented or technological overkill? Well, it depends how much you value Google, its organisational properties – Calendar integration, Alarms, other smart home products and the ability to voice-control them – in addition to having a sensibly sized and well-priced bedside screen-based alarm that can't be used to distract with videos from YouTube and other things that your phone can do.
Even if you're not big into Google and don't have other smart home products then the Smart Clock gets the basics right too. You can voice control it to set an alarm, while the slow wake-up feature gently builds up light output for 30 minutes prior to your scheduled wake up time, for a more natural entry into your day. It's genuinely dark at night and not a bother when the settings are correctly selected too.
Really there are only small tweaks that we would make with the Assistant software being smarter overall and the Google Home app a little simpler. But this stuff is always improving, meaning this Smart Clock will only get smarter and better over time.
Amazon Echo Spot
Google not your thing? More of an Alexa user? Then Amazon's Echo Spot, which is essentially a small circular-screen controller, is a savvy alternative. It's a lot pricier than the Lenovo offering though – almost as much as a Nest Hub, in fact.