This summer, I’ve set myself a nearly impossible amount of writing, editing, photo editing, planning, scheduling and product testing for CoffeeGeek.
I found I was procrastinating, losing days and days to what could have been fruitful content creation and editing. My main work computers are a Macbook Air M1, and an iMac 27" from around 2018. I only have the iMac set up for photo and video editing, but I do quick photo edits on the MBA as well. The problem with my Macbook Air is it has so many distractions. A couple of games installed. Social media apps. All our streaming services installed. My super secret email address client. My more public email addresses clients.
Plus, you get into a mode on your usual workspace of rituals and stuff you do. I end up spending 3x more time reading around discord and reddit than I do actually creating content. Ditto for Youtube (in Brave only, so I don’t have to see the constant annoying ad breaks).
I was having a beer with my friend Jacob, who’s a Chromebook evangelist. I’d always blown off Chromebooks as underpowered clamshells running the chrome browser and not much else. That’s still kind of what they are to this day, though they now also include the Google Play Store for Android apps.
I was whining about my lack of productivity and telling him I was considering getting a better and bigger Android tablet (I currently own a Samsung S6 Lite as a media consumption, book reading, and game playing tablet) along with a folio style keyboard and pen (the Samsung S7 FE was looking my way).
“Dude. Get a Chromebook. Specifically, get a Lenovo Duet 3 or Duet 5 tablet Chromebook”, Jacob urged me. “You need a focus tool, and these will help you focus more. You can use Docs natively and the desktop browser of Chromebooks mean you can edit the CMS on your website with ease.”
Lenovo Duet 5 Chromebook
I spent a lot of time researching these computers to see if they would actually suit the kind of work I needed from them. One article that helped a lot was Thomas Raukamp’s “The Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5 as a Daily Driver” right here on Medium.
I also did a lot more research into Chromebooks, something I didn’t know a lot about. For instance:
- Google sets design rules for all officially named Chromebooks
- Some Chromebooks are insanely cheap, but have super cheap specs
- Some are stupid expensive, but have some pretty impressive hardware
- Google demands Chromebook makers provide updates for 7 years!
- 4gb is standard memory — but you can’t really multitask with current Chrome OS / Android running. 8gb is the minimum for productivity
- You can run alternate browsers (Firefox, Brave) on a Chromebook, but it’s janky (that’s a bummer)
Jacob didn’t own a Duet 5 or Duet 3, but he was really impressed with them. It certainly is one of the highest rated Chromebooks on the market right now, even if it over 2 years old now. It’s unique in the market in that it’s a detachable tablet Chromebook, and apparently only 3 or 4 variants of this kind of Chromebook design are currently being sold, with 3 of them being made by Lenovo.
It sure ticked more than a few boxes for me:
- 13″ screen size
- OLED screen
- Full sized keyboard (and by Lenovo, who know keyboards)
- Crazy long battery life (around 12hr doing high intensity stuff)
- Tablet, for those times I do want it to be a media consumable device (ie, watching movies on the back deck)
- 8gb / 128gb option (ah — HA! read on about this) to give me good enough horsepower to run Elementor (very high resource CMS engine for CoffeeGeek) in the Chrome browser
- 16:9 ratio works good for me having two productivity windows open — photos + browser.
- In the USA at least, goes on sale as low as $309 for the configuration I wanted (about $420Cdn, or $80 under my max budget).
I like to try tech products in person before buying them, and the local London Drugs had a Duet 3 (smaller version) set up as a demo device; I went in and tried the keyboard, looked at the build quality, and liked what I saw (sidenote: the Duet 3 doesn’t have an OLED screen, and it’s keyboard is a bit smaller). I liked the Duet’s fabric sleeve covers, the kickstand, how the keyboard became a folio cover, so I was sold on Lenovo making a good product. Time to buy one!
Buying Lenovo Products is a Challenge in Canada
Very long story short, Lenovo is weirdly and mysteriously selective of what products they sell and release in Canada. They sold the Duet 5 here for some brief moments through their main partnership with Best Buy, but only in a 4gb / 128gb storage, and 4gb / 256gb storage version.
I wanted the 8gb version. So I had to buy it from the USA, the only country they sold 8gb / 128gb variants. I found a very lightly used one on eBay for a great price ($260US), though eBay’s bullshit international shipping costs ran up the price by almost $80USD. Still under my $500 budget.
It arrived, was exactly as described by the eBay seller, and I got to work.
Setting up a Chromebook
For me, the Chrome browser has too many privacy concerns. It also lets too many intrusive ads on websites come through. I’ve been using Brave for nearly 5 years now, mainly to avoid how un-watchable Youtube is on mobile or the Chrome browser (Brave blocks all of Youtube’s intrusive ads). So getting Brave on my new Chromebook is a priority.
You can do it by setting up the Linux environment on your Chromebook and loading the Linux version of Brave. What Chromebook evangelists don’t tell you is how janky Linux apps are on Chromebooks. Sometimes, it can take up to 3 or 4 minutes for Brave to load, because it has to load the Linux environment first. At other times, if you have 7, 8 or more tabs open, all Linux apps seem to freeze, requiring a reboot.
On the positive side, I like and use Thunderbird for my email client on my Mac, and have managed to load it on the Duet 5 Chromebook as a Linux app. Works great too.
