Reviews

Lenovo Ideapad Duet Chromebook Review – Competent and Compact

Writing can be a vastly more convenient job than your average 9to5 desk job, with the ability to write literally anywhere you have an internet connection and something to write on. Carrying around a laptop is obviously not super convenient depending on size, so I’ve been on the lookout for something that’s compact, yet versatile and functional – and I think I’ve found it in the Lenovo Ideapad Duet Chromebook.

Announced at CES earlier this year, the Lenovo Ideapad Duet Chromebook is a 10.1-inch tablet which comes with a detachable keyboard which connects easily using magnets via POGO pins, and a separate fabric textured stand cover for the rear.

Running Chrome OS you get the benefits of the world’s most popular internet browser, which works in full desktop mode, as well as all your Chrome Extensions, Chrome Apps, passwords, browsing history and more. You also get the benefit of Android apps via Google Play.

Priced at $599, the Lenovo Ideapad Duet Chromebook offers a lot in terms of features, and the spec sheet is fairly decent too. The 10.1-inch LCD has a FullHD (1920 x 1200) resolution and runs on a Mediatek P60T processor, 4GB RAM and 128GB of on-board storage. There’s front (2MP) and rear(8MP) cameras, and it’s all powered by a 7000mAh battery.

I’ve spent the past two weeks with the Lenovo Ideapad Duet Chromebook and I think I might be in love. 

Hardware and Design

When it comes to tablets, a black rectangle with curved corners fits the bill and does so again with the Lenovo Ideapad Duet Chromebook (I’m calling it the Duet from now on). The rear is a different story though with a delightful dual-tone Ice Blue & Iron Grey colour scheme. 

There’s precious few ports, buttons or connectors on the tablet. There’s a USB-C connection on the same (short) side as the volume rocker and power button.

On the bottom a set of 4 POGO pins and guide holes which are for connecting the tablet keyboard.

The opposite side is some speaker grilles – more holes in the metal chassis of the tablet than a grille.

There’s a fair bit of bezel around the screen, which is bright and easy to read even in daylight when at but with tablets I’m ok with this as it makes it easier to hold, and the accidental touches on thinner bezel tablets generally drive me close to distraction. The 2MP webcam is built into the bezel at the top with the speakers, but it does mean the camera is fairly well obscured, which improves the overall symmetry.

There’s a fair bit of heft in the Duet, it weighs 450g by itself, or close to a kilo when you add in the rear cover and keyboard.

So let’s talk about the keyboard and rear cover. So the whole Duet package is essentially 3 parts, the tablet, keyboard and rear cover which includes a built-in kickstand. 

The design, with the separate keyboard and rear cover is something so different to what I was used to with tablets, but It was strikingly simple to get onboard with the design thanks to its simplicty. 

To setup, you attach the rear cover to the tablet via magnets, and then the keyboard via the pogo pins and magnets too. It did take me a little to get used to pulling out the kickstand without detaching the rear cover itself, but after a few missteps It becomes second nature. 

The rear cover is made with a lovely grey fabric while the keyboard cover has a soft-touch plastic feel to it. The fabric on the rear cover is nice to hold with an air of plushness to it, with the cover giving a little cushioning when you set it down.

I’ve become rather taken with using the Duet on the couch, then leaving the cover downstairs and continuing to read or watch videos on it in bed, the lighter combo sans keyboard and warm/soft rear cover makes it easier to hold for long periods. 

There’s also another not so traditional way to use the Duet, and it’s unlikely to be recommended by Lenovo – it sticks to the fridge. It’s a cheaper option to make your fridge smart than buying a new one, but it’s also not as integrated and if your kids like to slam the fridge shut, it’s probably not a great idea ;).

The keyboard cover is decent, with the keys having a little travel but it is a little cramped with the compact nature of the tablet. The keyboard is almost full sized compared to my desktop keyboard, but it’s a little smaller. After a few hours typing I got used to it quite easily though it’s not going to be the most comfortable device to type out your next novel, but for small and medium amounts of work, it’s very usable. The trackpad, though small is quite good, with smooth and accurate response with Chrome OS multi-finger gestures supported as well.

The performance is decent, which actually surprised me for a Mediatek processor. There’s some staggering while a new tab launches occasionally, and switching back and forth gets a bit stuttery, but I’m more inclined to blame the 4GB of RAM trying to juggle 20 or so tabs in Chrome than the Mediatek processor. A Duet with 8GB of RAM would certainly be attractive.

