Lenovo’s latest Chromebook is as durable as it is flexible
Chromebooks are continuing to make an impact on the market and as a result, more Chromebooks are getting announced and almost on a monthly basis now. One of the most recent Chromebooks to be announced (April 2017) was the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook. This is a Chromebook which looks to combine the standard Chrome OS experience with a device that is durable and hardworking. While also looking to ensure the price is competitive by Chromebook standards. In this case, the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook is priced at $279.99 for the baseline model.
In terms of the specs, the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook comes equipped with an 11.6-inch IPS AntiGlare Multitouch display, along with a 1366 x 768 resolution. Inside, the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook comes loaded with 4GB RAM, 32GB storage, and is powered by a MediaTek MT8173C processor (clocking at 2.10 GHz). The battery inside is rated to offer up to 10 hours of usage on a single charge, while the general design comes with added durability features, including reinforced ports, drop-resistance (up to 29.5-inches), and a water-resistant keyboard. Ports on offer include a USB Type-C port, a USB 3.0 port, a HDMI port, a combined audio/mic jack port, and an SD card port. Bluetooth 4.0 is the Bluetooth version in play, while wireless connectivity is listed as 11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi.
In terms of the physical dimensions, the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook measures 11.65-inches by 8.11-inches by 0.8-inches, and weighs in at 2.9 pounds.
Hardware & Design
It used to be the case that a Chromebook was just a Chromebook. However, a lot has changed over the last few years and now new Chromebooks come with specific and unique selling points. The Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook is no different in this respect. Although, it does not come with one selling point, but instead looks to touch upon multiple design selling points. One of the first is that this is a Chromebook that comes equipped with a 360-degree rotating hinge. This is literally one of the en vogue Chromebook design aspects at the moment and so the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook is squarely on trend here. The idea being that a user can use the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook in just about any position they want. Whether they are a plane, in the car, on a train, or in the office, the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook can be positioned at multiple different angles to accommodate the situation. Including a ‘traditional mode,’ a ‘tablet mode,’ or simply laid flat. The hinges in use are durable and during testing seemed to be designed with longevity in mind. While some may consider the hinge movement to be a little on the stiff side, few could argue with how firm the hinges feel and their likelihood of being able to survive repeated opening and closing.
As this is a device that is designed to be used just about anywhere, this brings us to the next major design point on offer, durability. The Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook is designed to be durable and withstand the various encounters that might arise during daily usage. So for instance, the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook comes equipped with a keyboard that is water-resistant. Offering protection against light water encounters, such as the rain or direct spills - with Lenovo stating that the Flex 11 Chromebook “can handle up to 330 ml – about 1 cup – of liquid without damage.” Likewise, the trackpad is also a sealed unit so no water is likely to get through there either. While this might not be a feature that appeals to everyone, this is certainly going to be one which proves useful when accidents happen - like a cup accidental being spilled on the Chromebook.
Adding to its durable design, the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook has also been physically hardened to ensure that it is protected against bangs, scrapes and drops. This is best summed up by the inclusion of reinforced ports, as well as a drop-resistance rating that means it can withstand being dropped by as much as 29.5-inches (or 75 cm). In reality, that is not a great height, but does mean that it should be fine when dropped off a table, or from a waist height. The downside with this sort of design though, is that it is not the most attractive of Chromebooks. Instead, the design is a little basic with the protective frame clearly visible in the form of a bumper-style. Which does result in a rather generic look overall and especially at a time when other Chromebooks are starting to place their mark on being stylish. That is not the case here - what you are gaining in protection, you do lose somewhat in allure.
Likewise, due to the bumper design, and in spite of this designed to be a small Chromebook, it is just not that small or compact. While the display is 11.6-inches in size - which does firmly place the Flex 11 Chromebook on the smaller side of the Chromebook scale - it is not quite as small or as compact as other 11.6-inch Chromebooks - or as light as them, with a slightly bulkier feel. Moving on to the display and this will be an area that is a little hit or miss for some, as the resolution is not quite the sharpest, with Lenovo offering consumers an HD-quality (1366 x 768) experience. Generally speaking, Chromebooks have never been known for exceptional resolution, although that has started to change recently with the newer Chromebooks looking to up the quality of the Chromebook display. Again, that is not the case here.
Numbers-aside, the display does perform well and is fairly responsive with no major issues noted. Which does mean that for most consumers looking for a Chromebook in this price region, this is on par with what you will find elsewhere for the same money. One point to note is that the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook does come with anti-glare technology which is not only designed to reduce the impact of eye strain, but also to offer a wider degree of viewing angles. Which was evident when tested, as the Flex 11 Chromebook can easily be viewed from just about any angle. Something that is not only beneficial to the main user, but also to situations where multiple people are viewing the screen at the same time - something even more important on a Chromebook which is only equipped with an 11.6-inch display. When used outside, the display is somewhat readable, although it does seem to suffer a little in direct sunlight. In these instances, even with the brightness set to maximum, you will struggle to see the display.
