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Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3 review: One of the best budget Chromebooks just got even better

This compact and reliable 2-in-1 tablet is new and improved with a (slightly) larger screen and updated processor.
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Written by June Wan, Tech Editor on
Pros
  • Portable, 2-in-1 form factor
  • 11-inch, 2K display enhances the ChromeOS experience
  • Kickstand and keyboard come included with the tablet
  • Affordable
Cons
  • Speakers are lackluster
  • Outdated and bland design
  • USI 2.0 is not backward compatible

During my first year of college, I worked a part-time job that provided me with just enough to cover my textbooks, transportation, and dorm fees. That meant that when it came to buying a school laptop, $1,000 MacBooks and ultrabooks were out of the question. Instead, I settled with a "like new", sub-$300 Toshiba Chromebook 2 from eBay.

That turned out to be a poor investment; the battery quickly deteriorated, the Wi-Fi connection was unstable, and, ultimately, the hinge became so loose that the upper half of the laptop detached during a morning commute.

Fortunately, today's $300 Chromebooks yield much better experiences. The Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3 (2022) is an affordable tablet with a display that's meant to be detached from its body. I've been testing the 2-in-1 over the past month, and while there are a few telltale signs of its budget makeup, I can't help but fathom how much better my college life would've been with it -- instead of the Toshiba.  

Specifications

Dimensions10.16x6.48x0.31' in. / 258x164.5x7.9 mm
Weight1.14 lbs / 516.5 g  

Display

10.9 in., 2K (2,000x1,200), IPS, touchscreen display (400 nits)

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c Gen 2

Memory

4GB RAM with 64GB eMMC (up to 128GB)

Operating systemChromeOS
BatteryUp to 12 hours

Camera

5MP front, 8MP rear

Connection ports

2x USB-C 3.2 Gen 1, pogo-pin (for detachable keyboard)

Design

I'll admit, the least exciting part of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3 is its design. Well, that is, before you snap on the included accessories that give it its 2-in-1 charm.

On its own, the Duet 3 is just a boring slab of plastic and metal. The Storm Grey model that I've been testing has a two-toned design; the bottom half of the tablet is colored in a purplish-grey hue, and the top in graphite. Together, there's a lack of contrast that makes the Chromebook forgettable and unappealing. 

But wait, there's more! And I mean that in a good way because once you attach the woven-textured kickstand case and compact keyboard, you get a chic, multi-functional tablet with a touch of ruggedness. With the bundled accessories on, you not only gain greater access to viewing angles, physical typing, and much-needed grip, but the tablet is just more fun to use.

lenovo-chromebook-duet-hero

The Chromebook Duet 3 is a rather complete experience for how little you're paying. 

June Wan/ZDNet

Display

Lenovo made two notable upgrades with the 2022 Duet 3: a larger 11-inch display and an additional USB-C port. The former is a mere inch more than its predecessor, which, in my opinion, was the right call. For one, the 2-in-1 remains as compact and portable as ever. And secondly, the added real estate -- with its peculiar 15:9 aspect ratio -- is great for entertainment, web surfing, and all the document browsing that's done for school and work.

The panel has a 2,000 by 1,200 resolution (Lenovo calls it "2K"), and that's been a pleasure to look at. I found the colors well-balanced and naturally saturated, and the Duet 3's 400 nits get fairly bright, too. I had no trouble using the Chromebook outdoors, even with the New York City sun beaming down and reflecting off the buildings around me. 

Also: The 5 best Chromebooks: From budget to rugged

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The 15:9 aspect ratio is just a hair taller than the typical 16:9 panel.

June Wan/ZDNet

Having a second USB-C port means that you can reassuringly connect the Lenovo Chromebook to an external monitor while keeping it charged. This was especially handy when I was testing the device's HDMI streaming, a task that often triggers performance throttling and intense battery drainage.   

Accessories

As I mentioned before, the bundled accessories do a lot of heavy lifting for the Duet 3's functionality. The keyboard, much like the one that came with the original Duet, is compact and responsive. Installing it is as simple as aligning its pogo pins to that of the tablet and snapping the two together. Note that the keyboard is not Bluetooth or wireless compatible, so you can't detach it from the tablet and continue typing.