Of course, Chrome and all the Chrome based apps run great on the platform. I stick to Chrome for a lot of what I do on this tablet hybrid, but still rely on Brave for heavy-ad-intrusive websites, like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.
Has it Improved My Focus?
It’s only been 3 weeks, but I purposely set up the Duet 5 for work. No games installed. I did install a few of our streaming services but that’s only because the screen of the Duet 5 is freakin’ awesome and movies look fantastic on it. The speakers suck, but I pair it with a JBL portable speaker and it booms. My wife and I have watched several movies on our back deck already with the Duet 5 — just the tablet and its kickstand — and it’s a pleasing experience.
Most of my writing takes place in Google Docs. Docs is way better on a Chromebook than an Android tablet. It’s identical to the desktop version (because it is the desktop version) but runs in its own window, like its own pseudo-app.
One thing I learned from Raukamp’s article (referenced above) was to use the Duet 5 in portrait mode. I can have docs in the top 2/3 of the tall, 16:9screen, and a research window (Youtube, running on Brave, or a small Chrome window for researching the products I’m writing about) in the bottom 1/3 and it works excellently.
It’s interesting to note that the Chrome OS changes from “Chromebook mode” to “tablet mode” the moment you detach the keyboard. There’s nothing in the settings to prevent this either. It changes the layout and functionality of the app windows. However, if you have a bluetooth mouse connected, or connect a bluetooth keyboard, it reverts back into desktop Chromebook mode, a good thing.
I also have a spare 24" work monitor that I plan to hook up to this Chromebook… because I can. I love having that dual screen work environment for content creation.
The keyboard isn’t nearly as good as my wife’s Thinkpad (just a basic T390 version). But it is way better than the keyboard I bought for my Samsung S6 Lite. I can easily hit my 100wpm speed on the Lenovo Duet 5 keyboard. And having a trackpad is very nice, even if the Duet 5’s trackpad is one of the worst I’ve used in a long time.
But I’m digressing. Has it improved my focus? It has, in a strange way. When I am procrastinating, knowing I have to get some work done, my brain says “well, you spent nearly $500 to get a productivity device, don’t let that money go to waste!” and I reach for the Duet 5, crank it open, connect some Jabra Elite 75t headphones to its bluetooth, fire up Apple Music (downloaded via the Play Store) on it, get my “current hits” playlist firing, and start writing. 3, 4 hours later, I’ve banged out 8,000 words across 3 or 4 articles. And this has been happening regularly.
I think part of the problem (and solution) is, I’ve associated my Macbook Air with lifestyle and distractions and side ventures, but I’m associating this Duet 5 with work. Well, work and a nice super wide screen 13.3 OLED for my wife and I to watch movies on outdoors. We even took it to the park once and watched a movie at sunset.
What I Like and Don’t Like about the Lenovo Duet 5
First, I really like the look and overall function of the Duet 5. I got the Azure Blue one, and I like the denim-like fabric on the kickstand back and the folio keyboard (when closed). The kickstand works as advertised, and never slips out of the position you fold it to.
Next, the screen is absolutely gorgeous, with the inky blacks you expect from OLED. Shame it is only a 60hz refresh rate though; you really notice it in movies.
The keyboard is pretty good for what it is. I don’t miss keystrokes, and I find it easier to type on than my iMac’s wide wired aluminum keyboard with keypad.
I like (and am a bit creeped out about) how the Chromebook lives in harmony with your Android phone. I have a Pixel 7 Pro, and I can actually run my phone’s apps on my Chromebook with the most recent Chromebook releases. My face unlock on my phone automatically unlocks my Chromebook Duet 5. Nice (and creepy).
Docs is flawless on the Duet 5. Chrome runs zippy too. I did the thing where you separate Chrome browser from the OS (Chrome Lacros, it’s called?) so that Chrome stays updated more often.
Now for what I don’t like. My number one pet peeve is, it’s heavy and surprisingly bulky with the folio case installed. In fact, the folio case components (the back kickstand and the front keyboard cover) are way too heavy for what they are. The keyboard cover doesn’t even have a battery or bluetooth module, yet weighs more than an Apple magic keyboard.
The tablet itself is around 710g. Not bad for a 13.3" 16:9 screen with all the memory chips, circuit boards, screen, battery everything behind it.
Well, the kickstand and keyboard cover bring the weight up to 1.25kg; that’s actually heavier than my 13.3" Macbook Air. It’s also thicker than the MBA, all assembled. I feel Lenovo could easily take away half of the 550g weight added just by the keyboard cover and kickstand back. This thing shouldn’t weigh more than a kilo fully assembled.
The trackpad is… really bad. Plastic, stiff to click, no haptics, bad tracking. It’s not fun to use.
The speakers are quite bad too. I guess I’m spoiled with the Macbook Air M1’s excellent speakers, but even the speakers on the Samsung S6 Lite sound better. The Duet 5’s speakers are tinny and trebly.
I don’t like that the keyboard is so heavy but doesn’t have bluetooth or a battery built in. Based on the promo photos, I half expected to be able to use the keyboard detached from the tablet portion, but that is not the case.
No pen is included. Sure, you could get Lenovo’s new USI 2.0 pen for it (it is USI compatible) but that’s an extra $50-$60.