Lenovo Chromebook Duet Review – Setting The Bar For Budget Detachable Chromebooks

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The Lenovo Chromebook Duet is easily the best ultra-portable detachable for the money

Lenovo Chromebook Duet
$299
Rating
Pros
  • Durable aluminum build
  • Magnetic keyboard and back cover included
  • Grippy aluminum prevents drops, provides durability
  • Great aesthetics and in-hand feel
  • Low weight and slim build for portability
  • Almost 7-hours of real-world device up time
  • Well-balanced speakers
  • Bright, vibrant 1920 x 1200 resolution display
  • Performance comparable to much more expensive devices
  • Relatively great cameras
Cons
  • Cramped keyboard requires a learning curve
  • Magnetic keyboard attachment isn't strong enough for comfort
  • Only a single port -- USB-C
  • No 3.5mm audio jack
  • 3.5-hours to charge

Lenovo's recently launched Lenovo Chromebook Duet is a Chrome OS gadget that's really deserving of a full review. That's because not only is it billed as a complete Chromebook package rather than just a tablet with a keyboard. It's also among the most affordable and portable Chromebooks around at just $279 to start.

That puts this Chromebook in a unique category and an interesting position. In effect, it represents an attempt by Lenovo to solve the problem of balancing cost, battery life, performance, and efficiency. For a 10.1-inch tablet-format Chromebook, that's a tall order. But this Chromebook ships with a detachable keyboard and a high-resolution touchscreen with universal stylus support. And that's in addition to the claim that this is a work machine as much as for entertainment.

Summarily, that's going to be a high bar for any computer to meet. And it's one that this device mostly does.

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Surprisingly, despite the use of affordable processors, middling RAM, and moderate storage, this is a Chromebook that performs. And it performs while offering a clearer than expected display experience alongside a better-than-expected battery.

After spending some time with this new device, there can really only be one conclusion. The Lenovo Chromebook Duet is hands-down the most smooth-operating Chromebook I've ever used at below $400. Let's take a deeper look at why that is.

The hardware is mostly only held back by its size

02 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Hardware Title AH 2020
Lenovo Chromebook Duet is both durable and portable, with a great aesthetic and in-hand feel

Lenovo engineered its Chromebook Duet to be hardy and portable above all else and it shined on those fronts throughout this review. That means its 10.1-inch frame is under 2lbs with the keyboard attached, with just enough bezel to grip. At 0.7-inches with the keyboard attached or 0.3-inches in tablet mode, it's also among the slimmest Chromebooks to date.

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Of course, none of that means it's not great-looking too. In fact, its two-tone back panel, complete with a silver "Lenovo" tag, both looks and feels great. There are no sharp or unexpected edges, even with the rear-facing camera creeping out an extra millimeter or two. And the power buttons are both clicky and tightly fitted enough that they don't protrude much.

Tacking on top-firing dual speakers and dual mics, as well as the right-hand placement of the volume rocker, power button, and USB-C port, this device is just a joy to use as a tablet. And the aluminum, even without the threaded multi-fabric back covering magnetically attached, is grippy enough that drops should be rare.

That backplate does attach firmly too. So there's very little chance that will slip loose or fall off. And the kickstand is extremely solid for its thinness, offering little to no wiggle regardless of the angle chosen.

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Now, one major caveat here is that a flat, stable surface is going to be needed for this device to be used in laptop mode. That's not just because this relies on pogo-pins, magnets, and a kickstand to stay upright either. What I found in my review of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet is that those magnets aren't strong enough to hold the laptop attached when lifted while opened. That was the case even when the keyboard was half-supported by my hand.

Summarily, I dropped this keyboard more often than I'd care to admit over a relatively short time and that segment isn't as durable as the rest, dinging easily along the edges.

Another problem with that is that the keyboard will need to be set aside somewhere when the device in tablet mode. That can't simply be reattached backward and flipped around like a 2-in-1 convertible Chromebook or standard detachable.

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Finally, the keyboard here is tiny and — at least for me — never really felt comfortable to use. That's not unexpected since the size is a feature with this device. And that's despite that Lenovo did an exceptional job of using all but a few millimeters of the left- and right-hand edges. So it is significantly better than other similarly-sized keyboards I've used.