When you are using it as intended, expect a cramped typing experience, with each key feeling a little narrower than the ones on a traditional keyboard. I wouldn't go as far as to say that the Lenovo keyboard is unusable, but it certainly made my hands feel a little fatigued after an hour or two of use.

I had a similar issue with the smaller trackpad, so I ended up using my right hand to control the cursor and my left hand to tap and interact via the touchscreen. 

Also: Best 2-in-1 laptops: Flexible, hybrid, and convertible notebooks

lenovo-chromebook-duet-keyboard-trackpad

The included keyboard features a row of function keys and a clicky trackpad. 

June Wan/ZDNet

Lastly, the included kickstand case has a slot to house a stylus, even though Lenovo doesn't put one in the box. The best (and only) explanation for this is because the Duet 3 supports Universal Stylus Initiative (USI) 2.0 and not USI 1.0. Lenovo has yet to release its USI 2.0 stylus, so even though the Chromebook tablet is "future-proofed" you could say it's almost too ahead of its time. 

Performance

On the performance front, the 2022 Duet 3 is powered by a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 and 4GB of RAM. What does this mean in practice? Expect a simplified user experience that handles essential browser tasks like video playing and multi-window browsing, but nothing more.

After all, this is a $300 Chromebook, so its performance is good at best. Since most of my workflow involves cloud and web-based programs, I actually had no trouble using the Duet 3 as my primary machine. Thanks to the dual USB-C ports, I hooked the tablet up to my 34-inch ultrawide monitor and was able to multitask like how I would on any other desktop or laptop. 

Also: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook (2020) review

lenovo-chromebook-duet-back-cover

Pair the Lenovo Chromebook with a mouse for greater input and control. 

June Wan/ZDNet

My standard work setup includes dedicated browsers for emailing, researching, and writing, with Slack and Zoom running in the background. During the first hour or two, the Duet 3 handled all of that gracefully. Once the battery dips under 45%, though, I've noticed the occasional stutter and delay with loading pages that have more elements. Keep in mind that this is with heavy usage. If you're using the Chromebook for singular tasks and applications, then the device's mere 4GB of RAM should manage well.   

Using a Chromebook, let alone the Duet 3, means that you're limited in terms of what programs you can use locally and offline. So if you dabble in professional software like Adobe Premiere or After Effects, then I'd recommend looking elsewhere. Otherwise, the Lenovo's 64GB of internal storage is actually plenty for a Chromebook, even if you plan to download a dozen or so apps.

lenovo-chromebook-duet-top-down

The Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3 is fit for at-home and on-the-go use.

June Wan/ZDNet

Lastly, the speakers on the 2-in-1 are side-firing, moderately loud, and have a dispiriting lack of bass. There's no 3.5mm headphone jack on board, so I'd recommend pairing up a set of earbuds or headphones to get the best sound. 

Battery

During my month-long trial of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3, I averaged a little over ten hours per charge. That doesn't match Lenovo's claim of 12-hour battery life but is still great. Considering the endless stream of Chrome tabs and apps opening and closing, the tablet did a sufficient job at power management and keeping its battery life estimate accurate and reliable throughout the day.  

Bottom line

The Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3 is an impressive 2-in-1 that performs just as well as some more expensive Chromebooks. While its limited operating system and power may be off-putting for professionals, the tablet is suitable for students, traveling workers, and casual users who want a reliable machine for less. 

Alternatives to consider

Besides the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3, here are three worthy alternatives that you should consider:

HP's 11-inch Chromebook tablet, which comes in the same size and aspect ratio as the Duet 3, is one of the best alternatives. It has 8GB of RAM -- doubling that of the Lenovo -- and comes bundled with a kickstand, detachable keyboard, and a stylus. For added security, HP has also embedded a fingerprint reader within the power button of the Chromebook.

While not as portable as the Duet 3, the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 360 has a fully-rotatable hinge that makes it flexible enough to use as a standalone tablet or regular laptop. The screen size is 12.4'', which makes the Galaxy a better option if you want a better viewing experience. 

Beyond the scope of Chromebooks, the Surface Go 3 is an affordable, Windows-powered laptop that's easy to travel with. While the 2-in-1 is the cheapest Surface to date, it's just as functional and transformative as its more expensive predecessors. If you want a portable slab for on-the-go browsing, emails, and content writing, then the Surface Go 3 is a formidable pick-up. 

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