One of several versions of Lenovo’s versatile Flex 5 2-in-1 convertible laptop is the Flex 5 Chromebook ($409.99). It retains most of the simple, thoughtful design flourishes of the larger, more expensive 14-inch version that runs Windows 10. The Chrome operating system, an Intel Core i3 processor, and 64GB of flash-based storage help keep the price down, however. The Flex 5 Chromebook does most things mainstream Chromebook users ask for, from serving as a homework companion to offering long battery life and a microSD card reader to add additional storage on the cheap.
A Feature-Rich Midrange Chromebook
At around $400, the Flex 5 is a midrange Chromebook. It sits above the $250 machines with lower-than-full-HD resolutions and ARM-based processors, and far below premium models like the Google Pixelbook Go that cost $700 and up. But because the basic design of the Flex 5 chassis is reused in several different SKUs that cost more, the Flex 5 Chromebook benefits somewhat from a premium, stylish design.
Among the upgraded features are a 360-degree hinge, common on Windows laptops but somewhat rarer on Chromebooks. By folding the hinge past 180 degrees, you can prop the notebook up like a tent, rest it on the keyboard portion like an easel, or even fold it completely flat and use it as a tablet.
The chassis is actually on the chunky side in larger, more premium configurations like the Flex 5 14, and it’s a bit chunky for this 13.3-inch Chromebook, as well. The laptop measures 0.7 by 12.2 by 8.3 inches, noticeably larger than premium 2-in-1 Chromebooks with same-size displays, like the 0.5-inch-thick Google Pixelbook Go. But the Flex 5 still manages to come in just under 3 pounds, which classifies it as an ultraportable laptop.
The Flex 5’s chassis may be beefy, but it’s not unattractive. Lenovo uses a unique soft-touch plastic coating on the sides and the keyboard deck, which makes the laptop pleasing to hold. The Graphite Gray color scheme of our review unit is also intriguing, making the laptop darker and moodier-looking than the mostly silver schemes of other Lenovo ultraportable laptops.
The chassis hosts an impressive number of ports for a Chromebook, which often skimp on physical connections since most Chromebook users don’t need to plug in many peripherals. On the left edge, you’ll find a USB-C port (which also accepts the AC adapter cable), a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, a headphone jack, and a microSD card reader. On the right, there’s an additional USB-C port.
While I would have liked to also see a dedicated HDMI port, available on the Windows-based Flex 5 14, that’s nevertheless an impressive offering. The SD card slot is especially noteworthy, since it makes it easy to add very low-cost storage to supplement the rather cramped 64GB boot drive. Most Chromebooks come with limited storage capacity, and most Chromebook users don’t need a lot of storage, but I still wish that more of them came with SD card readers for easy expansion if you need it.
Wireless connectivity options, critically important for a device that needs constant internet access, include Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.0. Reliability was good in my testing, with the Flex 5 experiencing no slowdowns or random disconnects when used with a Netgear Nighthawk router.
The Flex 5’s right edge also features a volume rocker and the power button, which can come in handy when you’re using the device as a tablet or propped up on your desk with the keyboard facing away from you.
Tap, Drag, and Doodle on the Screen
With a full HD resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, the Flex 5’s display offers reasonably crisp text and vivid colors, though you will be able to see individual pixels if your eyes are located at a comfortable viewing distance of about two feet. Unfortunately, the display’s rated maximum brightness of 250 nits is quite low, and I had trouble seeing it in a daylight-flooded room. If you plan on toting your Chromebook around and using it in a variety of lighting conditions, you’ll want to consider a sunnier screen, like the 400-nit one on the Lenovo Chromebook Duet.
Since the Flex 5 is a convertible laptop, its screen offers touch input. You can tap with your fingers or draw with the optional Lenovo digital pen, sold separately. Lenovo says this is its first consumer Chromebook to offer compatibility with a digital pen—the Chromebook Duet also offers it, but that tablet is geared more towards school district customers. The Chrome operating system has been steadily adding digital stylus capabilities, and now comes with a dedicated Stylus Tools menu that offers shortcuts for screen captures and creating notes.
Above the display, there’s a front-facing camera that shoots 720p video and features a sliding privacy shutter for peace of mind when you’re not using it. It’s fine for videoconferencing, but if you’re looking for a Chromebook to use while taking notes in class, you might want to choose a tablet like the Chromebook Duet instead. That device features both front- and rear-facing cameras that make it much easier to snap a photo of the blackboard before the teacher erases it.
Comfortable Keyboard, Bonus Lock
Speaking of taking notes, the Flex 5’s backlit keyboard is quite comfortable. Its 1.4mm of travel distance is perfectly adequate for brief typing sessions, and I appreciate that moving the power button to the right edge frees up space on the keyboard for a button to lock the device. Press and hold the button, located at the upper right corner, to be transported instantly to the Chrome sign-in screen.
Two 2-watt speakers project their sound through grilles located on either side of the keyboard deck. They’re powerful enough to be heard in an average-size room, but they offer slightly tinny output that makes them suitable for videoconferencing but not much else.
The multi-touch touchpad, whose surface is made of Mylar, is less comfortable than the keyboard. It’s too cramped for my large fingers, and the stiff hinge and significant flex in the keyboard deck make accurate clicks and cursor movements difficult.
Adequate Performance for Chrome Tasks
The Intel Core i3 and 4GB of RAM in the Flex 5 help it offer perfectly adequate performance for most common Chrome tasks, like using Google Docs, watching YouTube videos, and even participating in video chats on Google Hangouts or Skype. I never once noticed sluggishness or slowdowns in my testing.
Benchmark results show that the Flex 5’s theoretical computing performance is about what we expect from midrange Chromebooks. It’s significantly more powerful than the Chromebook Duet, whose cramped tablet form factor houses a pokey ARM-based processor. The Flex 5 even managed to come out ahead of the Core i5-equipped Google Pixelbook Go in some of our tests, which include browser-based workouts like WebXPRT 3 and JetStream 2, as well as standalone benchmarks like CrXPRT and the Android version of PCMark.
It’s still not the most powerful Chromebook on the market, and it might not be the best choice for the growing numbers of enterprise IT departments that are adopting the Chrome operating system. For them, a business-focused device like the Dell Enterprise Chromebook (available in a 2-in-1 version) offers better performance on our tests, and better IT manageability features too.
The Flex 5’s battery life is excellent, lasting for nearly 14 hours in our test, which involves playing a locally stored video with Wi-Fi turned off until the battery dies. It’s not quite as good as the Pixelbook Go, which lasted for more than 16 hours, but it should get you through a full day of light work.
Plenty of Value and Flexibility
Like other members of the Flex 5 family, the Flex 5 Chromebook offers plenty of physical flexibility, generous connectivity options, and premium design features. While it’s not the cheapest Chromebook, it’s certainly a bargain when compared to equivalent Windows machines, as well as premium members of the Chrome family from Google.
Overall, the Flex 5 will suit mainstream users who have grown to appreciate the advantages of the simple, lightweight, and fast-evolving Chrome operating system, but also want pen support, physical connectivity, and other niceties common in the world of Windows laptops.
Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook Specs
|Processor||Intel Core i3-10110U|
|Processor Speed||2.1 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||4 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||eMMC Flash Memory|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||64 GB|
|Screen Size||13.3 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||1,920 by 1,080|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||60 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Intel UHD Graphics|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ax, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.7 by 12.2 by 8.34 inches|
|Operating System||Google Chrome OS|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||13:48|