Let’s get this out of the way up front: Chrome OS on tablets has been pretty bad up to this point. Whether it was the lack of a proper tablet UI, the poorly considered first attempt at a new tablet UI on the Slate, or simply the fault of slow, cheap hardware, the overall experience has been really bad for a ton of users. It’s even become so poor that Google themselves backed out of making tablets at all moving forward.
Luckily for you and for me, Google didn’t give up on the idea of tablets: only the possibility of building new ones in-house. The software for tablets running Chrome OS has only continued to grow and mature, and the Lenovo Chromebook Duet is the first real benefactor of these efforts. With this device, Lenovo is looking to enter the narrative and tell a bit of a different story with Chrome OS on tablets. And I think they have a real shot at altering the eventual outcome of this product category’s future.
But first, let’s talk about the price of this device. We normally hold this stuff towards the end of reviews, but with the Duet, the insane price point is part of the story and part of the allure of this tablet. Starting at $279, you get the tablet, the kickstand backing, and the keyboard all in the box. For a mere $20 more, you get to double your internal storage. That pricing is legitimately bonkers and it helps to inform much of what I have to say about the Duet. This thing is far from perfect, but when devices that are nice to use are priced this aggressively, they get a pass on things that aren’t exactly A+ because a low price can make you look past certain issues. With that out of the way, let’s dig in.
There’s no denying the attractive nature of this tablet. The aluminum back, glass front, and blue accented top make the Duet look good in the hand, on the desk, and anywhere in between. With quality build materials, there’s nothing about this thing that looks or feels budget at all. It is light at 0.99 pounds and thin at only 7mm. This combination of solid materials and thin/light heft make for a tablet that actually feels good as a tablet. It is well weighted so it never feels top-heavy and the Duet simply makes you want to pick it up and play with it as a tablet first. I’ve never felt that about any Chrome OS device prior.
We can’t talk build without mentioning the included keyboard and kickstand, however, and these are well-built and attractive as well. The magnets are strong and pop things in place with a decent amount of confidence and the materials on the accessories keep a good balance between simplicity and attractiveness. Put everything together and you end up with a 17mm wide, 2 pound unit that is still ultra-portable and feels great in the hand. The kickstand adjusts to a wide variety of angles and is simple to use when on a desk or table. The entire package simply out-classes other similarly-priced Chromebooks in nearly every way.
You could easily argue that the screen is the most important part of a tablet as it is half of the total package and the part you’ll look at and interact with every time you pick the device up. Screens in affordable Chromebooks have never been great, and this is where the Duet is really shocking. With it, you get a 1920×1200, 16:10 10.1-inch screen with 400 nits of brightness. That translates to fantastic brightness, stellar viewing angles, a very high pixel density at 225 PPI that hides individual pixels when holding the tablet near or far from your face.
Again, we come back to price on this and have to say that this screen in a device this affordable is such a breath of fresh air. For a tablet, especially, the screen needs to be good and Lenovo completely delivers here. The colors are great, the viewing angles are great and this screen is great. There’s nothing more to say here.
Keyboard, Trackpad & Pen
This part gets a bit interesting. With this being a tablet first, the keyboard and trackpad are really more like accessories on this one. Sure, it is a Chromebook at the end of the day, but Lenovo clearly positions this as a tablet and the keyboard reflects that. It’s best if you think of the keyboard cover as an included nicety and a there-when-you-need-it add-on.
This device can completely exist without the keyboard and I used it in that way most of the time. But when you need to crank out a few emails or get to some serious posting on social media, you can quickly attach the keyboard and stand accessory and move into more of a desktop setup with all the desktop-style amenities Chrome OS offers.
In that vein, this isn’t a keyboard I’d want to use for a long period of time. With a full keyboard crammed into a 10.1-inch frame, you obviously have a cramped scale and some custom key sizes on the outer edges. The keys feel good and are pretty enjoyable to type on, but the cramped nature of the keyboard is something most of you will likely want to avoid for longer typing stints.
The device’s size also means the area for the trackpad is very small. The surface is plastic as well and, though it does technically work, it misses multi-finger gestures from time to time and is far from the smoothest when it comes to cursor tracking. Again, it is workable for quick sessions, but not something I’d want to be stuck using for long periods of time. It’s there when you need it, but quickly detachable when you don’t.
With the form factor, it probably goes without saying that using this in your lap is a sub-par experience. If you sit straight up with your knees together, you can create a workable space. Forget crossing your legs or lounging back in any way, however, as the combination of kickstand and loose hanging keyboard won’t do you any favors. If that is the way you usually approach your Chromebook, a more proper convertible or clamshell device is going to be a much better fit for you.
