I’m a sucker for unique and interesting tech devices, and not just those from Apple, either. I can’t afford to own them all, but I do try as many as I can and keep the ones that really stand out. This is how I ended up with a Surface Go a couple of years ago (it seemed like a good idea at the time). I ultimately decided to keep it, but recently returned the follow up Surface Go 2 because it didn’t stand out enough to justify the higher price.
Sometimes these experiments are a hit and other times not so much. So far, my current test drive of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet is trending toward the hit column.
If you haven’t heard of this new device, it’s an interesting tablet hybrid that takes some design cues from the Surface lineup and has a compelling price point. Running for just $299, you get a lot for what you pay. More on that in a moment.
So far I’ve only seen the Duet for sale at BestBuy and direct from Lenovo. I first noticed it advertised in the BestBuy app when it was first made available for preorder. The design and price were enough to pique my interest and the early reviews were quite positive. However, it was out of stock for close to a month after release. I guess that first run of devices sold fast.
After waiting and watching, I was finally able to order and get my hands on a Duet last week. Time to test has been short, but it has proven to be a capable and versatile device considering the relatively low price tag.
If you aren’t aware of the specifics of this device, it’s fairly unique and worthy of a look, in my opinion. At it’s core, the Duet is a barebones 10.1″ tablet running Chrome OS.
That sounds like an odd fit, but it works (at least so far) thanks to the total package. I’ve liked very few Android tablets that I’ve ever tried, but Chrome OS fits a larger screen tablet better, in my opinion. The Duet is snappy and doesn’t have the familiar lag of the inexpensive Android tablets I used in the past.
Before getting to the good, I will give the Duet one ding. The tablet’s body is all aluminum (Edit: I originally had it pegged as plastic made to approximate metal, but it is actually metal) and it’s definitely on the flimsy side.
You can feel and hear it flex a tad if you put a little pressure on it. However, for $299 and with the other features the Duet comes with, I think this is forgivable.
As for those other features, they are what make the Duet stand out from other such products. Lenovo includes a magnetic back cover with kickstand and a detachable keyboard in the box. And they are actually pretty good, considering the limitations of size and that $299 price tag.
The kickstand isn’t as sturdy as a Surface device’s, but it is perfectly adequate for such a small device. The back cover is actually quite solid and cancels out the cheap feel of the tablet’s plastic body when attached. I also like the textured fabric exterior of the cover, as it is very easy to grip and hasn’t shown dirt or grime so far. It’s a bit thick and heavy, but the good far outweighs the not so good here.
The keyboard magnetically attaches to contacts on the landscape bottom of the Duet and makes a very secure connection. Again, this isn’t Surface-level gear. The keyboard is small, it can only sit flat in front of the tablet and the keys aren’t backlit. However, it isn’t bad at all considering the price. I honestly expected it to be, but the keys are responsive and the touchpad is good. The biggest drawback is how cramped the keyboard is, but that is more due to the size of the device than poor design.
The best thing about the Duet’s keyboard is that you can remove it and leave the back cover on the tablet.
This frees you up to use the device with kickstand alone for media viewing, or to use it with a larger Bluetooth keyboard. This flexibility is what makes the Duet really work, especially at its price point.
I haven’t spent enough time with the Duet to make an ultimate call on Chrome OS on a tablet. However, it offers enough in addition to being a barebones tablet that I think it will work for a lot of basic tablet users who want a little more versatility. Chrome OS isn’t a 100% complete substitute for a desktop in the same way that iPadOS isn’t, but for different reasons. However, also like iPadOS, Chrome OS keeps moving in that direction. So there’s more to come on this front in the future, but for now, I think Chrome OS is the best fit for the Duet hardware and it’s been good to use so far.
Here’s the thing about the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. It is FAR from being a perfect device. In terms of hardware build quality and polish, the Surface Go 2 runs rings around this thing. But it does that at over $700 if you want the Core m3 version with Type Cover that can actually handle the OS it’s running. For the tasks most of us use a 10″ device for, the Go 2 isn’t a great value for that amount of money.
The Duet’s strength is that it can do so much for a device that only costs $299. If you are looking for something that is portable and can handle the basics, the Duet really shines.
It comes with a case that offers full protection. It has a keyboard. It has a kickstand. You can use the Duet as a tablet without any of the above if you want. It has a USB-C port, so basic expansion is available. It runs an OS that the hardware can handle. There’s a lot to like about the sum of these parts.
I need to spend more time with the Duet to make a final call on how well Chrome OS holds up under any stress. However, I can already say that I really like the hardware. This isn’t an iPad Pro replacement by a long shot, but it could be a competitor to the iPad for particular types of users, especially those who are deeply ingrained in the Google ecosystem.
As for the closest current comparison I can think of, the Surface Go 2 may be a better device if you have the money, but the Lenovo Chromebook Duet is a far better value FOR the money. At this size and for the target market, I think that is the ticket.