For the same $1,399 price as Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S20 Ultra phone, you can pick up the company’s newest flagship laptop, the Galaxy Book Flex. It’s a sign of just how ridiculous phone prices have become, but it’s also evidence that Samsung can make a well-designed laptop at a reasonable price, albeit a still-lofty one in absolute terms. The Galaxy Book Flex, available with either a 13-inch or 15-inch screen, has most of the features we look for in a 2-in-1 convertible laptop, including a gorgeous touch-enabled display and a surprisingly light weight. Despite a few software bugs and an awkward keyboard, it’s an excellent option for people who need a flexible notebook with a large, high-quality display.
Our 15-inch Galaxy Book Flex preview unit is configured differently from the U.S. retail version. The differences in memory, storage, and graphics could affect computing performance, so we’re not giving it a rating until we can test the final retail configuration. However, all of the other features discussed below are the same as the ones on the version consumers can buy.
The First QLED Laptop
With the Galaxy Book Flex, Samsung brings its QLED display technology to portable PCs for the first time. Both screen sizes have a full HD resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. Similar to OLED screens, which stormed the premium laptop market last year, QLED displays use familiar LCD panels and LED backlight arrays. The difference, “Q,” is short for quantum dots, Samsung’s marketing term for nanoparticles that emit or alter light at different frequencies when exposed to electricity. This light-tweaking can produce more precise color in a wider range than the LCDs illuminated by white LEDs can.
Indeed, colors do appear brilliant on the Galaxy Book Flex, though I’m not sure how much of the excellent experience is attributable to the QLED technology and how much is thanks to high dynamic range (HDR), which many other laptops in this price range also support. Overall, my experience of testing the Galaxy Book Flex was more akin to using a laptop with a 4K screen. Only when editing text did I notice the ever-so-slightly fuzzy lines of text that are a staple of 1080p and lower resolutions.
The QLED display also has an extraordinarily high rated maximum brightness of 600 nits. The highest brightness level we typically see on consumer laptops is 500 nits, and even that is easily viewable out of doors (though not in direct sunlight). The extra 100 nits has Samsung confident enough to market the Galaxy Book Flex as designed for outdoor viewing.
But constantly operating a display at 600 nits will have a significant negative effect on battery life, and you certainly don’t need that level of brightness in your living room. So you must unlock the maximum brightness level by activating Outdoor+ Mode in the Samsung Settings app. Letting the display turn off when the laptop goes to sleep will deactivate Outdoor+ Mode, just in case you forget to turn it off when you come back inside.
Like all 2-in-1 convertible notebooks, the Galaxy Book Flex’s display has a 360-degree hinge. You can transform the laptop into a tent for watching movies or an easel for displaying a presentation. You can even fold it completely flat, with the screen parallel to the keyboard base, for use as a tablet.
It Fits in Your Hands
Normally, a large-screen laptop with a 360-degree hinge is unwieldy to hold as a tablet for very long because it’s too heavy. That’s less of a problem with the Galaxy Book Flex, however. The 15-inch version weighs just 3.4 pounds. That’s a bit above the 3-pound maximum for our definition of an ultraportable laptop, but it still weighs far less than competitors like the HP Spectre x360 15, the Lenovo Yoga C940, or the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, all of which are at least a pound heavier.
Meanwhile, the 13-inch version of the Galaxy Book Flex weighs just 2.5 pounds, not far above the 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) holy grail for premium ultraportables. Both versions are also quite svelte, with the 15-incher measuring 0.5 by 11.9 by 8 inches (HWD). That compares favorably to the 15-inch Yoga C940, which measures 0.77 by 14 by 9.4 inches.
One reason the Galaxy Book Flex is so thin and light is thanks to super-efficient but powerful components. The Core i7-1065G7 processor, from Intel’s latest 10th-generation “Ice Lake” family, is a quad-core chip with Hyper-Threading support and a 1.3GHz clock speed. It’s less powerful than the 8th-generation H-series Core i7 that powers the Yoga C940, but it also requires less electricity and cooling, which helps keep the Galaxy Book Flex’s weight down.
The Galaxy Book Flex comes in a single color option—Royal Blue—which Samsung promises will “turn heads.” That’s probably right, not because the deep blue scheme is particularly flashy, but because most other premium laptops are a boring silver color. One notable exception is the Spectre x360 15, which is also available in dark blue.
Nearly every part of the Galaxy Book Flex is blue—even the touchpad. The only portions that aren’t are the shiny silver metallic edges and the black glass-covered display bezel. It’s reasonably pleasing to the eye and unequivocally pleasing to hold in your hand, thanks to solid, reassuring build quality. There’s no noticeable flex anywhere on the laptop’s base, and while the display lid does bend a bit, it’s hardly noticeable.
The keyboard and touchpad are especially sturdy. That’s great for the touchpad, an oversized slab that does double duty as a Qi wireless charging pad. Plug your laptop in before you go to bed, set your Qi-compatible phone or smart watch on the touchpad, and everything will be charged in the morning. It’s a nifty, novel feature, though one that you can’t take advantage of when you’re actually using the touchpad.
The keyboard’s sturdiness is a bit more problematic, not because it shouldn’t be sturdy, but because it highlights just how shallow and uncomfortable the keys are. They’re very similar to the butterfly-style keyboard that Apple is currently phasing out on its laptops following mostly negative feedback. Typing on the Galaxy Book Flex is really just tapping, which is fine if you only need to do it occasionally, but woefully uncomfortable if you’re writing emails or reports or a romance novel all day long. As a consolation prize for spreadsheet jockeys, the Galaxy Book Flex is large enough to include a dedicated number pad, which should make Microsoft Excel sessions quicker, if still uncomfortable.
