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Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook: 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.

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

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.

Surface Go 2 — Microsoft’s latest more ultraportable than tablet

Surface Go 2 is Microsoft’s second generation Windows 10 tablet. Like Apple’s iPad, the Surface Go 2 is a lovely device, Yet it has more in common with ultraportable Window laptops than the iPad.

Microsoft’s second Surface Go is a fraction larger than the first version. The screen is now 10.5 inches. It weighs 545g, that’s 22g more than the earlier model.

Measurements are 245 by 175 by 8.5mm give or take a tenth of a mm. It roughly the same size and weight as an iPad Air, although not the same shape. The Surface screen is wider and shallower than the more squarish iPad.

Ideal trade-off

You won’t notice any weight difference when carrying the hardware, but you will notice the bigger screen. Depending on your application (more about this later), it could be an ideal trade off between screen size and portability.

In practice it is small and light enough to slip into a briefcase or any kind of bag almost without noticing it is there. It isn’t going to cause problems with airplane carry on baggage.

Local prices for the Surface Go 2 start at NZ$629. That buys the Wi-fi model with 64GB of storage and an Intel Pentium 4425Y processor. Pay NZ$880 for 128GB of storage and the same processor. These models both have 4Gb of Ram. NZ$1200 gets the Ram bumped to 8Gb and a more powerful Intel Core m3 processor along with 128GB of storage and 4G mobile network connectivity.

There’s little question you will want the $220 Signature Type Cover.

Add the necessary keyboard and you’ll pay $850.

While you can buy laptops with similar power for these prices, this has a much more premium feel. It is the cheapest way of getting a Microsoft Surface device.

Keyboard

Many iPad users get by without a keyboard. It is harder, although not impossible, to use a Surface that way. An iPad spends a lot of its life being used in the phone-like portrait orientation. Everything about the Surface Go assumes you will use it like a laptop. That means the screen will be landscape apart from the odd rare occasion.

Microsoft might call it a tablet. Technically Surface Go 2 is a tablet. Yet the Surface Go 2 will likely end up being used like an ultraportable laptop.

It is a mighty fine small, lightweight laptop. The touch screen is better than you’d find on similarly priced laptops. It looks bright and responds as you’d expect to touch. The kickstand is a nice touch. Everything is built to a high standard.

Enough power, not heaps of power

The review model came with a Pentium Gold processor. It won’t break any speed records, but it provides more than enough power for the kind of work you’d expect to throw at a small computer.

I found it ideal for my writing work. It handles all the online tasks without missing a beat. I’m not the kind of user who opens dozens of browser Windows.

When I attempted this in the name of science, I got bored long before the Windows Edge browser lost the plot.

If you are wedded to Windows, live in Microsoft Office and don’t need a big screen for creative work or grunt for huge calculations, this could be the only computer you need.

Great for Zoom meetings, Microsoft Teams

The Surface Go 2 is a stellar performer when it comes to video conferences. It has a better front camera than you’d normally find on a laptop selling for under $1000. It’s five megapixels and can shoot video in full HD quality. What’s more, it requires less light than a standard laptop camera which struggles with my home office.

Microsoft hasn’t skimped on the microphone and speakers. I found the mic works better than other Windows laptops for calls. It’s not noticeably better than the Apple equivalents.

The speakers are not up to the standard of the iPad Pro, but, again, are excellent by Windows laptop standards. They do OK with music, although the bass is missing in action. Yet they are great for video calls. I can hear everything at the other end. Better than that, the sound is clear enough for me to record conversations speaker-to-mike.

Other features

On the back there is an 8 megapixel camera that can shoot 1080p video. This is clumsy with the Surface Go 2 format, but can be useful at a pinch.

The Surface Go 2 Type Cover keyboard is much like the earlier Surface Go keyboard. It’s about 30mm smaller than a full-size keyboard in both dimensions. In part this is because the top row of function keys are all half size.

It looked like I might struggle with pudgy fingers on smaller keys. I’m a touch typist, which means it takes getting used to, but after 30 minutes I was back to full speed. In practice the keyboard is better than anything you might see on a laptop in this price range.

