"The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 offers incredible value and solid performance with few compromises."
Exceptional performance for an affordable laptop
Comfortable keyboard and touchpad
Active pen included
Excellent value for money
Laptops with AMD's Ryzen 4000 chips seem too good to be true. The specifications are incredibly powerful and cheaper than Intel's.
Take the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14, for example. It is the latest in a range of Ryzen-based budget laptops. This comes with a Ryzen 5 4500U with six cores and 16 GB RAM and costs only $ 600. Due to the technical data alone, a better performance value for the price is hard to imagine.
Is there a catch?
The IdeaPad Flex 5 is a plastic laptop. Lenovo calls it "normal" plastic at the top and "stable PC / ABC" at the bottom. Aside from the chemistry lesson, this means the laptop case is relatively sturdy. Don't expect it to be as robust as a unibody MacBook Pro or even the Lenovo Yoga C640 for $ 600. The lid, the keyboard deck and the case back are all somewhat flexible. However, it is not outrageous. Low prices and flexible laptops no longer necessarily go hand in hand.
Another indication of the Flex 5's budget status is its stature. It's pretty thick at 0.82 inches and heavy at 3.3 pounds. Compare that to the Yoga C640 at 0.67 inches and 2.98 pounds and the HP Specter x360 13 at 0.67 inches and 2.88 pounds. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is available at 0.59 inches and 2.99 pounds. The display bezel of the Flex 5 is also not tiny, especially at the top and bottom, which means that the entire case is also more extensive. No matter how you cut it, this is not a small 2-in-1.
It's a rather nondescript design that doesn't catch the eye – like many Lenovo laptops lately.
The hinge of the Flex 5 is firm. The small wobble when moving the laptop does not distract excessively. Most importantly, the tight hinge allows for smooth transitions through the various 2-in-1 modes, including clamshell, tent, media and tablet. The 14-inch display and the resulting housing obviously result in a rather large and unwieldy tablet. You just don't want to try holding a 3.3-pound tablet in one hand for too long.
Aesthetically, the IdeaPad Flex 5 is an attractive dark gray all around. The only chrome is the border around the Lenovo logo on the lid and the keyboard deck. Ultimately, it is a rather nondescript design that – like many Lenovo laptops lately – is not noticeable, but still looks good. The Specter x360 13 with its gem design is at the other end of the attention-grabbing spectrum, and the Yoga C640 is very similar in aesthetics to the IdeaPad.
An advantage of the Flex 5's thickness is that it offers a good level of connectivity. There are two USB-A 3.1 ports, a USB-C 3.1 port, a full-size HDMI 1.4 port, and a 4-in-1 SD card reader. Although Thunderbolt 3 is missing, many will appreciate the inclusion of some of these older ports that come in handy. Wireless connectivity is still limited to Wi-Fi 5 and not the newer Wi-Fi 6 standard, and Bluetooth 4.2 is on board.
The IdeaPad Flex 5 doesn't look like a cheap laptop and doesn't work like one either. The Ryzen 5 chips from AMD keep proving that it is one of the best bargains. In this case, the Ryzen 5 4500U comes with six cores and six threads. It's the same chip that you find in other cheap laptops, like the Acer Swift 3 for $ 650. This option used the Ryzen 7 4700U CPU with eight cores and eight threads for the power supply. Interestingly, the processor performance of the Flex 5 is quite competitive with this chip.
First, it did well in the synthetic Geekbench 5 benchmark, reaching 1,096 in the single-core test and 4,543 in the multi-core test. In the multi-core test, it was 20% faster than the Acer Spin 3, a similar Intel Core i5 notebook. It is clear that the AMD chips perform well when multitasking, even though they have two fewer threads.
The IdeaPad Flex 5 is an extremely fast laptop for only $ 600.
Speaking of which, I then ran our handbrake test, which encodes a 420MB video as H.265 and uses as many cores and threads as a CPU has to offer. The Flex 5 took just over two minutes to complete the test, just eight seconds longer than the Swift 3. The Surface Book 3 13 took four minutes. Compared to the Dell XPS 13, a very fast laptop with the Core i7-1065G7, the Flex 5 was finished in 38 seconds less.
The fantastic performance of the Flex 5 is supported by 16 GB of RAM, which is surprising with such an inexpensive computer. All of this results in an extremely fast laptop for only $ 600, which is characterized by high productivity in multitasking and migration by demanding tasks such as photo and video editing. The laptop slows down when measured with Intel Core i7 laptops that have more threads, especially 45-watt parts. Compared to the typical Intel CPUs that you see in laptops at this price, AMD rules apply.
The Flex 5 also includes built-in AMD Radeon graphics, which according to 3DMark are slightly faster than Intel's Iris Plus graphics. That means you can get a little boost with creative apps that can use the GPU and play light games with lower resolutions and graphics settings. A game like Rocket League plays decently, but anything that is more intense will suffer.