The top surface of the keyboard is a soft-touch plastic. The travel of the keys is comfortable and the top-to-bottom spacing is too. So it isn't the materials or travel that are causing the issue. But it still feels very cramped. It took more than a week of steady use to really feel natural.

This is simply not a device for those with large hands unless a dedicated after-market keyboard is going to be used. For everybody else, it's usable with a significant amount of practice.

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Conversely, the trackpad felt comfortable and was easy to use despite its diminutive stature.

None of the caveats here should really be a dealbreaker or unexpected though. Given the size of this gadget, I really expected a much worse experience.

The specs here don't tell the entire performance story

05 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Specs Performance AH 2020
Lenovo Chromebook Duet offer performance on par with mid-range Chromebooks for a fraction of the cost

Under the hood, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet is powered by MediaTek's P60T chipset — MT8183. That is, on its face, doesn't sound like great news. However, while that helped keep the cost of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet down, my review showed that it really doesn't drag performance down much at all.

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Of course, performance, like battery life, is subjective. Different tasks are going to have different requirements. And the ARM architecture actually plays to Chrome OS's strengths rather than against it. So this chipset performs much better than might be expected here.

It's also backed up by 4GB of DDR4 RAM and 64GB storage, starting at just $279. The review unit sent by Lenovo bumps capacity up to 128GB and that only costs $20 more. So the value cannot be overstated.

Stepping back to take a look at just how this performs, however, I used this Chromebook for a number of tasks. That includes heavy workload tasks with dozens of pages open while also performing photo edits, conducting research, and undertaking word processing tasks. I also tinkered around with some deeper tasks associated with video processing. But none of those really slowed this Chromebook down.

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It goes without saying that the time it takes to process certain things, like large photo files, was extended. But there wasn't any latency or unexpected lag either. And that's not always the case with sub-$300 Chrome OS gadgets. More often than not, Chromebooks at under $400 fall short of being able to accomplish the things this Chromebook can.

That's setting aside the fact that it ran every Android app I could think to run without a hitch too and video streaming, obviously, didn't present any issues. Conversely, if a buyer wanted to run coding programs and write Android apps on this device, it's safe to say they could.

The Lenovo Chromebook Duet will not be downloading Linux to install and run major tools typically used in high-end production. Or at least it won't be doing that as well as a $1000 laptop. But it does perform well above its price — so much so that I'd have expected a cost closer to $400 – $500.

The display flaws here are minor, especially at this device's cost

06 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Display AH 2020
The display on the Lenovo Chromebook Duet isn't perfect but approaches the top tier

There are two main caveats to be noted about the Lenovo Chromebook Duet display and both were immediately apparent near the beginning of my review period. First, this is a 16:10 aspect ratio panel. That means that it's really great for viewing websites and multitasking. But it's also non-standard.

In effect, the result is a web browsing experience where more content is shown at any given time. The display also leaves plenty of room extraneous software inclusions — particularly in the browser — which we'll discuss later on. But when it comes to playing back media, there aren't many sites, movies, or tv shows that are offered in the ratio at hand. So letterboxing is a problem, especially in wider-format videos.

Apps also rely on aspect ratios, leading to some apps not quite displaying across the entire panel or being cut off.

Now, that doesn't appear to be a problem for top applications or for the overwhelming majority of videos. Media consumption is still a very enjoyable experience here — with small exceptions such as the one shown in the image above.

And, on the other side of that coin, this screen is not only bright enough for just about any lighting at 400nits. It additionally covers 70% of the color gamut, showing vibrant hues brilliantly. The resolution is higher than just about anything in this price range too. At a resolution of 1,920 by 1,200 pixels, all things considered, this Chromebook offers a truly high-value, high-definition experience.