A few other points:

  • Microsoft equipped the Surface Go 2 with Wi-fi 6. If you have a suitable router it will give you a better, more reliable wireless connection. If you buy a Surface Go2, it would be a good time to upgrade your router to Wi-Fi 6.
  • I’ve found Windows Hello face recognition to be unreliable on other recent laptops. It worked every time on the Surface Go 2.
  • Given that next to no-one leaves the store without the keyboard, it is not optional. Microsoft should bundle the two products together. Even if that doesn’t reduce price, it would reduce wasteful packaging and unnecessary stuffing around.
  • Microsoft says the battery is good for five hours. It’s longer than the original Surface go, but around half what you’d get with an iPad. You can eke out power longer by cranking down the brightness, but my old eyes struggle with this.

Surface Go 2 verdict

With the Surface Go 2, Microsoft has refined the laptop PC format into something modern and productive. You get access to a huge library of Windows apps, not all are full touch enabled, but they will work.

It’s a perfect choice for a second computer if you have, say, a desktop at home and need a light computer for the road. I’d recommend it for journalists or anyone who spends their working life in Microsoft Word or another word processor.

The Surface Go 2 is not the best machine to buy if your main need is media creation or media consumption. You would need to make compromises.

Fifth generation iPad Mini, size is its charm

Apple’s fifth generation iPad Mini packs the power of the iPad Air in a smaller case. That compact iPad Mini size is the secret of the its appeal.

You may wonder if there’s a market for a 7.9-inch iPad when you can buy a 6.5-inch iPhone. After all, the iPhone XS Max is almost a tablet.

Apple say iPad Mini sales have been steady since the format was first introduced. It’s not for everyone, yet some people who like the Mini are fanatic about their favourite tablet.

One reason is the cost. At NZ$680, the base model iPad Mini costs less than one-third the price of the cheapest iPhone XS Max. It’s not the cheapest iPad, but it is good value.

Sweet spot

Price is not the only explanation for the Mini’s popularity. The size hits an important sweet spot.

At 7.9-inches, Apple’s 2019 iPad Mini comes in about halfway between the iPhone XS Max and the 10.5-inch iPad Air.

While having a bigger screen than a phone is an advantage, the iPad Mini is still small and light. It weighs 300 grams. It’s handy and very portable.

At a pinch you can fit it in a pocket. OK, a big pocket. A man’s pocket. Cargo pants could come back into fashion to accommodate the iPad Mini. It also slips into a handbag or any other bag. You can hide it in a car glove compartment.

Pythagoras understood

We measure screen sizes across the diagonal. Thanks to Pythagoras’ theorem a 7.9-inch display has 50 percent more viewing area than a 6.4-inch screen. In other words, it’s a big leap.

Among other reasons, the iPad Mini is the right size for people who work on the move. Think of police officers or health professionals. It helps that most people can grip it in one hand.

 

I also find typing on the larger iPad Mini glass keyboard is easier than tapping on a phone screen. That’s because I’m a big bloke with big fingers.

Thumb typing

Apple’s bigger 12.9-inch iPad Pro screen keyboard works well when laid flat. The Mini keyboard is at its best when vertical. If you hold it up with your hands and hit the keys with your thumbs.

The action is like phone typing, but there’s more room.

This is an effective way of typing when you’re on a crowded bus, train or airplane. I haven’t had the chance to test writing on the iPad mini while on a plane yet. I’m sure if I did I could be productive even in a cramped seat.

The extra screen real estate makes it better than a phone for reading complex information and maps or for inspecting photos. It’s roughly the same size as an e-book reader like the Kindle.

iPad Mini beats phone for web

There’s no question the iPad Mini does a better job of displaying every kind of web or app content than a phone.

Although you can, at a pinch, run side-by-side apps on the iPad Mini, that’s not its strength. In practice I found I only ever used one app at a time.