The IdeaPad Flex 5 has a battery capacity of 52.5 watt hours, which is not much for a 14-inch laptop. I therefore had little hope of longevity.
The Flex 5 was an average performer. In our web browser test, it took eight hours compared to the Yoga C640 with its CPU with lower performance of over 10.5 hours. The Acer Swift 3 lasted six minutes less than the Flex 5, suggesting that the AMD Ryzen CPUs aren't the most energy efficient. The Dell XPS 13 with a 1080p display and the Core i7-1065G7 lasted 11.5 hours.
For a lower load, I looped a local video clip, and the Flex 5 lasted 11 hours. That's not a bad thing, but it's far less than the spectacular 23 hours of the Yoga C640 and the powerful 14.5 hours of the XPS 13. Last, I took the machine through our most demanding battery test, the Basemark Web Benchmark. This replicates battery life in heavier applications. It took three and a half hours, similar to laptops like the Yoga C640.
No, it's not a leader in battery life. Unlike many budget laptops of the past, the IdeaPad Flex 5 should last for most of a working day on a single charge.
So far nothing on the IdeaPad Flex 5 screams "cheap". Then there is the display.
It's not that this display is bothering you when you work or even watch movies. Actually, this display would have been pretty good five years ago. Although the contrast is not as high as with better displays, black text is displayed on a white background without major quality problems. And colors may be limited and inaccurate when measured with a colorimeter – as creative types do – but they are neither unnatural nor do they interfere with everyday image viewing and web browsing. This isn't a terrible display, it just doesn't go well with the performance that this affordable laptop can offer.
However, according to my colorimeter, Lenovo had to use a cheaper panel. It is a 1080p IPS display, but it has a narrow color gamut (only 47% of AdobeRGB and 63% of sRGB). The screen is limited to only 242 nits of brightness, and even the contrast is low at 770: 1. It's a glossy screen, so glare issues may occur in brighter environments.
The lackluster picture quality is a shame. Otherwise, the Flex 5 would have been a powerful little photo editing device. We have seen the same panel in many affordable laptops, but there are notable exceptions like the Lenovo Yoga C640.
And the audio was a plus, with high-profile speakers next to the keyboard that offer a lot of volume without distortion. The bass was missing as always, but mids and highs were good for music and occasional YouTube videos. You can even bathe Netflix with these speakers as long as you listen.
Keyboard and touchpad
If you've used one of Lenovo's yoga or IdeaPad keyboards, you're familiar with it. It is relatively flat with a lot of space and a precise mechanism, which means that it will disappoint those who travel a lot but can otherwise be serviced. I was able to type fast enough at full speed, and although it is nowhere near the Magic Keyboard of the much more expensive MacBook range or even the Specter x360 13's second-best (in my opinion) keyboard, it's a solid keyboard that most works users will enjoy.
The touchpad is also comfortable and of average size for a modern Windows 10 laptop. It supports Microsoft's Precision Touchpad drivers and provides smooth and precise Windows 10 multi-touch gestures. No complaints there.
As a 2-in-1 device, the Flex 5 naturally has a touch-capable display that works as usual. Lenovo also includes an active stylus that supports 4,096 pressure sensitivity levels. This is a great option for anyone who wants to illustrate the display or take detailed notes. Many inexpensive 2-in-1 devices either do not include the pen (the Yoga C640 is an example) or do not support it. It's a real plus if it's in the box.
Finally, Windows 10 Hello login without a password is supported by a fingerprint reader in the upper right corner of the keyboard deck. It's quick and accurate, and again a bonus for a $ 600 laptop. However, there is no infrared camera for facial recognition.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 is a spectacularly fast laptop for $ 600 with a build quality that finally deserves the price. The configuration is impressive too – you don't often get a 256GB PCIe SSD and 16GB RAM for nearly that price. If your goal is a budget performer, this is a great laptop.
However, the display is disappointing, which means that all the power that might target creative types is wasted a bit. This is a shame and holds the Flex 5 back.
Are there alternatives?
The Lenovo Yoga C640 is a bit smaller, has a much better battery life, and a better display. It also costs $ 600, but offers less storage space and a much slower CPU.
For just $ 50 more, you can choose the even faster Acer Swift 3. It's well built, looks great, and is the fastest budget notebook we've tested. But it also has a mediocre display.
For the same price, consider considering a Chromebook route. The Google Pixelbook Go, valued at $ 650, is an excellent choice, with an excellent display and portability.
How long it will take?
The Yoga IdeaPad Flex 5 is durable enough to last as long as you'd expect from a $ 600 machine. And it's fast enough to keep up with your workflow for years. There is no Thunderbolt 3 support, so expansion is limited, but this is expected at this price. The 1 year warranty is typical and disappointing.
Should you buy it
Yes. The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 is a very competent, affordable laptop that demonstrates the strength of AMD processors.