The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 punches far above its weight. This $600 2-in-1 convertible laptop offers better computing performance than many competitors that cost more than twice as much. It’s also got decent physical connectivity options,
a sturdy, well-designed chassis, and a comfortable keyboard. While the Flex 5’s 14-inch display could be brighter and it could stand to lose a few ounces, it’s nevertheless a screaming-good value and an excellent mainstream laptop.
More Flexible Than a Clamshell
The Flex 5’s 360-degree hinge makes it more flexible than a conventional clamshell laptop. 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.
This flexibility isn’t unique to the Flex 5. Lenovo pioneered the 2-in-1 convertible laptop concept, and it offers a handful of such laptop models at all price ranges. Because a 360-degree hinge needs to be sturdy, it often results in a bulkier chassis, which is generally true of the less expensive convertibles that Lenovo and many other laptop makers sell. The Flex 5 measures 0.82 by 12.7 by 8.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.3 pounds, which just barely qualifies it as an ultraportable.
Some flagship 2-in-1 designs are noticeably smaller and lighter, including the 13.3-inch HP Elite Dragonfly (2.2 pounds) and the 13.4-inch Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2.9 pounds). But these also cost much more than the Flex 5—often around $1,500 for a decently powerful configuration. And that’s what makes the Flex 5 so appealing to people who want a workhorse laptop. By going up a few tenths of an inch in thickness and a few ounces in weight, you’re saving a ton of money and still getting serious computing power to get your work done.
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Lenovo Yoga C740 (14-Inch)
Besides a more relaxed chassis design, the Flex 5 is able to offer such a potent blend of price and performance because of its fourth-generation AMD Ryzen “Renoir” processor options. Our review unit comes with a 2.3GHz AMD Ryzen 5 4500U, with an AMD Radeon graphics processor integrated into the CPU, plus 16GB of memory and a 256GB solid-state drive. With six dedicated processor cores (multi-threading is not possible on this chip’s cores), the Ryzen 5 4500U benchmarks similarly to many Intel Core i7 CPUs in more expensive laptops. It’s a great leap forward for mobile computing.
For even more power, you can configure a Flex 5 with an eight-core Ryzen 7 4700U. Lenovo also offers a larger 512GB SSD as an optional upgrade. The maxed-out Flex 5 configuration still rings up at a reasonable $800.
This laptop is such a good deal that our review configuration, available exclusively at Amazon, had been consistently selling out at the time we wrote this. In addition to the excellent value, coronavirus-related manufacturing delays and general issues surrounding the launch of a new processor family likely have also played a part in the Flex 5’s tendency to remain out of stock. If you can stretch your budget by $100 or so, it’s worth checking out one of the configurations sold at Lenovo.com, which are still excellent values and may be more readily available.
Plenty of Connectivity in a Soft-Touch Chassis
The Flex 5’s chassis may be on the chunky side, 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 ultraportables. If you’d rather stick with a lighter color, the Flex 5 is also available in Platinum Gray.
On the Flex 5’s left edge, you’ll find a power port, an HDMI 1.4b output, a USB Type-C port, and an audio combo jack. The USB-C port can be used to charge the laptop, and Lenovo includes an AC adapter with a USB-C plug, rendering the dedicated power port an anachronism. Since there’s only one USB-C port on the entire laptop, it’s worth asking if your retailer can substitute a barrel-style AC adapter instead. That way, you’ll be able to charge the laptop and use the USB-C port at the same time.
On the right edge, there are two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, a rarity on ultraportable laptops these days, and handy for connecting one of the vast number of devices that haven’t yet moved to USB-C. The right edge also hosts a full-size SD card reader and the Flex 5’s power button. Side-mounted power buttons are easier to use when the laptop is propped up like an easel, but be careful not to accidentally press the button when you grasp the Flex 5 on its sides.
Wireless connectivity includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2. Support for the latest Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) standard is absent, but it’s not a requirement for a laptop in this price range. The 802.11ac standard is plenty fast enough for most home wireless environments.
The Flex 5’s Screen Could be Brighter
Other than the rather heavy chassis, the Flex 5’s only other noteworthy flaw is its screen, which suffers from a relatively dim backlight rated for just 250 nits of brightness. I had to turn the screen brightness up to the maximum level to view in a daylight-lit living room. The display is fine for darker homes, but any brightly lit environments—including offices—might reduce its visibility.
The panel is a full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) IPS touch screen, which supports inputs from the Lenovo Digital Pen. The pen, an optional extra, offers 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and includes two customizable buttons. This makes it a full-fledged digital stylus, unlike the integrated digital pens included with premium 2-in-1s like the Lenovo Yoga C940 and the Samsung Galaxy Book Flex. Integrated pens are much smaller and less comfortable for long sketching sessions, but they’re much less likely to be misplaced since they’re stored and recharged in a slot that’s built into the notebook.
Above the Flex 5’s screen, there’s an HD webcam with a fixed-focus lens that shoots 720p video. Image quality appeared quite noisy and occasionally washed out in my testing, although that’s par for the course for laptop webcams. While the camera lacks IR sensors for face recognition, it does come with a built-in physical privacy shutter for additional peace of mind when you’re not using it. Instead of face recognition to log in to your Windows account, you can use the keyboard-mounted fingerprint reader to avoid cumbersome passwords.
