News Smart & Connected Life Lenovo’s New Smart Clock Offers Basics on a Budget The ultimate in minimalism may be all the clock you ever need by Tech News Reporter Sascha Brodsky is a freelance journalist based in New York City. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times and many other publications. our editorial process Sascha Brodsky Published November 4, 2020 12:00PM EST Smart & Connected Life Phones Internet & Security Computers Smart & Connected Life Home Theater Software & Apps Social Media Streaming Gaming View More Tweet Share Email Key Takeaways Lenovo’s new Smart Clock Essential offers barebones features but great sound in a compact and easy-to-use design. The 4-inch screen is bright and easy to read but you can’t turn down the brightness without using voice control. The sound quality won’t beat more expensive but it’s surprisingly good for the price. Lenovo With a bazillion smart speakers and screens flooding the market, device manufacturers sometimes seem to be providing answers to questions you never asked. But Lenovo’s new Google-powered Smart Clock Essential brilliantly pares down what you need to the basics. Despite its name, the $49 Essential is a smart speaker hiding inside a timepiece. And that change in form somehow makes all the difference. There’s something innately comforting about glancing at the time on this classic-looking design in a world that’s been invaded by orbs, lozenges, and other strange smart-speaker shapes. You instinctively know what the Smart Clock does because of its glowing numerals that look right out of a 1980s-era bedside clock. Smaller is Better The Essential’s subtle shape might seem like a minor change from other smart devices but it reduces the cognitive load from constantly having to interact with devices that all seem to speak a different design language. It’s similar to the original version of Lenovo’s Smart Clock but at 4.76 inches wide by 2.52 inches tall and 3.27 inches deep, the Essential is shorter and wider. The real difference is that the Smart Clock looks like a smart display while the Essential looks like a clock. It’s got a very bright 4-inch LED screen with retro-looking numerical digits. I loved the fact that the display is big enough to read without my glasses. I hated that there’s no ambient light sensor so it ended up keeping me awake at night unless I remembered to use a voice command to lower the brightness. I remember even my old clock radio from the 1980s had a switch to turn down the brightness so why couldn’t Lenovo have included that feature on this model? Lenovo The dead-simple design translates to the Essential’s controls as well. On top, there are volume, play, and alarm set buttons. That’s it and the simplicity is welcome when you are fumbling with this thing in the middle of the night. Tiny Speakers Emit Good Sound The sound quality was surprisingly good considering the Essential is more of a clock than a speaker. It’s got a tiny 1.5-inch three-watt speaker that somehow manages to sound loud and clear. I wouldn’t use it for music most of the time but it was more than sufficient to listen to news radio shows or play ambient noise before bed. The hidden star of the show is Google Assistant. Perhaps because of the unassuming shape of the Essential, I was always surprised to hear the familiar Google voice piping up when requested. As always, you can ask Google for things like news, weather, directions and to control home devices. Google’s assistant seems slightly more responsive to me than Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa and that holds true on the Essential as well. Of course, with the Essential, you are giving up all the advantages of a smart display such as the ability to make video calls, watch movies, or get a lot of graphic information. But that’s the point with this device. If you’re reading this post you probably already have more than one gadget that can do all of the things a smart display can. The Essential made me realize that less is sometimes more. Lenovo There are real negatives to having a smart display everywhere. First of all, consider that many people will keep the Essential by their bedside. Without a screen or a camera, many users will feel more comfortable that hackers won’t be getting an eyeful. Also, I found there’s value in having fewer distractions around the house. Do I really need to be tempted to watch YouTube when all I need is to know what time it is or set an alarm? The Essential gives me what I need and no more in a smart clock. For the modest price tag, I’m grateful to have it around.