"The Lenovo Flex 5G is impacted by limited 5G connectivity and mediocre performance."
The best battery life we've ever seen
Solid build quality
Good keyboard and touchpad
Integrated 5G connectivity
The performance is mediocre
App and driver incompatibilities are a pain
5G is still hard to find
Two massive PC revolutions are waiting for you: 5G connectivity and ARM-based processors. The new Lenovo Flex 5G is a device that should lead us into a future that encompasses both technologies.
The new Snapdragon 8cx chip from Qualcomm is the key. It offers both integrated 5G connectivity and enough power to fight Intel Core processors. This makes the Flex 5G a Windows avant-garde against Apple's own transition to ARM-based Macs.
But don't be too excited. The introduction of 5G was slow, as was the support for ARM processors by Windows. If you throw in a high starting price of $ 1,500, the Lenovo Flex 5G has to fight a tough battle. Is the world ready for Lenovo's vision of the future?
What's the big deal with 5G? Simply put, it's the next generation of mobile broadband, replacing today's fastest standard, 4G LTE. It promises to provide internet speeds that compete with or even exceed the connections that most people have at home and at work. The nationwide rollout was slow.
You won't find it just outside of the major cities. I had to take a trip to Venice Beach (never a bad thing) to test the connectivity of the Flex 5G as there are only a few areas in Verizon where Verizon has coverage and none are close to my home. However, the coverage is ultra wideband, which should theoretically deliver the best possible performance.
I say theoretically because, at least in Venice Beach, I couldn't get connectivity that was close to the two gigabits per second (Gbit / s) that ultra-wideband 5G promised. The best download speed I've seen (via Speedtest.net) was 465 megabits per second (Mbit / s) and the fastest upload speed I've seen was 51 Mbit / s. I was hoping to get closer to the 2 Gbps download speed, so it was disappointing to see only a quarter of it. Verizon's coverage is sporadic: Los Angeles, for example, has very few locations with very limited coverage, and the number of cities covered by Verizon's 5G network is quite small.
I could go 10 feet in one direction or another and fall to an LTE connection. This is not just Verizon's problem. For example, T-Mobile covers more areas with its 5G coverage, but uses a bandwidth below 6 GHz that offers speeds that are more comparable to 4G.
It's a lot faster than 4G LTE, but far from what 5G promises.
To see how this translates to real life, I downloaded a 1.7 GB file from OneDrive and achieved a download speed of 44 megabytes per second (MBps). This is much better than 4G LTE, but again, it is nowhere near what 5G promises.
I have to say that Verizon's 5G is not quite up to date, at least in Venice (and I was looking for better places). Maybe it's faster elsewhere, or maybe the Flex 5G's modem drivers need to be adjusted. In any case, the Flex 5G lets you work quickly wherever 5G connectivity is available, but not nearly as fast as one day.
If it is not obvious, 5G, once it has made its move, will be a critical factor in data processing. If you want a fast internet connection today, measured in gigabits per second and not just in megabits, you have to use Wi-Fi or a wired ethernet connection. This binds you to specific locations and keeps you looking for a secure connection when you're on the go. With a fast 5G connection, however, you will accelerate wherever there is coverage – imagine driving down the street and working with a fast internet connection – which will ultimately be just like 4G LTE today. It will be everywhere, which means that you will finally be freed from the Wi-Fi cable.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8cx is the company's latest ARM processor and the first to be explicitly designed for PCs and not based on smartphone designs. Not only does it have to compete with Intel and AMD, the Snapdragon 8cx also faces the challenge of running Windows on ARM.
In the past, it wasn't the most impressive platform when it came to pure speed. This is because most older Windows applications were not built natively to run on ARM, but have to be run in emulation. Performance is therefore the second most important factor behind connectivity to determine if the Flex 5G is a viable platform for mobile workers.
Many applications are not only slow, but do not run at all under Windows under ARM. This includes many of the benchmarking applications that I usually use to test performance. This is a good example of the big problem with app compatibility. It works with Microsoft's Office suite and Windows 10 apps (if you use them). And thanks to drivers that were not written to support the platform, this is a hit or miss with peripheral devices.
