Lenovo's Chromebook Duet sounded like a winner the moment we first heard about it. It's a 2-in-1 detachable tablet running Chrome OS, and though it might not pack the fastest chipset, the rest of its hardware impresses — especially given that it starts at just $280 and comes with a keyboard cover. While the Surface-style form factor has its issues when it comes to usability, this the first Chrome OS-powered tablet that's actually made sense.
|SoC||MediaTek Helio P60T|
|Screen||10.1" 1920x1200 (16:10) 400nits|
|Storage||64 or 128GB (eMMC)|
|Cameras||2MP front, 8MP rear|
|Connectivity||2x2 Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n/ac) Bluetooth 4.2|
|Dimensions||Fully loaded: 244.87 x 169.31 x 18.2 mm, 920g. Tablet only: 239.8 x 159.8 x 7.35, 450g.|
|Misc.||USI stylus support|
|Price||64GB - $279, 128GB - $299|
|Price||$280 feels like a steal.|
|Comes with keyboard||Not all detachable 2-in-1s do (though they should).|
|Battery life||Easily lasts multiple days in lighter use, with great standby time.|
|Screen||Impressive for the price. It's sharp and bright with minimal bezels.|
|Build quality||The tablet itself is well-made and feels premium.|
|Performance||Acceptable, which is good at this price, but don't expect desktop-class performance.|
|Thick with everything attached||The kickstand isn't built-in, it's a separate piece. Mix in the keyboard cover, and the tablet is now more than twice as thick.|
|Keyboard cover||It's not rigid enough, sliding around when closed and flexing too easily when open, interfering with the...|
|Mediocre touchpad||Hard to click-and-drag, doesn't work when the keyboard cover flexes in your lap, erratic acceleration.|
|No headphone jack||This is a tablet, there's definitely room.|
Design and hardware
You'd be forgiven for assuming the Lenovo Duet costs more than it does the first time you see it. It's attractive, with a two-part back made of aluminum and fiberglass-reinforced plastic. Held in landscape, the power and volume buttons are on the right edge at the top, further down you'll find the USB Type-C port — your only option for connecting anything to the tablet. The bottom edge has pogo pins for the keyboard cover. Up top live the stereo speakers and two far-field microphones.
It feels substantial, though it will click and pop a bit if you wrench on it.
I'm pretty pleased with the Duet's screen. Although it might have a limited color gamut on paper, its HD-ish resolution is more than enough for the size, and I'm glad Lenovo went with a slightly taller 16:10 aspect ratio — though I'd rather it go full 3:2.
The default screen scaling factor is good for casual use, but if you have to deal with anything complicated like, say, writing a review for a Chromebook in your blog's CMS, decreasing the scaling factor (i.e., using a higher "effective" resolution) is a good idea, but it does make things a little harder to use in tablet mode.
Speakers sound surprisingly okay for the size, though they do't get too loud.
This might be a tablet, but Lenovo sells it with a bundled keyboard cover and magnetic kickstand, which together sandwich it into a Surface-like form factor. However, I think the keyboard cover itself slides around too much when it's closed. Lenovo confirmed to me there's no magnetic closure, and I think that's a noteworthy omission based on the particulars of Lenovo's design.
The Surface Go, for comparison, has a two-part magnetic mechanism on both the bottom and face of the tablet which keeps the cover almost perfectly straight when closed. iPads, of course, have a magnetic closure — which is even better. But the Lenovo Duet's keyboard cover is just kind of floppy and loose. It's a minor point, but as someone that often carries a tablet around with a keyboard cover, I'd have like to see something more rigidly attached when closed — this feels as cheap as its $279 price tag implies.
Left: The keyboard cover doesn't really stay in place when closed. Right: And the Surface-style design is floppy and a little awkward sometimes.
I'm not generally a fan of the Surface-style 2-in-1 designs because they're very difficult to use in as many circumstances as a laptop or a hinged detachable. It's a frustrating experience getting things positioned in your lap while ensuring the keyboard cover isn't so warped that the touchpad no longer works, and that the screen is held at the correct angle. Getting everything just right is uncomfortable and inconvenient, and the design consumes even more space in compact environments due to its kickstand. Ultimately, there's no tangible benefit in my mind: It's an inherently flawed design. But if it's a design you know you like or can live with, the Duet executes it well enough.
Physically, you get what you pay for. Lenovo and Google did an incredible job making some of the best sub-$300 tablet hardware I've seen, the screen and build quality are pretty good, and the fact that it comes with a keyboard and fabric-backed kickstand cover is pretty nuts for the price. But, it's still sub-$300 hardware, and some corners were absolutely cut. The keyboard is floppy and not rigid enough to even keep the touchpad's clicks tactile if you hold it just a little bit "wrong," and the kickstand cover is superfluous — Lenovo should have just built the kickstand into the back of the tablet itself. Microsoft did that right with the Surface line, this adds a lot of extra thickness for no reason.
