Review: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook has a stunning screen - and a few flaws

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook
Is a Chromebook a decent option for someone who wants a relatively cheap device? Photo credit: Newshub

It probably won't surprise you that when Chromebooks were first announced and weren't available in Aotearoa, my FOMO was nearly off the charts.

There's only one thing I hate more than being ripped off by companies by the premium we often pay in NZ for technology and that's when products themselves can't be bought here.

I imported one from the United States courtesy of a buddy on a business trip and was impressed by its form and how useful it was when just sitting on the couch and surfing the web.

For a lot of the time, that's all I need a laptop for - it's only when it came to watching movies and playing games I needed to reach for one of its more expensive alternatives.

But it's been a while since I used a Chromebook - the last couple of purchases have been solely because that's what was specified by the school of one of my children.

Could Lenovo's new AMOLED screen Chromebook get me to jump on board again?

I've been using the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook 13-inch for a couple of weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good

The great news is the 13-inch AMOLED screen is just as impressive as I hoped it would be. 

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook
Photo credit: Newshub

There's something so enjoyable about watching my favourite movies and television shows at such high quality. The 400 nits of brightness means it's more than bright enough for use around the house and outside, presuming you're not in bright sunlight.

If only the sound was as good, but more on that later.

I also really appreciated the ability to adjust the resolution of the screen to better fit my needs. According to the slider, you can go from 1182 x 664 pixels up to 2194 x 1234 pixels, if your eyes are good and you need the desktop space.

The battery is definitely top notch. Lenovo claims around 15 hours, which should be more than enough for anyone for a single day. The 42Wh battery then juices up to 75 percent full on just one hour of charging via the USB-C ports.

I charged up the battery right at the start, and then only charged it one more time during my entire use, which was all unplugged.

These days I can't keep my eyes open for 15 hours straight, so I can't confirm it will last that long, but I was absolutely delighted at how it kept its charge and how little it drained while I sat and played with it.

The Duet 5 comes with a separate keyboard and separate flip stand so it can be used both as a laptop and a tablet.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook
Photo credit: Newshub

For the former, if the device is placed on a hard, flat surface then typing on it is a very good experience - I liked it more than Microsoft's Surface keyboards that have a similar fabric look to this. My typing was fast and accurate.

Unfortunately it's not as good when you're sitting with it on your lap. The keyboard is a bit more flexible than I'd like it to be, and the kickstand? Well, that doesn't get dealt with in the 'Good' section of this review.

I also thoroughly enjoyed using the Duet 5 as a tablet. I found it to be responsive and it's definitely the best way to watch anything on it, particularly in bed.

It was more than fast enough to do what I needed it to do. It's powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 chip, which means even if you could download industry standard video and image editing software, you're probably not going to get a lot of multi-tasking done. But for everyday use, writing in Google Docs and playing Android games, it never lagged.

The bad

It's not all good. Let's start with two things I've already mentioned.

There are four speakers on the Duet 5 - two on each side, one at the top and one at the bottom on both. Unfortunately the sound just doesn't match what I'd hope you'd get with such a great screen. 

It lacks somewhat, with not exactly a tinny sound, but it's not full enough to be enjoyable to use for longer periods.

Inevitably I ended up using Bluetooth functionality to pair headphones with (there's no 3.5mm audio jack so it's the only option).

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook
Photo credit: Newshub

The kickstand is also not great. It folds out from the back cover but it's very thin. It does an okay job on a desk but doesn't carry across to less level surfaces as much as I wanted.

When sitting on the couch with it, I would always end up unbalancing the device when it was put at an angle that suited my eyes. 

The back cover has two holes in it - one round for the rear-facing camera and the other thin and oblong.

I couldn't work out why until I saw you can get a stylus to use with the Duet 5. It seems like a miss not including one in the package.

"Hey, we've included everything you need for the stylus, but we're going to make you pay more."

Yes, other companies don't always provide the stylus for free - but they also don't tend to put a hole in the cover that makes it so obvious something is missing.

The limited ports are also a little bit of a surprise. The thinness of the screen means a USB-A port was never going to be included but I was surprised to find no audio port or card reader option, as they seem pretty standard on most devices these days.

The 5MP front-facing camera also makes for a pretty poor webcam in my experience. I did some test calls and I just wasn't impressed by the quality of the view. I dare say for kids dialling into a remote lesson, it might be acceptable - but when you're used to high quality video calls it was a bit of a let-down.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook
Photo credit: Newshub

Finally, one of those little personal things that annoyed me. I used a website and an app called Ultimate Guitars to get the chords of my favourite songs.

When I went to the website on the Chromebook, it would automatically open the app instead, which is optimised for mobile phones - meaning it was small and in the middle of the screen in the wrong orientation.

Yes, I could have deleted the app (and that's what I ended up doing) but it would have been a much better experience if it had asked me instead of making that decision for me.

The verdict

The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook is a decent device for the correct audience - but I'm not sure I'm in it.

Were my children still at school, however, then I would be seriously considering one to support their studies.

Starting at $999, the Duet 5 is a relatively low-cost device that offers a great screen and a battery life that will last way longer than school hours.

I can then see the kids watching movies and television shows on the train home, the keyboard banished to their bags in favour of tablet mode.

After that, it still feels relatively limited, particularly with only a couple of USB-C ports on the side.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook
Photo credit: Supplied / Lenovo

If you're wanting something with a little more grunt because you enjoy high-quality audio to go with the visuals or you prefer the relative flexibility of Windows or MacOS for gaming and apps, then you need to look elsewhere.

But I can see a place for this in the market for those who want a fairly cheap laptop/tablet hybrid, particularly with an Android phone to pair it with, or for someone ensconced in Google's environment.

I already have more than enough gadgets that I can use for such purposes - and so it's not a tempting package for me. That doesn't mean it's not going to suit you perfectly.

Newshub was supplied with a Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook 13-inch for this review.