Lenovo Flex 14 Laptop Review
The Lenovo Flex 14 is like most other laptops in Lenovo’s Flex line: convertibles that deliver middling performances with middling price tags. Designed as a budget-friendly option to Lenovo’s premium Yoga laptops, the Flex 14 offers the 2-in-1 form factor, solid build, and toned-down performance in line with its much-reduced price.
Actually, the 2-in-1 tag is a bit of a misnomer when used in regards to this laptop, since it doesn’t quite flip all the way to tablet mode. The Flex 14’s hinges can only fold 300-degrees, and the laptop is a bit bulkier than we expect ultraportables to be. Further, since there are so many different configurations of this laptop around, the Flex 14 is a bit difficult to place. With configurations all over the place like this, you might end up with a moderate performer, or you might just as easily end up with one with disappointing performance levels.
If you do end up with this laptop, you’ll be getting a capable laptop; one that competently gets through tasks and is offered in the 2-in-1 form factor.
Design and Appearance
Lenovo has proved (with the design of the Chromebook C340) that they are not afraid to rock the boat when it comes to designing their laptops. But they toed the line with the design of the Flex 14, perhaps a little too zealously. This laptop has no novel feature to speak of, failing to stand out in any way. This is perhaps Lenovo’s way of touting the Flex 14 as a business or school laptop for teachers, places where it is considered more appropriate to blend in than stand out.
The Flex 14 is somewhat nondescript, but it is also sturdy and well-built. Made completely of plastic like most budget laptops, this one still manages to give the impression that it could survive a fair few scrapes. Speaking of scrapes, plastic materials are better able to conceal scratches and scrapes than their aluminum counterparts, although they are more prone to accumulating fingerprints and smudges.
Flipping the laptop’s lid requires both hands, but the Flex 14 opens easily and smoothly, supported by hinges that keep the screen securely in place in whatever shape the laptop adopts. It’s impossible not to notice some flexing in the screen, keyboard deck, and palm rest areas, but this is par for the course in budget laptops such as this one. In any case, it’s not so severe that it becomes concerning.
The bezels (especially the bottom one) surrounding the Flex 14’s screen are noticeably large, but they’re also useful as handholds when the laptop is in tablet mode. The keyboard deck that spreads across the bottom half of the laptop looks comfortable, with the large touchpad under the keyboards looking even more so.
Tipping the scales at 3.7 pounds, the Flex 14 is not the lightest ultraportable we’ve ever seen. But unless you hold it in tablet mode for prolonged periods, you’re unlikely to notice its heft.
Ports and Connection
Despite its bulk, the Flex 14 doesn’t offer an expansive array of ports. The ports on offer are adequate and functional, although we feel the inclusion of side-mounted volume controls would have done a lot for convenience when the laptop is used in kiosk mode.
On the right flank of this convertible, you’ll find an HDMI port, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, and a headset jack. The opposite flank houses a full-size SD card, two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, and the power button. One of the Type-A ports can be used to charge mobile devices even with the Flex 14 turned off.
For wireless connectivity, Bluetooth 4.2 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi get the job done, and they get it done right.
Keyboard and Input Devices
Lenovo integrated the design of their premium ThinkPad keyboards into this one, with the result that it feels comfortable and spacious. However, this laptop’s chiclet keyboard flexes a fair bit, giving away its budget status.
Overall, the Flex 14’s keyboard offers a decent experience, even though we don’t recommend using it for typing lengthy documents. The keys offer decent feedback, and the necessary actuation force is on the adequate side of things. However, key travel is far from adequate, making the keys give off a shallow feel that gets pretty old really quickly.
The touchpad that sits under the keyboard is large and comfortable. It tracks well, is very responsive, and offers a satisfying clicking sound when pressed. We have no complaints regarding the touchscreen. The input by touch is precise. Pinch-to-zoom and other Windows navigation gestures are also effective. Also, the device’s touchscreen is pretty accurate and we could hardly recognize any lag.
