Lenovo Chromebook Duet review: Redefining the small and cheap tablet

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Lenovo Chromebook Duet review: Redefining the small and cheap tablet

The Lenovo Chromebook Duet is one of the only Chromebooks I’ve ever used that knows what it is. Much like Apple’s iPad or Microsoft’s Surface, the Duet’s identity is in its detachable versatility. It embraces its role wholeheartedly, with a lightweight design, bright WUXGA display, and funky magnetic keyboard case that combine into an impressively portable and stylish package.

It’s as easy on the wallet as it is on the eyes. The Duet costs just $299 at Best Buy for 128GB of storage—and that’s with a detachable keyboard. But you don’t need to be in the market for a cheap Chromebook to want one. The Duet’s quirky personality more than makes up for its pokey processor, so while it might not stand up to even a middling Chromebook like the Pixelbook Go in speed tests, the Duet will absolutely stand out in the crowd.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them. 

Good looks in a small package

If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed the Duet was designed by Google. The back has a two-tone blue-and-gray design like the Pixel phones, the front has uniform bezels like the Pixel Slate, and the keyboard cover has a knit exterior like the Pixel fabric case. Basically, the Duet combines the best elements of Google’s products into a very nice-looking tablet. The camera is a little bumpier than I’d like, but it’s no worse than that on any other tablet.

lenovo duet side Michael Simon/IDG

The Duet is thin enough that the camera sticks out quite a bit.

But even with a somewhat derivative design, Lenovo has put some thought into the details. The power button and volume rocker are perfectly split by the color line to create come nice symmetry, the speakers are on the top so as not to be muffled by the keyboard, and the sole USB-C port is on the bottom to keep the cord from getting tangled. That’s also where you’ll be plugging in earbuds, because the Duet doesn’t have a headphone jack. It’s the only real knock I can levy on the design, and even so, it’s a small one because Lenovo includes a 3.5mm-to-USB-C adapter in the box.

On its own, the Duet weighs just a pound, less than the 9.7-inch iPad. Its 6.29 x 9.44-inch frame is extremely easy to hold with one hand, and the 10.1-inch screen strikes a nice balance between too big and too small. The bezels around the screen are uniform and relatively skinny, so the focus is entirely on the screen.

lenovo duet stand Michael Simon/IDG

It was smart for Lenovo to split the keyboard case into two parts.

And what a screen it is. While most Chromebooks in this price range have 720p displays, the Duet has a better-than-full-HD WUXGA 1900×1200 resolution that’s both bright and crisp. Max brightness topped 500 nits and while it’s a tad uneven in spots, it’s one of the better displays I’ve seen on a Chromebook at any price range. It even holds up compared to the Pixel Slate’s marvelous 2000×3000 Molecular Display. For $300 you’re not going to find a better display—unless you get an iPad on sale.

A stand-up accessory brings it all together

With a fantastic display and lightweight design, the Duet would be an excellent tablet running any OS, but it’s a particularly good showcase for Chrome’s tablet mode enhancements. With version 81, Google introduced Android-inspired gestures for navigation. They’re right at home on a tablet this small. It feels a lot like using a big phone, with intuitive back and home gestures that make the UI smart and animated.

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