August 18, 2022

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Lenovo likes to get weird with their gadgets. Whether they’re repurposing Android tablets as Google...

Lenovo likes to get weird with their gadgets. Whether they’re repurposing Android tablets as Google Home devices, playing around with modular smartphone accessories, or pioneering new ways to bend a laptop, the company is no stranger to new form factors and strange devices.

We’re checking out the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5, which keeps up that trend by essentially offering an Android tablet that doubles as a Chromebook. It’s got a detachable keyboard that intelligently changes the interface of Chrome OS whether you’re using it as a tablet or laptop, plus Google’s push to have most Android apps work on Chrome OS.

It seems like a good blend of Android tablet flexibility with Chrome OS productivity, but how well does it work? Let’s find out.

More tablet than laptop

The IdeaPad Duet 5 is still a laptop, but it’s designed primarily as a tablet. With a 1920 x 1080 display, you’re getting a standard 16:9 aspect ratio that feels a little cramped in landscape but allows for a better experience in portrait mode, like your smartphone.

The power and volume buttons are even very similarly placed to Android tablets and phones, although the two USB-C ports sit more in line with how you’d expect them to be on a laptop.

If you want to use it like a tablet, you can get away with that, but the flexibility comes with the removable keyboard and half-folio cover.

The keyboard is a regular Chrome OS styled board that magnetically attaches to the bottom of the tablet. You can very easily pop it on and off of the Chromebook, and it works with no latency or pairing issues. You’ve got all your Chrome OS shortcut function keys and a decent, albeit small, trackpad. No USB ports or connectivity here, however, with all of those sitting on the Chromebook itself.

The folio is something that you’ll probably want to keep on all the time, since it covers the back of the Chromebook Duet with precision camera cutouts, and also has a fantastic magnetic kickstand. It gives you a ton of viewing angles with or without the connected keyboard, and seems incredibly sturdy without being a pain to use.

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Chrome OS or Android?

The real selling point of the Chromebook Duet 5 is how Chrome OS handles switching from a laptop interface to touch-friendly interface on the fly. There are no tricks or anything here, and if you keep it hooked up to the keyboard you can use it like a solid Chromebook by itself.

This mode lets you run apps in windows, use all the keyboard shortcuts built into Chrome OS, and use the trackpad instead of touch interface to navigate. Outside of the keyboard, however, and you’re essentially getting an Android tablet with a fully functioning web browser. Apps will run in nearly native full screen modes, you can tap around just like you would on your phone, and you get access to the full Play Store to download, play, and stream whatever you’d like.

This dynamic functionality really helps the Duet 5 stand out. Yes, Google has added support for Android apps to Chromebooks, and that’s fine for some situations, but when you’re using a trackpad and keyboard to navigate the interface, you really won’t have a good time playing games or even using some touch-first applications. Lenovo makes it easy to switch back and forth, picking up the keyboard when you need the productivity capabilities and dropping it when it’s time to play a game or just watch a movie. And if you just never use the keyboard, you’re basically using an Android tablet that wins out in productivity anyway.

Solid hardware and performance

This two-in-one approach can ask a lot out of the hardware, but Lenovo did a reasonably good job of delivering specs to match however you want to use the Duet 5.

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You’re getting a 2nd generation Qualcomm 7c compute platform with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which is fairly large for a Chromebook or Android tablet. Lenovo has also used a Samsung-supplied 13.3-inch OLED display, which looks very good. It’s large enough to comfortable watch movies or YouTube, but still portable in either mode. With quad speakers you’re getting a loud and decent sounding experience, too, but there’s no Dolby optimization and music enthusiasts will probably still want to lug around their Bluetooth speaker or something else to improve sound quality.

I was pretty impressed with the keyboard, which offers low travel and a pleasant typing experience. The trackpad isn’t great, both because it’s kind of small and Chrome OS just hasn’t quite caught up to nicer touchpad drivers like you get with Windows or MacOS. It’s decent, but frustrating if you’re working for hours at a time on something. You also only get two USB-C ports on the sides of the Duet 5, so keep in mind you may need adapters if you’re trying to use your older wired accessories.

Android games were generally a breeze for the Duet 5 to run. While the Snapdragon 7c isn’t going to hold up to one of Qualcomm’s high-end mobile chips like the Snapdragon 888, it’ll still run just about anything you can throw at it. I noticed a little bit of stutter when minimizing apps or things like that, but general usage is perfectly fine, especially in this price range.

I also tried to stream Game Pass games on the Duet 5, which works, kind of. I could get an Xbox One controller paired with the Chromebook, both wirelessly and wired, and the Game Pass app works just fine to start up Halo, in this example. But the controller would never actually function properly. Maybe another controller or some third-party apps would help, but Android typically handles Xbox controllers without any additional setup, so keep that in mind if you’re planning on jumping into gaming with this thing.

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I did play a few games of Retro Bowl with the touchscreen. That was pretty fun.

Worth it?

I actually really, really liked the IdeaPad Duet 5. As a Chromebook, it’s standard fare. You can do a lot on Chrome OS these days, especially since most workflows can be done via a browser anyway. Updates are simple, you can stream music in the background or watch some YouTube, and Google keeps adding and improving features to both Chrome OS and Chrome that makes it better this week than it was last week. It’s not for everyone, obviously, but you’d be surprised how much you can get away with without using Windows these days.

As an Android tablet I think it’s already very fun to play with. When you get done writing or whatever else you were working on, just pop the tablet off the keyboard and go watch a movie or play a game for the night in a much more portable package that’ll hold all your favorite apps and sync up with your Google account and phone. It seamlessly integrates into Google’s ecosystem in more ways than one, and that really delivers on what I think was Google’s long-term vision for Chrome OS all along.

And at $499, you’re not out too much money, either. You have to keep expectations in check, and you’re not going to be quickly rendering 4K video on this laptop, but it’s worth checking out if you’re heavily invested in Google’s ecosystem already.

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid, but the tech enthusiasm currently covers just about everything. He likes PC gaming, Lenovo’s Moto Z line, and a good productivity app.