A Closer Look At The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

Features:

ProsCons
Lightweight portableSmall keyboard
10+ hours battery lifeMagnet connection not stable
PriceOne port for charging and
ScreenMemory
Stylish

Overview

The two-in-one laptop market (devices that combine laptop and tablet in one) is becoming an increasingly competitive segment – and Lenovo has produced a device that has surprised both expert reviewers and users alike. The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook does have some shortcomings – however, these are easily overshadowed by the sheer functionality of the device. That functionality is complimented by great portability and power. This hybrid device punches way above its weight class, especially given its small stature. Of all the Chromebooks tested this year this is one that stands out from the crowd – and is well worth a second look.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook is one of the newer Chromebooks to reach an increasingly demanding consumer base. Lenovo has hit that sweet spot between providing great support and portability and some hardware that strikes the perfect balance – something that other manufacturers sometimes struggle to achieve. It also adds great value for money to the mix.

The Duet takes the utility of the Chrome OS and also provides a 10-inch keyboard to the tablet. The result is a masterful execution of what exactly a Chromebook should be. And Lenovo has managed to bring the Duet to market at an incredibly attractive price point. One could argue that this device is simply one of the best Chromebooks released in the past 12 months.

One of the traditional failings of Chromebooks has been a lack of battery life – most models are good for around 10 hours (depending on how much is asked of them) The Duet performed for almost an entire day when tasked with looping HD video – no small feat given it diminutive size.

It’s worth noting that this was not the 9-5 working day, when we say it lasted an entire day we mean from sunrise to sunrise.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

Battery

During testing we really through everything but the kitchen sink at the Duet (and that option was considered – at least a virtual kitchen sink). The Duet outlasted us – that incredible battery ran out of oomph a full 21 hours and 29 minutes after testing started. We’re not sure that the Duet simply didn’t take pity on our exhausted test crew.

The great thing about that exceptional battery life is it gives the user plenty of time to explore the entire Android ecosystem – and the Google apps that come standard with the Duet’s Chrome operating system.

Normally we’d say that this sort of functionality would place the duet head and shoulders above the competition – but this petite powerhouse has more to offer. There’s also the ability to download and use the beta version of a Linux virtual machine. So you can use the interface to access all the latest Linux software.

It is incredibly rare (almost unknown) to see this sort of quality OS packed into a tablet – but the Duet simply isn’t a usual two-in-one machine.

Now here’s another reason to take a good, long hard look at the Duet. Lenovo has made it available for €329. If you are looking at a Chromebook or 2-in-1 laptop you really are going to be hard-pressed to find a portable solution that delivers what the Duet does at that price point. It may sound like hyperbole – but the Duet finally delivers on the promise of the last decade. It is the next step in the evolution of the Chromebook.

However, as with most things in life – perfection is ever elusive. The duet does have some minor failings. The keyboard is the brick-and-mortar version of a virtual touchscreen. It takes a bit of getting used to in order to get the best from it – accuracy can be a challenge.

For those who are used to a full-size keyboard, the experience can be frustrating – and for those with bigger fingers, it can verge on being impossible to use effectively.

The trackpad is also slightly underwhelming, although it will do in a pinch. It lacks responsiveness when compared to trackpads on traditional laptop keyboards – and those trackpads can be tricky, so the lack is even more of irritation at times.

There also seems to have been less attention paid to the magnetic kickstand cover and the keyboard attachment. Relying on magnets may be elegant- but the arrangement suffers in functionality. The components tend to drift apart under normal usage – and that becomes frustrating when it happens regularly.

That said, the Duet does provide a kickstand cover – and a keyboard, unlike the Microsoft Surface Go 2. Those are available as a separate purchase.

The speakers are just about what we’ve come to expect from a tablet. Invest in a good pair of heaph9ones and you’ll be satisfied.

Connectivity

Take note, however, that the Duet only comes equipped with a single USB-C port. You have to invest in a USB-C adapter when you’re using headphones. So, if you are using headphones you will not be able to charge the device at the same time. However, given that incredible battery life, this is not going to be a deal-breaker for most users.

