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Lenovo is one of a few companies to ever launch dedicated smart alarm clocks with Google Assistant, so there’s never been loads of competition in the market. Xiaomi is looking to change that with its new Mi Smart Clock, a cute little gadget that should fit well with almost any bedroom design.
Unfortunately, the device is held back by the same issues that made the Lenovo clocks hard to recommend. Smart clocks are much more limited than smart displays, but they don’t cost much less. They’re not compatible with most video streaming apps, and they don’t display some of the useful visual elements full-fledged smart displays offer. They’re really laser-focused on a bedroom environment, though once you understand the shortcomings, you might end up liking the form factor precisely for its limitations.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
Equipped with a 4-inch screen, the Xiaomi Mi Smart Clock is about half as big as the Nest Hub, though it feels a tad chunkier due to its blocky, wedge-shaped design. I like the way it looks, but it’s not as elegant as the Nest Hub’s floating appearance. There’s a single, mostly invisible ambient light sensor above the display that proved to be reliable.
Xiaomi chose LCD over OLED, so the display emits some glow in the dark, even when you select the lowest brightness in settings. The Nest Hub’s LCD display is a bit better in this regard, proving that a good LCD can get pretty dim. Extremely light-sensitive sleepers might have trouble with the brightness of the Mi Clock, but thankfully, it’s possible to have the screen turn off completely when it’s dark. The display has pretty poor bottom viewing angles, but on regular viewing angles, it’s good enough that you can read the time easily.
At the top of the Smart Clock, you’ll find a mute button for the microphone, flanked by two for controlling the volume. They make a nice tactile sound when you press them and feel firm, despite looking a little cheap and toy-like. Next to those, you’ll see the two microphones. They do a pretty good job; the Assistant can understand me just as well as it can on any other smart speaker. On the bottom, a rubber base ensures the clock won’t slide around on your nightstand. The back sports a Xiaomi logo and a micro-USB connector, which you can use with the brick and cable provided in the box (and that’s all you get with the clock other than a manual).
In the sound department, the Mi Smart Clock is pretty much on-par with the original Google Home Mini. It’s a little unclear in the mids and highs — some might call it muffled, but it actually helps combat the tinny quality many speakers of this size exhibit. It also gets louder than the Home Mini if you need that extra volume to wake up.
Software and performance
The smart device will display a clock by default, and there are a total of 12 unique designs to choose from via a long-press on the display. You can optionally have the current weather displayed on almost all of the clocks, too. Tapping the screen once or swiping to the left reveals alarm clock options, and when you swipe further, you’ll get to see some weather info, suggestions from your music streaming service, and upcoming calendar events.
Swiping down from the top reveals yet another button to access your alarms, along with shortcuts to trigger your Google Assistant morning routine, play music, and to turn on the night light — great when you have to get up in the middle of the night and don’t want to bump into things. A swipe up on the homescreen gives you access to brightness controls, volume, do-not-disturb, and settings. In there, you can adjust your auto brightness preferences and customize the color, brightness, and duration of night light.
When you opt to set an alarm without voice controls, you get access to repeat options for daily wake-up routines. You can choose between seven alarm ringtones including an impromptu AI piano piece created anew every day, and it’s possible to enable a sunrise alarm that slowly lights up the clock display half an hour before it’s time to wake up. I can see this being useful when you have to get up in the dead of the night or in winter. The alarm sounds are all pleasant, though I would prefer if the clock ramped up volume less harshly. The ringtone goes from barely audible to obnoxiously loud within a second.
If you want custom songs or playlists for your alarm, you’ll need to tell the Assistant to “set a music alarm” using your default Google Assistant audio provider — I would’ve preferred an on-screen option in addition to this. It’s also a bummer that you can’t stop the alarm with a physical button. You’re going to have to start your day yelling “stop” or fumbling to hit the screen. Hitting a physical snooze button is much more satisfying and easier to process when you’re not awake yet.
I’ve also noticed that hitting the mute mic button to try to turn off the alarm in sleep drunkenness is not a good idea. After the Assistant’s “the mic is muted” announcement, the alarm continues ringing at a low volume, and a quick look at the settings following the incident reveals that the standard alarm volume has been reduced globally, which isn’t expected behavior. It could end up being too silent to wake up heavy sleepers (or those who are hard of hearing). We’ve informed Xiaomi about the issue, and if it’s reproducible on its end, the company will push a firmware update to fix it.
The software is still enjoyable overall and a joy to use. Animations are smooth, and there aren’t any signs of lag.
Should you buy it?
Xiaomi Mi Smart Clock
It depends. If you know what you’re getting into, the Mi Smart Clock can be incredibly useful. It comes with a pleasant, unobtrusive design, sounds decent for its size, and has a responsive interface with smooth animations. You have to think of it as a smart speaker with visual feedback more than a smart display, though. It also would’ve been great to have a display that gets even darker at night and some form of backup battery. And lastly, Xiaomi needs to fix the mute button bug — as someone who’s hard of hearing, I’ve already managed to sleep through an alarm thanks to it.
Given the high price of €50 ($60), you might be better off with the more versatile 2nd gen Nest Hub that launches this month. It’s a bit more expensive than the Mi Smart Clock, but Google has added some intelligent sleep tracking features. Plus, it has all the goodies a proper smart display offers, like full support for video streaming services.
And even if you absolutely want a simpler smart clock experience, the older options from Lenovo have a few more tricks up their sleeves, like a capacitive snooze button at the top and a USB port for charging your phone overnight.
Buy it if:
- You absolutely want a screen-equipped smart speaker.
- You know what you’re in for — think of the Mi Clock like more of a smart speaker with some visual feedback rather than a smart display.
Don’t buy it if:
- You want more features for the same price.
- You need an alarm clock that has a backup battery built-in.
Where to buy:
One month later
The Xiaomi Mi Smart Clock has been on my nightstand for a bit over a month now, and it’s really grown on me over time. I think it’s a cute little device that’s great at what it’s created for: telling the time and serving as an alarm clock. However, outside the small footprint, I’m still not sure if it’s worth getting the Mi Smart Clock over the new Google Nest Hub. The latter is great at all the things the Mi Smart Clock does and then some, including sleep tracking and proper video streaming support. With that comparison in mind, the Mi Smart Clock still feels pretty expensive at €50.
It’s also a bummer that Xiaomi still hasn’t fixed the mute mic button problem where the alarm volume is permanently lowered when you try to use the button to silence an alarm. I’m completely used to tapping the screen to stop an alarm by now, but I can see how people could end up hitting the button on top of the device in sleepy mindlessness instead, like I did in the beginning. This bug is going to suck for them, and it’s hard to troubleshoot.
All that said, you really have to be sure that this clock is all you need at your bedside. If you’re absolutely positive that you want nothing but a glorified smart speaker that happens to tell the time, the Mi Smart Clock might still be for you. But for everyone else, I’d really recommend going with the new Nest Hub instead.