The audio experience from Lenovo Chromebook Duet is great with a single, obvious exception

07 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Audio AH 2020
Lenovo Chromebook Duet includes a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter and Bluetooth 4.2 but the dual top-mounted speakers lack punch

Getting the most immediately obvious drawback to the Lenovo Chromebook Duet's audio experience out of the way first, there is no 3.5mm audio jack to be found on this device. That's not a huge deal except that there's only one USB-C port and the company fully expects users to rely on either Bluetooth 4.2 or the included USB-C to 3.5mm adapter.

There's simply no easy way to charge this gadget and utilize the USB-C port for audio at the same time — or any other accessory, for that matter. So, for those who need headphones that are wired, this may not ultimately be the right device.

Setting that aside, the dual speakers included here are well-tuned, with each frequency being well-represented. They're also loud, with audio unhindered by the attached keyboard since they're mounted in the top edge. That's also where users will find two separate far-field mics for using Google Assistant — and any downloaded software — via voice.

Voice chats and calls made on the Lenovo Chromebook Duet came through clearly in either direction during my review, so long as the connection strength is good.

The speakers aren't great either though. It's worth pointing out that while they're better than the average laptop speakers, they also still lack the punch that's often present in bigger or more expensive components. Fortunately, they aren't too tinny as a result of the trade-offs Lenovo has made. But they're not going to be awesome either.

Lenovo Chromebook Duet nails down software and connections at the budget end

08 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Connectivity AH 2020
Software is mostly standard, with additional adjustments allowing the best Chrome OS tablet mode experience to date

In terms of software, this is a Chromebook. That typically means that there's no extra software to speak of aside from what users download and install. Apps can be installed from the Google Play Store or from the web — for PWAs. Conversely, users can also install Linux applications on modern Chrome OS devices. So there should be a solution to suit just about any need.

Another major feature that's part of that package comes in the form of connectivity. The latest tech isn't included here, likely as a cost-saving measure. So there's no Wi-Fi 6 or Bluetooth 5.1. Instead, Lenovo includes Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 4.2. In both cases, those performed as well as much more expensive Chromebooks I've tested.

But this Chromebook fully supports connection to an Android Smartphone as a way to stay connected. That's in terms of both shared data connectivity, automatic sign-ins, and even messaging — if Google's Messaging app is used.

At the same time, my review of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet showed that software here is not exactly typical. That's because this Chrome OS tablet is designed to function as both a tablet and a laptop. The most noteworthy software tweaks all happen when the included keyboard is disconnected. Once removed, this Chromebook reverts to a more pure tablet mode, complete with gesture navigation.

Google has put a lot of effort into improving Chrome OS on that front over the years. And that shines through perhaps nowhere better than in Chrome itself.

When placed in tablet mode, the small squarish Chrome tabs of the past are left behind for a more Android-like experience. Namely, the tabs are gone and a square-shaped number icon takes its place next to the URL Omnibox. Tapping that icon reveals full-sized thumbnails of each tab and a plus button for opening new tabs. Pinned tabs are kept as small square icons.

That makes Chrome much more touch-friendly and this Chromebook much more productive when placed in tablet mode. And it isn't a feature that's seen on many other Chrome OS gadgets. The UI follows a similar tact, morphing into a more touch-friendly interface. It's a very intuitive and smooth experience, even without consideration for how bad the Chrome OS tablet UI used to be.

Another key aspect that differs here is that the Chromebook Duet will receive updates for no fewer than eight years. That's up from the previous standard of four. Of course, the OS still boots up extremely quickly and runs as smoothly as ever. The switch between tablet and laptop modes is instant too.

Lenovo Chromebook Duet Screen-On time is acceptable even if charging is abysmal

11 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Battery AH 2020
The advertised 10-hour battery life was a bit off and charging is slow but Lenovo Chromebook Duet performs nonetheless

It goes without saying that any battery test is highly subjective, even where extensive testing has been done to find an average. So, it also goes without saying that the results of my review for the Lenovo Chromebook Duet won't necessarily be typical.

I kept the screen brightness turned up to around 60-percent for my test. That was almost bright enough for direct sunlight but not quite. The display was more than bright enough for a brightly lit room at 40-percent so the battery life for users staying indoors could easily be much better.

