If there is one product category that Apple has dominated the technology landscape without question it is tablets. The iPad has long been the default tablet recommendation for most people. So much so that when Microsoft partnered with the NFL to have Surface Pro’s on the sidelines, announcers were calling them iPads. There is a Google and Kleenex element to the iPad and tablets, where people simply call tablets iPads now. How can another company possibly compete?
Many have tried to take on the iPad but all have failed. Samsung, Google, LG, Motorola, and Microsoft have taken different approaches. But all have failed. The reason that I think this is the case is something that I have said many times: Apple simply cares about tablets where others use it as a side hobby. Apple has a priority in the iPad line which has resulted in a very full and consistent product portfolio. A concise vision in a category that is filled with laissez-faire releases.
It is in this climate that Lenovo has unveiled a new device to take on the iPad: the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. A fascinating $300 Chrome OS tablet device that gives the iPad a run for its money in the way of value and usability propositions. This might be the device to finally give Apple a legitimate challenge, erasing the sins of the previous competition.
Sins of the Past
It has been 8 years since Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPad. In the time since then, the device line has revolutionized the computing space to help usher in thinner and lighter designs. Ever since then the tech industry has been littered with “iPad killers”. Let’s revisit some of these devices.
Samsung is the first competitor that comes to mind with the very scattered tablet strategy with the Tab S, A, and E lines. The company has leaned into DeX mode with the flagship S line and a multimedia focus on the lower end E and A tablets. Microsoft introduced its Surface line as a sort of hybrid between a traditional laptop and tablet. However, with the failure of Windows 8 and 8.1 that product line has leaned more into the former. Google just a couple of years ago took a stab at the iPad with the Pixel Slate. However poor reviews and a clunky tablet interface doomed this product from the start. The device’s price point with accessories (around $1000) was more in line with the iPad Pro than the standard iPad.
This is the problem that many manufacturers have faced. Trying to dethrone the iPad by attacking the more premium Air and Pro lines was always a foolish endeavor. Apple dominates the tablet market by offering an excellent experience on the standard $329 10 inch iPad and superior small tablet experience in the iPad Mini. Microsoft even tried to specifically target this success with the Surface Go, but even that device does not compare well to the standard iPad as a media and productivity device combination.
It is in this environment that Lenovo has released the Chromebook Duet. On the surface from a specifications perspective, this device is nothing remarkable. However, what Lenovo has achieved here is a device that offers a compelling package when compared to the 10 inch iPad that offers an alternative worth considering.
The Maturity of Chrome OS as a Tablet Operating System
When the Google Pixel Slate was released, the operating system was woefully prepared to handle a touch screen only form factor. This spelled doom for the Slate. The beauty of Chrome OS though is that the update schedule of the operating system is constant with updates coming every 6 weeks. Because the operating system is in a growth stage, most new versions have multiple quality of life updates. And in the two years since the Slate was released Chrome OS has become a much more capable tablet operating system.
The inclusion of navigation gestures and a dedicated tablet UI among other additions have made Chrome OS a much more capable tablet experience. These are additions that complement the desktop experience of Chrome OS. Many have written and said many words about how Chromebooks are not a proper replacement for Windows or macOS. While this may be true for power users in the laptop market, as a tablet operating system there is intrigue.
Chrome OS has full support for external accessories that work as intended without the need for any workarounds or adapters. Additionally, Chrome OS has the full desktop experience of the Chrome browser. This may seem minor but a flaw of Android tablets for years has been that the internet browser on these devices has been an enlarged version of what is found on Android phones. For a larger screen device, this leads to a subpar experience. Chrome OS has a full desktop browser in a tablet form factor that makes a compelling argument against the iPad.
The last part of Chrome OS that improves the tablet experience is updates, or rather how long updates will be sent out to a device. Android tablets are notorious for being the lowest on the priority list in terms of software support, except for Google’s Nexus tablets from a few years ago. Most of these devices rarely receive necessary security patch updates to protect against internet security threats that arise daily. Compared to the iPad, which is supported by years from Apple, this is a huge disadvantage for Android tablets.
Chrome OS, by contrast, is updated every 6 weeks usually without a hitch and the Chromebook Duet in particular has a guaranteed 8 years of software support. This is very competitive with what Apple offers with the iPad which typically supports devices for 4–5 years. The nature of the one size fits all update strategy that Google implements with Chrome OS helps make the Duet a much more appealing value proposition from a long term support perspective. A piece of mind that tablet makers have long struggled with in competing with the iPad.
The Incredible Value Proposition
Earlier I mentioned that the Pixel Slate failed in large part due to a very high asking price at launch. Additionally, the device was very large as a tablet device. So much so that most reviewers suggested only using it as a laptop, flat out discouraging using it as a tablet as it was a poor overall experience. The Lenovo Duet solves both of these problems. Priced at $300 with a 10-inch display, it is affordable and compact. An ideal combination when looking at a tablet.
The added benefit here is that the Duet comes with a kickstand attachment and keyboard in the box with 128 GB of storage. A similarly equipped iPad with 128 GB of storage and keyboard cover almost costs double ($588: $429 for the iPad and $159 for the keyboard cover directly from Apple). The pricing from Lenovo, by comparison, is extremely competitive whether looking for a standard tablet only or a potential productivity device with a keyboard.
But there have been lower-cost alternatives to the iPad that have come and gone before. And they have all failed. What makes the Lenovo Duet better? The hardware that Lenovo has executed here in the price point just feels like a competent competitor. A solid frame, lightweight when used as a tablet primarily, and a screen that does not look like it belongs on a $300 device. Furthermore, the use of an ARM-based MediaTek processor means that Android apps installed through the Google Play Store will work better on this tablet than a typical Intel-based Chromebook.
The appeal of this device then becomes more apparent when considering that Android apps will work very well here in addition to having a full web experience through the Chrome browser. This combination offers a compelling alternative to the 10 inch iPad for those that are more comfortable in the Google ecosystem. This device is not a primary computer and does not pretend to be one. This device is an excellent secondary device, an excellent multimedia device, that just so happens to be able to handle some light work when needed. In short, it is filling the same need as an iPad. It does so quite well, and that is something that we as a tech community have not been able to say about a tablet in a very long time.
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