For example, our real handbrake test video coding cannot be performed on the Flex 5G. This is a shit because this test gives the best idea of how well a processor works on demanding tasks.
Many applications are not only slow, but do not run at all under Windows under ARM.
I was limited to Geekbench 4 and 5 among our performance benchmarks to get an idea of how much faster the Snapdragon 8cx really is. After these two tests, the new Snapdragon chip is definitely an upgrade from the previous Snapdragon 850. However, this in no way makes it a fast laptop.
In Geekbench 4, the Flex 5G managed 3,322 in the single-core test and 11,348 in the multi-core test. This is a big improvement over the Lenovo Yoga C630 (which uses the Snapdragon 850), which scored 2,292 in the single-core test and 6,710 points in the multi-core test. The Snapdragon 8cx is clearly much faster. In the multi-core test, which scored 4,670 and 8,750 points, it even beat the 10th generation dual-core Intel Core i3-1011U in the Lenovo Yoga C640.
In Geekbench 5, the Flex 5G achieved 700 points in the single-core test and 2,802 points in the multi-core test. That beat the 486 and 2,155 of the Yoga C640 and even competed with the Core i5-1030NG7 of the 2020 MacBook Air, which scored 1,140 and 2,770 points.
Does that make the Flex 5G a fast laptop? Of course not. It ran exactly in line with these synthetic benchmark numbers and similar to the comparison laptops. It was fine for productivity tasks, surfing the Internet, watching videos, and other purposes where the processor didn't ask too much. If you use your laptop for this, you are satisfied with the performance. However, if you need it to boot up as needed, you will be disappointed.
Longevity should be a strength of the Flex 5G thanks to the efficiency of the ARM processors in general and the Snapdragon 8cx in particular. I was expecting good things and was not disappointed.
In fact, I was blown away. The Flex 5G showed the best battery life we've seen on a laptop – it literally outperformed any other machine we've tested.
I start with the most impressive result, namely the video test, in which a local Full HD Avengers trailer is repeated until the battery is empty. Simply put, the Flex 5G was spectacular and basically took 28 hours to repeat the video (it took three minutes). This is the longest time we've recorded at almost five hours, and surpasses the best Lenovo Yoga C640 to date, which lasted about 23 hours. The Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 is the other notebook that lasted more than 20 hours and almost 22 hours.
This is a laptop that lasts for several days.
The Flex 5G was just as impressive in the web test. It lasted 17.25 hours and was again the best of all the laptops we tested. The only other machine that got any closer was the Microsoft Surface Book 2 after 15.5 hours, and the Surface Book 3 was nowhere near as good.
In our demanding Basemark web benchmark test, the Flex 5G – you guessed it – outperformed all other machines. It took a whopping 10.5 hours, which – you guessed it again – is another record among the laptops we tested. Admittedly, the Flex 5G didn't break any speed records, but as fast as the laptop runs, it runs as long.
Note that these results surpassed the Yoga C630, which took 17 hours to video test and 11 hours to surf the web. Qualcomm's claims to improve the efficiency of the Snapdragon 8cx are valid.
This is clearly a laptop that will last you days with typical productivity tasks, surfing the internet, watching videos and the like. Even if you press the CPU – which of course doesn't say much about overall performance – you get a whole day of work and a few more.
The Flex 5G is a match for the Yoga C630, with just a few changes to account for differences in connections. And although this results in a very conservatively designed laptop – in line with Lenovo's latest aesthetics – in its iron gray color, which is darker but not entirely black, it's not a bad thing. Yes, there is no bling and the laptop will not stand out in a crowd, but some people like it. For example, it is nowhere near the HP Specter x360 13, which may be the epitome of a chiseled gem-cut design that cries out for attention.
Better still, the Flex 5G is pretty well built. It is an aluminum case that has little flexibility on the keyboard deck, but nowhere else. It feels solid and extends to the 360-degree hinge that holds the laptop in its four modes – clamshell, tent, media, and tablet. It's fairly thin at 0.58 inches and light at 2.97 pounds. Compare that to the Specter x360 at 0.67 inches and 2.88 pounds and the Dell XPS 13 at 0.58 inches and 2.65 pounds. The Flex 5G has made a small leap in size compared to the Yoga C630, but that should be responsible for the increased battery capacity – always a good thing in my book.
