Lenovo recently sent out its Flex 3 Chromebook, also marketed as the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 3 Chromebook, for review. And, put bluntly, it was so close to achieving a 5-star rating but just couldn't make the cut. That's not to be mistaken for a total dismissal of this laptop though. There are a lot of things this Chromebook gets right. And it does so in a way that makes it easy to recommend.
Not only does this device offer plenty of power and portability with a full-size keyboard. It delivers on audio in a way that few, even very expensive, Chromebooks do. And it manages to stay running all day long without ever slowing down. The design language is on-point.
Some component choices here are, of course, and without question, questionable. Lenovo truly could have picked a better display panel. And it easily could have opted to build the entire gadget from metal. The build-quality, rolling off the line, could stand to be a bit tighter. A bit more well-put-together.
None of that really drags this laptop down too much. So let's take a deeper look at how the Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook performed under review. There is quite a bit of value to discover and plenty to talk about where it does fall short. It's unlikely to disappoint at any rate, as tested at just $339.
Hardware is a mixed bag for this Chromebook
On the hardware front, Lenovo opted for a half-polycarbonate, half-metal build. That means that there's a rigid, scratch-resistant surface to protect the display panel. But also that there's a lighter, still comfortable build for the lower half of this gadget. Of course, that also means that users who want something a bit higher-end without spending too much money.
With that said, the build isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. The metal hinges are solidly built and didn't creak or groan under strain during my review of the Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook. The ports are all snug-fitting and snap into place with a satisfying click. The trackpad, while plastic, feels responsive and works just about perfectly. But the keyboard is a weak point.
Not only did the overly-raised keys take some getting used too. Especially coming from a high-end keyboard with only about half the height. The key travel felt like a bit too much. That meant more strain on my fingers over the course of hours upon hours of use. It was very comfortable to use during short, two-to-three-hour bursts. But anything over that, with no real breaks between, became tedious.
Conversely, the design also isn't quite as high-quality when it comes to gaps and flexibility. I noticed that there's a significant gap between the lid and the keyboard frame. That's wider toward the center, viewed from the left-hand or right-hand edge. Additionally, there is what feels like an unnecessary gap at the front in tablet mode.
Now, that latter gap helps keep the audio quality up when in tablet mode too. But it doesn't look particularly appealing. And that's a shame since the rest of the design is stunning, for a gadget in this price range. Particularly in the golden sheen of the almond coloration that this Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook was shipping out in for review.
Otherwise, the design is angular and modern, offering a better aesthetic than might be seen in many other devices at this price. And that helped make this a more enjoyable device to use than it might have otherwise been.
This display is usable & also the biggest caveat for Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook
Now, the Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook display, rated at an HD resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels and at 11.6-inches, is undeniably this laptop's weak point. It's by far the biggest weak point, in fact. Under indoor conditions, it is crisp and clear despite its resolution. And it's more than bright enough. That remains the case all the way up until this Chromebook is placed under direct sunlight.
When I brought the Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook out into the sun during my review, it was immediately clear it wouldn't be bright enough. It's only just bright enough to use in the shade.
There also isn't much difference between most of the brightness settings. So there's not a whole lot that users are going to be able to do to adapt it for better viewing indoors or out. Making matters somewhat worse is the bezel. That's enormous at well over an inch on each edge. While that makes for easier carrying, particularly in tablet mode, and a bigger keyboard spread, it also makes this device unnecessarily heavier.
The Flex 3 Chromebook weighs in at 2.64lbs.
But that's not the only reason this screen isn't great, either. It also suffers from significant light bleed around all of the edges. That's not nearly as noticeable during day-to-day use. Mostly, it becomes obvious when the edges are displaying a darker color, anything from a dark gray to black. But it's there and it's not a small strip of light bleed either. It flows out into the display area by an inch or two, in fact.
Where this screen does lack, it makes up for that in terms of responsiveness. I never noticed a single instance of latency in touch controls. The only thing Lenovo could potentially have done better on that front is to include stylus support of some kind. Although it's not immediately clear whether or not the processor could have handled that.
The battery life will easily be the best feature for this Chromebook
Performance, as we'll discuss momentarily, is great for Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook. The display is acceptable. Its build is solid. There's a lot to love about this Chromebook. But the best thing about the Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook, revealed throughout my review period, is its battery prowess.
Not only does this Chromebook take just over an hour to charge at 1-hour and 17-minutes. That's around half the time of some competitors and far less compared to others. No, Lenovo also engineered this device to last all day long. With constant use, at the highest screen brightness to maximize drain, this Chromebook lasted for no less than 9-hours, 35-minutes, and 23-seconds.
Now, battery life is extremely subjective. But, for my test, I used this gadget entirely for work. Of course, that involves word processing in both the backend of a website but also in Google Docs. It also involved dozens of websites being opened at all times. And around half a dozen sites always working.
Additionally, at various points, it involved around an hour-and-a-half of photo editing in Android apps and web apps. For approximately an hour of that period, I was also streaming music. And for around another hour, I was also streaming video. Despite that, it took just over 6-hours to hit 50-percent drained.
