Lenovo's newest Smart Clock Essential has Alexa and some cute docks

A squid! A sea lion!

CES might look a little different this year, but that hasn't stopped Lenovo from doing what it does best: using the industry to event to launch many, many new products. In addition to the usual laptops, the company is showing off a new smart clock, the Smart Clock Essential with Alexa. Aside from a minimalist cloth design that clearly borrows from last year's Smart Clock 2, the new Essential improves on the old by adding a pogo docking pin at the bottom and, well, support for Amazon Alexa. The original Essential clock only worked with Google Assistant, and while I was hoping this new device could handle both, the new Essential with Alexa truly is Alexa-only, while the original remains available as a Google smart clock.

As an object that's meant to sit on your bedside table, there really isn't much to the new Essential. The fabric comes in either a muted "Clay Red" or pale "Misty Blue," with the entire front face given over to the 4-inch LED display. The interface is just white text on a deep black background; in addition to the time, you'll see the day and real-time decibel levels (an interesting touch). If you expected a display for streaming video, a la the Amazon Echo Show 5, you'd be mistaken. There's also a mic switch and no built-in camera, a design choice that many people will surely find welcome.

On the top edge there are just four buttons: volume buttons, a button for activating the assistant, and another for setting an alarm. There's also a USB port for charging.

Although optional, those docking accessories are actually an important part of the story. In addition to a basic pad with room for both the clock and another wireless-charging like a phone, the company is selling what it calls the Ambient Light Dock, which doubles as a nightlight. Available in two whimsical designs — a sea lion and a squid — it has eight different lighting modes and a rainbow of colors, plus the clock's screen shows a cute anthropomorphic face when you press the assistant button. Now, why a sea lion and squid, specifically? Why not, we say. (And a canny choice if this low-tech, low-cost product is largely meant to occupy kids' rooms anyway.)

The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential goes on sale this month for $60, with the docks available at the same time for $30 apiece. Though Lenovo ultimately decided to pull its in-person exhibit at CES, we still got to see the company's new products at a socially distant briefing in New York this month. Check out our hands-on video (coming soon) for a first look.

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