Lenovo IdeaPad Duet review: Great Chrome tablet at nice price

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Lenovo IdeaPad Duet

“The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet offers tremendous value for all this affordable 2-in-1 tablet can do.”
  • Excellent build quality
  • Lighter than the iPad
  • Tremendous value
  • Long battery life
  • Cramped keyboard layout
  • Entire package is a bit chunky
  • Mediocre performance
MSRP $279.00

Google’s Pixel Slate had a lot of promise. It was a 2-in-1 tablet with the flexibility of the Surface Pro, accompanied by the richness of the Android app ecosystem. For one reason or another, the product had been discontinued less than a year after launching. It was such a failure that Google announced it was leaving the tablet market for good, leaving products like Microsoft’s $400 Surface Go 2 and Apple’s $329 iPad to compete at the low end.

Now, Lenovo is filling the hole left behind by the Pixel Slate. The IdeaPad Duet is a compact 10.1-inch tablet with a starting price of $279. The best part? The kickstand cover and keyboard come bundled in for that price. That’s an attractive price for anyone looking for a tablet. Can the Duet do for Chrome OS what the Pixel Slate could not?

Design

By itself, the Duet is as svelte a tablet as you would expect. It’s 0.28-inches thick, compared to the Microsoft Surface Go 2 at 0.33 inches and the baseline iPad at 0.29 inches. That’s plenty thin and makes the Duet comfortable to hold in one hand. The Duet’s also enjoy an impressive build quality, with a combination metal and plastic chassis that feels solid and, at just 0.99 pounds, is exceptionally light. The Surface Go 2 comes in at 1.2 pounds and the iPad at 1.07 pounds.

Things change a bit when you add the rear kickstand cover and keyboard. In that case, the Duet becomes quite chunky at 0.71 inches thick and 2.03 pounds. That’s thicker and heavier than the Surface Go 2 with its integrated kickstand and $130 Type Cover and the iPad with its $159 Smart Keyboard. Note that both the Duet and the Surface Go 2 solutions include a touchpad while the iPad’s does not. You have to upgrade to the much more expensive iPad Pro and add on the Magic Keyboard to get a touchpad built into the keyboard cover.

The Duet is also an attractive tablet in its Ice Blue and Iron Gray color scheme that’s carried over to the cloth covering on the kickstand cover (the gray at least). It’s a conservative design that’s neither boring nor outlandish, landing it right in the Goldilocks zone of good looks.

One disappointment is the single USB-C port serving as the only connection. There’s no 3.5mm audio jack and no included adapter — that’s a bummer, limiting you to connecting a headphone or speaker via Bluetooth. That’s one area I wish it hadn’t followed the lead of the iPad. There’s also no SD card slot, another disappointment. Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 4.2 are there to keep you connected wirelessly. 

Keyboard and touchpad

As mentioned earlier, the Duet ships with a kickstand cover and a detachable keyboard in the box, making the tablet a tremendous value. You’ll spend a minimum of $130 more with the Surface Go 2 and iPad to equip the same functionality. The question is, how’s the quality of these included components?

The kickstand cover attaching to the rear of the tablet with an amazingly strong magnet that makes for a surprisingly secure combination. The kickstand extends out to an impressive 135 degrees. That matches the Surface Go 2’s and lets the tablet lay at a comfortable angle for inking. It also holds the tablet at a good angle on a flat surface. Like most detachable tablets, though, it’s clumsy in a lap.

You’ll spend hundreds more on a Surface Go 2 or iPad to enjoy the same functionality.

The keyboard itself is a little less impressive. It connects to the tablet via pogo pins and more magnets. It’s secure, the key pitch (the distance between the center of each key) is a healthy 18mm, and the travel is good at 1.3mm. The layout, though still felt cramped — especially the tiny punctuation keys on the right. The key mechanism was clicky and quiet, though, which is great. Unlike Microsoft’s excellent Type Cover, the Duet’s keyboard doesn’t prop up at an angle, leaving flat as the only option.