The bottom-firing speakers in this laptop are surprisingly good. They’re loud enough to fill a moderately-sized room with sound. The sound they produce is clear, and no distortion is noticeable at all volume levels. While bass is conspicuous by its absence, the Flex 14’s speakers render the high and lows perfectly. They’ll certainly do for streaming videos from Netflix and YouTube, although you may prefer listening to music with headphones.
The screen on the Flex 14 is hit-or-miss. While response times are average on the FHD (1920×1080) display, that’s not the biggest sticking point, as there are still some more egregious lows. There’s a low PWM frequency of 352 Hz and a weak contrast ratio (600:1). Although most users will not be bothered by the PWM, those who are sensitive to flickering may experience eye strain after prolonged viewing.
Made worse by the panel’s glossy finish, the Flex 14’s brightness (or lack of it) is another of its weaknesses. The screen emits 271 nits of brightness, which falls well short of the category average of 300 nits. As a result, the Flex 14’s screen is difficult to read out in the open or in brightly lit environments.
Graphics and Gaming
The Flex 14 is equipped with an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 graphics card. Those who know about this GPU know it’s not the best for content creation or hardcore gaming. In fact, the integrated GPU in the Flex 14 is only suited to regular computing tasks such as Word processing, web browsing, and perhaps for streaming 4K videos. You may even be able to get away with basic photo editing but expect mixed to negative results for graphics-intensive tasks such as video transcoding and 3D image rendering.
Clearly not designed as a gaming laptop, the Flex 14 will nonetheless run basic and older titles. These may even include AAA titles if you bring down the graphics settings to the lowest. Try to play any of the newest titles, however, and all bets are off.
It is in battery performance that the Flex 14 truly excels. The batteries can easily last a full workday, putting out more than ten hours of standby time between charges. Of course, battery output will depend on how heavily the laptop is put to use, but this result is impressive, whichever way you look at it. It’s made more impressive by the fact that most of its competitors posted far inferior numbers, some falling as much as four hours short.
Cooling and Noise Emission
On the whole, the Flex 14 remains relatively quiet, even under load. The single fan under this convertible’s hood maintains a low hum throughout that. And while it is distinctly audible and tends to ramp itself up when the laptop struggles with its workload, it soon calms itself down, settling back into its barely-there levels of noise emission.
This laptop does tend to get warm after prolonged usage or during periods of heavy use. Although it doesn’t become a major problem, the bottom part of the laptop gets warm enough to become slightly uncomfortable. It may be best to place it on a flat surface during these moments.
Offered in so many different configurations, the Flex 14 is a difficult laptop to place. There are models with 7th gen Intel i3 processors, all the way to 8th gen i7 processors. RAM and internal storage also fluctuate wildly, ranging from 4GB all the way to 16GB for the former, and maxing out at 512GB for the latter.
Our review model packs an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB SSD. Decent configurations, sure enough, for a middling performance. And the Flex 14 delivers accordingly. In our benchmarks, the Flex 14 aced those tests that had to do with regular computing tasks fairly easily, although it didn’t break or set any speed records. For those tasks that required processing and graphical effort, the Flex 14 inevitably struggled.
This convertible is also decent at multitasking, even though it doesn’t exactly blow the competition out of the water. Unfortunately, thermal throttling is an ever-present reality with this laptop and it can only take so much before it loses it.
Our general impression of the Flex 14 is that it is a fairly competent device that does a lot of things well without truly standing out in any of them. And, just like it’s not quite a 2-in-1 form factor, the multiplicity of configurations of this device makes it difficult to place.
Among its strengths are decent speakers, impressive battery performance, and a good keyboard and touchpad. On the flip side, the Flex 14’s dim screen is not particularly attractive (a running theme with the laptop as a whole), and in terms of performance, the Flex 14 sits loosely in the middle of the spectrum.
The Flex 14 is perfect for people who appreciate the flexibility of the 2-in-1 form factor in their laptop and who don’t want to fork out huge amounts for it. If you’re that person, and you’re not too concerned about performance, then this laptop may just be perfect for you.