Currently available for less than $400, the Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook is a pretty good deal. You get Intel’s capable 10th generation processors, a sturdy and nice looking chassis, a touchscreen with stylus support, a comfortable backlit keyboard and a satisfying port selection. While there isn’t a standout feature to praise enthusiastically, there isn’t much to complain about. Of course, that’s enough to make the Flex 5 one of the best mid-range Chromebooks money can buy – as long as you’re aware of the tradeoffs you’re making for price.
First the good. The Flex 5 has a much nicer chassis than many other Chromebooks you’ll see in this price range — it’s actually one of the better-built Chromebooks I’ve used this year. While the bottom is plastic, it’s far from the cheap-looking fare common to cheap laptops. (No huge plastic bezels around the screen either.) The keyboard has a soft-touch texture that’s quite smooth and doesn’t pick up many fingerprints despite its dark color.
As a result, the device looks a lot better than your average laptop-car Chromebook. It certainly looks more modern than Acer’s $699 Chromebook Spin 713, our current pick for the best Chromebook. And I wasn’t worried about bumps and jolts at all – there was no flex in the screen and very little in the keyboard. In addition to its solid build, the Flex 5 has a reasonable port selection, including two USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 1, one USB 3.1 Type-A Gen 1, a combo audio jack, a microSD reader and a Kensington lock. Bonus points: There’s a USB-C port on each side for convenient charging.
However, it’s a bit on the large side as 13-inch Chromebooks go, measuring 0.7 inches thick and weighing just under three pounds. (It’s just slightly lighter than the Spin 713.) That makes it a bit heavy to hold as a tablet for extended periods of time, and you’ll want something smaller if you’re looking for a device you won’t notice in your backpack. Still, it’s quite portable and far from anything I’d describe as heavy.
The keyboard is a highlight of this device for me. The keys are backlit (no guarantee at this price) and look sleek against the black deck. It’s comfortable, with 1.4mm of travel, without being too loud. The touchpad is also an easy click and quite accurate, although it is on the rough side in terms of texture.
The 1920 x 1080 screen is bright and vibrant. It also has stylus support, although no pen is included. It’s noticeably dimmer than the higher-resolution panel of the Spin 713, though. It’s also not the brightest display out there, maxing out at 250 nits, and I noticed glare here and there while I was working during the day. And I’m not a fan of the 16:9 aspect ratio – Chromebooks using 3:2 or 16:10 screens can cram noticeably more screen space into a smaller chassis.
The 720p webcam is surprisingly usable. It delivers a grainy but accurate image, even in low light. There is a physical shutter, although it is very small and hard to see. I couldn’t make out unless I leaned really close to the webcam and generally just felt like it.
However, if you do a lot of video calls, keep in mind that the audio isn’t great. Sound comes from two 2W front-firing speakers on either side of the keyboard. My songs got loud enough, but everything except the vocals (and especially the percussion) was thin and tinny.
My Flex 5 review unit has an Intel Core i3-10110U, 4 GB RAM and 64 GB eMMC storage. (As per Amazon, the MSRP is $429.99, but is currently listed at $341.95.) The base model, currently listed for $334.99, has an Intel Celeron 5205U processor (which will likely be slow) and 32GB of storage, and the top-end $564.99 model has the Core i3 and 128GB of PCIe SSD storage (which should be much faster than eMMC).
I was surprised by how well my Flex 5 unit performed. The Core i3 flies. I didn’t see any apparent slowness or lag even when running multiple programs like Adobe Lightroom and Google Photos on top of a heavy load of Chrome tabs and Android apps. The experience wasn’t noticeably different from using the Spin 713 with a Core i5 and an SSD (although it may make a difference to you if you’re on Linux or running heavier apps).
Chrome OS worked fine on this device. Features like multiple sign-in (which lets you switch between two accounts without logging in and out) and tablet mode (with Android-like gestures to easily switch between windows and apps while using the Flex as a tablet) don’t bother me. Most of the apps I usually use (mainly Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Gmail, Spotify, and Notepad) are usable in Chrome OS these days, although they still don’t offer many advantages over their browser counterparts. Oddly enough, Slack – the Android app I complain about the most – was not available for this device.
The Flex 5’s fans usually ran during my usual multitasking work (usually with a dozen Chrome tabs and an app or two). They were quiet enough that it wasn’t a nuisance, but I could hear them (besides some beeps) when I put my ear to the keyboard. Fortunately, they managed to keep the chassis cool – the bottom was often toasty warm, but never so hot that I couldn’t hold the unit on my lap.
However, the battery life was a disappointment. I’ve averaged just over five and a half hours of consistent work with the screen at 50 percent brightness, some trials with some Android apps, and some just with Chrome. That’s the worst result I’ve seen from a recent Chromebook – the Spin 713 averaged seven hours and 29 minutes, and that still wasn’t a great result for the category. The Flex also took a while to charge. The 45W adapter took an hour to charge the laptop’s battery to just 54 percent with light Chrome usage.
Many of the sentences in this review have “but” at the end. That’s because almost everything about the Flex 5 is acceptable…with some caveats. And that’s a good way to describe my feelings about this Chromebook: acceptable with caveats. At a maximum of $429.99, that’s enough to earn it my recommendation as a solid mid-range purchase — especially since it can handle my workload, as well as every premium Chromebook I’ve tested recently without frying itself.
To put into perspective how low that price is, the Core i3 model of the Chromebook Spin 713 (with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage) costs $699.99 – a minimum of $270 more. The cheapest model of the HP Envy x360 13 (our top budget Windows laptop), with an AMD Ryzen 5 chip and 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, is currently listed for the same amount. Both devices, of course, have decisive advantages. The Spin 713 has a higher resolution 3:2 display with Thunderbolt 4 support, as well as the extra storage, while the Envy x360 has an incredible processor with decent audio and good battery life.
The main benefit most people will get from the extra money is the extra battery life and storage – but better screens (especially the Spin’s 3:2 aspect ratio), better speakers and better ports will help some users. be a great help. But if you’re married to the under-$500 price tag, you’re unlikely to find a better build quality, with a better keyboard and port selection, than the Flex 5, in the Chromebook or Windows realms. Premium Chromebooks with chassis to rival that of premium Windows laptops have been on the rise for a few years now, and it’s good to see that trend extending to cheaper devices as well.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge