These days, I’ve been struggling to find a solid sub-$400 laptop to recommend to price-constrained shoppers that I actually find, well, usable. So I’ve been pinning a lot of my hope on Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet 3, a tiny 11-inch Chromebook with a detachable keyboard and a foldable kickstand. I was a huge fan of the original Duet that was released in 2020, a speedy 10.1-incher with exceptionally long battery life.
The model I have, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, is $369 (the next most expensive option is $379 at Best Buy, with 128GB of storage — I’d probably go for that one for $10 extra). The water-resistant detachable keyboard is included in that low price. But sometimes, devices that look like great deals on paper turn out to suck when you actually turn them on.
So I used the Chromebook Duet 3 for a full day, morning to night. While not quite up to a full remote workload, it was a perfect device for leisure and entertainment. And while it’s not quite as high-tech as the larger OLED-equipped Duet 5, I think it’ll be a more practical buy for the student and casual-user category. I’d rather be on this than a cheap Windows laptop any day.
I first used the Duet 3 at my desk in The Verge’s Manhattan office. I had to write a quick news story, which involved a lot of fast typing, quick scrolling, and hopping back and forth between a whole bunch of Chrome tabs and documents with Slack and Spotify running over top. I plugged a mouse in for this part but didn’t use a monitor — everything was crammed onto the 11-inch screen.
The first thing I noticed was that the Duet’s keyboard is great. I often dread using detachable keyboards because keys (particularly those on the outskirts, like Backspace and Tab) sometimes need to be squeezed in in order to achieve their compact size.
But this keyboard wasn’t cramped in the least. 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 may actually miss typing on it.
The Duet 3’s screen is also a real standout. It’s so bright that even 50 percent was starting to hurt my eyes. Our office is also fairly bright, but at 30–40 percent brightness, I saw almost no obstructive glare. Colors are bright and vivid — I’d watch a movie on this device over all kinds of more expensive laptops.
Battery life was not amazing but acceptable for this price. I had to plug the Duet at about six and a half hours in. It was draining much faster when I had several apps open than when I was just in Chrome, however. I would wager that you might get closer to nine with a Chrome-only workload.
That said, while I was able to use 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 primarily cramped by the 11-inch screen. In order to use two windows side by side (which I often do), I was generally zooming out to around 50 percent in order to see everything I needed to.
I could also feel the processor (the same Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 that powers the Duet 5) chugging a bit under this workload. It could handle Chrome just fine, but once I had five to six different apps open and was trying to swap between them very quickly, I could feel myself getting a bit impatient. It especially had trouble with Zoom calls. The PWA crashed the first few times I tried to join a virtual briefing, and even when I was in the call, the shared screen took a while to load, and other apps were a bit sluggish in the background.
And the Duet also only has two ports — 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 is nice that there’s one on each side. However, it did mean that I couldn’t plug both my mouse and separate keyboard into the device while it was also plugged into power. (No headphone jack, either, so your wireless headphones will have to do.)
With all that said — as soon as I left the office, these complaints all became non-issues. My evening activity was a coffee shop hang with friends, and this was exactly the device I needed for that.
This device is just 2.09 pounds with the keyboard and cover attached, and carrying it around felt very much like carrying a small tablet. It fit easily in my purse — no backpack needed. The compact size was perfect for the cafe table as well, where I needed to fit my drink and croissant as well as my computer. Any larger device would’ve been a pain in this situation, but I could squeeze the Duet right in.
Here I was using the touchpad, which has a surprisingly deep and satisfying click for a detachable deck. I didn’t feel cramped when I scrolled or navigated with gestures (though people with larger fingers might). And it did a decent job of rejecting my fingerprints, remaining quite 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 frantic rush of the office workday — the Duet was snappy, with no slowdown in sight. The sturdy keyboard and excellent screen were icing on the cake.
All in all, I find the Duet an excellent budget purchase, provided that you know your needs. It’s not for you if you need a work device for heavy research and fast multitasking or if you need to plug a lot of things in (including wired headphones — there’s no headphone jack). While there are other detachable Windows laptops and Chromebooks out there, you’ll be unlikely to find this combination of screen, style, portability, and performance anywhere else under $400.
If you like this package 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 else who can make do with the compact 11-incher, the Duet 3 provides the same processor and a comparable build for a lower price. If you’re looking for a portable budget device for homework, video watching, coffee shop browsing, or what have you, the Duet 3 should be on your list.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge