I’m a longtime Chrome OS user and truly believe it’s a great platform for most “average” users. I also think that everyone should own a Chrome OS device, but up until now it’s been hard to recommend one device to everyone. Not anymore—the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet is that device.
For just under $300, you get one of the most versatile little devices I’ve ever used. It’s a tablet, sure. But it’s also a laptop. It’s the convertible device done right—especially if you understand its limits. It’s not going to replace your main laptop. But it’s the best couch companion or ultraportable secondary device out there right now.
I already shared my initial thoughts on the Duet after having it for a few days, so now it’s time to dig into what it’s like after a couple of weeks. Before we get into that, here’s a quick look at the specs as reviewed:
- 10.1-inch 1920×1200 display
- 2.0 GHz MediaTek Helio P60T processor
- 4 GB RAM
- 64 or 128 GB of Storage
- 1x USB-C port, volume rocker, power button (no headphone jack)
- 8 MP rear camera, 2 MP front camera
- 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2
- In the box: tablet, detachable keyboard, detachable kickstand
- $279 (64 GB), $299 (128 GB)
- Specs as reviewed: 128 GB
The Form Factor is the Best
Back in the day, I had an ASUS Chromebook Flip C100. (Well, I guess I still have it around here somewhere.) It’s a 10-inch convertible with a 1280×800 display, and while it was seriously limited at the time, I loved it nonetheless. The IdeadPad Duet is in my mind the evolution of that concept—a tablet when you want it and a laptop when you need it, but better in every possible way.
The three-part system of the tablet, keyboard, and stand cover makes for a truly versatile device. The fact that it comes with everything you need in the box is just the icing on the cake.
When you want a full laptop, you attach the keyboard and the stand cover. The cover includes the kickstand, so you can’t really use the keyboard without it as there’s no way to prop it up. You can, however, use the stand cover without the keyboard, which is great for watching videos or just swiping through social media.
The stand cover adds quite a bit of bulk to the device overall, though, so it gets pretty heavy if you’re trying to hold the device one-handed. When you need a tablet, just pull the stand cover off the back, and you have a lightweight tablet. It’s just so damn good.
But I expected it to be a good tablet, based purely on the form factor. What surprised me is how good it is as a laptop. Sure, it’s not a multi-window monster, but you can definitely use it to get stuff done. If you tweak the display settings from the default (1080×675), then you can easily fit a couple of windows on the screen at once.
In my initial impressions, I mentioned that I bumped the screen resolution up to 1662×1038 (65%), but after a bit of use that just proved to make all the on-screen elements too small. I shifted that one notch to 1440×900 (75%), which to me offers the best balance of readability and functionality. I can easily keep a couple of windows up at once. Pair that with Virtual Desks, and the IdeaPad Duet becomes more of a workhorse than you’d expect.
I mean, don’t get me wrong here—this is still a device with a 10.1-inch screen, a mobile processor, and just 4 GBs of RAM. It prioritizes portability and versatility over everything else, so you have to keep in mind what it is. If you want power or multitasking prowess, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Everything has its compromises, right?
Overall, though, the Duet is more versatile and powerful than I anticipated. That’s a win in my book.
The Build Quality Is also Exceptional at this Price Point
You’d expect that a gadget with this much to offer at this price would have to flex (figuratively, of course) somewhere. I can tell you this much: the core component of the device—the tablet itself—is rock solid. Impressively so.
The whole thing really hits above its price point, both aesthetically and in terms of robustness. The seams are tight, the buttons are clicky, and it feels really well-made. The aluminum frame feels nice, and it’s offset by a soft-touch blue on the top half. It’s a sharp-looking little device.
The same applies to the stand cover. It connects to the tablet with magnets, so putting it on and taking it off is simple. It has a strong grip when attached, though, so it won’t slip off too easily. Just don’t try to carry it by the kickstand—it’s not that strong.
Speaking of, the hinge in the kickstand is far more robust than I expected. It can be used at nearly any angle and has a satisfying “snap” when completely closed. It feels exceptionally sturdy. The back is also covered in a nice fabric that makes it both nice to touch and look at.
If I had to pick one area where some corners were cut, it would have to be with the keyboard. As you might expect, the keys are pretty small, which takes some time to get used to. After a bit of typing, though, I acclimated pretty quickly to most of the keys. That right side is a bugger though.
To make the rest of the keys larger and more useable, the rightmost section of the keyboard—backspace, enter, quote, semicolon, etc.—is pretty cramped. Even after a few weeks of use, I still miss the backspace key about 70 percent of the time, instead hitting the equals key. Alas, this is will always be an issue on compact devices like this—a standard keyboard is about 12-inches across without the numpad, and there just isn’t enough room for that here.
