If we go all the way back to CES 2020, you’ll remember Lenovo debuting the Chromebook Duet: a new take on the affordable Chromebook tablet formula that we knew right away would be a hit. It was the right size, had the right looks, and it had a great screen. Additionally, all the stuff you needed to use it as a tablet and as a laptop all came in the box for a very small asking price. Yeah, we knew it wouldn’t be crazy fast, but the price made up for that and overall, it quickly became clear that Lenovo had put together what many people want in a Chromebook: aesthetics, usability, and a great price.
We don’t have numbers on how many they’ve sold, but I can guarantee it outpaced every other Chrome OS device in sales over the past 12-18 months, so it only makes sense that some other companies would want in on that action. And it is 100% in that vein that the ASUS CM3 Detachable arrived on the scene a full year after Lenovo unveiled the Duet, sporting nearly the same form factor, cloth exterior, MediaTek processor, and detachable tricks we’ve come to expect for well over a year at this point. But this newer detachable offers some notable upgrades over the well-known formula Lenovo used for the Duet, and they are worth your attention.
Here’s the thing: if you’ve used, handled or even seen the Duet, you know what the basic gist is, here. It’s a small tablet that runs Chrome OS, has a 10-inch screen, is primarily a tablet, and comes bundled with all the things you need to jump between laptop and tablet when you feel so inclined. Seriously, these two devices are most definitely cut from the same cloth and the same types of users will enjoy them, so we don’t want to rehash all we said about the Duet – you can watch that review if you need a catch-up. Instead, we really want to point out the ways that ASUS took this great combination of Chromebook parts and improved on them.
First up is the screen. The ASUS CM3 adds 0.4 inches to the Duet’s 10.1-inch display and believe it or not, it is noticeable. In the 10-inch range, things can get cramped in laptop mode pretty quickly, so any additional real estate is nice to have. It doesn’t take away from the tablet feel at all and the same 16:10 aspect ratio with the same 1920×1200 resolution is here, too, so there’s no real changes in that department. 16:10 was great for the Duet and it’s pretty great here, too. Though its a tad dimmer than the Duet at 320 nits, the colors are great and it never bothered me a bit. Also, the wider aspect ratio versus my normally-favorite 3:2 gives more room for a properly-sized keyboard on a device in this size category.
Speaking of the keyboard, that’s the next thing we need to discuss: the keyboard on the Duet is bad and is, at best, only usable when necessary. The keyboard on the CM3 is far better overall. Since the device is a bit bigger with slightly larger bezels, there’s way more room for a decent keyboard and this is perhaps the biggest upgrade over the Duet the CM3 delivers. While still not full-sized, the keys are comfortable, clicky and pretty nice to type on. Additionally, the trackpad is large for a device this small and it offers great smoothness and clicks, too.
But that’s not all. The keyboard also does the Microsoft Surface trick where the bottom portion of the keyboard magnetically attaches to the bottom of the screen, further solidifying the typing experience. The magnets that attach the keyboard are strong and simple to use and the whole package comes together with an assuring click every time. Again, this isn’t my keyboard of choice for long articles, but it is leaps and bounds better than using the Duet for longer sessions.
Another big difference is in the back panel. Where most devices like this have a magnetically attaching back plate that serves as a kickstand, the ASUS CM3 outdoes the competition by offering a kickstand function both in horizontal and vertical orientations. That’s right, this back panel can bend on two axes and the effect is pretty cool. If I’m nit picking a bit, I wish the magnets on this part were stronger, but it’s not terrible. I don’t have a ton of use for my tablets in portrait, but if you have a use case where this would be beneficial – something like music or presentations, perhaps – it’s a nice tool to have in your back pocket.
Up top, there’s another addition that ASUS put in place with the CM3 and that is the removable, recharging, stowed USI pen that, again, is included in the box. It’s nothing remarkable, but it is always there, always charged, and always neatly put away for any time when a quick note is needed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, included, stowed pens are fantastic to have even if you only use them from time to time. They’re just flat-out handy.
Finally, the ASUS CM3 brings back a port that, in my opinion, has no right being removed from tablets: the headphone/microphone jack. Especially in the case of affordable electronics, forcing users to buy bluetooth headphones just doesn’t make sense. I’m glad to see this port make a comeback in the CM3.
Now, apart from these changes, most of this Chromebook is just like the Duet. Same MediaTek MT8183 processor, same 8 and 2MP cameras, same 4GB of RAM, same 64GB of storage at the entry level. But this one starts at $369 where the similar Duet starts at $269. That’s a hundred dollar difference on a device that is under $400, so you really need to think about whether or not the additions in the CM3 are really worth the money for you. For me, if I were going to buy a smaller, slower Chromebook device to have around all the time, I think the upgrades in the ASUS are worth some extra money. For others, however, the Duet does enough and the price break helps justify the shortcomings.
I can’t decide those things for you, but I CAN tell you that, on the whole, the ASUS CM3 is a better Chromebook and a better tablet than the Duet and if the improvements I’ve mentioned sound like things you’d really prioritize, it might be the better long-term purchase for you. If the absolute best bang for your buck is what you’re after, the Duet might still be the champ.