So you are in the market for a cheap and crazy portable machine. One that works very well like a tablet, but can also manage a “real” job like a laptop, type emails and run desktop programs. The two most promising devices in this niche, at least those under $ 500, are Microsoft’s latest Surface Go tablet and Lenovo’s new IdeaPad Chromebook Duet.
These two models are 10-inch tablets with a built-in kickstand, and both go well with small keyboard and touchpad covers designed especially for them. The biggest difference is the operating system: the Surface Go 2 runs on Windows, the Duet runs on ChromeOS. And also Android. Kind of. It is complicated. There are also big differences in value, software and hardware to consider.
IdeaPad Chromebook Duet: an economical browser in a box
Lenovo’s budget on a Chrome tablet wowed us when we checked it at CES earlier this yearand Cam called him an almost perfect ChromeOS device. It tackles the form factor of handset devices so that much more expensive devices, like Google’s Pixel Slate, simply don’t do it. The fabric-covered kickstand makes it look like a surface at a glance, but it detaches from the back via built-in magnets, revealing an ultra-thin 10-inch tablet underneath.
The Duet comes with a keyboard in the box, an instant advantage over similar designs in terms of value. While the keyboard isn’t exactly fantastic, it does the job and acts as a screen protector when the tablet is in motion. If you want to use a full touch screen or if you just want to use a full-size keyboard, it comes straight out of its POGO pins.
Even with the keyboard, the Duet has a starting retail price of $ 280. It’s $ 120 cheaper than the cheapest Surface Go 2, which requires a separate purchase of $ 100 if you want the keyboard. At only 60% of the price, assuming you want this keyboard and touchpad, the Duet is unbeatable in value.
But this lower price comes with a few sacrifices. The Duet uses a processor based on MediaTek ARM, the same type of chip that powers mid-range smartphones, so that it definitely lacks decisive punch. For example, these low specifications mean that it can only drive an external monitor at a resolution of 1440 × 900. Admittedly, this type of device is not really intended to be associated with a monitor, but it is worth the worth considering if you hope to do so.
Elsewhere in hardware, the Duet only has 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage (or 128 GB if you increase the price to $ 300). That’s a lot of memory and storage for a Chromebook, because almost everything the operating system does is in the cloud. But you may find that the Duet starts to move if you weigh it down with too many apps or browser tabs, and it won’t be able to contain too many dense Android apps like games.
The Duet’s screen is a 1920 × 1200 LCD screen that can be used without being breathtaking. It has an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front camera, although it’s unlikely you will use it for anything more intense than web conferencing.
In terms of I / O, it relies on a single USB-C port, that is, for charging, external data, video, and audio. (In one of the tablet’s only design flaws, as there is no headphone jack.) You will need to be careful with your accessories or buy a USB-C docking station to use more than one at a time. . But this low-power ARM hardware has an obvious advantage: the tablet battery almost always lasts, and it can get a full and slow recharge, even on a brick phone.
If you’ve never used a Chromebook before, open Chrome on your Windows or Mac computer. That’s all. It’s ChromeOS.
Okay, that simplifies things a bit, but it’s really an operating system built around a browser. While ChromeOS can do everything Chrome can do on a desktop computer, which probably includes more than you might think, it’s still limited in terms of expansion. A few offline apps like Gmail and Google Docs will keep you working when you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection, but compared to the huge selection of Windows apps that Surface Go can run, that’s a definite drawback .
However, there is an ace in the hole for ChromeOS: Android apps. Like most new Chromebooks, the Duet comes with the Google Play Store preinstalled, and you can install most Android apps there. Productivity apps, games, chat clients, whatever you want. It’s a huge boon for a tablet to have integrated access to a million mobile applications.
Speaking of tablets, ChromeOS has made huge strides over the past year, improving its tablet interface (mainly by lifting items straight from the Apple iPad). It is fluid and easily understandable, without losing access to the full-power tools of the Chrome browser. Windows has recently improved on tablets, but the Duet is undeniably better as a tablet than the Surface Go.
Microsoft Surface Go 2: as small as Windows should be
Surface Go is the evolution of the device that Microsoft once called simply “Surface” (without “Pro”). It’s a smaller, cheaper, and more portable machine, but it retains the same broad features as the popular Surface Pro, including this excellent keyboard, which is still a separate purchase.
The Surface Go 2 costs $ 400 for the entry-level tablet, with an additional $ 100 for the cheapest keyboard / trackpad cover. Because we compare it to the Duet with the built-in keyboard, we will assume that the price is included in the retail price. So $ 500 for the cheapest Surface Go 2, almost double the cheapest Duo.