Not as svelte as it could be.
Keyboard and trackpad
Although the keyboard is a little cramped, it's better than I expected for the size — in large part because many of the less-used punctuation keys to the right are around 2/3 width, eking out more space for the ones you use more often. The keys are the tiniest bit larger here than they are on the Surface Go's keyboard cover, but they're not full-size. Lenovo told me it might take an hour or two to get used to, but really I was fine in just a few minutes.
The touchpad is slightly off-center and aligned to the spacebar.
Key travel is decent, Lenovo says it's 1.3mm, and while it's not as snappy as a Surface Type Cover, it's pretty good. The only real issue I had was that sometimes keys wouldn't register a press, especially on the right-hand side of the board, but it was an infrequent problem. Ultimately, I wrote much of this review from the device itself, though limited screen space forced me to other platforms for the majority of it.
Like Windows laptops (and unlike MacBooks), Chromebook touchpads fall into two categories: decent and bad. I think the Duet falls into the latter group — I didn't find the touchpad especially precise or reliable.
Two-finger click (via a physical click of the touchpad) is inconsistent, often registering as a one-finger click. Stick to lighter two-finger "taps" for right-click if you can remember to, but you can't fix the weirdly jerky acceleration, which is always either too slow or too quick, no matter what setting you give it. Clicking and dragging is also pretty difficult to pull off due to texture, lack of rigidity in the keyboard cover, and the force required to click.
That literal flexibility in the keyboard cover is especially a pain when using the touchpad in your lap. If your positioning or the foundation served by your thighs is just a bit uneven, the keyboard cover twists in a way that interferes with the touchpad's ability to reliably click inward. This is a common issue with keyboard cover tablet designs, and I ran into the same problem on the HP Chromebook x2, but the Surface Go handles it better.
Performance and battery life
Benchmarks never tell the whole story, but here are a few if you feel that you need them (all measured in guest mode):
- 27.84 on Speedometer 2.0
- 31.939 on Jetstream2
- 92.11 on MotionMark 1.1
That level of performance places it far behind the latest, most powerful (and much more expensive) Intel Chromebooks with U- and Y-series chips, but a bit ahead of 2018-era N-series Celerons. In more plain terms: Near the bottom of the modern pack, but better than a lot of Chromebooks at the price point. For comparison, the Helio P60T included in the Chromebook Duet sounds like it might be the same chipset that the latest Kindle Fire HD 10 uses (or it's very similar).
In more anecdotal and accurate terms, performance was acceptable. I did notice some stuttering and dropped frames when visiting particularly demanding websites, or if I was playing Android games. While it wasn't always fluid, it was never much of a problem, especially if you're sticking to more basic tasks like content consumption, simple productivity like writing, and video calls. Considering it's ARM-powered and just $280, I expected it to be worse.
Battery life seems good. It took four days of light-to-normal use for it to die on me when I first got it, and that included using it for work over a weekend. Lenovo claims it can last up to ten hours, and though manufacturer numbers are usually generous (if not misleading), it has some "go" to it. Though Chrome OS doesn't have an easy way to measure screen-on time (that I know of, anyway), in my anecdotal estimation, it should last at least a full work day unless you're doing particularly intensive tasks. Standby time was also very good, barely sipping power.
During my briefing for the product, representatives from Google and Lenovo told me that the Duet was the result of over a year of collaboration with one another, and that many of the tablet-centric changes we've recently seen land in Chrome OS were built with this specific hardware in mind. I'm sure that's partly marketing and hype, but using the tablet, I think there's some truth to it. Chrome OS is a much better experience on a tablet these days, in no small part due to the new gesture navigation system.
A little different than Android, but close.
The gestures feel Android-inspired, but tangibly different, and it's a little disorienting at first. You get the same swipe-in-from-the-edge for back and the same swipe-up-and-hold for multitasking, but a single swipe up doesn't always drop you to the launcher: There are two different swipe-up gestures depending on how far you go, and a short swipe just shows the apps that would otherwise be on the shelf (the bottom bar) in desktop mode. It feels more like the navigation system on an iPad, but not quite so fluid and polished. The multitasking menu itself isn't anything like Android's, either, it's just the overview menu Chrome OS has had for ages.
In summary, the new gestures aren't quite what you might be expecting coming from Android, but if you're familiar with Chromebooks, you should get used to it.
