Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa review: $50 for what, exactly?

To say Lenovo’s Smart Clock Essential (with Alexa) is disappointing would be an understatement. It’s a borderline-pointless product thanks to its limited features and head-scratching, app-based configuration—so much so that I held off looking up its price until the very end of my analysis because it wouldn’t be the worst addition to your smart home if its capabilities cost nearly nothing. But at $50, or roughly the price of Amazon’s Echo Show 5 (from 2021), there’s little reason why you should get this tiny clock over a more sophisticated smart display.

The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential (with Alexa) doesn’t do very much for the high price it commands. But we’re not sure it’s worth a spot on your nightstand for half the cost: Buy your smartphone a nice stand and use its built-in modes to get the time, weather, or anything else you’d like. The Smart Clock Essential just doesn’t have enough, from its screen to its Alexa-based capabilities to its configuration.

Specifications

  • Display:: 4″ Digital LED (monochrome)
  • Touch screen:: At the
  • Digital Assistant support:: alexa
  • Price:: $49.99
pros

  • Quick way to see the weather (or room loudness)
  • Decent speaker for its size
cons

  • Way too expensive for its limited features
  • A little too confusing of a configuration in the Alexa app
  • No intercom functionality with other Alexa devices

Buy This Product

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential (with Alexa)

Design, hardware, what’s in the box

Lenovo’s Smart Clock Essential (with Alexa) is a super-small “smart” clock for your bedroom—given its size, more like a child’s nightstand than anything else. To put that in perspective, the smart clock’s small, four-inch screen, if not the entire alarm clock, is almost dwarfed by my iPhone 12 Pro Max. The screen is completely attached to its base, but we wouldn’t expect any motorized or manual adjustments for a device at this price point. If your angle doesn’t quite work for your bedroom setup, though, you’re out of luck.

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The smart clock’s monochromatic display feels more like an alarm clock you might have used in the early 2000s than what you can get on a $50 smart display nowadays. Its display is black-and-white and the “disconnected bars” treatment of its numbers look decidedly more LCD than LED. You don’t get a touchscreen, either; you interact with the device using Amazon’s Alexa app, your voice, or four buttons on the top of the smart clock. This is decidedly low-tech compared to similarly priced smart displays, but you do get slightly more on-screen information than, say, Amazon’s Echo Dot.

Once you’ve set up the smart display with the Alexa app—more on that in a bit—you’ll see the current time, the day of the week, an icon to represent the weather outside, and (strangely) a decibel meter . Knowing the loudness of the room the alarm clock sits in is a geeky, fun metric, I suppose, but it’s much, much less useful for most people than the display’s other meter: humidity and temperature. (These readings, taken from the Web, are only your local conditions outdoors; the smart clock isn’t measuring your room’s humidity or temperature directly.)

Two buttons on the top of the smart display control its volume, one summons Alexa in the form of a blinking face, and the fourth lets you manually set an alarm. We don’t recommend going that route, as it’s much more cumbersome to do than telling the smart clock a description of your alarm or setting up an alarm within your smartphone’s Alexa app. You can manually turn the smart clock’s microphone on and off with a physical switch on the rear of the clock, a welcome security feature. Unlike Lenovo’s Smart Clock 2, the “Essential” version of the smart clock has no USB ports, so don’t expect to be able to charge your smartphone off Lenovo’s small display at night. It’s also distinct from the Assistant Essential clock Lenovo released a few years back.


We give Lenovo credit for tossing in a five-foot power cable for the smart clock. Small as the clock may be, the gigantic cable makes it easy to find a perfect spot on a busy nightstand.

Software and features

Lenovo’s Smart Clock piggybacks off the capabilities of Amazon’s Alexa app. That’s how you set up the device and manage it from your smartphone; there’s no other dedicated app you can use. However, as easy as Alexa can be to use at times, there are a few unexpected quirks with the smart clock, specifically, that make it a bit of a pain.

Setting up the smart clock is as easy as plugging it in, getting your smartphone near it, firing up Alexa, and following the simple, on-screen prompts. You’ll pick a Wi-Fi network for the smart clock (2.4GHz only) and assign it to one of your rooms within the app. That’s it.


If you want to modify the smart clock’s settings a bit more, here’s where it gets strange. For starters, the smart clock won’t appear within the Favorite section of the Alexa’s Devices tab, nor within any of its room groupings. You’ll have to tap on “Echo & Alexa” at the top of the app, and then the smart clock itself, which will let you do things like change its Wi-Fi network, adjust its sounds, turn on useful features like Do Not Disturb mode, and fix its Time Zone (mine was set to ET by default, even though I’m on the West Coast). However, this is not where you’ll adjust the smart clock’s core features—oh no.

