The Lenovo Chromebook Duet is a surprisingly affordable 2-in-1 looking to find a path for a troubled kind of Chromebook. Chromebook fans might remember the Pixel Slate, which didn't thrive and was followed by reports that Google wasn't making first-party ChromeOS tablets anymore. Now, thanks to a partnership with Lenovo, a fantastically low price and tablet-based optimizations, it just might work.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet Specs
Price: $279 (64GB eMMC)
CPU: 2.0GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P60T
Graphics: ARM G72 MP3
Display: 10.1 inches, 1920 x 1200 pixels
Storage: 64GB eMMC | 128GB eMMC
Size: 9.64 x 6.66 x 0.71 inches (docked)
Weight: 2 pounds (docked)
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Lenovo Chromebook Duet: Price and availability
A $279 detachable 2-in-1 Chromebook feels too good to be true. This entry-level model packs an octa-core 2.0GHz MediaTek Helio P60T processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of eMMC storage and a 10.1-inch 1920 x 1200-pixel screen. You can upgrade to 128GB of eMMC storage with the $299 model.
And, yes, unlike the Surface Go or iPad, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet's keyboard comes standard. So you're spending $270 to $299, while iPad shoppers spent $329 on their tablet before the Smart Keyboard adds another $159 on top.
Pre-orders of the Chromebook Duet made at Best Buy are shipping today. In the coming weeks, the Duet will be available in store at Walmart and curbside pickup for Best Buy.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet: Design
Without the keyboard, the Chromebook Duet tablet measures merely 9.44 x 6.29 x 0.29 inches and weighs just under a pound — that’s both smaller and (slightly) lighter than my iPad. The Chromebook Duet does, however, pack in a bigger display: a 10.1-inch 1920 x 1200 screen, surrounded by bezels measuring approximately three-eighths inch on all sides.
In the top bezel are a 2MP front-facing camera for things like Google Hangouts chats, along with an ambient light sensor and a camera status indicator.
Turn over the tablet to get a glimpse of the striking aesthetic Lenovo has chosen: a two-tone color scheme, with the bottom two-thirds or so rendered in Iron Grey (against which the standard Chrome logo has been etched) and the top in Ice Blue, with a shiny Lenovo logo off to the left.
In the upper-right corner is a surprisingly large lens (measuring nearly three-eighths inch across) for the 8MP rear-facing camera.
On the tablet’s top edge are two speakers; on the right side are a volume control, the Power button, a battery indicator, and a USB Type-C port (which doubles as the power connector). We'd like a second USB-C port for charging while also doing something else, but then what would use would we have for the adapters and splitters sold by third-parties?
Lenovo Chromebook Duet: Display and audio
Lenovo claims the screen can get up to 400 nits of brightness and display 70% of the color gamut (presumably sRGB). We haven’t had time to test those claims yet — though we’re working on it — but the screen is attractive and crisp whether displaying graphics or text. YouTube videos rendered appealingly enough, if without the inkiest of all possible blacks (at this price, we're not expecting OLED quality). For everyday usage in basic scenarios, the screen will more than suffice.
The Chromebook Duet does not get exceedingly loud, but even so, I wouldn’t recommend operating it at maximum volume. Noticeable distortion crept on some soprano vocals I listened to, and though it wasn’t terrible, it’s not something I would invite around too often. Weak bass made itself known when I listed to The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” with the opening thumps more subliminal than heart-pounding, even with the volume topped out.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet: Keyboard
Where Lenovo has distinguished the Chromebook Duet are the keyboard and stand— which, you’ll be thrilled to know, are included. They’re both a pleasing dark gray and, as the color implies, aim to help this system fade into the background of your workday so you never have to worry about it. I’m not so sure they succeed on that front.
Although the keys are scalloped in that distinctive Lenovo way, they’re on the small side and crammed together with less than an eighth-inch of space between them. It may not sound like much, but if you have big or even medium-size hands, you’re likely to notice immediately (as I did). It doesn’t help that many secondary keys (mostly Tab and punctuation marks) are shrunk still further, which will undoubtedly trip you up, at least at first.
