Let’s be clear: the Chromebook tablet revolution hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm. Compared with clamshell and convertible Chromebooks, there aren’t a ton of Chromebook tablets out there on the market. That being said, there’s definitely more selection in this space than we’ve ever had before, and that means potential buyers like you and me are going to have far more choices to wade through than we’ve had in the past. It’s a great problem to have, sure, but a problem is still a problem, and at the end of the day, problems need to be solved. Today we want to help a bit by looking at two tablets with very similar names and very different use cases.
Lenovo is clearly the front-runner when it comes to Chrome OS tablets. With the introduction of the original Chromebook Duet in early 2020, Lenovo showed up on the scene and completely stole the show. The original Duet was a huge success that was only made bigger by the onset of the pandemic. When that tablet hit store shelves, you would have thought every potential Chromebook user was only in the market for a tablet, and the Duet was the only game in town.
That wasn’t the case, obviously, but it did put Lenovo in a unique position where they were the go-to solution for those looking at a smaller, lighter, detachable tablet-style Chromebook. Scores of people loved that device and still do a couple years later. And for good reason: it is a great example of the flexibility and appeal of Chromebooks as low-cost solutions that don’t always feel like low-cost solutions.
With the Duet doing so well in sales, I’m sure it made other Chromebook makers sit up and take notice. Caught a bit flat-footed, though, it took some time for other manufacturers to show up with their own takes on the smaller tablet form factor. Still, those attempts at a Chromebook tablet fell short of what Lenovo created in the Duet and no one really expanded outside of the 10-inch form factor. But here in 2022, that’s all changing.
More tablets, more form factors, more decisions
While the collection of available Chromebook tablets is still small, we at least have some options. From HP’s 11-inch 3:2 tablet to the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5’s 13.3-inch screen to the comapany’s latest Duet 3 and it’s 11-inch 16:10 display, there are some variations we now have to consider when we talk about which Chrome OS tablet is the best one for the money.
For today, we’re focusing on the Duets: both the recently-announced 11-inch Duet 3 and the more-established, 13.3-inch Duet 5. As common denominators, both of these tablets are thin, light, have amazing battery life, great screens, they come with the keyboard and kickstand in the box, and both support USI pen input.
With all the things these two tablets share in common, you can easily see why it would be a bit difficult to decide on any given day which one is the best one for you. From a spec sheet, it is a tad bit hard to tell the two apart, but I promise you that in day-to-day use, these are very different beasts and it is important for you to know what type of user you are and what you are looking to accomplish from your Chromebook.
Spotting the real differences in these tablets
The biggest departure you’ll run into when looking at both of these tablets is the size. While they both have bright, colorful screens, the Duet 5 is a more laptop-like 16:9 display while the Duet 3 employs a more-square 16:10 aspect ratio. It doesn’t sound like a lot of variation, but holding both tablets is a wildly different experience. If you want to play games, read news, and generally use your tablet to consume content, the Duet 3 makes for a better experience mainly due to the size and aspect ratio.
The minute you go to plug in a keyboard, however, we do a complete 180. With the keyboard attached, the Duet 5 springs to life as the clear standout. As a matter of fact, with the keyboard and kickstand engaged, this tablet feels very much like a sleek, light laptop. It even works quite well in your lap thanks to a decently-wide keyboard cover that can steady itself on both legs. With the properly placed USB-C ports on both sides, you can easily plug in at the desk and expand your desktop comfortably with this tablet and get some work done. And it goes and goes on a single charge, racking up wild battery numbers like 14-15 hours of use on a single cycle.
Can you get productive on the smaller Duet 3? Sure, but there’s no way to get around feeling a tad bit cramped on an 11-inch screen no matter how good the display is. The Duet 3 does feel far more productive than the original Duet and its 10.1-inch screen, but there’s no comparison on the productivity front when we’re comparing the Duet 3 and Duet 5.
As I said in the Duet 5 review, I was really shocked by how much I enjoyed the large tablet form factor. No, it isn’t the easiest device to do handheld stuff like gaming or news reading on, but it is so good as a Chromebook most times that I’m good with it being just OK as a handheld device when needed. The opposite is true for the Duet 3. It’s most natural when in the hand, swiping through the tablet gestures, consuming content, and playing games. And then when you want to get productive, it can get the job done when needed.
What type of tablet user are you?
So what type of user are you? Until using both of these tablets, I wasn’t really sure how to answer that question for myself. I thought I wanted the smaller type of tablet for reading and gaming, but I quickly found that the larger tablet is good enough at those types of tasks when needed (for me, at least) and so good at the Chromebook stuff that I think I now prefer a larger tablet form factor. I guess all those jabs I used to make about the larger iPad Pro don’t really apply anymore.
That doesn’t mean that one is better than the other on the whole, it just means one is likely better for each individual person than the other one is. If you want a larger screen than your phone for content consumption, reading, light browsing and the occasional email or work-related task, I do think the smaller Duet 3 is a great device for you. But if you put more emphasis on having a device you can get productive on while doing casual stuff on from time to time, the larger Duet 5 will probably be a better fit.
And as more tablets enter the scene, this will all be worth remembering. Both of these form factors have a place in the Chromebook ecosystem and there are enough interested users to demand the existence of both of these tablets. I can assure you more will follow and I can assure you there is no way for a smaller tablet to fill in for a larger tablet and vice-versa. Yes, they are both tablets, but they are very different expressions of that form factor, and the more you can identify what sort of engagement you’ll have with them, the better your chances will be of choosing the right device for the job.