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Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook review: Bargain computer

The NZ$400 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet is a small 2-in-1 Chromebook. It works as a tablet or as a ultra-portable laptop.

Lenovo IdeaPad Deut Chromebook desktop

At a glance

For: Great value, Includes keyboard and kickstand, battery life
Against: Small keyboard, a few minor compromises
Maybe: Has enough processor power and Ram for Chromebook tasks but won’t please everyone.
Verdict: The best low-cost option at the moment. Buy it you need a decent computer and you are on a tight budget.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Price: NZ$400. Have seen it sell for more in some stores.
Web: Lenovo.

 

A lot for $400

You get a lot of device for $400. Or, if you like, you get two devices.

Open the box and you’ll see the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook as a tablet.

Dig deeper into the packaging and you’ll find a keyboard and kickstand. These can turn the IdeaPad Duet into a tiny laptop. It fits in a satchel, sports bag or briefcase with ease.

In its tablet form, the IdeaPad Duet about the size of a standard iPad with a 10.1 inch touch screen. It weighs 920 grams.

When used as a laptop, it has a similar feel to Microsoft’s Surface Go.

iPad, Surface Go comparisons

There are many differences between the IdeaPad Duet and an iPad or Surface Pro.

In almost every direct technical comparison it comes off worse. But that’s not taking its huge price advantage into account.

Nor does it do justice to the purpose of the IdeaPad Duet. It is a Chromebook. It works with the cloud. Much of the heavy lifting takes place elsewhere. You don’t need a sparkling specification for that.

Keyboard

When you spend $400 on the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet you get the keyboard and kickstand as part of the deal.

A base model Surface Go and Type Cover Keyboard will set you back $840. The cheapest iPad and Apple keyboard cost $820. You might get by with a lower price third-party iPad keyboard. Yet you can buy two IdeaPad Duets for the price of one Surface or iPad.

This is a small computer

A 10.1-inch screen is a reasonable size for a tablet. By laptop standards it is tiny. The positive way to look at this is the IdeaPad Duet is way more portable than 12-inch laptop.

It works fine for basic apps, but is smaller than ideal if, say, you plan to spend the next few weeks writing a book.

It will cope fine with an hour or two homework after school. I found it easy to write a news story or two on it, but was more comfortable when I got back to my normal laptop.

Lenovo has opted for a 16:10 screen. That’s wider and less deep than you’d expect on a laptop. There’s more bezel than you’d see on a more expensive device. The documentation says it is 9.13mm, which is more precise than necessary.

When a laptop is better

If you push your computers hard or work long hours, you’d be better off spending more. Buy a laptop with a bigger screen.

As you’d expect, a tiny computer has a tiny keyboard.

In practice it is not bad. I could touch type without any major problems. Take care when back-spacing to delete. You may hit the wrong key. The keyboard isn’t cramped, but it is on the cramped spectrum.

There’s a touch pad, which, again, is smaller than you see elsewhere, but not a problem unless you spend hours typing.

If you bought a Lenovo IdeaPad Duet for a school student, they’d soon learn to deal with this. It is a small compromise for having an otherwise decent computer without spending a fortune.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet kickstand

 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet kickstand

The keyboard and kickstand are fabric covered. It’s more than enough to protect the computer from small knocks and scratches.

When you open out the keyboard to use the device as a laptop, the hinge is not solid. It’s not the smooth action your see on a more expensive device.

Likewise, the kickstand is awkward to pull away from the cover at first. This improves over time. But the whole arrangement lacks polish. A more expensive device would finesse these design details.

Memory, processor

Chromebook users spent much of their time in the cloud. There isn’t as much need to store a lot of local data on the device. Even so, there’s a generous 128GB of storage on the IdeaPad Duet. That’s enough for a lot of apps, movies or music.

The documentation describes the processor as an eight core MediaTek P60T. Graphics are powered by an integrated Arm Mali-G72 MP3 GPU. There is 4GB of Ram soldered to the board.

If you’re reading this and thinking those specifications don’t mean much, you are not alone. What matters is how the device performs in use.

What is it like to use?

In use, the IdeaPad Duel feels like a giant phone. You can’t make voice calls, but the way it works is phone-like. It is more phone-like and Android-like than early Chromebooks. The processor, graphics processor and Ram are all phone-like specifications.

This is not a negative. The IdealPad Duet can handle grown-up work if you are not a power user. Browsing and Google’s web apps perform to the standard you see on devices costing $1000 or more.

During use, there were a couple of crashes. More than you see on an iPad or Surface Go, but nothing fatal, nothing worrying. You can multitask if you don’t push it.

Zoom calls

Zoom calls work fine. The built-in front facing camera is better than you’d fine on many notebooks. The speaker is small and thin sounding, but up to the job.

Lenovo doesn’t include a headphone socket, but there is a dongle with a jack you can use with the single USB connector if you’re not using that to charge the device.

ChromeOS

ChromeOS has improved over the years. It’s a more joined-up experience. If you use Chrome, Gmail and Google Workplace apps you will feel at home. It does these things well.

Chromebooks sales has surged since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. They are a cheap option for people who need to work or study from home.

If you are new to ChromeOS, it takes time to get used to it. Once you find your feet and feel the rhythm, you’ll be fine. There will be things you miss from Windows, iOS or MacOS, but you didn’t expect to find them on a $400 device.

It’s possible to load Android apps, but testing that is beyond the scope of this review.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet verdict

If you’ve read this far, you will realise this is not a top-of-the-line device. It is excellent value. It could be the best computer to buy if you are on a tight budget and need something decent. You won’t do better if your kids need a low-cost computer for school or working from home in another lockdown.

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