When announced at CES this year, the Lenovo Duet Chromebook attracted a lot of attention for putting some great features and looks into a budget-priced ChromeOS tablet. Everyone was intrigued – would it live up to the hype? Travis and I each bought one once they were released, and are ready to share some impressions after a few months of use.
Travis: I decided to buy the Lenovo Duet Chromebook to use as a secondary device. I have a desktop at home and a work laptop for any heavy lifting. This device is for media consumption, web browsing, and to be used on the go. Especially for my football work during the season when we are rarely home. The Duet will be replacing my older iPad Pro and will connect to my Pixel 3a since I have moved away from Apple products in my workflow.
Mike: I have always loved the idea of the Chromebook, but between my work not allowing them on the network and a variety of limitations, I have always ended up handing them off to family members. The Lenovo Chromebook Duet looked like an excellent opportunity to dip back into the Chromebook pool – my 2017 iPad Pro is getting old, the 2019 Galaxy Tab S6 just never thrilled me — and I like having something in the 10-11″ screen foldable keyboard and touchscreen range.
Travis: For the low price, the design is quite nice. The device is light but has a rugged, high-quality feel to it. There is nothing too fancy about it, but it is sleek and definitely feels more superior than the price. Included in the box are the Duet Chromebook, a detachable keyboard cover, a padded magnetic cloth cover with a built-in kickstand for the back of the device, a USB Type-A to USB Type-C charging cable, a USB Type-C to 3.5mm headphone jack dongle, a wall charger, and a Safety, Warranty, & Quick Start Guide booklet.
The Lenovo Duet measures ~9.4″ long by 6.5″ wide by 0.3″, and it weighs 15.9 ounces without the back cover/kickstand and keyboard attached.
Mike: It is easy to forget that the Duet is essentially a tablet because once you put on the cover and attach the keyboard, it feels like a fully functional Chromebook that rivals other devices well above its price category. And for me, it is that 3-in-1 design that differentiates the Duet from other devices. You have the basic tablet that is pretty standard in design compared with other mid-range Android tablets, but then you also a stable kickstand that attaches to the back magnetically and the keyboard and trackpad combination that makes this a great package.
Travis: For what I use the Duet for, the performance has been excellent. For the record, I am a unique user because I’m not too fond of a lot of tabs or apps open at once; that is the case for any device or computer I use. There are reports of users seeing some lag, but I haven’t dealt with any. Everything I have asked the Lenovo Chromebook Duet to do has been fast and flawless. Michael might have some other experiences with that since I believe he is more of a tab person. You will be hard-pressed to find a device at this price with this kind of performance, though.
Mike: While I will make more direct comparisons later, I think Travis hits the critical factor here – price to performance. For under $300 fully loaded, you get a computer that is a very capable Chromebook, runs most Android apps, provides a reasonable Linux environment, and never gives away that it is essentially a budget device. Opposite of how Travis noted his usage, I am someone who tends to open a bunch of tabs, with my ‘ChromeDaily’ tab group having 15. This would have brought early Chromebooks, most Android tablets, and even some low-end laptops to their knees, but the Duet handles it well. Have I seen lag? Absolutely! But it is only when I really push the system with a bunch of tabs featuring rich media and other memory hogs. I was very pleased with the performance of the Duet.
The Duet uses a MediaTek Helio P60T Processor (2.00 GHz, 8 Cores, 8 Threads). It has 4GB RAM and a choice of 64GB or 128GB user memory; unfortunately, there is no option to expand the memory with a microSD card.
Travis: The screen resolution is bright and crisp, and streaming content looks great. The screen rates at 400 nits, and I run it at about 50% in a normal indoor setting. In direct sunlight, the brightness may struggle, but it is fine for most use cases. The 10.1′ screen is 1,920 x 1,200 pixels which is a 16:10 aspect ratio. It felt narrow at first, but I have grown to like how the screen feels like a large phone. So far, the screen has been fantastic for me.
Mike: The screen of the Lenovo Duet compares favorably to my iPad Pro and Galaxy Tab S6 — systems that fetch more on eBay used than the Duet costs new. Travis detailed the specs, and I would agree with the narrow feeling of the screen ratio. However, that is similar to the Tab S6 and is not my preferred aspect ratio (the iPad has a 4:3 ratio that works better for me). The Duet’s 16:10 ratio works better for watching videos than doing work, but that is a minor complaint mostly due to personal preference.
Another complaint I have with most touchscreen devices aside from the iPad (and recent high-end Samsung tablets) is that the screen response doesn’t feel crisp compared to the iPad. When I compared working on this review on an Android tablet compared with the Duet, the overall experience was better due to the precision and responsiveness of the touch response on the Tab S6.
