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Confusing Marketing from Lenovo

I have a friend, Jacob, who’s a Chromebook evangelist. He loves the “democracy of them” as he calls it: good looking, lightweight, good screen notebook computers in the $250-$500 range. All running Chrome OS, which is basically a glorified version of the Google Chrome browser running on Linux. More modern versions also run Android tablet OS as a shell. Jacob thinks they bring good connectivity, productivity and consumability technology to the masses, and he’s not wrong. Most of the notebook computers found in Grades 7 through 12 are Chromebooks.

I was whining to Jacob over a beer about my lack of productivity of late – or my inability to be more productive with my work than I wanted to be. I brought up all the distractions I have, including social media, media consumption and things that take my focus away. Jacob pitched getting a Chromebook as a “focus tool”… a computing device that would only serve me one main purpose: writing and managing the CMS system for the CoffeeGeek website. He said I could get a capable workhorse for under $400 that would serve the purpose. I was intrigued.

The Chromebook Space

Jacob, being my sensei of sorts for a tech arena I know nothing about (Chromebooks) quickly filled me in on some things.

  • 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
  • You can run alternate browsers (Firefox, Brave) on a Chromebook, but it’s janky (that’s a bummer)

Jacob clearly had some favourites in the current Chromebook market: he owns an Acer Spin series model that he swears by. He also thinks the HP Dragonfly series of Chromebooks are the best you can buy today, for a hefty price.

One he’d read a lot about but never seen or used is the Lenovo Duet 5 Chromebook. 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.

Decision made: I’d buy a Lenovo Duet 5 as my focus workstation for CoffeeGeek work.

Buying Lenovo Products in Canada: a Challenge

Lenovo heavily partners with Best Buy in the USA, and almost as much with Best Buy in Canada. You’d think they would just have what many pundits call on of the best Chromebooks, on the shelves, ready to go.

Nope.

So then perhaps buy direct from Lenovo Canada. They always have interesting sales and specials too. But no Duet 5 on their website. At all.

Best Buy does list a Duet 5 for sale, online only. Okay… I can go for that. But the one Best Buy Canada lists is for the 4gb /128gb storage version. No option for 8gb. I dug a bit deeper, and for whatever reason, Lenovo decided not even to bring the 8gb version of the Duet 5 to Canada. And the 4gb / 128gb version Best Buy had was well over $100 more (with conversion calculated) than the 8gb / 128gb version in the US. That ain’t right.

I wrote Lenovo Canada asking where I could buy the 8gb / 128gb version, in Canada. It took them a month to reply (and me doing two followups), and they finally wrote back saying that model isn’t for sale in Canada, confirming what I already figured out.

So if I wanted this highly rated, highly sought after Chromebook, I’d have to buy it from the USA. Best Buy in the USA frequently has it in stock and on sale, as low as $309 at one point. But I went the eBay route. I set a search and a price point: new in box, $250 max price.

A month after I set the search, a result came in: a nearly new 8gb/128gb Duet 5, (won in an office contest, the person with a really good sales rating, who normally sells arts and crafts stuff, said), $250 buy it now price. I jumped on it.

Because eBay completely blows when you live in Canada and buy goods from US sellers (short version – they basically force you to use their shipping system to get the goods, collecting additional $$$ fees), it took over 4 weeks for the Chromebook to arrive.

But it finally did last week (some 3 months after I started this process) and I have to say – I’m wildly impressed in many aspects with the Lenovo Duet 5 Chromebook in particular, and Chrome OS in general – but there’s also some issues and problems. I’ll save those for another post.

I will say this: Lenovo Canada needs to get their shit together more. This is one of the highest rated Chromebooks on the market right now, and Lenovo Canada acts like it doesn’t even exist. (it is hidden-listed on their website, but you need to know the model number to find it). When they do have it or list it, they chose to bring in the 4gb / 128gb model only in Canada. A Chromebook like this needs 8gb to be a productivity tool. It’s running on an ARM Snapdragon chipset, which is fantastic for battery life, not so much for horsepower, so that extra 4gb of operating RAM really helps.

I’m not the only one to be frustrated by this. When doing my research, a lot of the threads on the Duet 5 in the Chromebook reddit group had comments from Canadians seeking the 8gb model, but no joy from any Canadian vendor on that. And the people who reviewed the Duet 5 said the 8gb is a must have version of the 13.3″ hybrid tablet

Productivity Boost?

I cannot say yet if this new Chromebook has or will boost my productivity. To be honest, I’m still in learning mode, learning what it is capable of, and what its limitations are. Also, having used MacOS for well over 15 years now, it is hard learning a different operating system and how that all works. Maybe in a month or so I’ll know more.

I plan on doing a real-world review of the Lenovo Duet 5 detachable tablet Chromebook, one based on real and personal use. It won’t be like those generic Youtube reviews out there – which kinda really suck because now that I own the Chromebook, I know their reviews were based on very little actual use and understanding of how these devices are used by most people).

I will say one of my motivations for going Chromebook instead of a large, powerful Android tablet was that the former run desktop versions of browsers. Not the Play Store Android versions. Linux based versions (or in the case of Chrome, the Chrome OS version). In reality, this didn’t work out as well as I thought.

Sure, Chrome works great on this Lenovo Duet 5. Syncs perfectly with my desktop Chrome. Which I haven’t really used in 4 years now because my browser of choice is Brave. It works awesome on the Mac OS, and I have it super-tuned to work well with our CMS for CoffeeGeek.

On a Chromebook, you can install Brave through a complicated process. Sideload it, sort of. And there’s problems. It is slow to load. It is crash-prone. And Google’s fucktarded widevine (the paranoid DRM software Netflix, Prime, Disney+, Crave etc all insist on) won’t run on any Linux-hosted browser on Chrome OS. So you can’t use Brave to watch the media you subscribe and pay for.

I’ll have more on this in the review, but I felt it important to let people know about this. The Youtube reviewers never cover this kind of stuff.

All in all, it cost me $460, taxes, duties, shipping, etc to get the very slightly used, 8gb/128gb Azure Blue Lenovo Duet 5 up here, in my hands, in Victoria BC. It’s only a been a few weeks, but I quite like it overall, and look forward to working into my productivity life. A review is coming soon!

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