But this additional price gives you an undeniably more pleasant machine. It uses a true Intel Pentium processor, which means it can run all Windows programs without virtualization. Upgraded models can boost this up to a Core i3 processor, and there is even a model with 8 GB of RAM and LTE … if you want to spend more than $ 700. Because you are reading this article, you probably are not doing it. But in terms of flexibility and hardware options, the Surface Go 2 can do more.
It’s also just a nicer machine. If you opt for this keyboard cover, you will find a better overall typing and touchpad experience than on the cheaper Duet, with an added bonus of backlit keys and the ability to type at a comfortable angle. Folded for transport, the Surface Go 2 is thinner, more stable and just more sensational. The phrase “you get what you pay for” comes to mind.
The surface is more extensible. The Surface line stubbornly sticks to a proprietary charging port / dock with a corresponding charge in the box, but the Surface Go 2 also has a USB-C port that can be used with a standard charger. The Surface Go 2 can handle multiple external displays at once – many more docking options than the Duet – although its built-in GPU can’t handle heavy things like 4K video. It has a built-in MicroSD card reader for easy and inexpensive storage expansion, and the icing on the cake: a dedicated headphone jack.
The Surface Go 2 screen is only slightly higher resolution than the Duet, extending to a resolution of 1920 × 1280 for a more square aspect ratio. But its contrast is generally reported to be better, and the front speakers make multimedia consumption more pleasant.
Due to Windows’ more intense needs and a more powerful processor, it won’t last as long on a load, with most reviews having less than five hours. It has an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front camera, which is compatible with the Windows Hello biometric system for connection and security.
The base model Surface Go 2 has the same 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage combo as the cheapest Duet. But it’s a bit simplistic: Windows takes a lot more memory and storage than ChromeOS, especially if you like to use … wait … the Chrome browser. Personally, I consider 8 GB of RAM as the minimum for good performance on Windows 10, and it’s an upgrade of $ 150 for the Surface Go 2 (which still doesn’t provide you with the keyboard). This upgrade also doubles storage to 128 GB.
You can get devices smaller than the Surface Go 2 that run Windows 10 … but you really shouldn’t. This size and resolution is where Windows starts to feel a bit cramped, but you can still do most of the things you want on the tablet. Powerful Windows games and media creation are out, but the Surface Go 2 should be able to handle Photoshop or high-end streaming video without a problem.
Speaking of Photoshop: the big advantage of Surface Go 2 is the ability to run full desktop programs, including Chrome itself. If your business relies on a specific Windows application, or if you have one that you simply don’t want to replace with a web-based alternative, the Microsoft tablet is the solution. Forgive the joke. With decades of Windows applications in its pocket, the software is definitely a big plus.
Since the Surface Go 2 can run Chrome, it can do all of the software tricks the Duet can except one: run native Android apps. (There are ways to get Android apps on Windows, but they’re clunky, especially on low-power hardware.) Microsoft has its own built-in Windows Store for apps, but frankly, it’s mostly useless. Almost all of the Surface Go 2 utilities come from accessing traditional Windows programs.
Windows is not a tablet-based operating system either, it just “agrees.” You’ll be able to do whatever you need, but browsing through Windows’ various programs and settings menus without a mouse can be frustrating. If you want a device primarily for browsing the web or running mobile apps, this is not the case.
Microsoft Surface Go 2
The decisive factors
Let’s break it down in a flash. If you’re still having trouble making a decision between the IdeaPad Chromebook Duet and the Surface Go 2, here are the quick results:
Equipment: Surface Go 2 is more powerful, with more upgrades and storage options, as well as a more pleasant fit and finish. There is also a LTE connection at the highest price.
Value: The Duet wins easily, with a keyboard included in its much cheaper price.
Portability: With the two tablets being roughly the same size and weight, the Surface Go 2 wins if you bring the shell and kickstand for a full “work mode”. The Chromebook Duet is a little more flexible, however: with its kickstand removed, it is much more elegant than a single tablet. It can also last twice as long on a charge and return to a full battery from a low power charger.
In work mode: The Surface Go 2’s high-quality backlit keyboard is best suited when you want to treat the machine like a laptop. Access to all Windows programs could be the deciding factor for some buyers.
Tablet mode: The Chromebook Duet’s superior iPad-like tablet user interface and access to native Android apps make it the best choice whether you’re just browsing the couch or on the go.
In general, I would say that most buyers who are considering a cheaper tablet will be better served by the Lenovo design. Its value and lifespan are hard to beat, and access to Android apps in this form factor is a major asset. Surface wins if you absolutely need Windows apps, or if you need more expansion and storage – this MicroSD card slot can double or triple the maximum capacity.