Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook Review: More Chromebook for the Money

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Josh Goldman / CNET

Last year’s Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook was and still is one of our top picks for the category, primarily because it was a coup for a premium Chromebook. The 2021 Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook (the added “i” denotes an Intel chip, although there is no AMD version) is mostly the same as the 2020 model and remains an excellent value for its build quality, features and performance. The difference between last year’s model and this year’s model is mainly a shift from Intel’s 10-gen Core i3 processor to an 11th generation Core i3 that boosts performance while leaving roughly the same battery life, at almost 11 hours in our test. If you’re looking for a better Chrome experience at a more reasonable price, the Flex 5i is a great place to start. That said, the 10th generation model is still around and a steal for about $ 330.

Like

  • Excellent performance and battery life at its price
  • Privacy trigger on webcam
  • USB-C ports for charging on both sides
  • USI pen-enabled display

Dislike

  • The display is too weak for outdoor work
  • USI stylus not included
  • Best configuration only at Costco

That The Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook starts at $ 450 directly from Lenovo with an 11th generation Intel Core i3, 4 GB RAM and 64 GB eMMC flash memory for storage. If you can afford an additional $ 100 – and you have access to a Costco membership – consider getting the configuration I tested that backs up the same Core i3 processor with 8GB of RAM and a larger, faster 128GB SSD for storage . As with many laptops today, the memory is soldered on and cannot be upgraded later. Although Chrome is very useful with 4 GB of memory, it will give you space for more demanding tasks now and in the future if you have it up to a maximum of 8 GB. The current Flex 5i is not available in the UK or Australia, but the 2020 Flex model is and from DKK 430 and AU $ 649 respectively.

Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook

Price as reviewed

$ 550

Screen size / resolution

13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixel touch screen

CPU

3GHz Intel Core i3-1115G4

Memory

8GB LPDDR4X 3733MHz (built-in)

Graphics

128 MB Intel UHD graphics

Storage

128 GB PCIe SSD

Network

802.11ax wireless, Bluetooth 5.0

Connections

USB-C (x2, 3.1 Gen 1), USB-A (3.1 Gen 1), HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio jack, microSD card slot

Operating system

Chrome OS / Android 11

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Flex 5i’s two-in-one design makes it more fun to work and play.

Josh Goldman / CNET

One step ahead of student Chromebooks

Most Chromebooks that are cheaper than the Flex 5i typically have smaller screens, only plastic housings, and slower processors. Spending a little more for this Lenovo is worth it because it is simply better. The lid is covered in metal, while the chassis is made of soft plastic, which gives it an advanced look and feel. It is only slightly larger than 11.6-inch models like those commonly used by school districts. But the larger 13.3-inch screen here makes a big difference when scrolling through learning pages or just when you need to see more of your work on the screen at once.

Although the color and contrast of the screen are nice, the screen is a bit faint. I found that I regularly tried to increase it beyond its maximum setting. This was mostly when I used it in a bright room near a window or outside. Otherwise, the screen was good enough and it is USI (Universal Stylus Initiative) pen-enabled and will work with Lenovo’s USI Pen and others.

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Another new feature for the Flex 5i Chromebook: a private shutter for its webcam.

Josh Goldman / CNET

Above the screen is a 720p webcam that can be used. The microphone quality is also fine, so you should have no trouble being seen and heard on your neighbor Google Meet. Virtually no Chromebooks have decent 1080p-or-better webcams, which is a shame considering the rise in telecommuting and school. But with the Flex 5i model, Lenovo added a physical privacy trigger to the webcam so you can instantly block it. It’s probably more valuable to most people than a higher resolution camera.

On the right side of the laptop there is a USB-C port, volume rocker and on / off button, all of which can be accessed in tablet mode. But be careful, because the on / off button is easy to press accidentally when you turn off the laptop to connect something to a port on the left side. This is not a big deal, as Chrome asks what you want to do – turn off, log out or lock – before doing anything; it’s just annoying. However, Lenovo put USB-C ports on both sides, and you can charge your Chromebook from both.

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The Flex 5i’s keyboard is backlit, a feature mostly referred to as premium models.

Josh Goldman / CNET

The rest of the Flex 5 is just reasonably good. The keyboard is comfortable with a comfortable ease. In addition, it is backlit, which is something you will not find on cheaper models. The touchpad is nothing special, but gets the job done and is just big enough.

The overall performance is strong, and I did not experience any inertia while working in Google Docs and Sheets, streaming video or music, and doing basic photo and video editing. Battery life is also pretty good, coming in at 10 hours and 48 minutes in our video streaming test. For more typical work use, I expect it to take about 6 to 7 hours before it needs to be charged, but it’s all going to depend on what you’re doing.

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The metal lid gives the Flex 5i a more premium feel.

Josh Goldman / CNET

I played a few Android games from the Google Play Store and also did not experience any slowdowns. And if you want to take advantage of Google’s streaming game service, Stadia or Nvidia’s GeForce Now service, you will appreciate Flex 5i’s fast Wi-Fi 6 support (though) you will probably need a new router to take advantage of it).

If you need a Chromebook as a primary device, the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5i is an excellent option, especially if it’s on sale, which happens on a regular basis. Cheaper Chromebooks can definitely help you get your work done right now. However, the features and performance of the Flex 5i should keep you going longer, and for just a little more money.

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