Lenovo may be counting on most users not depending on these keys, and they could have a point — but I found them cumbersome, nonetheless. At least the keys have a decent amount of travel, and it’s not uncomfortable to type on them, though the space bar was a bit stiff, awkward, and short for my tastes.
The Stand Cover is trickier. Magnets help secure it in place, but you have to position that bulky camera lens into the hole on the back of the stand just right. When you do, it feels secure (I could turn the whole thing upside down without the tablet falling out), but nudge the upper-right corner of the tablet while it’s on the Stand Cover, and it can start to slide off.
The kickstand, which is attached to the Stand Cover’s fabric-covered back, offers plenty of adjustability, but it’s on the thin side, so grabbing it to get it the way you want can be tricky at first. With both peripherals weighing in at around 8 ounces, you’re looking at just over 2 pounds for the whole package. If it’s a little bulky for a tablet, it’s not unwieldy.
The touchpad is also on the small side (about 1.9 by 3.4 inches), but was sufficiently, if gently, clicky. I never had trouble getting the magnetic connectors on the keyboard to hook up to the tablet.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet: Software
Like Windows, Chrome OS (as of version 81) offers a tablet mode that adds some additional functionality to simplify the “total touch” experience. It defaults to search mode, so you can easily scroll through and tap apps to open them.
Better still are the gestures. A long swipe up from the bottom takes you back to your home screen, for example. If you swipe and hold you can view all your open windows, and then drag one to the side the split the screen. Go back to the screen you just left by swiping in from the left. For the most part, these worked well, and certainly simplified some common interactions.
I did run into some problems, though, as Chrome and I couldn’t always agree on what constituted a long or a short swipe (a short swipe will display your pinned apps—but I kept accidentally displaying my pinned apps instead). More creative gestures wouldn’t be the worst thing, but these will get you where you need to go.
The Chromebook Duet's also got three big features for Android phone owners that make the Chromebook more like a PC or MacBook. Instant Tethering allows Android phones to automatically share their LTE connection with the Duet (provided your phone plan allows this), Smart Lock enables your phone to unlock the Duet's screen and Messaging/Click-to-Call means you can manage texts and phone calls from the laptop.
The Duet's also got Google Family Link parental controls, which makes sense as this tablet could easily be shared across the household, for setting limits and restrictions and easily monitoring habits.
For many people these days, ChromeOS may prove capable enough to encourage a switch from macOS or Windows. Microsoft, for example, offers versions of its classic Office applications Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, so you can keep working on your preexisting projects. But you may not even want to bother, given the ubiquity of Google’s own free word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation builder.
The Duet's Google Assistant integration may also prove seductive for Android users who never took to Siri, as you can ask the laptop to give you information about your schedule and even open documents.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet: Battery life
Lenovo claims the Chromebook Duet should offer all-day battery life, up to 10 hours or a single charge. We can't wait to put its 7,000 mAh battery through our web-surfing-based battery test.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet: Early verdict
Tablets have often proved more substantial and capable than smartphones for web browsing and reading, areas where the Lenovo Chromebook Duet looks acceptable (so far). Its relatively roomy screen and comparatively light weight are exactly what you want in a tablet, and there, this one did not disappoint.
Its keyboard may prove too limiting, especially for folks who type a lot (like we do). We're also looking to spend more time with the magnetized Stand Cover system, to see how it holds up, pun intended.
The Chromebook Duet is a good-looking tablet, and definitely worthy of consideration by those in the market for a 2-in-1. It just seems like less of a laptop and more of a tablet that likes to pretend to be a laptop sometimes.
We didn't get to test its MediaTek CPU, but we've yet to be wowed by a MediaTek processor, so we're curious if we will get surprised. Our complete Lenovo Chromebook Duet review is coming soon, so stay tuned for our final verdict.