The 128GB of storage is pretty roomy for a tablet, though I would like to see a microSD card slot to add in more if you want to. You can attach a USB-C type thumbdrive into the slot, but you’re then unable to charge it thanks to only having a single USB-C port on board. That said, I didn’t come close to filling the tablet storage though I wasn’t heading away which is when I really go to town with offline videos and more. 

The online nature of Chromebook devices really comes to the fore when it comes to space. I, and most people have videos in Netflix, Stan, Google Play Movies ready to stream, as is my music in YouTube Music (let’s not get into the YTM vs GPM debate), comics stored in Comixology, while Google Play Books also stores comics and my novels, so there’s not a lot of need to store my entire library offline, just what I’m reading with the option to download other books anytime I have a connection and a need.

Now, if you’re consuming a lot of content – and let’s face it, that’s exactly what you’ll mostly do with a tablet – then battery is important and the Duet delivers. There’s a 7,000mAh battery inside, and Lenovo claim that will give you 10 hours of life – I can happily confirm this, though I got closer to 11 hours out of it, so I cannot complain about this at all :D.

I’d like a faster charger though, the 5V/2A charger is all that’s provided, and while it charges there’s no ‘Quick Charge’ like we’re used to seeing from phones – and while this isn’t a phone, it’s built on the same architecture, but then again it’s also a Mediatek processor with no Quick Charge support.

Software

Out of the box the Duet runs Chrome Version 84.0.4147.127 (Official Build) (32-bit).

There’s not a lot to really talk about in terms of Chrome OS. You’re by default on the Stable channel, but you can choose to live on the edge by varying degrees by switching to Beta, Dev or even Canary channel. Each is less stable than the last, so if you need your device working just stick to the Stable channel and you should be fine. 

Updates for Chrome/Chrome OS are delivered in 6 week intervals, with the previous generation graduating to a more stable channel as bugs are discovered and fixed. 

It’s a Chromebook so you will get updates seamlessly installed in the background, you may occasionally get a prompt to restart, but those prompts are rare. You can force updates (if there are any) by going to Settings > About Chrome OS  and clicking ‘Check for Updates’ – but it’s rare you will need to.

There’s also support for Android Apps, with Google Play present on the Duet. Once you sign into your Google account, you’ll find Android apps you’ve installed previously on Chrome OS beginning to be installed automatically.

While the majority of Android apps work with no issues, the Netflix Android app appears to be the lone standout – at least  in my list of apps. The app seems to just hang before crashing. This is a never mind moment, because of course you can load up the Netflix website and off you go.

Android Apps are still a bit rough on Chrome OS, there’s weird artefacts and usage that needs to be refined, but having the apps certainly broadens the options you have with a Chromebook. This isn’t an issue with Lenovo though as Google controls the whole experience.

If you are a little more computer literate than the average user though functionality can be further broadened through  Linux containers which are supported on the Duet via Crosstini. This means you can download, and install full Linux apps from terminal, making the Duet (and other Chromebooks) surprisingly functional.

Between the full Chrome browser, Linux support and Android apps there’s a lot of functionality in Chromebooks. You can load sites like Photopea or Pixlr for editing pictures, or hit up Google Play for a wealth of productivity apps, or games to keep you entertained. The only function I’ve really found limiting on Chromebooks is video editing, and while WeVideo is an option, it’s not quite as good as having Adobe Premiere accessible. 

Should you buy it?
For a student or anyone like students or business types who will be spending great amounts of time writing the Chromebook Duet is likely going to be a little cramped. For anyone looking for something compact, yet powerful though, the Duet is a good option.

As usual I have my niggles, the keyboard is a little cramped, there’s only a single USB-C port and there’s no expandable storage.

We’ve seen a couple of Chrome OS tablets hit the market, but even Google’s Pixel Slate (which I imported) doesn’t quite hit the mark I’d expect for a Chrome Tab (Why didn’t Google use this term?) – the Lenovo Ideapad Duet however does, and does it for quite a nice price at $599.

I’ve been on the lookout for a competent, yet compact tablet to fit in my STM satchel for some time, and the Duet even fits that bill. If you’re in the same sort of situation, this is definitely a tablet you want to try.

Lenovo Ideapad Duet Chromebook Review – Competent and Compact
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