Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook review: A sequel with much more to offer
The original Lenovo Chromebook Duet was an interesting device. I bought one, and I loved it. The portable tablet-based form factor paired with an OS designed for laptop use was a big draw. As was being able to use the few Android apps I actually wanted to use on a tablet. The hardware was excellent, the display was really nice and the keyboard, while small, was good to type on. It had only one problem: It was really slow. ChromeOS performs well enough on basic hardware, but the MediaTek CPU inside the Duet just wasn’t really up to snuff.
But Lenovo didn’t give up, in fact, it doubled down. For the follow-up, there are actually two Duet Chromebook tablets to choose from. We’re already huge fans of the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook, but now it’s time to look at the smaller of the two and the direct successor to the original. The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook is, besides being a mouthful, an 11-inch tablet running ChromeOS that stays true to the idea of the original.
To look at, the changes might be hard to spot. And that’s a fair statement to make. The most important upgrade Lenovo has made comes inside, with a move to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 7c. The Duet is slow no more. This one is much easier to recommend without also adding a caveat and is one of the best Chromebooks you can buy right now.
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Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook: What’s in the box?
Included in the box when you buy a Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook is:
- The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook.
- Snap-on rear cover with a kickstand.
- Detachable keyboard.
- 30W USB-C power adapter.
This review was conducted using a Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook sample provided by Lenovo. At no time has Lenovo had any input on the content of this article.
Pricing and availability
In the U.S. the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook is available to order now from Best Buy for $379. This is for the 128GB/4GB version (the same as our review sample). International availability, for example, the UK, still seems to be yet to begin.
Lenovo’s own store also isn’t shipping the device at the time of writing as it went out of stock, but it will be available again there in the future.
The Lenovo USI Pen 2 that works with the IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook costs $34 from Lenovo direct, though is still listed as coming soon at the time of this review.
Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 specs
|Specification||Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3|
|Dimensions and weight||
Design and features: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it
- 11-inch tablet with a detachable kickstand.
- A detachable keyboard is included.
- Supports USI 2.0 digital pen input.
The basic concept behind the IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook is the same as its predecessor. It’s about the same size, it still has a kickstand (if you want it) and a detachable keyboard. But the original design has certainly been refined. The bezels are narrower and as such the Duet 3 boasts 15.8% more screen than its predecessor. The kickstand is also improved, with a stronger connection to the back of the tablet. It also now boasts a cutout, which is where you’ll magnetically clamp your pen if you should choose to buy one.
While the kickstand feels a little better this time around, the keyboard hasn’t really changed. The connection is incredibly strong using the pogo pins, but the fact it has a thin fabric hinge is still less than ideal. For one, you can’t raise the angle of the keyboard as you can with something like Microsoft’s Surface Type cover. It’s flat or flat, those are your choices. It doesn’t completely ruin the experience, but given the opportunity, I’d take an angle any time.
The other, perhaps bigger issue, with the fabric hinge is that on this review sample at least, the tablet portion never felt like it was properly aligned with the keyboard. It’s been driving me insane. The display always seems like it’s at a slight angle along the horizontal. It’s so frustrating. It frustrated me on the original and it frustrates me still, now.
It’s fine to type on though, which is still more important. The ChromeOS search button is quite small, which I like, because it’s harder to accidentally hit, and the trackpad is surprisingly good for something of this type. Despite the confines of the small form factor, it carries a full ChromeOS keyboard layout with cursor keys.
The display is a hair under 11-inches, but not far enough that we can’t refer to it as that. The bezels trimming it are nice and slim for folks who are into that, and while 5:3 isn’t the most common aspect ratio, it doesn’t feel strange. It’s a shade under 16:9, but media fills it nicely and the 2K resolution means text is sharp and everything generally looks lovely. As with most touch displays though it’s really glossy and while it is bright enough to use outdoors on a sunny day, you’re still going to see more of your own face. The kickstand can be adjusted with precision though so you can at least get it at the best angle to mitigate ambient light interference.
The display also supports a digital pen but with a caveat. It only seems to support Lenovo’s own USI 2.0 digital pen, there hasn’t been any kind of backward compatibility with the panel. The team at Chrome Unboxed did a deep dive into this (our sample didn’t come with a pen) so if you’re interested in the Duet 3 for doodling on it’s worth checking out. You would probably want Lenovo’s pen anyway since it’ll attach neatly to the little cutout on the back of the kickstand.
Other things of note include connectivity. There’s an upgrade here from the original Duet with now a pair of USB-C ports, both with power delivery. There’s one on each side which makes charging nice and convenient. Fans of headphone jacks will be disappointed though as there isn’t one. There’s no dongle in the box either so if you want to use wired headphones you’ll have to supply your own.
The speakers are pretty good, though. Nothing groundbreaking and they are pretty small, but you get a pair and proper stereo sound. It makes impromptu Stranger Things viewings perfectly enjoyable.
Using the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook as a tablet
The obvious reason you would buy one of these is as a capable, portable Chromebook. But ChromeOS also supports Android apps from the Play Store, which means you can very easily use this as a part-time Android tablet.
But it’s the fact this is a compact tablet that makes it worth using like one. And because the Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 (more on that below) is so much better than the MediaTek CPU Lenovo has used previously, you actually can. Performance is pretty good across the board. Some of the credit belongs to Google as well, because ChromeOS keeps getting more comfortable to use on a touchscreen like this.