Confusingly, you’ll have to tap back to the Alexa app’s primary Devices screen and scroll through your list of devices at the top until you see “All Devices.” Tap on that, scroll through the list, and you’ll now see two different Lenovo Smart Clock devices: one with a Wi-Fi icon inside a circle, representing the screen you were just at, and another with a Wi-Fi icon in a house. tap that, and you’ll be able to adjust the display’s brightness, change between its decibel meter and the weather, and pick Fahrenheit or Celsius for temperature readings. You can also switch over to a 24-Hour Clock, turn the smart clock’s screen completely off when you’re not interacting with it, or enable a “Daily Screen Off Mode,” which isn’t described in the device’s manual at all. I still have no idea what it does, nor can you set specific times for when this “daily shutdown” happens.


You can apparently adjust some of these settings by triggering Alexa and talking to your smart clock. However, I had to Google some buried Lenovo FAQ to know this was even possible (at the same time I was figuring out how to find the aforementioned settings screen). Even then, the trigger commands didn’t work for me, and I got tired of activating other Alexa functions during my many attempts.

For its size, the smart clock has decent oomph as a speaker that you can pipe music to via Alexa (or blast to wake you up in the morning). However, that’s all you can do. You can’t drop into your alarm clock to talk to anyone near it or “call” it via Alexa or the Alexa app. you can activate an “intercom” feature by holding the smart clock’s Alexa-triggering action button, but that only works between multiple Lenovo Smart Clocks. It’s very weird that Lenovo (or Amazon) would restrict this feature in such a way, and it feels incredibly dumb for a smart device given that the functionality is already baked into the very app-slash-digital-assistant the smart clock uses for everything else.


At the very least, you can trigger Alexa routines you’ve created by saying the appropriate word or phrase. The smart clock felt pretty responsive as I walked around my bedroom saying (or yelling) “Alexa,” but more when I was facing it directly or partially. If I had my back to the smart clock, it struggled to pick up the trigger word from even a few feet away, unlike my house’s other Alexa smart devices that don’t ever seem to have an issue.

Should you buy it?

Wait for the big sale. I don’t think there’s much of a point to Lenovo’s Smart Clock when you can find a much better Alexa-friendly display, like Amazon’s own Echo Show, for roughly the same price. If you can’t, even Amazon’s Echo Dot feels like a better alternative. It won’t show you the weather in text on the front of the device, sure, but it’ll be much easier to configure and will have the full range of capabilities you’d expect from an “Alexa device,” like intercom functionality that works with all your other Amazon (or compatible) devices. It’ll also look a bit more modern on your nightstand.


Lenovo’s Smart Clock Essential feels incredibly sparse for its $50 price. If it cost $20, and you desperately needed a screen to show you the time in your room, I’d say go for it. However, you’d probably just get as good of an alarm clock if you took that money and bought a decent charging stand for your smartphone—a better display, too.

Buy it if…

  • Lenovo has a huge sale, and need to see a digital version of the time in your room
  • You really want to know how loud your room is

Don’t buy it if…

  • You can get an entry-level smart display from Amazon or Google for the same price
  • You want a smart device that lets you talk to someone in another room
  • You value a device’s form as much as its functionality

FAQ

Q: How does the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential compare to an Amazon Echo Show 5?

Lenovo’s Smart Clock Essential doesn’t measure up well against Amazon’s Echo Show 5. The one caveat to this is that the Echo Show 5 normally retails for around $85, which is quite a bit more (but not that much more) than the Smart Clock Essential’s $50 asking price. However, for a small boost in price—sometimes nothing, since you can often find the Echo Show 5 on sale for $50 or less—you get a 5.5″, full-color display, a built-in 2MP webcam, and full support for all Alexa capabilities.

We think this makes a lot more sense if you’re interested in having any kind of intercom functionality around your house. You’re much better off integrating an Echo Show 5 into your existing Alexa smart home (or getting a few), especially if they cost as much as the Smart Clock Essential.

Q: How does the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential compare to the Lenovo Smart Clock 2?

The Lenovo Smart Clock 2 ($90) can cost almost double the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential ($50), but we’ve also seen it for exactly the same price. If that’s the case, the Smart Clock 2 is the no-brainer buy: You get a 4-inch display that uses Google Assistant, rather than Alexa, to power everything you do. However, some apps might struggle to cast to the device’s small screen, making us still want to hedge our bets with an official Google or Amazon display instead.

However, if you never intend to catch up on The Mandalorian at midnight, this is probably not that big of a deal. We recommend paying $20 extra for the device’s optional wireless charging base, which gives you wireless charging for your smartphone (including Magsafe) and a lovely little light-up nightlight for when you’re stumbling to the bathroom during the late-night hours.


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