The glass touchpad fares better. It’s rather small, by necessity given the tablet’s overall dimensions, but it’s smooth in action and has a satisfying click. Mousing around and using Chrome OS multitouch gestures felt natural and precise. Then, detach the rear cover and the keyboard and you’re left with a svelte tablet that’s eminently comfortable to use for swiping through web pages and reading e-books and other documents. The touch display is responsive and, again, everything feels natural. You can pick up an active pen as an optional purchase.

There’s a great deal of value here. You’ll spend hundreds more on a Surface Go 2 or iPad to enjoy the same functionality — and value is the real story. The keyboard isn’t perfect, but the fact that Lenovo includes it in the Duet’s low price makes things far more palatable.

Display and audio

Lenovo rates the display at 400 nits, and while I can’t measure it with my colorimeter thanks to a lack of Chrome OS support, the screen does seem bright enough for all but working outside under direct sunlight. The display’s colors appear sufficient for web browsing, productivity work, and watching Netflix, but they’re likely not wide nor accurate enough for pro-level photo editing. And that’s OK because you wouldn’t want to do work like that on this tablet in any event.

You can get a better display on other tablets. The 16:10 aspect ratio makes for comfortable portrait use, and the 1,920 x 1,200 resolution is sharp on the 10.1-inch panel. The Surface Go 2’s larger 10.5-inch display is just slightly higher resolution at 3:2 and 1,920 x 1,280, but the difference isn’t noticeable. By means of comparison, the iPad’s 10.2-inch 16:10 display comes in at a much sharper 2,160 x 1,620 resolution and 500 nits of brightness.

The Duet’s audio is fine. Two top-firing speakers are above the display and they put out a decent sound that’s good enough for the occasional YouTube video or tune, but you’ll want to connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones or an external Bluetooth speaker.

Performance

The Duet is built around an eight-core MediaTek Helio P60T processor and sports 4GB of RAM. Storage is eMMC, which is common for Chromebooks but isn’t as fast as a solid-state drive. It can be configured at 64GB for $279 and $128GB for $299. Clearly, it’s well worth the $20 to double the storage.

In terms of synthetic benchmarks, the first test I ran was Geekbench 4 (Geekbench 5 isn’t available for the Duet, likely due to the processor) The Duet scored 1,376 on the single-core test and 5528 on the multi-core test. That’s near the bottom of our database, particularly the single-core test that is beat out by older Intel Pentium processors. Next, I ran the Speedometer 2.0 test to see how well the MediaTek CPU performs compared to the Intel alternatives on web-related tasks. The Duet scored 27 on the test, which places it at the very bottom of our rankings. Again, you have to look at older Intel Pentium processors to see the same level of performance.

This isn’t the fastest Chrome OS device I’ve used. Not by a long shot.

This isn’t the fastest Chrome OS device I’ve used. Not by a long shot. The Asus Chromebook Flip C436, for example, scored a much faster 97 with a relatively low-end 10th-gen Intel Core i3 processor. And, the Chromebook Flip C436 was much faster subjectively as well. Where the Duet would sometimes start lagging when I had several Chrome tabs open and a couple of Android apps running in the background, the Asus didn’t miss a beat. The difference is noticeable.

However, that doesn’t make the Duet’s performance bad. Ultimately, I found it more than fast enough for the kinds of tasks I can imagine using it for — web browsing, making quick notes and edits using the Android version of Microsoft’s Office apps, and watching YouTube video and Netflix. It would make for an excellent device for kids, and could even work well bringing to college. Chrome OS really helps here by being so thin and light compared to Windows 10, but I’ll note that the Apple iPad is quite a bit more fluid than the Duet.

The Duet can run Android games, but they’re not as smooth as on some other Chrome OS devices. A more demanding title like Asphalt 9 demonstrated some choppiness at times, and that’s something you won’t see with the iPad. If gaming is important to you, then you’ll likely want to consider Apple’s tablet.

