Looking for a 14-inch convertible laptop? Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 could be an option. One of our current Editors’ Choices is the elegant 13.9-inch Lenovo Yoga C930 at $1,299. Another is the business-oriented Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1, whose luxuries, among them, a proximity sensor that wakes the system when you approach, can push it well past $2,000.
But what if you have less than $1,000 to spend? You could do a lot worse than the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 (starts at $449.99; $899.99 as tested), a capable convertible with a fair amount of ThinkPad DNA.
A Well-Equipped Middleweight
Spotted at Rakuten, my $899.99 Windows 10 Home test unit had a 1.6GHz (3.9GHz turbo) Core i5-8265U processor, 16GB of memory, a 256GB Samsung NVMe solid-state drive, Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics, and a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel IPS touch screen. At this writing, slight variants were being sold from other e-tailers and retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy. Lenovo backs this configuration with a one-year return-to-depot warranty.
The $449.99 (Pentium Gold) and $539.99 (Core i3) models at Lenovo.com have much weaker configurations, with 4GB of RAM, 128GB solid-state drives, lowly 1,366-by-768-pixel displays, and installations of Windows 10 Home in S mode, which only lets you install apps from the Windows Store. At a pricing midpoint between these and our Intel Core tester, Lenovo also offers variants based on AMD’s Ryzen Mobile processors.
Dressed in familiar Lenovo matte black, the Flex 14 measures 0.7 by 12.9 by 9 inches, matching the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 (0.79 by 12.9 by 9.2 inches). At 3.7 pounds, it’s a little lighter than the Inspiron but heavier than the Latitude (3 pounds) and the LG Gram 14 2-in-1 (a remarkable 2.5 pounds). Still, it’s bearable in a case or backpack. There’s not much give or bending when you grasp the screen corners, though there’s some when you press the keyboard deck.
You won’t find a Thunderbolt 3 port, but that’s no deal-breaker at this price. Instead, the laptop’s left side holds a USB 3.1 Type-C port, an HDMI video output, an audio jack, and a connector for the AC adapter. On the right are two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, a full-size SD card slot (it leaves cards sticking out to snag in your briefcase), the power button, and a reset pinhole. There’s no volume rocker for use in tablet or tent mode.
Getting Stuff Done with Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14
The display’s 1080p resolution is a good match for its 14-inch diagonal size; details are sharp whether you leave Windows 10’s zoom at its factory setting of 150 percent or shrink it to 125 percent, depending on your taste in menu and icon size. Contrast is good, and viewing angles are wide. Colors are perky and well saturated. Touch operations are smooth and precise, though the glass overlay is reflective, as touch panels usually are.
My only wish for improvement would be a shade more brightness. Lenovo rates the screen at 250 nits. I prefer 300 nits (ideally, 400) or more. With this screen, things get dark quickly when you turn down the backlight to save battery power, so you’ll need to keep the level cranked up high. And using the machine outdoors will be problematic if there’s much sun.
Medium-thick bezels surround the top and sides of the screen; the 720p webcam centered above it has a tiny sliding shutter that blocks the view of online snoops. The camera’s images aren’t too grainy or noisy but are somewhat dim and soft-focus. It’s not a face-recognition camera, but you can use Windows Hello to bypass passwords via a fingerprint reader in the keyboard deck.
The Flex’s bottom-mounted speakers pump out enough sound to fill a midsize room, slightly hollow at top volume but not tinny or distorted. There’s not much bass, but drums are strong, and it’s possible to make out overlapping tracks. Supplied Dolby Audio software offers music, movie, game, and voice presets, as well as an equalizer.
The backlit keyboard commits the HP-style sin of arranging the cursor arrow keys in a row (with half-height up and down arrows sandwiched between full-height left and right) instead of an inverted T. Otherwise, it gets decent marks, with a shallow and pillowy rather than snappy typing feel but good feedback and keys that aren’t too puny. The buttonless touchpad glides and taps easily and takes a nice light touch to click.
Who Needs a Core i7?
For our performance tests, I matched the IdeaPad against four other 14-inch convertibles. The Acer Spin 3 and Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 are roughly comparable, especially the Inspiron—it costs the same as the Lenovo with a quicker CPU (Core i7 versus Core i5) but less RAM (8GB versus 16GB). The LG Gram 14 2-in-1 and especially the Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 are in another league, price-wise. You can see the contenders’ basic specs here.
Except for being slow to start up (45 seconds from pressing the power button to the Windows desktop), the Flex proved a reasonably peppy performer—unsuitable for gaming, but that’s true of every laptop with integrated as opposed to discrete graphics. It finished more or less in the middle of the pack in most benchmarks.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests of Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the laptop’s boot drive. The result is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
We consider 4,000 points an excellent score in PCMark 10. Most of these systems fell just a bit short, but they have more than ample power for Microsoft Office or Google Docs. And their solid-state drives had no trouble with PCMark 8’s Storage test. PCI Express NVMe SSDs these days, now spreading into mainstream laptops, typically score around 5,000.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
The LG Gram was an underachiever among the Core i7 convertibles, while the Flex 14 was an overachiever among the Core i5 machines. It’s not a top choice for workstation-style 3D rendering or video editing, but it’s undaunted by spreadsheet and database analysis.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
Compared to the frontrunners, the Flex took only a few seconds more to complete each filter or operation, but the differences added up. It’s certainly capable of image-editing work, but it’s not an ideal pick if you do lots of it and value your time.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Give the Flex credit for tying the Dell 5000 for third place in Fire Strike, but ignore even the top scores here—they’re vastly far behind those of real gaming rigs with dedicated graphics. As we’ve seen a thousand times, Intel’s integrated graphics restrict players to casual and browser-based games.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
Four frames per second across the board? Reread my remarks above.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
The Latitude 7400 2-in-1 delivered a truly exceptional result here, but the Flex’s 12 hours and 40 minutes is nothing to sneeze at, although the screen did look rather shady at only 50 percent brightness. The Flex will get you through a tablet-mode Netflix movie or easel- or kiosk-mode presentation with no problem.
Frugal and Flexible
The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 doesn’t threaten to unseat our Editors’ Choice 2-in-1 picks, but it gets a lot right for its price. If its display were a bit brighter, and if it came with a pen or stylus for sketching and scribbling, it would earn an enthusiastic recommendation. Even as is, it’s a solid value in a segment where costs can easily skid out of control.
Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 (2019)
Bottom Line: If you don’t mind cranking up the screen brightness, you’ll find Lenovo’s IdeaPad Flex 14 an attractive convertible laptop for $899.99—a Core i5 2-in-1 that competes well with more costly Core i7s.