Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook review: More Chromebook for now and later

Josh Goldman/CNET

Lenovo released one of the best Chromebooks of 2020 with its IdeaPad Duet two-in-one, a 10-inch Chrome OS tablet with a detachable keyboard and touchpad. However, while its small size and performance are awesome for mobility, they’re limiting if you need to spend hours using it for work. For that, Lenovo’s 13.3-inch IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook is the better bet. It’s also a two-in-one, but it’s more a laptop than a tablet. With the Flex 5, you’re getting a larger display, a full-size backlit keyboard and better everyday performance with its 10th-gen Core i3 processor. 

LikeExcellent performance and battery life for its priceUSB-C ports for charging on both sidesUSI pen-enabled display

Don’t LikeMemory can’t be upgradedDisplay too dim for outside work

Like many Chromebooks right now, though, the IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook (also sold as the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5) is in short supply. It was originally priced at $410 but is currently bouncing between $480 and $490. Still, even at that higher price, the Flex 5 is a good deal for what you’re getting. In the UK, the configuration is better and more expensive at £530. Lenovo doesn’t currently offer the IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook in Australia, but my system’s price converts to AU$578.

Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook

Price as reviewed

$410

Display size/resolution

13.3-inch 1,920×1,080-pixel touch display

Processor

2.1GHz Intel Core i3-10110U

Memory

4GB DDR4-2666 (soldered)

Graphics

Integrated Intel UHD Graphics

Storage

64GB eMMC

Ports

2x USB-C (3.1 Gen 1), 1x USB-A, audio/mic jack, MicroSD card slot

Networking

802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) , Bluetooth 5.0

Operating system

Chrome OS

Weight

3 pounds (1.3 kg)

It’s a bit big to use as a handheld tablet, but on a desk, it’s just fine. 

Josh Goldman/CNET
Better than your average budget Chromebook

Most Chromebooks that are less expensive than the Flex 5 typically have smaller displays, all-plastic bodies and slower processors. Spending a bit more for this Lenovo is worth it because it’s simply better. The body is only slightly larger than 11.6-inch models like those commonly used by school districts. However, the larger 13.3-inch display here makes a big difference when scrolling through learning sites or just whenever you need more of your work on the screen all at once. 

While the display’s color and contrast are fine, the screen is a bit dim. I found myself regularly trying to increase it beyond its max setting. This was mostly when I was using it in a bright room near a window or outside. Otherwise, the display was good enough, and it is USI (Universal Stylus Initiative) pen-enabled and will work with Lenovo’s USI Pen. 

The two-in-one design is nice to have for watching videos, casual gaming and presentations. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

Above the display is a serviceable 720p webcam. The mic quality is fine, too, so you should have no trouble being seen and heard on your next Google Meet. Virtually no Chromebooks, Windows laptops or MacBooks have decent full-HD-or-better webcams, which is a shame now that everyone’s using them non-stop. 

Along with a USB-C port on the right side is a volume rocker and power button, all of which can be accessed in tablet mode. but watch out, because the power button is easy to press accidentally when you steady the laptop to plug something into a port on the left side. It’s not a big deal since Chrome asks what you want to do — power off, sign out or lock — before it does anything; it’s just annoying. Lenovo did put USB-C ports on both sides, though, and you can charge devices from either. 

The keyboard is easy to read with or without the backlight on. 

Josh Goldman/CNET
Zipping through work to get to play

The rest of the Flex 5 is just roundly good. The keyboard is comfortable with a pleasing snappiness to it. Plus, it’s backlit, which is something you won’t find on cheaper models. The touchpad is nothing special but gets the job done with minimal lag and is just big enough. 

Overall performance is better than I expected, given the system’s 4GB of memory. I didn’t experience any sluggishness while working in Google Docs and Sheets, streaming video or music and doing basic photo editing. Then again, I also keep my number of open Chrome tabs under 20. The biggest issue is you can’t add more memory later since the 4GB here is soldered on. Battery life is pretty good, too, coming in at 11 hours and 22 minutes on our streaming video test. For more typical work use, I’d expect around 7 to 8 hours of use.

The Flex 5 Chromebook

Josh Goldman/CNET

I played a couple of Android games from the Google Play store and didn’t experience any slowdowns doing that, either. And if you want to take advantage of Google’s streaming game service, Stadia, or Nvidia’s GeForce Now service, you’ll appreciate the Flex 5’s fast Wi-Fi 6 support (though you’ll likely need a new router to take advantage of it). 

If you need a Chromebook as a primary device, the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5 ($488 at Walmart) is an excellent option, especially if or when the price drops back down to its regular $410. Cheaper Chromebooks can certainly help you get your work done right now. The Flex 5’s features and performance should keep you going longer, though, and for only a bit more money. 


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