Battery life

Being a slower and more power-efficient CPU — because that’s another important aspect here — has its upside. Although the Duet only has 27 watt-hours of battery capacity, which is pretty light, it demonstrated excellent battery life.

For example, the Duet lasted a very impressive eight hours on our most demanding Basemark web benchmark test. That’s one of the longest durations we’ve seen on this test, and it’s much longer than you’ll see with the Surface Go 2 or the iPad.

On our web browsing test, the Duet lasted almost 14 hours, which is again an excellent score and is more than three times as long as the Surface Go 2. This laptop will get you through a day and a half of work or more before you need to top it off. If you want to watch video, then you’ll be slightly less impressed with the Duet; it managed 12.5 hours looping our local Full HD Avengers trailer, which is good but not great. The Surface Go 2 managed around an hour less, which is the only battery test where it could compete with the Duet.

Chrome OS

A tablet is only as good as the software it runs, and Chrome OS has come a long way. Thanks to fresh software update, Chrome OS does a much better job of running on a tablet today than it did just a few weeks ago.

When you remove the tablet, the Duet automatically switches to Chrome OS’s tablet mode. Tablet mode gives you a couple of extra gestures, such as a swipe up to reveal all of your running apps and a short swipe up and hold to open up your app drawer. In the running apps view, you can drag apps to the right and left side to utilize the Chrome OS split-screen view. Finally, Chrome has a new feature for showing open tabs — switch to tablet mode, and the tabs disappear, to be replaced by a thumbnail view that’s accessible by tapping on a number icon representing how many open tabs you’re running.

All of these features are fluid enough to be usable, and they elevate Chrome OS on a tablet like the Duet. It’s more than what Windows 10 offers in tablet mode. More importantly, you can run Android apps that are made for touch-screen devices right out of the Google Play Store. They run without issue and — other than gaming — with plenty of performance as long as you don’t have too many apps open at once.

Of course, Chrome OS can’t hold a candle to iPadOS, which was made exclusively for tablets. You don’t have as many gestures available, and iPad apps tend to be more elegant and refined than many Android alternatives. But even so, the Duet makes for a functional and quite usable tablet, and I can see it taking over some minutes from my iPad.

Our take

By itself, the IdeaPad Duet is an OK tablet for the price. That is, if your budget is severely limited and you really want a Chromebook, then the Duet will fit your needs without blowing you away.

But toss in the included kickstand cover and keyboard and suddenly the Duet is a serious value. You’ll spend hundreds more on a different tablet to get the same functionality, and that makes the Duet a very attractive option indeed.

Are there any alternatives?

It’s obvious which products most closely compete with the IdeaPad Duet, and I’ve compared them throughout this review. The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is the Windows 10 competitor, coming in at about $100 more and with excellent Type Cover and Surface Pen options that make it even more costly. If you’d rather run Windows 10 than Chrome OS, then the Surface Go 2 is the natural alternative.

Then, there’s the entry-level Apple iPad, coming in at $329. There’s no pen support, which puts it behind the Duet for anyone who wants to write or draw on the display, and its keyboard is an expensive addition. Again, it comes down to the choice of operating systems: If you want iOS rather than Chrome OS, then the iPad is the obvious choice.

If you’re after Chrome OS but would rather go with a clamshell laptop, then the best choice is likely the $650 Pixelbook Go. Yes, it’s more expensive, but you get a better display, an excellent keyboard, and an overall boost in build quality.

How long will it last?

Chrome OS is pretty efficient and is regularly updated, and so the Duet should last for quite a while before it becomes obsolete. And its physical build should keep it going well beyond the one-year warranty.

Should you buy it?

Yes. At $279, the Duet with its included kickstand cover and keyboard is a steal. You’ll get more than enough use of it even as a second or third device for browsing the web, and if you need something highly portable to peck away on a document, the Duet can do that, too.

Editors' Recommendations