When we first laid eyes on the Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook in Las Vegas back in January at CES 2020, it was so easy for it to get pushed aside in favor of the more-flashy, more attention-grabbing devices like the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, ASUS Chromebook Flip C436, and the surprisingly-affordable Chromebook Duet. It’s rare that I look back on such a misstep on my part and completely let myself off the hook, but I do in this instance. Those other devices were/are exciting entrants in the Chromebook space for their own sets of reasons, and I don’t feel bad at all for missing the diamond in the rough that it seems the Flex 5 Chromebook could end up being.
My personal hands-on time with it was very minimal as Gabriel handled the video and posts about this Chromebook during our time in Lenovo’s booth at CES 2020, but the more I’ve assessed the long-term importance of this device, the more I realize I was very wrong in shrugging it off while we were there. Here’s why: the Flex 5 could be one of the easiest overall Chromebooks to recommend to buyers across the board this year when it becomes widely available. One variation is already shipping and we have one ordered and on the way, but other models will follow from multiple outlets eventually.
With the solid processor options, solid screen (think Pixelbook Go), solid build quality, backlit keyboard, upward-firing speakers, convertible form factor, handsome looks, and great feel, this Chromebook hits all the right steps. When you couple all that with fantastic pricing, you get a device that will sell well and be easy to recommend by users like myself.
With the affirmation that we now have the option of a Core i5 model with 8GB of RAM and likely NVMe storage as well, the potential user base for this device only continues to widen. But what Lenovo is doing with its latest Chrome OS hardware is more about price than it is about sheer specs on paper. Sure, the upper model of the Flex 5 will have nearly every bell and whistle any user could ask for and the mid and lower-end models will retain much of this goodness with small corners cut here and there, but it is the overall price points of all these Chromebooks that will be insanely competitive right out of the door.
In the glow of bright, shiny, expensive devices, my vision can get a bit out of focus. Features like Samsung’s insane AMOLED 4K display or ASUS’ razor-thin bezels or the Duet’s unique form factor can easily draw my attention away from the tried and true things that make Chromebooks great. If I’m not careful, I can be so enamored with those things that I forget to think through the potential pitfalls those new features can bring with them.
With ASUS, the thinness and lightness of the C436’s frame distracted me from the potential it would have to feel a bit cheap. I missed the oddness of the keyboard backlighting and mediocre screen in my hands-on time because – frankly – the device was pretty. With the Galaxy Chromebook, my eyes were so glued to the screen and the build quality of the device that I never once thought paltry battery life would be an issue. I never thought about the fan-less body having issue dissipating heat. With the Duet, my shock at the build quality and form factor of something so affordable made me oblivious to the idea that display outputs wouldn’t be up to normal Chromebook standards.
I say all that to highlight how easy it can be to get pulled in and attracted to surface-level things that look great and may be great, but don’t do a ton to change the overall user experience on a Chromebook. What matters, then? Solid build quality, portability, a good screen, a great keyboard and trackpad, fast internals, solid connections with WiFi and Bluetooth, and great battery life. After all, Chromebooks are portals to the web and to applications. Great hardware shouldn’t do anything more than serve as the best bridge to get you to the things you want to do digitally.
And that’s where I was most wrong. When I’m being transparent, I shrugged off what could be the most important Chromebook of 2020 when all is said and done. What Lenovo is doing from a quality and price standpoint with the Flex 5 Chromebook could end up affecting the entire Chromebook market in a time when device availability is at a premium and more people are buying Chromebooks than ever before. If Lenovo can keep the inventory flowing and there are no unforeseen, major flaws in the Flex 5, there’s a real chance that this will be the Chromebook we suggest for just about any potential buyer across the board.
Is it the most eye-catching device you’ve ever seen? Nope. Will it likely provide the best Chrome OS experience you can get right now. Yep. And guess what? It will do that while being one of the most affordable options out there. Assuming that by the fall the economy starts to recover a bit and we see Chromebooks on sale like they constantly used to be, we could see the i3 version of the Flex 5 on sale for $300 on a regular basis or the well-equipped i5 version for under $500. As this begins to happen and there is a solid, all-around, obvious choice at these types of price points for those in the market for a new Chromebook, I think the value position of the Flex 5 could end up changing the way that other manufacturers approach their Chromebook build decisions in the future. And if it makes for more Chromebooks like the Flex 5 coming our way, then that is a very good thing, indeed.