In all other respects except the screen, the new iPad Mini uses the same technology as the current iPad Air model. It even has the same A12 chip as the iPhone XR. That means there’s a lot of computing power.

There’s a laminated screen, support for Apple Pencil and True Tone. The last of these means the iPad will adjust screen whites to compensate for lighting conditions. Apple says you get 10 hours battery life. We found that’s about right when we tested the Mini.

Lightning strikes

A couple of quirks: there’s a headphone jack and a lightning port for charging. New Apple devices don’t all have the jack and prefer USB-C over Lightning.

At times the Mini feels more like a big phone than a small iPad1.

The new iPad Mini costs NZ$680 for the basic wi-fi model with 64GB of storage. Boosting the storage to 256GB takes the price to NZ$929. Adding cellular puts another NZ$120 on the price. You might also consider the Apple Pencil at NZ$160.

iPad Mini verdict

There are only minor niggle with 2019 iPad Mini. The design is the same as seven years ago. There’s less screen and more bezel, the case edges around the screen, than on more modern looking iPads. It also supports the old first generation Apple Pencil, not the new version.

Should you buy the iPad Mini? It’s not the right thing to buy if you’re looking for a laptop replacement. If that’s your goal, get an iPad Air or a iPad Pro.

If you want a tablet for reading and writing while you’re on the go, it’s ideal. The iPad Mini is a good choice for taking notes and consuming media. It’s also a great upgrade for owners of long-in-the-tooth first generation iPad Minis. I suspect this will follow its ancestor to become another classic.


  1. For perspective, Huawei’s Mate X folding phone has an eight-inch screen. ↩︎

Future-proof 10.5-inch iPad Pro, a work computer

There’s something about the screen of the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro that feels immediately novel but quickly becomes normal, and something that seems obvious at first but reveals itself as a deeper change after a few days. As a heavy user of the 12.9” iPad Pro, I’ve been pleasantly deceived by this new iPad, and […]

Source: The 10.5” iPad Pro: Future-Proof – MacStories

At MacStories Federico Viticci writes an early review of the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro. I hope to get my hands on Apple’s new tablet soon.

This feels like the computer I’ve been waiting for.

Since Christmas the older 9.7-inch iPad Pro has played an ever increasing role in my day-to-day work. I’ve switched to travelling with the iPad Pro instead of the MacBook on short trips. One added bonus is you don’t need to get it out of your bag for airport security inspections.

The iPad Pro is a more frequent companion when I’m working in town at client offices or in cafes.

10.5-inch iPad Pro more computer-like

MacOs is still essential when I’m away for more than a night or two. But that may not be the case when the new version of iOS arrives. Apple has included improvements which make the iPad more computer-like. Almost all the software I need to work is available on iOS.

My only gripe is that I make a lot more typos when using the WordPress iOS app than with my normal blog workflow. Entering text isn’t a problem, proof-reading is. If my eyes are not working properly I can’t always read the tiny text. Enlarging the text in the app is not an option.

Moving from a 9.7-inch to a 10.5-inch display means there’s about 17 percent more screen. That may or may not be enough to make a  difference when reading, but it will make a difference with other tasks. The higher 120Hz screen refresh rate should also help.

I do a lot of typing on the iPad’s glass screen. The bigger screen will help this. Early reports say the performance is great too.

Viticci’s review only tells part of the story. We won’t really know how good the new iPad Pro is until the iOS update. But on what I’ve seen so far, the combination looks enticing.

Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard Cover

Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover feels like an essential partner for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. That’s not the case with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

Both Smart Keyboard Covers are compact, light and made from a nylon fabric. On the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro the Smart Keyboard Cover adds what amounts to a full keyboard.

It turns the larger iPad into something more like, but the not the same as, a hybrid PC.

While it’s not a perfect keyboard, it doesn’t fall far short of ideal on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Smart Keyboard Cover misses

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Cover misses ideal by a larger margin. You may think that it is only a matter of size. That’s true up to a point.

Yet the different, smaller size changes the nature of the beast more than you’d expect.