Keyboard & Trackpad
Travis: I thought that it was actually quite surprising to have a case and keyboard included in a device this inexpensive. The keyboard is a bit cramped but very usable. I like the travel in the keys and only run into issues when I need some of the buttons on the right side. It gets a bit cramped, but with some practice, typing speed should be sufficient. If you have used any tablet connected keyboard, you probably already have the skill to make it work. My portion of this review was typed on the Duet’s keyboard with no issues. The one thing I do not like about the keyboard is how it flops about when closed onto the screen; I wish there were a magnet holding it closed or some other type of built-in closure system. The trackpad is also a bit cramped but has been quite responsive.
Mike: I have been using keyboard covers for the iPad for years, as well as a variety of Bluetooth keyboards and 10″ netbooks from Lenovo and HP before that, so I am used to smaller scale keyboards. Compared to everything else, I find the Lenovo Duet keyboard to be responsive and well laid out. I seldom have errors of missing characters and have quickly adjusted to the positioning of special function keys. I am not a touch typist, so take my opinion for what it is worth.
The trackpad is nearly identical to the one Samsung uses for the Tab S6 optional keyboard, and works about as well — it is usable, but I opted for a Bluetooth mouse for desk-based work. You will not mistake the trackpad for something from Apple or even my Microsoft Surface Pro — but again, it is comparable to other things in a similar price range.
Travis mentions the floppy feel of how the keyboard attaches to the main unit, and for me, that is a primary criticism. I carry the Duet with me in a laptop backpack. Even there, I can feel the lack of a stable magnetic lock or hinge mechanism, allowing things to move to the extent that it makes me concerned about the long-term durability of the attachment. In this case, I mean years, not months – my wife has been using her Chromebook daily for about 2.5 years and wouldn’t be happy if she had something that was falling apart in that time period. Time will tell, but that is my area of concern.
Travis: Before I talk about the cameras, I have to admit that I rarely have, and I mean rarely, ever taken video or photos with a tablet, or laptop computer. I have a Pixel phone in my pocket that takes amazing shots and is easy to handle. With that said, the rear-facing camera is 8 megapixels, and the front is 2 megapixels. That is a major meh, but if you plan on buying a device to take photos or video, you should look elsewhere or use your phone. The camera does work just fine for video calls.
Mike: I have had tablets since the first iPad and Galaxy Tab – the cameras have never been particularly good. This remains true with the Lenovo Duet. I took some pictures with its rear camera and compared them to my other tablets … and all the shots were mediocre. The Duet offers the same thing as other tablets – a camera if you really need one and don’t have anything else.
As for the front-facing camera — which is more of a ‘webcam’ than a selfie-cam in this case — I was somewhat disappointed. Whereas my 2017 iPad Pro has a 7MP f/2.2 sensor, Lenovo has a very dated 2MP sensor that only works reasonably well in the most optimal solutions. Usually, I wouldn’t care, but in the era of constant Facetime / Zoom / WebEx, etc. calls, having something decent to use for video calls on anything we consider for use in work/school should be a must. I defer to Travis on how this works in real-world use, as I never had to put mine to the test.
As a Tablet
Travis: The verdict is still out on Chrome OS being used on a tablet, but I have been super impressed. I actually love using the Duet as a tablet. It is crazy light and thin and easy to hold for long periods. The tablet experience is quite good. The screen is responsive, and the gesture navigation is intuitive — it is similar to what my Pixel uses. When I am relaxing in the evening surfing the web or watching videos, I always use tablet mode. I think Chrome is finally on the right track to making the OS work as a tablet, and I look forward to updates.
Mike: I have never been much of a fan of multipurpose devices, and maybe that is why I tend to own so many devices across all operating systems and hardware configurations. I have never been impressed with Android as a tablet OS – but I think it is better than Chrome OS. At least when it comes to using it as a productivity device — which is what I demand of my tablets. I don’t find Chrome OS, in general, to be very efficient, but that is not the fault of the Duet — it is just that trying to use Chrome OS in tablet mode always made me want to hook up the keyboard immediately!
An optional pen is available, but neither Travis nor I have purchased one.
As a Laptop
Travis: Generally, I only use this device like a laptop when I need to use the keyboard. For emailing, writing, and general tasks, I have had no problems. I have not tried any video or photo editing or other heavy lifting tasks since that is not why I bought the Duet. I live in Google Drive and Google Docs, so Chrome OS works well for my needs. With the cramped keyboard, there will be some learning curve, or you will not want to use this device all day as a laptop.