The overall build of the keyboard attachment is also the weakest link compared to the rest of the device, as it has noticeable flex all over. That can make it hard to use in your lap. My review unit has such a noticeable flex that using the device in my lap causes unwanted mouse clicks. As the keyboard twists, it can literally cause both right and left clicks (depending on which way you move) across the touchpad. Once I finally figured that out, however, I was aware of it and able to keep it from happening by making sure the keyboard was always level.
In other words: the touchpad is much better when used on a flat surface.
Still yet, the keyboard and touchpad are very usable overall. If this wasn’t included in the box and was an additional purchase, I’d be more inclined to rail on it harder. But considering it’s part of the deal, it’s not bad.
That said, I’d love to see someone—Lenovo, Brydge, whatever—make an aftermarket keyboard/trackpad with stiffer build quality, backlit keys, and a glass touchpad. I’d easily pay for that (assuming it’s not overly expensive) to get a better keyboard and touchpad. Easily.
But even if that never happens, the included keyboard is fine. Ultimately, you could add a small Bluetooth keyboard like the Logitech Keys to Go, along with a lightweight portable mouse like the Logitech Anywhere 2S if you want a better overall experience. You just won’t get the clean seamless integration of the current setup.
Chrome OS Has Gotten Better on Tablets, But It’s Still Not Quite There
Chrome OS was originally built as a lightweight laptop operating system with a web-first mentality. As time has gone on, its capabilities have grown and reach has increased, with more and more powerful tools coming to the platform.
Somewhere along the lines, Google also decided that Chrome OS could be a tablet operating system. After all, Android on tablets has been a huge flop since the early days, so why not? Chrome OS even runs Android apps now, essentially eliminating the need for Android tablets in the first place.
Of course, it’s hard to make a desktop operating system touch-friendly—just ask Microsoft, as this is still a struggle of Windows. Google has done a lot to make Chrome OS better for touch, especially with the most recent versions. Still, it’s abundantly clear this OS is predominantly designed for use with a keyboard and mouse—not a finger.
There are two mostly distinct interfaces when switching between tablet and laptop modes, which happens automatically when you connect/disconnect the keyboard (or a Bluetooth keyboard/mouse). With the keyboard connected, the interface is familiar for anyone who has used a Chrome OS device before.
But when you disconnect the keyboard and it switches to tablet mode, the interface shifts. The shelf automatically hides, with the bar transforming into an Android-like navigation bar. All open windows maximize, and the Home screen becomes the app drawer. Chrome also gets a more mobile-like interface, with the tabs hidden behind a button like on Android and iOS.
It’s honestly kind of jarring if you’re not expecting it. And while this is a step in the right direction for touch on Chrome OS, it’s still not great. It’s just so different than the desktop interface—it’s basically like using two operating systems in one at this point.
And while the improvements are better for touch, they’re still not all-encompassing. The Settings menu and most apps are still far from optimized for touch, with tiny touch targets and whatnot. It’s not an awful experience, mind you, but it’s not as nice as you’d get from a dedicated tablet.
Alas, there will always be compromises on devices like this—if it’s great for touch, keyboard/mouse input is sacrificed, and vice versa. Still, as far as usability is concerned, this gets a lot right—just don’t expect to be able to do as much with touch as a mouse and keyboard.
If you primarily use the tablet interface for Android apps, you’ll have a better experience—after all, the Duet effectively becomes an Android tablet you’ll actually want to use in tablet mode anyway.
Before we close this bad boy out, I also want to touch on battery life. It’s good. Real good. Most Chrome OS devices I’ve used in the past have mediocre battery life, especially when idle.
Not the Duet though—I think I’ve had to charge it on average once a week and I use it every evening for a few hours at a time. And when I leave it on my nightstand overnight, the battery drain is a trickle. I don’t know what sort of magic Lenovo worked to do this, but I wish they’d share it with other Chrome OS manufacturers, too.
So, Should You Buy One?
In short, hell yes. I mean, assuming you want a Chromebook. Or an Android tablet. Or both! Especially both.
The Duet is one of the most perfect devices I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. The compromises are very (very) minimal, and it outperformed every my expectations at every corner. As a gadget reviewer for the past decade, I’m not sure that has ever happened before. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever given a gadget a perfect 10/10 score.
So, yeah, if you’re on the fence, just buy one. You’ll be glad you did—but go ahead and drop the extra $20 to double the storage. It’s worth it.