I also used this Chromebook for a variety of tasks, chiefly associated with this review and others as well as article writing. But that doesn't mean I didn't test the battery, in part, under media-consumption circumstances. This is, after all, designed to work for both ends of the use case spectrum.

Bearing that in mind, this Chromebook was utilized for work tasks with more than 24 constantly open tabs and cycling tabs in addition to that. I also used this for both online and offline photo editing purposes. That segment of my battery test drained at the battery for approximately 4-hours and 34-minutes. The camera was in use for around 20-minutes of that.

Conversely, I only watched videos, played Android games, and listened to music services for around an hour-and-a-half during the battery test segment. That's in addition to around 40-minutes where the device was sitting doing no work whatsoever.

The net result of that test fell well-short of the advertised use time — 10-hours. I only saw around 6-hours and 44-minutes in total on-time. That's with 40-minutes of screen-off time.

As noted above, with more realistic screen brightness and more browsing than actual work, that time is going to increase. So my on-time isn't necessarily typical. And it's worth noting that this Chromebook performed better than a large majority of those I've had the opportunity to test in real-world circumstances.

Charging was much less impressive. In fact, it took around three-and-a-half hours to fill the battery completely. That's a fairly serious wait time between charges and worth taking note of for anybody looking to use this device as a portable work machine.

Lenovo Chromebook Duet's 8MP camera is only hampered by Chrome OS

09 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Camera AH 2020
Lenovo included great camera sensors on the Chromebook Duet, which were then held back by software

With a price tag of under $300, not even a dedicated camera can be expected to offer a great photo or video experience. But a quick review of the cameras found on the Lenovo Chromebook Duet proves that it doesn't have to be the case.

That's because, unlike most other Chromebooks, Lenovo incorporated genuinely decent hardware here. The front-facing camera bumps forward from most competing to 2-megapixels from 1-megapixel. That's the standard found in just about every Chromebook with few exceptions and it makes an obvious difference. Video chats and quick selfies are clearer and better-detailed than was expected.

The real showstopper is the rear-mounted 8-megapixel snapper. The only thing holding that camera back from greatness is, in fact, Chrome OS itself.

Now, Google has made a number of improvements to the Chromebook camera software over the years. That includes the addition of square and portrait modes, at the very least. But it hasn't come quite far enough yet. As shown in our sample gallery via Flickr, the software results in a slower-than-average snap, the loss of some detail, lack of HDR-driven clarity or contrast, and any number of other minor issues.

Bearing that in mind, Lenovo's included snapper does perform a whole lot better than most competing Chromebooks. Color capture feels consistent and accurate. Audio capture does too, in video shooting modes, thanks to the multi-mic layout mentioned earlier.

That also means these cameras could get better if Google improves the camera software further. But this simply isn't going to be a great dedicated camera replacement in the meantime.

Is Lenovo Chromebook Duet worth the asking price

10 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Final AH 2020
For top portability and a 2-in-1 detachable on a budget, this is easily the best Chromebook around

Lenovo has done a stellar job with its Chromebook Duet, showing under rigorous review that it can compete where it really needs too. Of course, at a size of just 10.1-inches diagonally, there are trade-offs.

A smaller battery is in use than might otherwise have been included. The keyboard can be cramped, especially for users with smaller hands. The kickstand and magnetic keyboard attachment aren't perfect. And, thanks mostly to Chrome OS, the cameras aren't spectacular.

But when it comes to performance, in spite of a budget-friendly processor and low RAM, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet doesn't disappoint. It handily powered through everything I would typically ask of a Chromebook. That includes everything from photo editing and video streaming to a combination of those and other tasks.

Given that I typically use a Chromebook that costs twice as much at retail, that's a truly noteworthy achievement. And it leaves behind the question of whether or not this gadget is worth the money.

Unequivocally, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet — also marketed as the Lenovo IdeaPad Chromebook Duet — is not only worth every penny. Or at least it does for those who can handle the smaller form factor or who absolutely need portability as a top concern.

This Chromebook absolutely outshines the competition in its price bracket and is easily the highest available value in the small-form tablet-style detachable front for Chrome OS. The Lenovo Chromebook Duet is the new standard in its class.