Lenovo Duet Chromebook Review: The secondary device you’ll be using all the time

Every now and then, a company produces something that exceeds expectations. This year, that’s the Duet Chromebook from Lenovo.

Incidentally, it was a Lenovo device that got me into the world of Chromebooks and Chrome OS in the first place.

Chromebooks don’t need the same level of processing power (or RAM, and often even storage) as a PC or Mac laptop. If you’re not quite sure why, I won’t go into the pros and cons of owning or using a Chrome OS device, but I will say that a Chromebook is quite often the ideal device for what you need to do 90-95% of the time.

Specs don’t tell the whole story

In the case of the Duet Chromebook, it isn’t trying to be a powerful alternative to a PC or Mac. Indeed, it starts from the base of being a tablet that can run Android apps (with an ARM based chipset, it does this well compared to Intel ones), to having the additional benefit of working within the Chrome OS ecosystem.

There’s a last-gen MediaTek P60T octa-core chipset, 4GB of RAM and just 64GB or 128GB fixed storage. There’s not even a memory card slot, so if you need more storage you’ll need a USB-C flash drive.

All of this might seem like a rather negative start to a review that’s supposing to be extolling the many virtues of this device – but there is a good reason not to raise expectations too high.

It also helps you understand why this can be sold for as little as £280, including the cover and keyboard. Well, actually, even then it seems impossibly cheap.

An 8th generation ‘entry level’ Apple iPad is going to be more powerful, but with the iPad itself costing £329, and the smart keyboard costing £159 on top, that’s going to set you back over £200 more.

Apple will also charge you £89 for an Apple Pencil, which I mention because the Duet is one of the new generation of Chromebooks that will work with any USI stylus, making the Duet an option for notetaking and drawing.

However you look at it, Lenovo has created something at an excellent price that is almost within ‘impulse purchase’ territory, like buying something like an Amazon Fire tablet (which, believe me, offers a far inferior display and performance).

Secondary specification, primary performance

Given its price and specification, it’s understandable that most people would see this as a secondary device to get online quickly when crashed out on the sofa, or to watch a movie on a train journey or flight.

With a boot up time of 8 seconds, and instant on when in standby (just like your phone), it serves both purposes brilliantly. But it can do a whole lot more too.

Chrome OS is a better environment for running Android apps, and the windowed nature and easy split-screen management of multiple apps is far better than an Android tablet. You can also run Linux apps too.

With the included keyboard and stand, you’ll come to see this as a fully functional laptop that can be stripped down and used as a tablet on occasion.

The keys are surprisingly good, with a nice curvature on each one, and even the narrower keys on the right-hand side (this is a 10.1-inch screen after all) are manageable. It won’t take long for muscle memory to help you remember the positions.

Even the trackpad is responsive and smooth, offering a firm click when pressed. It supports Chrome OS gestures, which in tablet mode now mimics an Android device for even greater familiarity.

Given the flexible nature of the keyboard and stand, it probably won’t work too well when on an actual lap, but on a table or desk it’s solid with a non-slip surface on the underside of the keyboard keeping it firmly anchored.

Benchmarks aren’t everything

Benchmark wise, the Lenovo isn’t going to win any awards, but if there was ever a perfect example of why people argue benchmarks don’t tell the whole story, this is it.

In all the ways that matter, the Duet delivers. It’s responsive to your touch, gestures are smooth and easy to use. You can switch between windows or browser tabs without lagging, and you’ll also get no dropped frames when streaming video.

As a device to consume Netflix or YouTube, the bright 400 nits display with 1920×1200 pixel resolution is fantastic. Audio is a little on the quiet side, however.

If you do ditch the cover and keyboard, you get a very thin and portable tablet, but my recommendation is to keep both attached for convenience and the added protection they bring.

Closing the keyboard turns off the Duet, and if you fold it around it also detects this to stop unintended button presses messing things up.

The single USB-C port offers USB-PD charging at 18W, but Lenovo has bundled a 10W power adapter in the box.

It’s no biggie as you’ll not be charging too often with battery life from the 7,000mAh battery giving around nine or ten hours of real-world use between top-ups.

If you do want the maximum charging speed, just invest in a third-party USB-PD adapter or power bank; which will also fast charge any other modern laptop or smartphone too. You may in fact already own one.

The go-to device to getting things done

As I’ve said above, over time you’ll be opting to use this over more powerful alternatives because of the convenience it brings.

All the time, the performance from the MediaTek chip will ensure a fluid and pleasant experience. Even with multiple tabs open, 4GB copes fine.

And if you really want to, this thing actually can run games too. Whether that’s one of thousands of Android games, or streaming using something like Google Stadia.

On the screen you can adjust the screen density if you’d prefer to have smaller icons and text to fully appreciate the screen resolution, or scale things up to make certain aspects more readable on the smaller screen size.

There’s also an 8-megapixel camera on the rear with autofocus, while at the front is a 2-megapixel camera that can be used for video calls; there are two microphones included and a gain control now added in the OS to allow you to boost the input if required.

Connectivity

One of the big advantages of Chrome OS is the ability to get online quickly and easily if you’re using an Android phone. Once you associate your phone with your Chromebook, you can even unlock the Duet using your phone (there’s no fingerprint sensor, so other options include your Google password or a six-digit PIN).

