It’s incredible what a—well, a total overhaul of everything beneath the hood can do. At the time of writing, an IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook with a sad Intel Celeron CPU, sadder 4GB of memory, and saddest 32GB of eMMC flash storage costs $337.49 on Lenovo.com. Our test machine costs $549.99 at Costco and comes with an 11th Generation Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB NVMe solid-state drive, making it one of the nicest Chromebooks we’ve seen. (It was even better when Costco offered a $100 discount when we started this review, but the offer has now expired.) Only a drab display panel keeps it from earning an Editors’ Choice award; you might wish to use your price-club membership if the bargain comes up again.
LENOVO IDEAPAD FLEX 5 CHROMEBOOK (2021) SPECS
|Laptop Class||Convertible 2-in-1, Chromebook|
|Processor||Intel Core i3-1115G4|
|Processor Speed||3 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||8 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||128 GB|
|Screen Size||13.3 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||1920 by 1080|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||60 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Intel UHD Graphics|
|Wireless Networking||Bluetooth, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.67 by 12.2 by 8.4 inches|
|Operating System||Google Chrome OS|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||9:15|
In Abyss Blue, it’s déjà vu.
The Flex 5 is a 13.3-inch touch-screen convertible laptop. In July 2020, we tested a variant with a 10th Generation Core i3, half the RAM, and eMMC storage. Unlike the previous model, which had a Graphite Gray metal lid and ABS plastic bottom, the new one has an Abyss Blue finish. The screen bezels are medium-thin, with a slight bend if you grab their corners or mash the keyboard deck.
This consumer convertible is somewhat thicker but lighter than Lenovo’s 13.3-inch corporate 2-in-1, the ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook, measuring 0.67 by 12.2 by 8.4 inches and weighing 2.97 pounds (3.3 pounds). The magnesium alloy structure of a few Chromebooks makes them even lighter. (The clamshell Google Pixelbook Go weighs 2.3 pounds, while the 14-inch Asus Chromebook Flip C436 weighs 2.6 pounds.)
If you’re worried about online snoopers, a small sliding shutter blocks the webcam. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth are standard, as is a 12-month Google One membership with 100GB of cloud storage and SoundCloud Go and Stadia trials, as is the case with most Chromebooks. Although the keyboard is illuminated, there is no fingerprint reader to eliminate the need to type passwords.
On the left side of the laptop are USB 3.2 Type-A and Type-C ports (the latter of which houses the AC adaptor), an audio jack, and a microSD card slot.
At the right, there’s another USB-C connector, as well as a power button, a volume rocker, and a security-cable lockdown notch…
You’ll need a USB-C DisplayPort dongle to connect an external monitor because the chassis lacks an HDMI connector.
A Few More Nits Would Be Nice on the Display
The full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) display has a low brightness rating of 250 nits, so I had to use the Brightness Up key to get a better view. Colors, while vivid enough, appear faint on white backdrops. The contrast is superb, but the touch panel’s reflections limit viewing angles.
If you think the standard 1080p makes screen elements too small, the Flex 5 offers a selection of “looks like” or false resolutions, just like other Chromebooks. The default setting is 1,536 by 864 pixels. Although an OLED screen is mentioned on Lenovo’s website, I couldn’t find one for sale at the time of writing.
Even at maximum volume, the Maxx Audio speakers flanking the keyboard offer surprisingly good sound—vocals are a little muffled, but the audio isn’t harsh or tinny. Although the bass isn’t particularly powerful, overlapping tracks can be distinguished. The 720p webcam produces photos that are relatively sharp, slightly dim, and have nice color and minimal static.
The keyboard features a snappy, tappy typing sensation, following the typical Chromebook layout with top-row browser and system shortcuts and a search/menu key in place of Caps Lock. The Mylar touchpad has no buttons and glides and taps nicely, however it has a stiff, shallow click.
The Core i3 Struts Its Stuff in the Flex 5 Chromebook
I compared the IdeaPad Flex 5 to four different Chromebooks for our benchmark charts. The Intel Celeron-powered Acer Chromebook Spin 311 and the Core i3-based HP Chromebook x360 14c are both convertibles that are smaller and larger than the Lenovo. The 13.3-inch Google Pixelbook Go, which has a low-power Intel Core i5 CPU, and the 14-inch, business-focused Asus Chromebook CX9 are both clamshells. The table below shows their fundamental specifications.
|Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook (2021)||Intel Core i3-1115G4 (3.0GHz)||Intel UHD Graphics||8GB RAM||128GB SSD|
|Acer Chromebook Spin 311||Intel Celeron N4000 (1.1GHz)||Intel UHD Graphics 600||4GB RAM||32GB eMMC|
|Asus Chromebook CX9||Intel Core i5-1135G7 (2.4GHz)||Intel Iris Xe Graphics||16GB RAM||256GB SSD|
|Google Pixelbook Go||Intel Core i5-8200Y (1.3GHz)||Intel UHD Graphics 615||8GB RAM||256GB SSD|
|HP Chromebook x360 14c||Intel Core i3-10110U (2.1GHz)||Intel UHD Graphics||8GB RAM||64GB eMMC|
Although the Lenovo Core i3-1115G4 processor only has two cores rather than four or more, it proved to be fairly fast. It was unaffected by numerous tabs or video playback. In CrXPRT 2 and PCMark for Android, it came in second only behind the 11th Gen Core i5 Asus, while it won the gold medal in Basemark Web (though all the contenders, except the lowly, Celeron-based Spin 311, acquitted themselves ably).
The CPU and GPU are the focus of two more Android benchmarks. Geekbench from Primate Labs uses all available cores and threads to simulate real-world applications such as PDF rendering, speech recognition, and machine learning, while GFXBench 5.0 stresses both low-level routines such as texturing and high-level, game-like image rendering that exercises graphics and compute shaders. GFXBench counts frames per second, while Geekbench gives a numerical score (fps).
Finally, we loop a 720p movie file with screen brightness set to 50%, audio volume set to 100%, and Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting disabled until the device shuts down to test a Chromebook’s battery life. We play the video from an external SSD plugged into a USB port if there isn’t enough internal storage.
Despite depending on Intel’s notoriously weak UHD integrated graphics, the IdeaPad fared admirably in our CPU test and even surprised us in GFXBench, demonstrating suitability for casual gaming. (The Asus CX9 was predicted to win, but it failed the benchmark.) It had enough battery life to last a full day at work or school, though nine and a quarter hours isn’t ideal by today’s standards—11 or 12 hours would have been better.
Conclusion: A Successful Combination
The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook doesn’t come with a stylus like some convertibles, but it’s an enticing touch-screen 2-in-1 with above-average performance and a comfortable keyboard.
It would get an Editors’ Choice award if it had a brighter display and an HDMI port. Even so, it earns a spot on your list of Chromebooks to check out—and if Costco’s $449.99 bargain ever happens again, get it.