Mike: I find myself again with a use-case nearly the opposite of Travis. My Duet was in laptop mode ~99% of the time I used it, and that would have been higher if I wasn’t evaluating it for review. We have discussed the solid keyboard, excellent integrated stand, and flexible and usable build — all of these things made the Lenovo Duet an excellent device to use in ‘laptop mode.’ And whereas I wasn’t a fan of the tablet-mode performance, when using it as a laptop, I find this to be “the netbook I always dreamed of” – it is small, portable, does all the right stuff, has excellent battery life (around 10 hours), and does it all at a great price.
Compared to Other Devices
Travis: I best compare the Lenovo Chromebook Duet to my 2017 iPad Pro. Similar in size and use cases for me. Apple has priced me out of their ecosystem, so getting a similar device with a keyboard and case for under $300 is fantastic. Price, performance, and the fact that this device connects flawlessly to my Pixel makes this a successful replacement for my iPad Pro.
Mike: Aside from the Lenovo Duet, I have three other tablets: 2017 iPad Pro, 2019 Samsung Galaxy Tab S6, and 2020 Microsoft Surface Pro 7. The Surface Pro is much larger, more expensive, and it has a Core i5 processor. As a result, the Surface Pro is in an entirely different league that is not comparable to the Duet.
The iPad Pro with Apple Smart Keyboard cost about $1000 back in early 2017, and it can still fetch $500 on eBay. The iPad Pro is faster, has a better touchscreen, better cameras, and better battery life in my usage. But again – it is twice as expensive as the Duet even three years later!
For me, the best comparison is with the Galaxy Tab S6. Both devices have very similar keyboard/trackpad combos, access to Google Play, and feature a Google OS. The Tab S6 is faster, has a more responsive touchscreen, and it does a better job of running Android apps. But the Duet does a better job of integrating the trackpad; it is much better at understanding portrait/landscape preferences. It is generally much better as a productivity device while costing less than similar devices.
In general, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet stands tall among competitors that cost much more. The question is, as always – what do you actually NEED from a device?
Travis: Even with some minor limitations, at under $300, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet is a fantastic device. I rarely leave home without it, and it has become my most-used device. The ability to add apps from the Google Play Store and use everything associated with the Chrome browser, I have just about anything I need in this tiny little package. The battery rolls all day long, and it can charge with the same USB-C cable that I use for my phone. This has been super handy. Even if it takes a bit longer, charging from a phone brick is a great option to have. For the price, this is a crazy good device, and I can see the success of it really spurring more innovation for the tablet version of ChromeOS.
Mike: I found myself continually stopping to remember, “this is a $300 device” while critiquing the Lenovo Duet. It is not a product pricing space I tend to utilize very much — not since buying netbooks a decade ago. Like those, there are compromises required to get all of the core functionality at this price. But unlike the netbook, the Duet’s Chrome OS implementation never feels like you are sacrificing productivity or efficiency for the inexpensive price. Sure, I was able to push the limits of the Duet in terms of apps I tried and how many tabs I had open, but that isn’t the point of this device – gone are the days when just trying to do a couple of things would ‘push the limits.’ I welcome the Duet as a device that offers great design, functionality, and performance, all at a very affordable price.
When you look at what the Lenovo Duet offers — an all-day battery, reliable performance, nice display, very usable included keyboard and cover, and more — and you look at the price, it is clear that the Duet is one of the best products for 2020 for an overall price-to-performance ratio. The Lenovo Duet is a device that we can easily recommend without hesitation.
The Lenovo Duet retails for $289.99 (64GB version) and $299.99 (128GB version). It is available directly from the manufacturer (where it is currently showing as “sold out” likely due to the back-to-school crush) as well as from other retailers, including Amazon [affiliate link] and Best Buy, which has the 128GB version for $299.99.
Source: Personal purchases
What I Like: All-day battery; Reliable Performance; Nice display; Very useable keyboard included; Perfect for media consumption, web browsing, and to be used on the go; The Duetis light but has a rugged, high-quality feel; Can be used as a stand-alone tablet or in laptop mode; Keyboard is very good; The Duet’s Chrome OS implementation never feels like you are sacrificing productivity or efficiency for the low price; It sells for $289.99 for the 64GB version and $299.99 for the 128GB version at Best Buy.
What Needs Improvement: Shows as ‘Sold Out’ on the Lenovo site (likely due to its low price and the back to school crush to buy devices for home-schooled students), so you’ll likely have to purchase it from another reseller; You can’t expand the memory with a microSD card