One last note before we move on, this tablet does work with USI pens, but the only one we have is a pre-production pen from HP. While it technically works, we’ve become inclined to believe that the pen we have isn’t fully-functional and the light touch sensitivity needed to do things like jotting down notes just doesn’t work. We don’t know if that is the pen’s fault or USI support on Chrome OS right now, so we’re holding out on judgement until some other USI pens ship and we have the ability to give them all a test.
Ports and Speakers
There’s not a lot going on in this part with only a single USB Type C port, power button, volume rocker, and a set of stereo speaker grills. The USB port can be used for data transfer, audio out with the included dongle, and as a mostly-useless display output. We’ve covered this whole external display topic in depth and you can read more here, but the display output options are very limiting with this Chromebook and it doesn’t seem likely to change.
The speakers are pretty decent and give off a nice bit of stereo separation. They don’t have much low end, but they are miles better than the Lenovo 10e we reviewed recently and are serviceable for video chats or a quick YouTube video. If you expect to consume a ton of media, I’d opt for the dongle and hook in some headphones, though.
There’s no option for additional storage here as Lenovo has chosen to keep I/O to a minimum, so keep that in mind when choosing between the 64GB and 128GB models.
Internals & Performance
Inside, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet is rocking the MediaTek Helio P60T (know earlier as the MT8183) and though it doesn’t benchmark off the charts, speed has been very acceptable. With that processor, you’re getting 4GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage, but the upgrade only costs an extra $20, so I don’t know that I’d ever recommend the 64GB model.
Overall, the whole package feels low end from a performance standpoint, but not sluggish. We’ve had slow ARM processors in tablets and convertibles before, and those were tough to use due to their lack of speed. The Duet doesn’t present itself this way and feels more like the current crop of affordable Chromebooks on the market: not blazing fast, but fast enough to do most things you want. Keeping open tabs and windows in check helped things keep from bogging down and I generally didn’t have to think too much about whether or not this thing would respond to touches.
The software has come a long way for tablets running Chrome OS and it will likely only get better. You’ll have 8+ years of regular updates with this device, so there’s plenty of time for it to grow and mature over that time. This version of Chrome OS feels more akin to an iPad than ever, though, and that’s a good thing. As we’ve come to the point where certain gestures are the norm on Android and iOS, it is good that Chrome OS follows suit in tablet mode. While the whole thing doesn’t feel as fluid as iPad OS, I think the general UI is now in place and the Chrome OS team can begin really refining the animations and responsiveness.
Where performance really shines is in the Android app department. I was consistently surprised by how well Android apps ran and even began using the Gmail app on my tablet for the first time ever. I usually relegate that to my phone, but I found that parsing emails with the swipe gesture in Gmail on this tablet was not only satisfying, but also time saving with the split panel layout. Games were surprising as well, and I was able to completely, functionally play Call of Duty Mobile with no real issues and with the gyroscope controls on as well. Not surprisingly, Stadia ran perfectly, too and along with the Android gaming performance, made the Duet feel more like a small gaming tablet than I expected it to.
On the inside we have a battery that is built to get you through just about anything. I was easily getting 10+ hours of use, clocking in around 12 hours most times. If there’s one thing you don’t need to worry about with this one, it is the battery life. I even tested the standby abilities and came away surprised. If I turned off the screen for the night at 50%, it was nothing for me to grab it the next morning and only see a percentage point less in overall battery life. Chromebooks do well in this way generally, but as a tablet I was constantly comparing the Duet to an iPad, and in the battery department, it stands toe-to-toe with the current tablet standard bearer.
With all this in mind, it is clear to see the writing on the wall. Lenovo has built a great tablet and the Duet that is attractive, well-made, and fun to use. Even for me, a non-tablet user, this tablet has found its way into multiple places in my daily device use and I think it will do the same for many of you.
If you are a tablet user in the market for a new device, this is a great option if you’d like to have a bit more desktop productivity than most tablets can give you. If you are a Chromebook person looking for an affordable, light, small Chromebook that can go places your 14-inch clamshell can’t, this could be for you. If you are looking for a device for the kids that is simple to use and affordable, this could be a great choice. The Chromebook Duet will be a tablet that can fit into a ton of use cases for a ton of people, and I think this is what Lenovo was after, here.
Is it the perfect Chromebook for you? Maybe. Is it perfect for everyone? No, but it never claimed to be. Instead, this Chromebook is doing something decidedly different in the space and I think there are many users who are going to simply love it. When you combine all the good things that come in the box along with the mind-blowing price of $279, this device becomes an instant recommend for most people that find themselves considering it. If that’s you, then I’m wholeheartedly saying buy one and I think you’ll enjoy it very much.