These days, I’m struggling to find a solid under $400 laptop to recommend to price-bound buyers that I find really, well, usable. So I pinned a lot of hopes on Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet 3, a small 11-inch Chromebook with a detachable keyboard and folding stand. I was a big fan of the original Duet released in 2020, a fast 10.1 incher with an exceptionally long battery life.
The model I have, with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storageis $369 (the next most expensive option is $379 at Best Buy, with 128GB of storage — I’d probably go for that one for an extra $10). The water-resistant detachable keyboard is included in that low price. But sometimes devices that look like great deals on paper turn out to be worthless when you actually turn them on.
So I’ve been using the Chromebook Duet 3 all day, from morning to night. While it wasn’t quite suitable for a full remote workload, it was a perfect device for leisure and entertainment. And while it’s not as high-tech as the larger OLED-equipped Duet 5, I think it’ll be a more practical purchase for the student and casual user category. I’d rather sit on this every day than a cheap Windows laptop.
I first used the Duet 3 at my desk in The edgeManhattan office. I had to write a quick news story, which involved a lot of fast typing, fast scrolling, and bouncing back and forth between a slew of Chrome tabs and documents with Slack and Spotify on top. I plugged in a mouse for this part, but didn’t use a monitor – everything was crammed into the 11-inch screen.
The first thing I noticed was that the Duet .’s keyboard big. I often dread using detachable keyboards because keys (especially those on the edge, like Backspace and Tab) sometimes need to be pressed to achieve their compact size.
But this keyboard was by no means cramped. The keys had great travel and a comfortable texture. The size of the Backspace and Shift keys made me nervous when I saw them, but I hit them every time I needed to. Lenovo really nailed the keyboard on this one, and I might miss typing on it.
The Duet 3’s screen is also a real star. It’s so bright that even 50 percent started hurting my eyes. Our office is also fairly bright, but at 30-40 percent brightness I saw almost no annoying glare. The colors are bright and vibrant – I’d watch a movie on this device on all sorts of more expensive laptops.
Battery life wasn’t great, but acceptable at this price. I had to hook up the Duet at about six and a half hours. It ran out a lot however faster when I had multiple apps open than when I was only in Chrome. I bet you might get closer to nine with a Chrome-only workload.
That said, while I was able to successfully use this for a work day, anyone considering buying it as a primary work device should be aware of its limitations. My workload was especially tight because of the 11-inch screen. To use two windows side by side (which I often do), I generally zoomed out to about 50 percent to see everything I needed.
I also felt the processor (the same Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 that powers the Duet 5) lug a little under this workload. It handled Chrome just fine, but having five to six different apps open and trying to switch between the apps very quickly left me feeling a little impatient. It mainly had issues with Zoom calls. The PWA crashed the first few times I tried to join a virtual briefing, and even when I was on a call, the shared screen took a while to load and other apps were a bit slow in the background.
And the Duet only has two ports, too: one USB-C 3.2 Gen 1 on each side. This isn’t unusual for the tablet form factor (or thin and light laptops in general), and it’s nice to have one on each side. However, it did mean that I couldn’t connect both my mouse and a separate keyboard to the device while it was also connected to power. (No headphone jack either, so your wireless headphones will have to do.)
That said – as soon as I left the office, these complaints all became non-issues. My evening activity was a coffee shop hangout with friends, and this was just the device I needed for that.
This device weighs just 2.09 pounds with the keyboard and case attached, and carrying it felt very much like carrying a small tablet. It fits easily in my bag – no backpack needed. The compact size was also perfect for the cafe table, where I needed to fit my drink and croissant, as well as my computer. Any larger device would have been a pain in this situation, but I could squeeze the Duet right in.
Here I used the touchpad, which has a surprisingly deep and satisfying click for a detachable deck. I didn’t feel cramped when scrolling or navigating with gestures (although people with bigger fingers might). And it rejected my fingerprints well and stayed pretty smooth at the end of the day.
And for the activities my friends and I were doing that night—watching videos, reading articles, and editing Google Docs, without the hectic bustle of the office work day—the Duet was punchy, with no lag in sight. The sturdy keyboard and excellent screen were the icing on the cake.
Agree to continue: Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3
To start using the Chromebook Duet 3, you must agree to the following:
You can also say yes or no to the following:
- Automatically send Chrome OS diagnostic and usage data to Google
That is a mandatory agreement and an optional agreement to use the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3.
All in all, I think the Duet is a great budget purchase, provided you know what your wishes are. It’s not for you if you need a work device for heavy research and fast multitasking or if you need to plug in a lot of things (including wired headphones – there’s no headphone jack). While there are other detachable Windows laptops and Chromebooks out there, you probably won’t find this combination of screen, style, portability and performance under $400 anywhere else.
If you like this pack but need a bigger screen, the $500 Duet 5 offers a very similar package in a 13-inch chassis (and with an OLED panel, more RAM and more storage). For anyone who can make do with the compact 11-incher, the Duet 3 offers the same processor and a similar build for a lower price. If you’re looking for a budget portable device for homework, watching videos, browsing a coffee shop, or whatever, the Duet 3 should be on your list.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge
Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3 Accessibility
Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3 (all dimensions approximate)
- The letter keys are 1.5 x 1.3 centimeters with 0.4 centimeters in between. The keyboard is unlit and has no indicator lights. The device turns on automatically when opened. The volume keys are 1 x 0.2 centimeters. The keys are dark blue with white text and require little force to press.
- The screen is a touchscreen with a resolution of 2000 x 1200. It reaches 400 nits.
- The speakers reached an average of 70 decibels in my tests, which is noticeably quieter than a standard external speaker.
- The laptop is easy to open with one hand. It can be rotated around 360 degrees.
- The touchpad is 8.7 x 4.9 centimeters and takes moderate force to press.
- The Duet does not support fingerprints or facial logins.
- ChromeOS includes a built-in screen reader (ChromeVox).
- ChromeOS supports dictation, accessible through Settings.
- High contrast mode can be toggled with Ctrl + Search + H.
- Captions appear in the bottom center of the screen. The following subtitle functions are adjustable: size, font, color, opacity, shadow, background color and background opacity.
- The following keyboard keys can be reassigned: Search, Ctrl, Alt, Escape, Backspace, Assistant, and Caps Lock. The top row can be reassigned to act as function keys.
- The following keyboard functions can be toggled: sticky keys, on-screen keyboard, highlight object with keyboard focus, highlight textcaret when it appears or moves, scroll through pages with text cursor and toggle access.
- The following cursor settings can be adjusted: color, size, speed, click strength, and haptic feedback. The following can be toggled: mouse acceleration, backward scrolling, drag tap, tap to click, touchpad acceleration, and auto-click.
- ChromeOS includes a Snap Layout feature, accessible by holding down the Maximize button in an open window.