In the future, Google is intending to add more tools to manage your phone from Chromebooks, but you can already easily drag and drop files over a cable, or send and receive text messages via the Google Messages web app. You can also use Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and other IM services as required.

Google is also going to be adding its new ‘Nearby Share’ function to Chrome OS so you will be able to move files from any nearby device you’re logged in to.

The best feature though, is being able to make a mobile data connection using the Duet and not needing to touch your phone to turn on a mobile hotspot. As long as your phone is on and has a working data connection, you can activate it with just a few presses.

On the move, this means whenever there’s mobile coverage, you can be online. While you can do a lot of work offline (gone are the days when a Chromebook had to be online to do just about anything), it always works best when you are connected.

All of this is why for writing news and reviews, or managing my social media and emails, a Chromebook is now my go-to device and has been for a few years.

I can save using my desktop for when I need more processing power or to use apps that aren’t available here, and as time goes on the list of those continues to shrink.

I didn’t set up Linux on the Duet before writing this review, but doing so would offer up far more in the way of productivity tools (like photo editing), but I generally make do with the built-in Google photo editor, or use an online picture editor like www.pixlr.com.

There are also a bunch of other online services, like WordPress (which this site uses), WeVideo and of course Google Docs. Microsoft Word, Excel and so on can be used online, or using the Android apps from the Play Store.

Downsides

The only real disappointment is the dual speakers at the top are pretty quiet and lack bass. They’re not terrible and certainly not unusable, and you can listen to music or watch a film using them, but I’d strongly recommend using some wireless headphones or speakers whenever possible.

Lenovo has kindly bundled a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box.

The Duet can also output to an external monitor, but only at 720p on most monitors. If you have a monitor that can drop to 30Hz, you can also use 1080p but that’s not ideal.

In practice, this is the one limitation of the device. It won’t be good enough to serve as a PC replacement by docking it at home. Lenovo has not advertised the use of the USB-C port to output to a secondary display, but it can still be usable for the occasional viewing of photos and video on a larger display.

Conclusion

I got my Duet with the intention of using it when travelling, especially on holiday, so as not to weigh myself down with a laptop.

It works so well that it would be extremely unfair on the Duet to limit its usage to such occasions. In reality, it’s so practical and portable that I will likely be using this as my primary device on the go, and reserving my Intel based laptop for use at home and hooked up to a bigger display.

The only thing I’d probably miss is the illuminated keyboard, but that’s really not a deal breaker most of the time.

I am still stunned that the Lenovo Duet is selling for as little as £270, and while the 128GB variant seems perpetually out of stock, I’m not sure there’s a real need for the extra storage unless you intend to download a lot of content for offline use.

64 gigs is ample for a device that mostly works with data in the cloud. What you want is good connectivity, and as long as you’ve got an Android phone nearby with a decent data plan, you can be connected all the time.

With software updates guaranteed until June 2028, you’re also assured that you’ll be getting a great deal of usage from the Duet if you so wish, making it even more value for money when the investment is spread over time.

As I conclude my review, I simply can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t like owning this device.

  • Anyone that hasn’t redeemed the offer on another Chrome OS device before can also enjoy a year of 100GB Google Drive storage for free with the Duet Chromebook, with a value of £80. After 12 months, it will auto renew unless cancelled.

Key Specifications

Size/Weight (Tablet)239.8 x 159.8 x 7.35mm / 450g
Size/Weight (Tablet+Keyboard)244.9 x 169.3 x 18.2mm / 920g
Screen10.1-inch LCD
1920×1200 pixels
400 nits
AudioDual Dolby stereo sound (top)
ChipsetMediaTek Helio P60T Octa-core
ARM G72 MP3 GPU 800MHz
RAM4GB LPDDR4X
Storage64GB or 128GB (non expandable, except via USB-C)
Battery7,000mAh
Up to ten hours battery life
USB-PD charging (max 18W)
CamerasRear: 8MP auto-focus
Front: 2MP fixed-focus with LED indicator
PortUSB-C (Gen 2)
OtherVolume Control
Power button
5-point Pogo pins (for keyboard)
Connectivity2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2.4/5GHz)
Bluetooth 4.2

Price and Availability

Besides the choice of 64GB or 128GB storage, there is just one configuration of Duet and one colour (as shown in the photos above).

The suggested retail price of the 64GB model is £299.99 but I purchased mine from Amazon at £279.99 – but this is now sadly out of stock temporarily.

The 128GB model was previously available from Currys PC World at around £330 but this is also showing as out of stock.

The Duet went on sale in June 2020, but is clearly in high demand (justifiably so) so you may have to make some extra effort to find one.

It is absolutely worth it!

More information can be found on the Lenovo website.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

from £299.99 (SRP)
9.5

Features

9.5/10

Performance

9.5/10

Value

9.5/10

Pros

  • High quality, bright, display that belies its low price
  • Perfectly ample performance for what you need from a Chromebook
  • Excellent keyboard and stand included at no cost
  • Seamless operation with an Android phone
  • Solid battery life; ten hours isn't an unrealistic claim at all

Cons

  • Disappointing audio
  • No matter how good this is (and it is) don't expect it to replace your home PC or Mac for everything!
  • It's so much in demand, you may struggle to actually get one. Keep trying.

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