The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is a bedside-friendly Google Assistant smart speaker that offers plenty of useful features, but quality audio isn’t one of them.
The Lenovo Smart Clock disappointed us with its lack of video features for a smart display, as well as poor audio quality. The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is a slightly different story. It’s a smart speaker that has a clock on it, and at $49.99, it costs much less than the Smart Clock or any other smart display. It works well as a way to access Google Assistant with your voice, but it suffers from the same disappointing sound quality as the Smart Clock. Still, it’s a capable alternative to a conventional clock radio, and Google Assistant remains excellent for voice control. That said, the Amazon Echo Dot With Clock offers far better sound in a similar package and price.
The Smart Clock Essential looks no different from any other modern, big-readout digital clock radio. It measures 2.5 by 4.8 by 3.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 11.5 ounces, with a rounded, rectangular glossy black face holding a white alphanumeric LED readout. The time appears in big characters in the middle, with the local temperature just below in slightly smaller type. Yes, this is an LED display, which means it’s limited in what information it can display to a handful of multi-segmented characters and preformed messages and icons (like the days of the week along the top, AM and PM on the right, and small icons indicating the state of the weather below the time).
The sides of the clock are covered in light gray fabric, evoking modern smart speakers like the Google Nest Audio and Nest Mini. The top surface holds four rubber buttons for volume up/down, play/pause, and checking/manually setting alarms.
The back of the clock holds a dimmable white LED light ring that can serve as a night-light, pictured above. The ring surrounds the connector for the power adapter on the back panel, along with a mechanical microphone mute switch and a USB port for charging your devices.
It all looks like a normal, simple clock radio, and if that was the case it would be pretty pricey for $50. Saying, “Hey Google,” shows what you’re really paying for. When you do, a row of four LEDs light up on the face of the clock, matching the LEDs that appear on a Nest speaker. This means Google Assistant is listening for your commands.
The Smart Clock Essential provides full access to Google Assistant. You can ask the voice assistant for general information like weather and sports scores, to control smart home devices, to play music, and even to make phone calls. Google Assistant is particularly nice for its natural language recognition; it can process requests with much more flexibility than Amazon Alexa, which tends to require stricter syntax.
The clock display is useful, but it doesn’t make the Smart Clock Essential a smart display. It only shows the time and weather, and unlike the Echo Dot With Clock, it doesn’t display active timers counting down (though you can still use Google Assistant to set timers for you). You don’t get video streaming, video calls, long-term weather reports, or any other visible information besides four digits for the time and two or three for the temperature.
For audio streaming, however, the Smart Clock Essential is fully equipped to let you listen to whatever music you want. You can ask Google Assistant to play from YouTube Music, Pandora, SiriusXM, and Spotify, for starters. You can also stream music over Bluetooth, or through Google Cast with any compatible app on your phone. It functions exactly like a Nest Audio or other first-party Google Assistant speaker in this respect.
This is a tiny speaker, so you can’t expect much power from it. The Google Assistant voice comes through loud and clear, but music isn’t particularly impressive. You can expect slightly better than clock radio performance, with enough power to hear from across the room, but not enough to really fill the room with clear, full sound.
Bass is weak to nonexistent, as heard through our low-end test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout.” The bass synth notes have little force, and the kick drum hits sound poppy, to the point of flirting with distortion.
The opening acoustic guitar plucks in Yes’ “Roundabout” get plenty of string texture, but the resonance of the notes is almost nonexistent. When the song properly kicks in, the bassline gets very little in the way of actual bass, with the vocals, cymbals, and guitar strums overwhelming it. It’s nice to hear this much high-frequency finesse in such a small, inexpensive speaker, but it’s wildly unbalanced without bass to anchor it.
The Crystal Method’s “Born Too Slow” shows a similar lack of balance. The snares and vocals stand out in the mix to the point of taking it over, while the backbeat sits in the background. With better balance, the backbeat should sound driving and ominous, and not be difficult to identify like it is here.
The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is a capable little smart speaker, with an emphasis on “smart” more than “speaker.” Google Assistant works well on the device, and the LED clock and night-light functionality help justify the $50 price. It even works well enough as a small bedside speaker, but its almost complete lack of bass and unbalanced sound places it a step behind the Alexa-powered Echo Dot With Clock. If you’re a Google Assistant fan and want a bedside clock radio, the Smart Clock Essential is a fine choice. It just shouldn’t be your primary speaker.
PCMag.com is a leading authority on technology, delivering Labs-based, independent reviews of the latest products and services. Our expert industry analysis and practical solutions help you make better buying decisions and get more from technology.
PCMag, PCMag.com and PC Magazine are among the federally registered trademarks of Ziff Davis, LLC and may not be used by third parties without explicit permission. The display of third-party trademarks and trade names on this site does not necessarily indicate any affiliation or the endorsement of PCMag. If you click an affiliate link and buy a product or service, we may be paid a fee by that merchant.
Smart speaker, Xiaomi, Google Nest, HomePod, Amazon Echo
World news – GB – Lenovo Smart Clock Essential Review