A smart alarm clock for the bedside table, doing more than just alarms, isn’t exactly a novelty in smart homes. Amazon has been doing these compact displays for a while now, and to good effect. The generations of Echo Show 5 testify to that. Lenovo, in fact, has had some competent ones over the years (Smart Clock, Smart Clock Essential and Smart 2 being the recent ones). That leads us to the newest addition to the line-up, which is the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa Built-in.

The name is a mouthful. And there’s a reason for that. It is Lenovo’s attempt to remove any ambiguity. The three aforementioned elder siblings rely on the Google Assistant for smartness. This is the company’s first attempt at tapping the popularity of Alexa. That true(er), at least in some parts of the world, where Alexa is still better recognised as a smart assistant than Google Assistant.

This is now priced around 3,999 with your choices being Misty Blue and Clay Red colours. The same ecosystem also has the Amazon Echo Show 5 (that’s priced around 5,499). And if you aren’t entirely convinced that it’s just the Amazon Alexa assistant that you need, there’s still the second-generation Google Next Hub (around 6,999) which continues to defy age with new functionality bolted on with updates – the new Home app and support for Matter smart home standard, being the latest in that chapter.

That neatly brings us back to the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa Built-in. As a Lenovo Smart Clock user (that’s been around for more than a year now), there is the sense that the newest addition to the smart bedside screen portfolio adds precious little in terms of an upgrade. It all feels very similar. Mind you, it mostly works as it should. Logically, you’d expect more though with time.

Let us assume you want the smartness of Alexa in the bedroom. Along with what is definitely a very usable alarm clock. There are no front facing cameras on the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa Built-in, which is probably the reason you’d want this. Not everyone wants a smart device with a camera sitting in their bedroom.

The 4-inch display is ticking the boxes. It is crisp, easy to read even when dimmed and has good brightness levels to tackle the mid-afternoon ambience on a bright and sunny day. And as we mentioned, the auto-dimming screen simply takes care of itself once you turn the lights off, for the night. Mind you, this isn’t a colour display – it is monochrome, and it feels like it is made for a purpose. Or two.

It is not a touch screen too. It is just your voice to get stuff done. No slick interface to surf around either.

Full marks to Lenovo for not ignoring the basics. The power cable is long (by our reckoning, it’ll be at least 4 meters), which means you don’t need to worry in case the power socket is a bit further away from the bedside table.

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You do get most of the options that Alexa offers on other smart speakers and smart displays, such as the choice of music streaming apps. Spotify, for instance, can be your port of call if Amazon Music doesn’t cut it. There’s a single speaker (it’s front facing, to keep things really simple) which does the duties for the alarm clock and music playback. The sound quality, if you wish to use this for music, is expectedly limited.

Alexa is the highlight of the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa Built-in, and we must note it feels a bit sluggish in comparison with Amazon’s own devices. Just that bit longer to respond, which not a hardship, is still a bit unexpected.

For some reason, it takes a bit more effort (we always end up taking a step towards this smart speaker) to summon Alexa on the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa Built-in. The microphones aren’t as good as the ones that Amazon uses even in the basic Echo Dot series. Again, something you’ll get used to with time, but still rankles in a smart home device as we usher in the year 2023.

It’ll do most of the stuff that Alexa does otherwise also – set alarms, play music, control some smart home devices (this isn’t a full-fledged hub, and all smart home devices may not be compatible) and get you a quick audio run through your calendar.

What the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa Built-in cannot do is play well with other Alexa speakers, which means intercom or Alexa calling doesn’t work here.

It may have made a lot more sense if Lenovo bundled (even as an option) the Wireless Charging Dock from the Smart Clock 2. These two devices have essentially the same design, and a wireless charger on the bedside table for your phone, earbuds, or smartwatch (provided it doesn’t do a proprietary charger), would have added utility. For now, that option isn’t even listed.

If you are insistent on Alexa on the bedside table, your choice pretty much comes down to this, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa Built-in as well as the Echo 5. The latter, for a bit more money, can also do a lot more. Which in the long term, may be a better bet. At the same time, if you haven’t made up your mind about any particular voice assistant just yet, the second-generation Google Nest Hub would still trump everything else there is, on pure functionality and experience.

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