As is probably to be expected with a modern-day Chromebook, this is a touch display making use of 10-point multi-touch technology. So in addition to your basic touch to close, pause, and so on, it also does allow for multi-finger gestures. As does the trackpad. Although, neither perform brilliantly. Basic gestures do work as intended, but they do require a rather firm touch. This lack of sensitivity does mean that you might often find yourself continually pressing the screen in the same position to finally get an action initiated. Resulting in a display that is certainly not the most responsive, but one which does work. The same issue could be attributed to the keyboard as well. This is a small Chromebook and so the keyboard space is limited to begin with. However, the keys are very low-positioned and that adds to an awkwardness when using. You do have to press pretty firmly down on the keys to make any real impact and on this occasion, the Flex 11 might have benefited from having the keys raised slightly more.
Overall, the design of the Flex 11 is one which does scream out 'strong and sturdy'and if anything, it adopts an almost child-oriented disposition. Which in fairness is actually the point with the Flex 11. As this Chromebook is all about being durable and something that you can give to a younger user without having to worry about whether the device will survive the session. It is just about as child-proof as a Chromebook can get. So on that side of the design, the Flex 11 achieves what it sets out to do pretty well. If you are looking for a Chromebook for yourself, or for a younger user, and do want the benefit of a build quality that puts protection first and foremost, then this will certainly fit the bill. However, this is not a Chromebook that will immediate appeal to buyers based on looks alone.
Software & UI
Chrome OS is a pretty standard affair and rarely differs from Chromebook to Chromebook, if at all. Much can be said for the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook as this is Chrome OS as many will already know it to be. There are no over the top features on offer and the whole experience is in line with what you will find on just about any other Chromebook. Which is not a bad thing as one of Chrome OS’s key benefits is that it is such a device-wide similar experience, and the Flex 11 fits that mold perfectly. If you are moving from a Chromebook to this one, the move will be seamless.
Of course, there is the issue of Android apps which does need to be touched upon. This is clearly the biggest news to hit Chromebooks in some time and although Android app compatibility is becoming increasingly available to Chromebooks, the list of supported devices is a slow-growing list. As for the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook - this one does not yet support Android apps. Although, it will. As for when, that remains to be seen. Google does have the Flex 11 on its ‘to update’ list but at present, the update is simple listed as “planned.” So while you will not be able to benefit from Android app support on day one (unless you use the Chromebook on one of the beta versions of the operating system), you will be able to use the feature in due course.
Battery Life & Connectivity
By now, battery life is one of the clear selling points on offer when picking up a Chromebook. So it is almost standard that you can now expect a decent level of battery life in return from any Chromebook. However, while all Chromebooks offer a good level of off-the-charge usage, some offer better levels than others. With the Flex 11 Chromebook, Lenovo claims that a potential buyer can expect up to 10 hours of use in between charges. This should of course always be considered the maximum a user can expect, and this will be further dependent on a number of factors - not limited to screen brightness, web-browsing, video playback, connections established. Making the realistic level of battery use a highly individual affair. That said, to try and provide some comparable baseline measurement, the battery life of the Flex 11 Chromebook was tested playing video content streamed over Wi-Fi from YouTube (at a minimum of 720p resolution), while running at full volume, and full screen brightness. Under these circumstances, the Flex 11 Chromebook was able to continuously play content for over eight and a half hours. So while the ten hours of usage suggested by Lenovo should be considered the top end of what to expect, it also did seem to be a pretty reliable measurement. Especially considering that other tasks will be less demanding and will likely offer longer levels of usage per charge. In either case, this Chromebook will certainly last through an average day of usage without too much trouble. When it comes to recharging the Flex 11 Chromebook, this Chromebook consistently took just under two hours to charge from zero to full.
As for connectivity, there were no particular issues noted with the Flex 11 Chromebook. During testing, the Flex 11 proved to be a very reliable machine and was always more than capable of establishing a connection quickly when attempted. Likewise, there were no issues with the reliability of those connections, with the Flex 11 Chromebook maintaining reliable connections over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, once established.
On the topic of performance, it is hard to criticize the Flex 11 Chromebook in any meaningful way. This is certainly not the most impressive performing Chromebook on the market, however, there is nothing overtly wrong with the performance on offer. If anything, it performs very well. As mentioned, there are some minor design aspects (like the keyboard) which naturally might lead to some decline in performance from the user perspective. But in terms of the machine as it is, it performs really well and most importantly, offers a consistent level of performance over time. There were never any issues noted in this respect and the Flex 11 worked well, whenever used.
One point to note for music lovers, is that this Chromebook is surprisingly loud for its size. The speakers are located on the base of the unit, although sound escapes well and does rack up the decibels when played at full volume. The only downside is that the sound is not exactly the best quality. So what you gain in volume, you do lose in definition - the sound is very top-heavy. This is probably to be expected from a device such as this, and at this price point, and so anyone firmly focused on the audio experience won't be using this in a standalone fashion. Music aficionados aside, when you are looking to output a few tunes without having to connect any additional hardware, it will do the job. Likewise, when you are sitting down to watch a movie on the Flex 11 Chromebook, it will do the job. Although, due to the nature of the speaker placement, this volume is massively impacted when used in a fully closed ‘tablet’ position.
To sum up the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook, this is a Chromebook that will appeal to anyone who is not looking for the absolute best in class from a Chromebook. While there is nothing majorly wrong with the Flex 11 Chromebook, if you are looking for more features (and are willing to pay more for them), you will find better options. Likewise, if you are looking for a more stylish Chromebook, you will find better options. However, if that top tier Chromebook experience is not what you are after (or what you need) then this is a very good option to consider. Not only does this Chromebook perform well, but it is also a Chromebook that is built to last.