Remember when alarm clocks were small, battery-powered, and lasted forever? My husband relinquished his compact Casio after 13 years because the screen finally warped and he couldn’t read the numbers anymore. That clock made it through countless Hot Shot tours fighting wildfire in Nevada and Idaho, survived in a makeshift shack in the Alaskan wilderness where he worked as a fishing guide, only to finally surrender after a couple of years on his bedside table in a Charleston firehouse.
Today, alarm clocks are going through a bit of an identity crisis, as evidenced by Lenovo’s newest Smart Clock that aims to be a nightstand multitasker. In very real danger of being entirely supplanted by smartphones, the alarm clock has morphed into an all-singing, all-dancing smart display. Go on, try to find a battery-powered alarm clock that just tells you the time. No projectors, no night lights, no built-in radio, no Bluetooth, no charging ports — just the time and an alarm. (When you do, can you send it my way? I’m looking for a Christmas present for someone…)
LENOVO SMART CLOCK 2 REVIEW
VERGE SCORE7OUT OF 10
- New charging dock brings a lot to the (bedside) table
- Smallest smart display you can buy
- Nice night light feature
- Full Google Assistant capabilities
- No internal hardware upgrades
- No video streaming
- Camera streaming only works with Google Nest Cams
- No battery backup
Lenovo’s $89.99 Smart Clock 2 has crammed as much functionality as possible into its tiny, almost five-inch by four-inch frame. It wants to be the Swiss Army knife of nightstands. Building on its first iteration as the smallest smart display on the market (ideally suited for your bedside), the Smart Clock 2 is still a Bluetooth speaker with a touchscreen and the full power of Google Assistant on tap to stream all the audio you could want. Of course, you can also ask about the weather and such, as well as control smart home devices with your voice.
What’s new is a separate dock designed for the clock that brings a night light, a wireless charging pad for your phone, and a USB Type-A port for your peripherals. Finally, you can corral all your bedside charging clutter in one space and have a fancy alarm clock (had you been waiting for that?). It still lacks any backup battery, so if the power is out, your alarm is off. To be fair, no smart alarm clock offers this, which is why my husband resolutely refuses to use one.
With a few caveats (which I’ll get to), this is a great little bedside clock albeit a minor upgrade from the original. It’s the smallest smart display footprint-wise, so a good fit for those with cluttered or tiny nightstands. The wireless charging and LED night light are excellent additions for keeping things tidy, although you’ll still need a bedside lamp as the night light is not for reading. There’s no camera in the device, and the small speakers provide just enough audio quality for some nice bedtime music and to deliver your choice of seven different alarm tones to rouse you in the morning. They sound better than a smartphone but worse than a larger smart display.
It’s less enticing as a smart display. This is more of a Nest Mini than a Nest Hub in terms of functionality; it’s a smart speaker with some visual signals and a basic touch interface. While I appreciate having a clock to gaze at, the display feels completely wasted, and the UI depends far too heavily on voice control, as do most smart displays. I couldn’t, for example, switch off the night light with touch; I had to use my voice. This is especially annoying in the bedroom, where you’re probably looking for some peace and quiet.
The diminutive display also doesn’t do some of the main things you expect from a smart display. You can’t watch the video and, while I question why you would want to on a display this small, if you’re not going to watch the video you don’t really need a display this big (it’s a conundrum, I know). It will stream video from Google Nest security cameras, which is handy at night if something’s going bump outside. But it currently only works with the old Google Nest cameras, not the new ones or any third-party cameras. The screen also doesn’t give you extra visual information when you ask the Assistant questions, as Nest Hubs do, but you can pick a Google Photos album to rotate as your clock face throughout the day. Read also: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Review: Show of Ambition
The Smart Clock 2 has a few design upgrades over the original. There’s a new color — fabric-wrapped blue in addition to gray or black (it’s all very drab, though; would it have killed Lenovo to throw in a pretty pastel?), and a new, taller form factor to accommodate sitting on the new dock. (You can buy the clock without the dock for $20 less, but you lose a lot of functionality.) The physical volume up and down buttons are still here, as is the mute switch at the back. The touch-sensitive surface between the volume buttons also remains to snooze or turn the alarm off (it requires a significant thwack, however). The USB Type-A port is gone — moved to the dock — which will disappoint some if they just opt for the clock and not the dock.
There have been no under-the-hood improvements, this is essentially the same device as the 2019 Lenovo Smart Clock The speakers have been rejigged and moved up front, but they’re the same tinny, 3-watt offerings, and the sluggish Mediatek quad-core processor remains. This translates to a slightly slower response time from the Google Assistant than on the newer Nest displays, which don’t exactly speed demons. But the price has essentially dropped, as you can get the speaker and dock for $89.99, just $10 more than the original clock (you’re not going to find an up to 10-watt MagSafe compatible wireless charger for less than $20 anywhere else). It does require Wi-Fi to use the Google Assistant and other features, and you need to use the Google Home app on a smartphone to set it up. However, without Wi-Fi, it will function as just an alarm clock. Read also: Realme GT Neo 3 Review: 150W Fast-Charging
I had this on my nightstand for about a week, replacing a Nest Hub (first gen), and I missed my Nest Hub. Most specifically because if I’m going to have a screen by my bed, I want to be able to use it. The Lenovo Clock’s four inches was just too small to comfortably navigate. Swiping up from the bottom (for brightness and volume control, a do not disturb button, and settings) was fiddly but not half as tricky as swiping from the top for quick access to alarms, a Routine shortcut, music, and the night light. No matter how many times I pushed on the night light button, it wouldn’t turn it off, and I had to use voice (there is an adjustable timer for the night light, so it will go out on its own eventually).
I also missed the smart home control panel. You get five swipeable screens on this display: clock, alarms, weather, music, and calendar. The only smart home control is a shortcut to your Goodnight or Good Morning Google Home Routine and the option to turn on or off the lights in the room you are in. If I asked the device to turn off the kitchen lights, it gave me a control interface for that light, which was useful, but again, I had to use my voice.https://032143970429de13076c0c65d6cde01f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
I could probably get past these issues, mainly because I loved the wireless charger. Previous attempts at using a wireless charging pad by my bedside invariably resulted in finding it dead and buried in my dog’s bed in the morning as I managed to knock it off the charger during the night. With the Lenovo charging stand, my iPhone 13 felt secure thanks to magnets keeping it in place. Lenovo tells us these are small enough so as not to interfere with charging on Android phones. It can charge up to 10 watts, with a maximum of 7.5 watts on an iPhone, and only up to 5 watts if there’s also playing music. But even five is plenty to charge your phone overnight.
LENOVO SMART CLOCK 2
With the Lenovo charging stand, my iPhone 13 felt secure thanks to magnets keeping it in place. Lenovo tells us these are small enough so as not to interfere with charging on Android phones. It can charge up to 10 watts, with a maximum of 7.5 watts on an iPhone, and only up to 5 watts if there’s also playing music. But even five is plenty to charge your phone overnight.