When you think of Chrome OS, you probably think of cheap laptops. For the past few years, though, Google has been working to make Chrome OS better for more expensive machines and, perhaps more importantly, for tablets. The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet looks on paper like it would be the first good Chrome OS tablet, but does it live up? I’ve spent the past week finding out.
Hardware & Display |
The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet is a device in three parts. At the core, there’s a tablet made from aluminum and with a soft-touch blue accent at the top. There’s nothing really special about the tablet itself. The build is solid — though it does creak a bit if you apply pressure in some areas —, the weight is a bit heavy, but not to an excessive point, and the buttons along the side are tactile and well-placed too.
It’s hard to complain about the tablet portion of this device because, really, it’s just so simple. Nothing about it really stands out and asks for your attention. That’s a shame considering some of Lenovo’s tablet designs are really unique, but it’s not a bad thing either. My sole complaint about the hardware might be that it’s just a little bit “sharp.” The corners aren’t rounded very much on the back which, over time, might make it slightly uncomfortable to hold. Still, that’s nitpicking a design that’s really just totally acceptable.
The tablet portion of the IdeaPad Duet also includes a 10.1-inch 1080p display which is pretty decent. It’s not going to stun anyone, but there’s also nothing that’s really wrong with it. It can be a bit dim outdoors, but inside it’s going to be more than enough for 99% of scenarios. Bezels are a bit big, but not obnoxiously so. Colors are good, too, with decent enough uniformity. Watching content on this tablet is fine, and the size is just right for work too. This display is also equipped to recognize a USI stylus, something that really comes in handy for drawing. We’ve got a full breakdown of that technology here.
The biggest recommendation I’d offer for the display on the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet is to head to the system settings and decrease the scale. Setting the display scaling to about 90% leaves you with much more room to get things done without sacrificing touch targets.
Going around the tablet, you’ll find microphones, a front-facing webcam (which isn’t great), a rear-facing camera (which is much worse), the POGO pins for the keyboard dock, and a single USB-C port. One thing you won’t find, though, is a headphone jack. Why? Who knows.
That USB-C port is used for charging, data transfer, and display out. That’s great! However, there are a couple of caveats. For one, there’s only one USB-C port, meaning you’ll need a dongle to plug anything in while charging. Also, display out is severely limited. For most displays, you’ll be stuck at well under HD resolution just to achieve usable results. Don’t buy this product with hooking up an external display in mind.
Keyboard & Trackpad |
The other two parts of the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet are the keyboard dock and the kickstand. Briefly touching on the kickstand, it attaches completely with magnets — awesome — and has a fabric design that looks nice and feels good to hold. The kickstand itself is a bit tricky to get used to, but works well and is very stable. It also adjusts to pretty wide angles and doesn’t lack stability at any of them.
The keyboard, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. For a keyboard on a 10-inch tablet, it’s great. The keys have a good amount of travel and aren’t particularly small, either. In fact, it only took a couple of hours of use to get used to the keys with the exception of the right-hand side. The punctuation keys on that side are small and cramped and just really difficult to get used to. It takes several hours of use to really get tuned to those keys and you’ll probably still have typos regardless.
My other big complaint is stability. The keyboard won’t just detach or anything, but you absolutely cannot comfortably use this product in your lap. The flexible fabric portion between the tablet and the keyboard prevents that and it’s just a crying shame. I’d find this product much more useful if it had a more stable keyboard that could be used on your lap.
There are little nitpicks I could make about the keyboard dock such as a lack of backlighting, but let’s talk about the good here. This keyboard is included. Generally, getting a first-party keyboard for a tablet such as the iPad or a Galaxy Tab will cost a fair bit extra, often up to $200 on the pricier models. Lenovo, though, includes it in the box. That’s really great!
What about the trackpad? It’s nothing special. It’s plastic which means it feels cheap and the size of the trackpad is decidedly small. Shame, but it’s far from a deal-breaker if you ask me.
Is Chrome OS ready for tablets? |
Most of the time with Chromebooks, the story is just about how Chrome OS performs on that specific hardware. With the IdeaPad Duet, though, Lenovo and Google have worked together on some improvements for this hardware specifically to make it a better tablet.
However, it’s still hard to say that Chrome OS is all that good on tablets. Google’s most recent improvements — gesture navigation and a touch-optimized browser UI — go a long way to make using this device better, but they’re not enough.