As a tablet, you're able to use it in any position you'd like — portrait or landscape. But that transition can be a bit jarring occasionally, with your window randomly rotating upside down or too far, and content resizing multiple times in Chrome as it chooses between site layouts.
The new gestures are great, but the launcher should be next up for a refresh.
The launcher in Chrome OS feels like it's a little incomplete in a full-touch environment. Sometimes you'll want to use an Android app for a given service, sometimes you'll want to use a web page, and the latter don't inherit a proper icon — you just get a letter on a solid color background.
That said, some Android apps have picked up legitimately snazzy features on Chrome OS. The Gmail app, for example, will open new windows when you reply to messages, rather than just taking over the app's existing window, making it feel more like a native app.
Gmail opening multiple windows from its Android app.
Not that everything in the world of Android apps on Chromebooks is hunky-dory. If you limit yourself to full-screen tablet use, it's not so bad, but once you start trying to use them in a mixed, windowed mode with Chrome itself, it's pretty mediocre (outside examples like Gmail above). Many apps go into a sort of "stasis" when they lose focus, even if they're still visible, which is obnoxious. Chrome OS has been criticized for using Android as a compromised, shoe-horned solution to plug its app gap. Frankly, that's still the case, but it's getting better.
Stadia performance seemed up to its usual standards.
A lot of apps on the Play Store also don't list themselves as compatible with the Duet, and since you can't easily sideload apps from third-party sources, you're pretty much stuck with that diminished selection. Right now that means no Fortnite, though I assume developers will fix issues like that soon.
I did run into one particularly annoying issue: For some reason, the cursor in some Linux applications, like GIMP, is rotated 90 degrees, though cursor movement remains correct for your orientation. (Occasionally it happens outside Linux apps, too.)
This should be unified.
I also have a few complaints about Chrome OS in general. The platform's multiplying settings menus are getting seriously out of hand, it's almost as bad as Windows at this point, and Google doesn't have three decades of legacy cruft to accommodate. I also wish that Google would let us customize touchpad gestures. I'm glad Virtual Desks finally got a four-finger swipe to move between them, but the direction of the swipe is backward from how I have it on my Windows and macOS machines, and I'd really prefer if I could switch it to use a three-finger gesture instead. (I think scrolling tabs is pointless.) Google also needs to let folks sideload apps more easily, like you can on Android.
While Chrome OS feels like it's starting to mature in a desktop environment, tablet mode still feels more like a beta. It isn't that it's missing too many features, it just doesn't have the polish of a coherent, functional experience, though it's getting there.
Also note: Lenovo and Google have promised eight years of updates for the Duet, placing its EOL date sometime in 2028, though it isn't yet listed on Google's support page. With that level of software support, you can be sure the tablet will be unusable due to its performance long before security issues become a problem.
Should you buy it?
Yes, it's pretty easy to recommend Lenovo's Chromebook Duet, but it's not for everyone. Folks picking up one of these should keep in mind that this is a Chromebook first and foremost, with all the platform advantages and disadvantages one comes with.
Outside more specialized workflows, the vast majority of people should be fine doing whatever they need to in Chrome OS. But, if you're in the market specifically for a tablet, you might want to weigh your options against something like the latest 10.2" iPad. It's frequently discounted for less than the Duet, though you'll pay through the nose for the keyboard cover. Microsoft's new Surface Go, while also a bit more expensive, is a similar kind of product, offering the same sort of kickstand (more conveniently built-in), with a (better) keyboard cover in a near-identical form factor, and I think it's the clear choice for folks that might need desktop-type software as part of their detachable 2-in-1 workflow — though it will cost you more.
But if you're somewhere in between those two ideals, straddling the line between a mobile-first and desktop-first experience, this kind of gives you both — but neither is really perfect. Still, I think it's a fair compromise. But, most importantly, Lenovo is hitting an incredible price here with the Duet.
I can criticize details about it all day, but for $280, it's tough to find anything else to compare it with. The fact that it comes with a keyboard cover at this price when many more expensive tablets don't is pretty fantastic, and I think even folks looking at the Kindle Fire HD 10 should stop to consider if they can spend a little more cash on this, since it has the benefits of a desktop-class browser, it will get updates longer, and it has a keyboard for more productive uses. Given its advantages and the incredible price point, we think it merits our Most Wanted award.
I think Lenovo has a winner on its hands here, but it's still not for everyone.
Where to buy?
Availability right now is limited. Lenovo lists it as coming soon on its own site, and Best Buy appears to have sold through its limited inventory — which was more expensive 128GB $299 model. Unfortunately, you'r probably out of luck tracking one down until stock is more plentiful.