There’s been a ton of hype around the Lenovo Chromebook Duet and its all for good reason. We’ve not had a solid Chromebook tablet in this small form factor at this sort of price in the history of Chrome OS. The interest has been strong since the debut of this tablet since January and, according to the views on articles and videos about this little guy, that interest is continuing to stay strong post-launch.
In the months leading up to the Duet showing up at CES 2020 in Las Vegas, we knew some tablets were in the works. Over a year ago we were writing about a couple devices under the code name ‘Flapjack’ that were the first of this sort of Chrome OS tablet. Those devices have since been scrapped and they were actually thought by some to be Google’s own hardware before Google chose to exit the tablet scene all together.
Shortly after, ‘Kukui’ took over as the unibuild baseboard for the new MediaTek 8183 (P60T) boards like ‘Kodama’ (Lenovo 10e), ‘Krane’ (Lenovo Duet), and others. With the 10e and Duet being the first to really start development in this group, it became clear that this board was being built around a tablet/detachable framework. We expected tablets and we got them.
It was from that train of thought that we began freely assuming that many of the ‘Kukui’ variants to follow (‘Jacuzzi’, ‘Kappa’, ‘Damu’, ‘Kakadu’ and ‘Juniper’) would also take the tablet/detachable approach to the Chromebook. After all, the main baseboard ‘Kukui’ has the built-in ability to be used with or without the detachable function, so it only followed that quite a few of the devices built from its base would be tablets like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet.
As it turns out, that assumption isn’t playing out the way we thought it would. Just this morning as I was digging around in the Chromium Repositories, it became quite clear that almost no other ‘Kukui’-based device is going to be a detachable tablet. I finally found evidence that ‘Kakadu’ looks to have a detachable keyboard in ‘Moonball’, and it looks to be added in a similar fashion as ‘Masterball’ and ‘Magnemite’: the detachable keyboards for the 10e and Duet. ‘Moonball’ is another Pokemon reference and it is clear that ‘Kakadu’ will be using it, but that’s about all we know for now.
The good news is ‘Moonball’ looks to be in line with the Duet’s keyboard/trackpad combo. There is a commit to remove the trackpad support for ‘Moonball’, but it has been abandoned. Still, there’s no way to know exactly what we’re looking at, here. This could easily end up as an education-focused tablet as easily as it could be another manufacturer’s take on the quite-popular Duet.
Still, that’s only one device in the pipeline. The upcoming, more-powerful MediaTek device we’re tracking in ‘Asurada’ is not looking like a tablet at this point, either, so you can expect a slew of ARM Chromebooks in the next 6 months to be just that: Chromebooks. Sure, they will likely be thin and light convertibles with great battery life (no complaints, there), but it looks like the tablet-first Chromebook is not a huge trend in the current flow of development for Chrome OS like we thought it was going to be.
What this means, then, is a lot is riding on the success and/or failure of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. Sure, it has captured the attention of consumers and been praised quite a bit by early reviews, but its ability to deliver a solid experience over the next 6-12 months will likely determine how interested manufacturers get in making something similar. With Snapdragon Chromebooks still sitting somewhere on the horizon and ‘Asurada’ giving us hope for a new generation of more-powerful MediaTek devices, there’s certainly room for more tablet Chromebooks in the market.
For the time being, however, it looks like we might only see one other doing something similar to the Duet and we can’t guarantee it won’t end up as a school-bound device. The Duet stands in a league of its own and so far, its doing a good job. If some of my early gripes can get cleaned up and addressed, I think Lenovo makes a great case for Chrome OS in this form factor and I think the general public is on board too. With that momentum, I don’t think it will be long before more devices like it show up. Just don’t expect them anytime soon.