Chrome OS’ homescreen for tablets is just not good. The app drawer can be reorganized and given folders, but it’s a mess at first and even after being organized, still feels cluttered and limited — even more so than an iPad. For whatever reason, too, the homescreen is a huge source of performance issues even though the “desktop” mode performs just fine. It’s strange and pretty annoying, to be honest.
Another really confusing aspect of Chrome OS on tablets and also just in general is that there are three different settings menus. Clicking the settings button in the quick shortcuts section accesses one, tapping “Settings” on the browser’s menu accesses another, and if you dig far enough you can access an Android settings menu. All of these control different things — Why?!
There shouldn’t be two settings menus, let alone three!
Android apps, too, are a bit of a chore here. They’re useful and perform decent enough, but web apps work better and don’t drain the battery nearly as much. To fully realize the potential of the IdeaPad Duet, we need more Progressive Web Apps. As it stands today, too many Android apps just aren’t well optimized for Chrome OS. They fill the gap when it comes to games, downloading offline content, and even some things like photo editing, but they’re just not ideal.
Another annoyance is the lockscreen. It’s slow and poorly optimized for touch. Even after enabling the PIN unlock option, the experience of unlocking is cumbersome. Google really needs to revamp this experience. Either that, or make some form of biometrics a requirement on Chrome OS tablets.
Chrome OS’ “tablet mode” homescreen
Lenovo has been marketing the IdeaPad Duet as part tablet, part productivity machine. For the latter, a device needs capable performance. Does the Duet hold up? Mostly.
Packed inside of the IdeaPad Duet you’ll find 4GB of RAM, 64 or 128GB of eMMC storage (I reviewed the 128GB model), and a MediaTek Helio P60T processor. All of those combined deliver an experience that’s actually quite good as long as you have your expectations set properly.
If you pick up an IdeaPad Duet hoping to make it your portable productivity workplace, running communication apps, email, and a half-dozen tabs, you’ll likely be disappointed. This setup just can’t handle all of that without choking.
I can’t run much more than three “programs” at a time
I’ve found that the sweet spot, at least for my personal workflow, is 2-4 tabs and Slack in the background. I can have WordPress open, the reference for my current project, and other tools like Google Keep or Gmail open with minimal hiccups. You absolutely cannot be a tab hoarder with this device or even try to open too many ad-heavy pages at once. The Duet will absolutely fail under the pressure and you’ll experience a ton of lag.
For most people, though, the IdeaPad Duet should hold up just fine. I’ve rarely had Android apps lag up and any form of gaming — whether that be local or on Google Stadia — has been fine as well. The best advice I have for anyone who buys this tablet is to regularly reboot it. I found that it needs at least one reboot every 48 hours otherwise lag becomes more common.
Battery Life |
One of the biggest advantages of most Chromebooks is battery life and I’m happy to say that holds up pretty well on the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet! On average, I could use the Duet on and off for 2-3 days depending on how much I use it. Since it’s not a powerhouse, I can’t use it for my morning workflow, but using it for a few hours in the afternoon and evening I rarely find I can drain it more than 50% in a day.
As mentioned, the Duet charges over USB-C. It accepts any Power Delivery charger and includes one in the box, so you’ll get a speedy charge. I just wish there was a second port on the left-hand side.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet is pretty great for media consumption, and the speakers help that. The dual speakers at the top of the tablet are pretty good considering the $279 price tag at play here. Bass isn’t super noteworthy and they do degrade a bit at higher volumes, but I was impressed the first time I used the speakers on the IdeaPad Duet.
This is a crucial part of the tablet too for Stadia. Google’s cloud-streaming game platform is designed to run on Chrome and, for the IdeaPad Duet, it runs brilliantly. Having a good set of speakers makes the Duet a pretty killer portable Stadia machine. I know it’s the only tablet I’d recommend to use the platform.
Final Thoughts |
The verdict on the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet comes down to just one thing — value. At $279, the value isn’t really at question. A capable tablet with a keyboard and kickstand included is just a great deal, but is it worth more than an iPad? For most people, I think a traditional tablet like the iPad is a better option.
Still, for Android users who want a tablet that integrates well with their phone or just someone who wants a proper browser on their tablet, the IdeaPad Duet is a great way to go. I hope Lenovo eventually releases a version with a bit more power in the same form factor for users like me, but a lot of people are going to be happy with this product. I know I’d recommend this over basically any traditional Android tablet.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet is available for $279 from Lenovo, Best Buy, and other retailers.
FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.