A low-priced laptop is a plus for me. To be more precise, I prefer high-quality, low-priced laptops. It’s common knowledge that for every $100 taken off the price of a laptop, the device’s features, design, and performance suffer. On the other hand, it gives me cause for celebration whenever I come across one that is a cut above the Black Friday doorbuster norm.
The Lenovo Duet Chromebook is an inexpensive laptop that looks good, has a serviceable keyboard, is compact enough to take anywhere, and can be used as a tablet for streaming video. Even if it’s not lightning quick and the touchpad is subpar, it’s still among the greatest PCs money can buy.
I would say the same thing about practically every 11-inch laptop: it’s better as a supplementary or travel laptop than a primary computer.
This 11-inch ChromeOS tablet includes a keyboard cover and kickstand and is currently priced at $379. As a result, you may use it as either a tablet with a touchscreen or a clamshell laptop. It’s comparable to the Microsoft Surface 2-in-1 in that regard, but at a lower price.
The variant currently available in stores includes 128GB of eMMC storage, which is an improvement over the 64GB found in the version we tested.
Microsoft already offers a less expensive Surface model; the latest iteration, the Surface Go 3, retails for just $499. It costs $400, runs Windows rather than ChromeOS, and is powered by an Intel processor rather than a Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c.
However, the Lenovo Duet has a really excellent keyboard cover that comes included in the box, whereas Microsoft’s keyboard cover is an optional extra that costs between $100 and $129. At this price point, the extra 25% for the keyboard (a necessity) makes a significant dent in the budget.
The Duet’s limitations as a Chromebook make it less versatile than a Windows laptop, but given that newer Chromebooks can run nearly any Android app, the number of scenarios in which this makes a significant difference to you continues to shrink.
And when comparing apples to apples, a sub-$500 ChromeOS device will likely seem faster and more responsive than a similarly cost Windows PC.
Keyboard and Kickstand
It’s no secret that I think the best part of the Surface line, and the finest part of the Lenovo Duet, is the keyboard cover design and build quality.
The Lenovo keyboard is equally sturdy, unlike some clip-on keyboards that are fragile, and its relatively small keys have great depth and a pleasing click when pressed. However, the little touchpad is the single most bothersome aspect of this device. While it serves its purpose, I find that it isn’t as accurate or responsive as I’d like.
The following is a quick guide on using the trackpad in ChromeOS. If you want your Mac to behave more like Windows, head to Settings > Device > Touchpad and toggle the switches to enable tap-to-click and tap-dragging.
This keyboard cover might suffice for the few occasions when I need to type a lengthy piece. However, using the touchpad for extensive document navigation was not enjoyable while serious editing. Yet, realistically, that’s a tall order for such a low-priced gadget.
The kickstand is a separate piece of the rear cover that magnetically clips onto the back of the system and matches the look of the keyboard cover, in contrast to the Surface line, which has an excellent built-in kickstand. You can remove it for a bare minimum of effort, but I can’t imagine why.
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A Decent Display
Another plus is the 11-inch (technically 10.9-inch) screen and a resolution of 2,000 by 1,200. If you require a larger device, the 13-inch Lenovo Duet, which features an even sharper OLED display, is worth looking into, as it is regularly on sale for less than $500. The maximum brightness of the 400 nits on this IPS touchscreen made it suitable for watching videos and working.
If you like to read in landscape mode with one hand, you’ll appreciate how light and portable this is at less than 1.2 pounds with just the screen (or just over 2 pounds with the keyboard and rear cover).
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Performance and Battery Life
In terms of performance, well, even compared to modern Chromebooks, this one is slow. I saw it most when I had a dozen or more tabs open in Chrome. It performed about as well as the average in comparative tests.
Still, running Android apps should be fine, as the Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU here is close to what you might find in some phones. Recently, I downloaded some high-quality Android games from the Google Play store, including Diablo Immortal. Although the free-to-play action RPG ran smoothly, players were limited to the game’s lower visual options, such as a 30fps frame rate rather than the full 60fps.
I also gave Xbox Cloud Gaming a try. I used the Chrome web browser for my gaming needs. Cloud gaming is becoming increasingly popular, and it can be a great alternative to downloaded games if you have a stable internet connection. To get around the issue of the Xbox cloud gaming software not recognizing my Bluetooth controller, I instead connected it directly to my computer through USB-C.
It’s not uncommon to have trouble with Chromebooks’ compatibility with other software. While I had success with the vast majority of the apps and cloud services I tried, I was unable to launch Adobe’s beta cloud version of Photoshop.
While the Duet has a lot going for it, there are a couple of issues that could be dealbreakers for you. A stylus is not included, but the keyboard cover is. While any USI pen will work, Lenovo’s official version sells for $35 and comes with a rubber holder that fits into the back cover.
Two USB-C ports may seem like a small number, and indeed they are (but they are the same as on a MacBook Air). Moreover, and maybe most significantly, there is no audio output port for headphones.
The Lenovo Duet 3 is a good secondary computer or portable device if those problems aren’t deal-breakers. It’s not something I could see myself using all day, every day, but if I were set on spending little more than $400 on a laptop, it would be difficult to find a better choice.