There are two main reasons for this. First, the reduced size of the 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard Cover means it is harder to type on. It’s harder still for touch typists.

Because the smaller keyboard harder to work with, you’re less inclined to use it. It’s not the first port of call when you need to get words into the iPad Pro.

This gets you into a vicious circle. Because the small keys aren’t always where your fingers expect, you are less productive. This means you use it less. Which in turns mean your fingers have less opportunity to learn where the keys are.

On screen typing easier

Second, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is smaller and lighter. This makes it easier to pick up and use in the portrait orientation. Smart Keyboard Covers only use the landscape orientation.

Typing on the glass from the portrait orientation is easy and comfortable. At least it is in my hands. I found myself doing this all the time.

In the end I took the Smart Keyboard Cover off the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, swapping it for a Silicon case and a Smart Cover without a keyboard.

The plan was to see how long I’d go before I needed to go back to the Smart Keyboard Cover. That was six weeks ago. Today I packed the Smart Keyboard Cover back in its case ready to return to Apple.

If you need a keyboard to go with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, this is a good choice. For some people it will be an occasional option. For others it will be a permanent fixture, in effect turning the iPad Pro into a small light laptop or hybrid.

It’s worth remembering the 9.7-inch iPad Pro can also work with many of the third party Bluetooth keyboards on the market. But for me, I’m sticking with the screen keyboard. I find it suits how I work.

Falling PC sales: From bad to worse

Worldwide PC sales were down 9.6 percent year-on-year during the first quarter of 2016 according to Gartner. Total sales for the quarter were a shade under 65 million. This was the first quarter with less than 65 million units sold since 2007. In contrast, sales in the same quarter of 2013 were a little over 76 million.

Gartner’s falling PC sales numbers are optimistic compared to IDC which put the figure at 60.6 million units sold, down 11.5 percent on the same period a year earlier.

Both analyst companies say Lenovo remains the world largest PC maker. IDC gives it a 20.1 percent market share, Gartner puts the figure at 19.3 percent. Lenovo’s sales fell slower than the overall market.

HP down 9 percent

Number two brand HP saw sales fall 9 percent, while third-place Dell was stable. Gartner says its sales dropped 0.4 percent while IDC put the drop at 2 percent.

Asus and Apple are number four and five. Gartner has Asus a whisker ahead of Apple, IDC reverses the positions. Gartner thinks both companies managed to grow during the quarter, IDC disagrees.

The rest of the market slumped, depending on which set of numbers you prefer sales either fell 18.4 or 19.8 percent. Either way, it’s a bloodbath.

Currency a red herring

Gartner thinks currency movements can explain the decline with PCs now more expensive outside of the USA. Maybe.

However, the figures point to the fifth year in a row of falling PC sales. Sales have dropped year-on-year in each of the last 12 quarters.

The recent quarter’s decline is the worst on record. Look beyond the top brands and you have to ask how long before computer makers exit the business. There is no apparent upside, no recovery in sight.

Earlier analyst forecasts looked forward to the arrival of Windows 10 fueling fresh sales. That was over a year ago and there was no bump, no up-tick.

Keep taking the tablets

You might explain some of the drop in PC sales by the rise in tablet sales. Incidentally, I wrote this blog post on an iPad Pro — a few years ago it would be a PC task.

About 100 million tablets are purchased each year. Some will have been purchased as laptop alternatives. Yet tablet sales are also falling. And, anyway, some hybrid devices that combine PC and tablet features are counted in the PC sales numbers.

The obvious explanation is that phone sales are killing PC sales. Not only do they suck up money that might otherwise be spent on PCs, in many cases, they deliver enough PC functionality for a sizable slice of the population. It turns out many people only bought PCs for mail, browsing, video calling and other simple tasks that work just fine on a phone.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has made a point of questioning why people still bother buying PCs. That’s an interesting statement given that Apple is one of the few companies to do well in PC sales in recent years. Perhaps, unlike Gartner and IDC he thinks MacBooks and iMacs don’t count as PCs. He suggests most would be better off buying an iPad.