Most importantly, the Flex 5G is worth its $ 1,500 investment. This is especially important as you won't get the best configuration at this price. You won't feel like you've spent that much money on a laptop that just isn't built well enough.
Connectivity is relatively limited with just two USB-C 3.2 ports on the left and a 3.5mm audio jack on the right. There is also a nano SIM card slot and a switch to physically turn on airplane mode. For such a futuristic device, we were disappointed to see Wi-Fi 5 and not Wi-Fi 6 for Bluetooth 5.0.
Keyboard and touchpad
The Flex 5G has the same keyboard as pretty much every Yoga and Flex laptop. It has wide key caps with a lot of space and a snappy mechanism with a soft bottom. It may be my imagination, but the version of the Flex 5G seemed a bit flatter than some I've tried, and that's not my favorite quality. I like to travel a bit in my keyboards. Overall, however, I doubt that a lot of people will complain, and I typed very quickly at pretty full speed. Compared to some other great keyboards, the Flex 5G falls behind the excellent examples of the HP Specter x360 13 and Dell XPS 13, not to mention the fantastic Magic keyboard of the latest MacBooks.
The touchpad has average dimensions for this size of a laptop and supports the Precision Touchpad protocol from Microsoft. Multi-touch gestures and general cursor control were excellent, and I had no complaints. The touch display also responded, although I'm sure some people will be very disappointed that there is no active pen support. This is pretty much a given for modern 2-in-1 players and is missing here.
Windows 10 Hello support without a password is provided in two ways. First, there is an infrared camera for facial recognition that works just as well as any other device with similar features. Second, there is a fingerprint reader on the keyboard deck, which was also quick and responsive. It's nice to have the option.
My colorimeter does not work with the Flex 5G due to a lack of drivers, so I could not operate the display with the usual test battery. I have trained the display well and can make some subjective observations.
First, the display is bright and is likely to approach Lenovo's 400 nits rating. I wouldn't say it competes with direct sunlight, but it's bright enough to be used in most other ambient lights.
Second, the colors were bright and natural, and the display showed a lot of contrast. Black text on a white background – my bread and butter – appeared, and I never thought the text looked washed out.
Finally, I enjoyed seeing Netflix on the display, and I suspect the gamma is just right. I cannot confirm how accurate the colors are and whether it is a good ad for creative types, but the typical productivity worker and home user should find the ad a pleasure.
The audio quality was mixed. The volume was low despite the two upward-facing speakers next to the keyboard, but there was no distortion. Not surprisingly, the bass was missing, but mids and highs were right where they should be. Again, it's a good laptop to watch Netflix on, though headphones wouldn't be a terrible idea.
The Lenovo Flex 5G isn't the game changer it wants to be, but it's not entirely to blame. 5G speeds and coverage make it difficult to justify a purchase based on connectivity alone. In the meantime, Windows support for ARM is an ongoing project that Microsoft is still involved in.
These two technologies are likely to play a major role in the future of laptops. The Flex 5G's incredible battery life is proof enough. However, Qualcomm, Microsoft and Verizon each need to build a lot of infrastructure before a laptop like the Lenovo Flex 5G can be truly successful on its own.
Are there alternatives?
There are no other 5G laptops on the market right now, but they are coming. And if they support more than Verizon's relatively limited 5G coverage, they may be better options from that perspective alone. So that's something to watch out for.
If you don't need a 5G, you can consider the HP Specter x360 13 with 4G LTE. You'll spend about $ 150 less and get a much faster laptop, but you won't get anywhere near enjoying the battery life. Think in half here.
How long it will take?
The Lenovo Flex 5G is a well-built laptop that should last for years, but the performance is slow. In the meantime, 5G and Windows with ARM technology could see a much wider adoption in the coming years, and the Flex 5G should last long enough to see the benefits.
The one-year warranty is typical and disappointing.
Should you buy it
No – at least not yet. While battery life is excellent, performance is mediocre and can barely keep up with basic productivity and media usage tasks. This always connected lifestyle will be practical – but only once does 5G see a more impressive introduction.