S Pen Included
One of the main reasons to buy a 2-in-1 convertible laptop instead of a conventional clamshell is the ability to write or draw on it with a digital pen while it’s set up as a tablet or an easel. Like the Yoga C940, the Galaxy Book Flex comes with a digital stylus and an integrated holder built into the laptop’s right edge. The stylus, called the S Pen, is far smaller and skinnier than the Apple Pencil, which makes writing and drawing slightly cumbersome. But because it fits completely into the holder and recharges while it’s stored, you’ll never have to worry about losing it or replacing its batteries.
The coolest part about the S Pen is that it doubles as a remote control for many common software functions simply by waving it in the air. In Microsoft Edge, you can play and pause videos as well as raise and lower the audio volume with these gestures, which you can customize in the Samsung Settings app. In Microsoft PowerPoint, you can use the pen to advance to the next slide by flicking it to the right while holding down the button.
While these actions are cool, they’re also quite gimmicky, cumbersome to learn, and occasionally glitchy. It took several minutes of practice before I was able to get my gestures to register, and several minutes before that for the Galaxy Book Flex to find the S Pen and pair with it. For a week thereafter, a notification popped up asking me to pair with the S Pen every time I powered up the laptop, even though the pen was already paired.
Worse, the Samsung Settings app notes that “media control actions may not work, depending on the application.” Indeed, skipping forward and backward within a YouTube video in Microsoft Edge did not work, even though the gestures are listed as supported. While you can edit the default gestures to perform different actions on an app-by-app basis, there’s no way to add additional apps to the list.
Samsung has a history of innovative hardware features that lack robust software to back them up, including an incident earlier this year with the Galaxy S20’s camera software. It appears that the S Pen’s remote features also fall into this category. Even if the software improves in future updates, I can’t see myself using the S Pen as a remote very often. The situation is reminiscent of the extinct Windows Media Center, and of Apple’s efforts to turn the original MacBook into a home theater PC by throwing in an IR remote and Front Row software. These features were flashy in their time but were eventually abandoned.
Professionally Tuned Audio
In addition to the S Pen holder, you’ll find two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the Galaxy Book Flex’s right edge, along with a power button. (The latter doesn’t have an integrated fingerprint reader—the reader is located in the keyboard above the directional arrow keys.) On the left edge, there’s an additional USB Type-C port that doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, as well as a headphone jack and an SD card reader. While a USB Type-A port would have been a nice addition, many other thin and light laptops also lack USB-A ports, so the Galaxy Book Flex is not uniquely stingy here. Wireless connectivity includes Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.0.
AKG, a German professional audio equipment firm owned by Samsung, tunes the Galaxy Book Flex’s stereo speakers. Often professionally tuned laptop speakers are a gimmick. In this case, though, audio quality is remarkably good for such a small laptop. Rich, dimensional sound emanates from the edge-mounted speaker grilles. Perhaps the only thing missing is bass—music never sounds tinny, even at higher volumes, but the bottom is virtually nonexistent.
Webcam quality is merely average, with the Galaxy Book Flex’s 720p webcam producing slightly grainy video quality even in well-lit rooms. The webcam lacks a built-in privacy shutter and IR sensors that let you log in to your Windows 10 account using face recognition. Password-free logins are still possible thanks to the fingerprint reader, however.
Samsung supports the Galaxy Book Flex with a one-year warranty.
Computing Performance: Feels Snappy
In addition to the Core i7 processor, our Galaxy Book Flex review unit also includes 16GB of memory, a 1TB solid-state drive, and an Nvidia GeForce MX250 graphics processor. It’s a potent combination, and in casual use over several days, I found the laptop to be snappy and responsive, and also to last all day away from the power outlet even when streaming online videos.
Unfortunately, the retail configuration that will be sold in the U.S. lacks these lofty components. The 15-inch version sold in the States has 12GB of memory and a 512GB SSD, and it relies on the Core i7 chip’s Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics. Samsung doesn’t offer multiple configurations for the Galaxy Book Flex, so you’re stuck with those specs. Still, they’re fairly generous for the $1,399 asking price.
In fact, the Galaxy Book Flex seems to be a good value in absolute terms, whether you compare it to a flagship smartphone or similar flagship 2-in-1 convertibles. That’s barring any glaring performance deficiencies, of course, which we won’t know about until we get the chance to test a retail configuration.
Taking Shape: A Solid Convertible
Besides our not knowing how the retail version will perform, the Galaxy Book Flex does have some flakiness around the S Pen air-gesture feature, and an uncomfortable keyboard. But there are also plenty of positives. Innovative features like the S Pen stylus itself and wireless charging are unobtrusive enough that you can ignore them if you don’t need them, and they don’t hurt the laptop’s impressive track record in the crucial areas of build quality, weight, and price. Overall, the Galaxy Book Flex is shaping up to be an excellent 2-in-1 convertible laptop.
Samsung Galaxy Book Flex (15-Inch) Specs
|Laptop Class||Convertible 2-in-1, Ultraportable|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-1065G7|
|Processor Speed||1.3 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||12 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||512 GB|
|Screen Size||15.6 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||1,920 by 1,080|
|Screen Refresh Rate||60 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Intel Iris Plus|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.5 by 11.9 by 8 inches|
|Operating System||Windows 10|