Even with these minor issues, the Duet shines. Yes, those trackpad and keyboard issues can give some users pause when making that buying decision. Those issues prevent us from recommending the Duet to every user. We had to take a few points off the final score. That said – for most users this is a Chromebook that ticks all the right boxes – and does it well. The Lenovo Duet Chromebook is the best we’ve seen in the past year. For those in search of a great 2-in-1 laptop we repeat – take a hard look and compare it to some of the competitor’s products.

The Lenovo Duet Chromebook is available on the shelf from major retailers for about €329.00 (that’s around £300). Spend an extra €20

and upgrade from the entry-level 64GB of storage and get your hands on the 129GB model.

Remember – unlike models available from many competitors you’ll also get that kickstand and keyboard. That’s great value when you consider that no further purchases are necessary to get a full 2-in-1 laptop.

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This should really be a selling point – but given the fact that the Microsoft Surface Go 2 requires that extra expenditure Microsoft has provided Lenovo with a great USP. It’s a savvy and responsible move by Lenovo – kudos to them.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

Design

The Duet does fall down a bit when it comes to design. The aforementioned issues with the magnetic attachment of the peripherals can get irritation. They seem securely attached while being used – but the keyboard pulls free during normal use and extending the kickstand can see the entire back cover off.

In the grand scheme of things, these may seem more like niggles than a reason to tear your hair out – after all, it’s not that time-consuming to simply reattach the peripherals. But have it happen often enough and it starts to become an issue.

But, the one issue that dents the appeal of the Duet is the size of the keyboard (and that sub-optimal trackpad performance needs to be mentioned as well).

Trackpads on full-size laptops are already not great – and for Lenovo to fail to match an already low standard on a machine that shines in so many other areas borders on the negligent – the trackpad is simply sluggish in response. The keys are also packed together very tightly – which can be a problem for those without pinpoint typing accuracy.

Both keyboard and trackpad also lack that important tactile feedback that is standard with most modern laptops. That makes getting used to the functionality challenging – it’s not usual for some mistakes to creep into documents as one acclimatizes oneself to the keyboard spacing.

It must be said that as far as irritation levels are concerned the keypad wins hands down. Tapping on it can swiftly become an issue as there is that lack of ‘click’. That means that users have no real clue if their input is even registering – and that is a problem.

All that said, it’s accessibility that really lets the user down. If you are not the most dextrous of people – or if you have a physical disability or that lack of fine motor skills that is an almost inevitable result of the ageing process you really are going to struggle.

This is a design flaw that is inexcusable in this day and age. Accessibility has been pointed out as an issue by numerous reviewers and a myriad of users. The sad thing is that manufacturers know how to fix the issue. Others have produced machines that have come on in leaps and bounds when it comes to accessibility – it’s a crying shame that Lenovo seems to have missed the boat.

As far as looks are concerned, there’s nothing to complain about if you are a fan of the modern minimalist approach to design. The ports and buttons along the sides of the machine are almost entirely absent – and that adds to its charm Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. The 10-inch FHD (IPS) display (1920 x 1200) is bright and vibrant enough to satisfy most users. The Chrome OS is everything we have begun to expect from Google – easy to navigate and intuitive.

The black bevel around the edges of the display is not overly annoying and you cease to notice it after a while. Gamers and those who enjoy HD video will have little to complain about. The video is smooth, the text is extremely legible and kind on the eyes, even when it comes to extended use.

Of the rare controls on the side, the volume rocker is easy to use and effective -and the power button is just as responsive. The only other feature is the USB-C port. This is not a bad thing – the fewer physical controls there are, the simpler things are on the inside (and that has a positive effect on performance) – and the less there is to go wrong on the outside.

The front two-megapixel camera is located on the long axis of the tablet, while the back camera is an acceptable 8-megapixel unit at the top left corner. Image quality from both is great. Special mention needs to be made of the quality of that forward-facing camera which is top of the class (or at least close to it) when it comes to integrated laptop cameras.

The exterior of the Duet’s kickstand is manufactured using an attractive fabric that certainly contributes to its stylish good looks. It’s a cut above the usual silicon or leather-look exteriors that many users have come to know and dislike. It’s also more attractive than the usual plastic or metal finish of many laptops.