All of that is despite working straight through. So, although battery life is subjective, there's a good chance it's going to last quite a lot longer for most users than it did for me. And it was already exceptional.
Performance is right where I'd expect with Chrome OS
As noted in the battery segment, the bulk of my review of the Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook was spent writing. That involves quite a bit more than just typing into a web field, though. It also involves saving and interacting with multiple backups — thanks, WordPress — as well as photo editing. Video streaming, mobile gaming, streamed gaming, music, and other fairly intensive tasks fall under that purview too.
All of that, it goes almost without saying, is undertaken in the context of multitasking too. With dozens of Chrome tabs opened at once and multiple of those working in the background alongside Android apps and other things. It's not necessarily a light load for any computer.
Fortunately, in part due to Chrome OS's nearly over-optimized ecosystem and potentially due to lower screen specs, that's all possible without a single hitch. Even running all of those Chrome tabs doesn't tend to overwhelm a Chromebook as it will in Windows or Mac.
That may or may not come as a shock. Particularly for those who haven't used a Chromebook before. And especially since this Chromebook, priced under $350, is only driven by an Intel Celeron N4020 processor. That's two cores, two threads, at 1.1GHz with a max boost of 2.8GHz.
Behind that, Lenovo includes a UHD-capable Intel Graphics 600 chip. So UHD output is definitely possible. But, more importantly, there's only 4GB of LPDDR4-2400 RAM. And just 64GB of storage. Neither relatively paltry spec managed to become a problem during my review of the Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook, in the least.
Some of the processing, for instance on photo editing, was somewhat slower. The same holds for opening apps, which takes a little longer. But there's no real hang-ups to speak of. It definitely isn't the processor that holds this Chromebook back from either and Editor's Choice award or a 5-star rating.
Connections are the basis for all Chromebooks and Lenovo Flex 3 holds to that
On the connectivity front, the Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook proved more than capable under review. It doesn't, of course, come with the latest connection hardware. For instance, only Bluetooth 4.2 and Wi-Fi 802.11 ac are built-in here. And there's no mobile connectivity either. But the slow-moving nature of connectivity on those fronts means that isn't really too big a deal. Unless those are a necessity.
In fact, I was able to easily pair up a Stadia controller and game for hours without any connection drops or issues. And Bluetooth headphones made that experience all that much better.
For those who need more wired connections, Lenovo also didn't drop the ball. There are no fewer than four USB ports. Two USB-C and two standard A-type USB ports. That's coupled with a 3.5mm audio jack and microSD card reader. As well as a lock slot for more security.
For the price, these speakers could be a whole lot worse
Now, audio can be almost as subjective as battery life. But, generally-speaking, laptops have terrible speakers, with very few exceptions. So those who need audio that's passable can breathe a sigh of relief. The audio that emanated from Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook during my review wasn't at all 'powerful'. But it was at least balanced and delivered at a decent volume.
In fact, this is easily among the most balanced Chromebooks I've had the pleasure to test on that front. With caveats.
Nobody should expect the speakers, firing from both the left and right at 2W with HD drivers, to move a lot of air. So there won't be any groundbreaking bass or as much depth as might be expected from even a moderately affordable Bluetooth speaker. Or from some budget-friendly headphones.
With that said, in a pinch, these speakers will perform just fine and they're more than clear enough — as are the mics — for video conferencing.
Flex 3 Chromebook is built by Lenovo and powered by Google
Chromebooks — all of them — run an identical suite of software out of the box. And, in every case, also offer up support for almost identical software experiences. There are a few minor differences at the upper-reaches of the spectrum. Particularly when it comes to programming uses. But this isn't really a Chromebook designed for that, although the Lenovo Flex three would probably hold up for some cases based on this review.
But what Chrome OS really means for end-users, is stability. This is one of the most stable operating systems to ever grace this type of hardware. Whether that's in photo editing or browsing the web, with support for Android apps, Linux software, PWAs, and Chrome.
Another piece of that puzzle is the more recently added Google Assistant AI, easily accessed via voice or through clicks and the keyboard.
Better still, users get automatic updates for the next several years. That means security, stacked atop a sandboxed environment, as well as smooth operation.
Should you buy the Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook?
Many Chromebooks in the budget segment are easily defined by their price. And many of the aspects of the Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook, as seen in this review, match up with that. The display isn't the best around and neither is the build materials. The keyboard isn't the most comfortable on the market.
But, digging deeper immediately turns around any misconceptions that might be had based on the initial experience in combination with the cost. At under $350, it's easy to lower expectations too far, especially for those who may be coming over from a less stable operating system. This Chromebook blows away those expectations handily when it comes to overall experience from the audio, battery life, and the performance.
Those aspects that don't stack up quite as well as a more expensive machine may or may not be necessary. In the latter case, this is an easy Chromebook to recommend for all but the most intensive use cases. Whether that's for a Chrome OS veteran or somebody just getting started with the platform.