Lenovo Chromebook Duet: A capable Chromebook that's also the best Android tablet you can buy right now

Jason Cipriani, CNN Underscored
Fri May 22, 2020

Google doesn't have the greatest track record when it comes to tablets. Android, its mobile operating system, isn't known for providing the best experience on larger displays. Outside of a handful of Google's device partners, Android tablets have all but ceased to exist.

Instead, Google has started to focus on improving the tablet experience on Chromebook devices. And more recently, alongside the launch of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet, Google updated Chrome OS to include a dedicated tablet mode.

The end result is a hybrid experience: part Chromebook, part Android tablet. And you know what? It's pretty darn good. Let's take a closer look at the $279 Lenovo Chromebook Duet, a 2-in-1 Chromebook that's shipping right now.

Design

Judging the Duet on design merits alone, we would have never guessed its $279 starting price point. In fact, we would have expected this tablet to start around $399, if not higher.

Our favorite aspect of the Duet's design is its size. It's very small and very portable. In total, with the cover and keyboard installed, the Duet weighs a light 2.03 pounds and is only 0.71 inches thick. On its own, it weighs 0.99 pounds and is an impressive 0.29 inches thin.

The aluminum housing has a premium feel and two-tone color scheme. The majority of the back housing is iron gray, but it switches to ice blue for a small section of the housing, where you'll also find the rear 8-megapixel camera.

The breakup in color makes it easy to identify which side of the Duet should be facing up when you're holding it in landscape mode. Granted, you can hold the Duet however you want, because the screen will rotate on its own, but there's a bit of mental reassurance in knowing that if the blue section of the tablet is at the top, then the volume controls and power button are on the right side of the housing, and the pogo pins that connect it to the included keyboard are along the bottom, ready to dock the tablet at a moment's notice.

There's a single USB-C port on the right side of the Duet, near the bottom, along with a small indicator light that puts checking on the Duet's charge status just a glance away.

The front of the Duet is taken up almost entirely by the 10.1-inch 1080p display. The bezels surrounding the screen aren't the thinnest we've seen on a tablet, but they don't get in the way or add any sort of distraction. Along the top is a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and an indicator light that lets you know when it's active.

On the top of the Duet's housing are two speakers that pump out impressive audio. We spent a lot of time streaming cooking lessons with the Duet and found the volume to be plenty and sound quality to be just fine.

Included in the box with the Duet are the keyboard and cover. The cover uses magnets to attach to the back of the Duet, and it even has a fold-out kickstand that looks a lot like the Surface Go 2's kickstand. The keyboard is small, but that's expected with a device of this size. However, that also means it took us a while to acclimate to the key size and spacing. Typing on it is an OK, but not great, experience. If your kids are using the Duet for remote learning, they'll surely have a better typing experience.

One small quibble we have with the cover is how it rests on the Duet. The magnets aren't strong enough to hold it still, meaning when you're using the Duet as a tablet, the back is constantly sliding — just slightly — and moving around. It's distracting enough that we remove the cover whenever we're using the Duet without the keyboard.

Software

The Duet runs Google's Chrome OS, and is the first Chrome OS device to take advantage of the new tablet mode. Chrome OS has always had touch controls, but starting with Chrome OS 81, there's now a dedicated tablet mode that changes how you interact with and navigate a Chrome OS tablet.

Gestures are used for common tasks like switching between apps, going to the home screen, or using apps in split-screen mode. If you've used Android 10's gesture navigation, the new Chrome OS gestures will feel very familiar.

Lenovo promises software updates to the Duet for the next eight years — an eternity in the tech industry.

Google's Chrome OS is much more than a glorified browser. You have access to the Play Store, full of Android apps that you can install and run, most of the time without issue. If you're familiar with Linux, you can enable that and use Terminal to run commands and install packages or apps.

Chrome OS is a robust platform that you can bend and tweak to fit your needs. For us, that meant we spent a lot of time using Chrome for common browsing tasks, like catching up on news and social media. However, there were some tasks where the Duet's screen size hampered the experience in Chrome.

For example, browsing our Feedly account, stories and their associative tiles weren't organized in the familiar grid. Instead, everything was spread out, leaving a lot of white space between pictures and story summaries.

Instead of getting frustrated, we quickly installed the Feedly Android app and now can stay on top of the news.

While formatting issues were limited to Feedly, just the fact that we know we have the option to do things like ditch the Gmail website and use the Android Gmail app adds to the appeal of the Duet as a tablet.

That's something we normally wouldn't say about a Chromebook, but the Duet's size and design beg for it to be used as a tablet first, laptop second. And an Android tablet, at that.

Performance and battery life

Inside the Chromebook Duet is a MediaTek Helio P60T, eight-core processor, 4GB of memory, and either 64GB or 128GB of storage.

Part of testing any device is running benchmark apps and processes. When testing a Chromebook, that means running a series of browser-based benchmarks that measure how fast the device can process various workloads and commands. Our tests for the Duet consisted of JetStream2, Octane 2.0, and Kraken JavaScript Benchmark.

The Duet scored a 32.77 for JetStream2, 9,665 for Octane 2.0, and 3,964.1 for the Kraken JavaScript Benchmark. We're just getting started with the new benchmark protocol, so we don't have any devices to compare these scores with quite yet. What we can tell you is that these results aren't overly impressive, but that doesn't translate into the Duet being slow.

There are times when we would experience a task taking longer than it should, like setting up Linux in Chrome OS, but overall, the Duet got the job done. Just don't expect the Duet to keep up with numerous open tabs and quick multitasking — you'll notice a slowdown, no doubt.

It's more than fast enough for common browsing tasks, Google Classroom access, and streaming videos or music. We even got in a few laps around Asphalt 9 without any noticeable hiccups or issues.

Lenovo estimates 10-hour battery life for the Duet, and we came surprisingly close to matching that. Our battery life benchmark consists of looping a video with the display brightness set to 50% and all unnecessary connections turned off. The Duet lasted 8 hours and 45 minutes. Most of the time, a device maker's battery life estimate is a best-case scenario, and the real-world results don't even come close. That wasn't the case with the Duet, both in benchmark testing and our real-world use. Battery life isn't a worry with the Duet.

Bottom line

Google has all but abandoned Android tablets, leaving that to its hardware partners. Instead, the company is focusing on improving Chrome OS as a whole. With the addition of a dedicated tablet mode in Chrome OS, Google's vision for its tablet offering is finally starting to take shape, and Lenovo's Chromebook Duet is the perfect device to show it off.

Whether you're looking for a tablet or for a Chromebook to get work done on, the Duet fits both roles nicely. With the Duet starting at $279 for 64GB of storage, or $299 for 128GB — and that includes a keyboard — you really can't go wrong.

Order the Lenovo Chromebook Duet right now, starting at $279.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.