Performance

On paper, the specs would indicate that the duet is simply not as powerful as some of its full-size laptop brethren. However, in all honesty, if you are going to be looking to play games such as Metro: Exodus on a machine like this, you might be barking up the wrong tree.

However, the Duet does what it is designed to do – and does it well. For web browsing, watching streaming video and some light lifting using a productivity suite it will not disappoint. A word of warning – keep the number of open tabs in Chrome manageable, but you can certainly open enough to be useful for most tasks with system performance falling off the edge of a cliff.

If you’re a gamer and want to simply enjoy a light gaming experience the Duet will deliver. However, this is by no means a gaming sA good rule of thumb is that if it can be played on a phone or a tablet the Duet will be up to the task.

No mention of performance would be complete without repeating the fact that the battery life of this 2-in-1 is exceptional. It was tested at half volume and 50% brightness and came close to a whole days’ worth of power (21 hours and 29 minutes) – and that is simply exceptional.

As is usual batteries will degrade over time, so don’t expect that battery life to remain in the region of 22 hours forever. Testing and comments from users seem to indicate that this sort of performance is typical – and Lenovo says the battery should last around 10 hours from the moment you unbox it. However, if our testing is any indication, under normal conditions the Duet should beat the pants off that claim.

The great battery life is probably due to the lightweight components used in the manufacture of the Duet- they simply don’t draw that much power. The light-duty CPU and GPU are frugal when it comes to power consumption (they are not as power-hungry as AMD or Intel units).

But it’s a case of what you gain on the swings you lose on the roundabouts. The Duet suffers when it comes to high-end performance. It’s only got 4GB of RAM so limiting those open Chrome tabs is essential. Close as many background apps as possible when playing games or watching a movie.

Software

Lightweight 2-in-1 laptops tend to be light on the software options, but the Duet provides access to that wonderful library of Android apps. You don’t need all those software pions a la Windows or AmxBook beca8use you have access to the largest digital marketplace on the planet.

Comparing it to the Surface Go 2, which is limited to the offerings from the Microsoft Store, the Duet is by far the better choice when it comes to the software that is at the users’ fingertips.

In fact, such is the embarrassment of riches available to the Duet users (as far as apps are concerned) that space can quickly become an issue. If you are going to be downloading a heap of apps, spend that little bit extra on the 128GB model. The baseline 64GB is going to be limiting if you are intent on loading up your drive.

The Linux virtual machine on the Chrome OS is one of the most exciting things to happen to the Chromebook. The beta version is available for use on the Duet – and accessing it is literally as easy as flipping a system setting switch.

Setup of a fully operational Linux command line terminal should take around 5 minutes. Once it is active users have even more software choices courtesy of the Linux software ecosystem. It’s a great choice to have.

Why Buy?

If you are in search of a lightweight 2-in- then the Duet is simply a great choice and welcome addition to the Chromebook stable. The sheer portability speaks volumes in its favour.

Budget.

It’s difficult to imagine that you are going to get better versatility in a 2-in-i than is offered by the Lenovo Duet with its sub €329 price tag.

Power

However, if you want more power than can be offered by Android or iOS you probably be better off with another system, Although mobile operating systems have come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years they still cannot match MacOS, Windows or a Linux OS. Chrome OS is slap bang in the middle – it offers more than a mobile OS, even coming close to the performance of the traditional laptop, and not being as resource hungry.

Reasons Why Not

That issue with the dexterity required to effectively use the keyboard is an albatross around the Duet’s neck. The dexterity required to use a keyboard that is both smaller than the standard for a laptop – and has keys that are closer together may be too much for many users. Those users would be better off with a standard laptop.

If you are looking for high performance and a device that can handle multiple tasks with ease then the Duet might not be the best bet. If you are a user that has a huge number of Chrome tabs open at the same time – the Duet is also going to struggle.

If you prefer the traditional look and feel and operation of a tried and time-tested laptop OS you may be disappointed with the Lenovo Duet. Rather opt for the latest Windows OS or a MacOS. You are probably not going to be satisfied with your Chromebook / Duet experience.

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