The backlit keyboard offers remarkably stable key switches, making for a comfortable and satisfying typing experience. It’s derived from Lenovo’s flagship ThinkPad keyboards, with a few subtle differences. The Ctrl key is located to the left of the Fn key in the lower left corner, instead of the other way around. The up and down arrow keys are half-height, while the left and right arrow keys are full-height. The touchpad is a bit stiff for my liking, but it still tracks accurately.
Audio quality from the two 2-watt stereo speakers is adequate for Skype sessions. The large speaker grilles flank the keyboard, which means sound can be a bit misdirected and muffled when you’re using the Flex 5 in “A”-frame or tablet orientation with the keyboard deck facing away from you.
Lenovo includes a one-year warranty with the Flex 5, with mail-in (rather than onsite) service to fix issues.
Computing Muscle Is the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 Key Strength
It’s not often that computing performance is one of the key strengths of an ultraportable laptop, especially one at a moderate price. Even the most expensive ones typically have enough oomph to get through basic tasks like web browsing, but they rarely are up for complex tasks like 3D gaming or rendering videos. Thanks to its Ryzen 5 processor and Radeon graphics, the Flex 5 is an exception. Most of its similarly priced competitors use Intel Core i3 or Core i5 CPUs, including the Asus VivoBook S15, the Lenovo Yoga C640, and the Lenovo Yoga C740. The Microsoft Surface Go 2, a detachable hybrid tablet, uses an even less-powerful Intel Core m3. Let’s look at its performance against those; I’ve outlined their base specs below…
These competitors are simply no match for the Flex 5 when it comes to our benchmark tests, which cover basic tasks like productivity and web browsing, as well as gaming and multimedia content creation. For a bird’s-eye view of everyday performance, consider the results of the PCMark test. PCMark 10 assesses office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing, while PCMark 8 ranks the speed of the laptops’ storage subsystems.
It’s reasonable to expect comparable results on the storage benchmark, since all of the systems use similar SSDs, but it’s immediately clear from the PCMark 10 results that the Flex 5 is in a different league.
That’s also true in content creation benchmarks like rendering a 3D image in Maxon’s Cinebench, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
In addition to the fact that the Ryzen 5 in the Flex 5 has more cores than most of the CPUs in the other laptops, its base clock speed is higher, which also contributes to its advantages here. It’s particularly telling that the Flex 5 is nearly twice as fast as the Core i5-equipped Yoga C740 at completing the video rendering trial. (See how we test laptops.)
When it comes to image editing in Adobe Photoshop, the Flex 5’s advantage isn’t as great. In fact, with the exception of the Core m3-powered Surface Go 2, the results of all the laptops are grouped closely together on this test. It stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
While the Radeon graphics may not be a distinguishing factor in running Adobe Photoshop, the Flex 5’s graphics prowess is immediately apparent on our game simulations. A score of nearly 40 frames per second in the Unigine Superposition test at 720p resolution and low quality settings suggest you can even expect to play intensive 3D games, as long as you turn the quality and resolution settings way down. That’s clearly not possible with the integrated graphics capabilities of the Core i5 and Core i3 chips represented here. The Flex 5 is no gaming laptop, mind you, but you could eke out some play at the lowest settings.
The results of the 3DMark test confirm this. Like Superposition, 3DMark renders and pans through detailed 3D scenes and measures how the system copes. Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff.
That rough doubling of scores, on both 3DMark tests, between the Flex 5 and the rest of this competitive field parallels what we saw on Superposition.
Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 All-Day Battery Life
You might expect that a six-core Ryzen 5 would have a larger negative effect on battery life than, say, the dual-core Core m3 in the Surface Go 2. While that’s technically true, AMD and Lenovo have apparently succeeded in ensuring that the effect is minimal. The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 lasted for more than 16 hours in our video rundown test, which involves looping a locally stored 720p video at 50 percent screen brightness with airplane mode turned on.
Now, let’s be clear: The Flex 5’s dim screen likely helps it achieve this excellent result, since brighter pixels consume more power. Also contributing are the laptop’s capacious 52WHr battery and improvements unique to Renoir chips, like a redesigned power interface with three distinct states. That means the operating system can better communicate to the Ryzen 5 exactly how much power is required for a given task.
Excellent Value, Powerful Performance
You shouldn’t expect a $600 ultraportable laptop to have the graphics capabilities of a $2,000 gaming rig, nor the content creation capabilities of a $3,000 mobile workstation. But until recently, there hasn’t been a middle ground, as the legions of Core i3 and Core i5 ultraportables priced in the $500 range have shown.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 proves it’s possible to offer performance acceptable for light gaming or occasional number-crunching and multimedia editing in a laptop that costs far less than category flagships like the Dell XPS 13 or the Apple MacBook Pro. While the chassis could be a bit lighter and the screen a bit brighter, the capabilities of the Ryzen 5 processor outweigh these deficiencies. The Flex 5 is therefore our new top pick in the crowded field of midrange 2-in-1 convertible laptops.
Originally Publish at: https://www.pcmag.com/