On the previous generation Duet just swiping to home was a jittery mess, but on this one, it’s smooth, fluid, exactly the sort of experience you would want. The size of the device is perfect for mobile games and especially reading. And because it’s so compact you can take it and use it anywhere. Gaming is a bit of a mixed bag, but for reading, watching videos, browsing and the like it’s pretty fantastic.
Performance and battery life
- The Latest Qualcomm CPU is a huge improvement on the original Duet.
- Decent but not outstanding battery life.
- 4GB of RAM still trips up ChromeOS at times.
To say Lenovo upgraded the CPU in the Duet 3 versus the original is an understatement. The Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 is a huge improvement. It’s actually even a fairly big step up from the first-gen 7c, so to have it in a compact device like the Duet 3 is impressive. There are no fans, so it’s always quiet, and since the keyboard isn’t part of this Chromebook you never feel any warmth even under load. The metal back of the tablet can warm up, but nothing more than you’d experience from a Snapdragon-powered smartphone.
To the benchmarks, then. We’ve subjected the IdeaPad Duet 3 to a range of ChromeOS-friendly benchmarks. For some comparison, we’ve included a couple of comparable figures from the Acer Chromebook Spin 513 running the first-gen 7c, and the current best-performer, the HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook.
|Benchmark||Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3||Acer Chromebook Spin 513||HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook|
|Jetstream 2 (higher is better)||Didn’t complete||Didn’t complete||201|
|Octane 2.0 (higher is better)||20,970||18,101||79,782|
|WebGL Aquarium (10,000 fish)||29 FPS||N/A||60 FPS|
|WebGL Aquarium (15,000 fish)||20 FPS||N/A||60 FPS|
|WebGL Aquarium (20,000 fish)||16 FPS||N/A||34 FPS|
In terms of outright sheer speed, the IdeaPad Duet 3 cannot compete with the big hitters, but it’s also not supposed to. What it does do is make a significant improvement on its predecessor and the Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 actually feels like an ARM CPU that belongs in a Chromebook.
Away from synthetic tests, the Duet 3 has been a joy to use, even handling that most daunting of tests, opening a heap of Chrome tabs. Where it falls down a little is having 4GB of RAM as this review sample does. On one hand, it helps keep the price down, and in plenty of scenarios, it’s ample. But more is always better and ChromeOS is getting to that point that 8GB should be the minimum. This isn’t necessarily Lenovo’s fault, but as the company putting the hardware together, it’s Lenovo who will bear the disgruntlement. If you can get the version with 8GB of RAM, definitely do. That applies to all Chromebooks. Especially if you plan to use Android apps and Linux.
Linux performance on the Duet 3 is also decent for a device of this nature. You do have to ensure you’re using ARM versions of software, for example, Microsoft VS Code, but this little Chromebook tablet does alright. It doesn’t feel like it struggles compared to my own Chromebook, and I’ve been editing photos in GIMP the whole time I’ve been compiling this review.
Gaming is a bit less impressive, though. When using Android games from the Play Store there still seem to be compatibility issues. And performance isn’t quite what I was hoping for. Even simple games like Alto’s Adventure just aren’t particularly smooth. You can visibly see the game jerking about in front of you. For an ARM Chromebook, this is disappointing, though it might point toward some issues with the 7c platform that remains unresolved. I had a similarly mixed time in the past with a first-gen 7c-powered Chromebook. Cloud gaming, however, is perfect, and the Duet 3 has been a particularly good Google Stadia companion throughout my time with it.
Battery life is where you’d perhaps be expecting more than you actually get. The original Duet had a fairly frugal CPU inside. This one doesn’t. However, it’s easily capable of making it through a full day away from the charger. Standby time is excellent, and I’ve never once left the house with the Duet 3 and needed the charger. In real-world terms, you can probably get up to 10 hours of mixed-use, though for me it’s been more like 8 or 9. But you can also top it up with the same charger as your phone if you need to.
Who should buy the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3?
- The IdeaPad Duet 3 is a great alternative to an Android tablet.
- The compact size and affordable price make it perfect for students.
- Not currently the best choice for fans of digital pens until Lenovo’s is easier to get hold of.
There have been a number of attempts at ChromeOS tablets but it finally feels like we’re actually there. It’s actually a product you can recommend at last, and Lenovo has both the Duet 3 and the Duet 5 if you’re looking for a larger display. There are still areas that can be improved upon, and some of those need to come from Google. But on the whole the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 is a Chromebook worth recommending.
For one it’s an ideal alternative to an Android tablet. Small enough to be portable and to use comfortably with your favorite Android apps, but ChromeOS is more tailored to actual computer use. The versatility of having both a laptop and a tablet in one device is never to be ignored. That’s what also makes it a great choice for students. If a pen is one of your key requirements, then it’s perhaps not the best choice right now, but when Lenovo’s is easier to get hold of it’s tailored for this device and quite affordable.
As a follow-up to a much-loved Chromebook though this is certainly a worthy sequel. All the charm of the original Duet remains with the biggest drawbacks significantly improved upon. If you’re in the market for a Chromebook that is also a small tablet, the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 is the one to get. It’s arguably also the better choice between itself and the Duet 5, with very similar hardware on offer. Unless OLED or the larger display really appeals, this is now the best Chromebook tablet you can get.