Increasing numbers of 5G phones have hit the market, taking advantage of the new, faster standard for wireless data transmission. But the Lenovo Flex 5G, priced at $1,399.99, is the first laptop on the market to take advantage of it.
The system is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx 5G platform, which brings with it excellent battery life but the restrictions of Windows on Arm, meaning no x64 apps and running x86-32 apps via emulation.
For light users, the nice design and a comfortable keyboard may be a winning combination, especially if they want to use the laptop on the go. It’s certainly the best Arm laptop I’ve used thus far. But you can get power and portability without the limitations, and sometimes even for less money.
Lenovo Flex 5G Design
More than anything else about this laptop, the Lenovo Flex 5G’s build quality demands a premium. There’s a teeny bit of flex in the lid, but otherwise it’s built solid.
I’m not going to say it’s an exciting design. The aluminum magnesium lid is in an “iron grey” color with a very small Lenovo badge on the bottom right-hand side. It attracts fingerprints, but I don’t mind the minimalist look without any massive logos.
When you lift the lid, you’ll see the 14-inch display surrounded by a moderate bezel. The very top of the bezel, above the webcam extends out into a tab that makes it easy to open the laptop with one hand.
The deck has two sets of speaker grilles, one on each side of the keyboard, as well as a fingerprint reader. There’s a Lenovo badge on the right side of the wrist rest, along with a Verizon 5G logo, including the company’s signature check mark.
With a pair of 360 degree hinges, you can fold the Flex 5G into a tablet or stand it up like a touchscreen display. Because of its 16:9 screen, it’s best used as a laptop.
There aren’t many ports on this laptop, so you may need some adapters. On the left side there are two USB 3.2 Type-C ports (you’ll use one of them for charging). The right side of the laptop is where you’ll find the power button, headphone jack and an airplane mode toggle. The SIM card slot is on the back of the device, between the hinges.
At just 12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches and 2.9 pounds, Lenovo’s 5G laptop is light and easily portable. One of it’s biggest Snapdragon rivals, the Microsoft Surface Pro X is 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.3 inches and it weighs just 1.7 pounds (2.4 pounds with the keyboard), but that 13-inch detachable is a different form factor. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is 11.7 x 8.2 x 0.5 inches and also weighs 2.9 pounds, while the clamshell Samsung Galaxy Book S (with Intel Lakefield) is a slim 12 x 8 x 0.5 inches and 2.1 pounds.
Lenovo Flex 5G Specifications
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx 5G (SC8180XP)|
|Graphics||Qualcomm Adreno 680|
|Memory||8GB LPDDR4X 1866 MHz|
|Storage||256GB UFS 3.0|
|Display||14-inch, 1920 x 1080. IPS|
|Networking||Qualcomm Wi-Fi B/G/N/AC (2x2), Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G Modem, Bluetooth 5.0|
|Ports||2x USB 3.2 Type-C, 3.5mm Headphone jack, SIM card slot|
|Cameras||720p IR webcam|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro (Arm)|
|Dimensions||12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches / 320 x 215 x 14.7 mm|
|Weight||2.9 pounds / 1.3 kg|
|Price (as configured)||$1,499.99|
Windows 10 on Arm
The Snapdragon 8cx is an Arm platform, which means that the Lenovo Flex 5G is running a version of Windows 10 Pro for Arm.
Early adopters looking for a laptop with 5G, ask one thing: Can the Flex 5G run the programs that I need? Well, that depends on what you use and how long you’re willing to wait.
To run on this CPU right now, programs either need to be native ARM64 or ARM 32. Alternatively, it can emulate 32-bit x86 programs, but with a significant performance cost. If a developer offers an x86-32 version of your program, you’re in luck. But if only a 64-bit app is available, it won’t work. Some third-party antivirus solutions won’t work (though Windows Security will), and many games have issues if they use certain versions of OpenGL or have anti-cheat drivers that don’t work with Arm.
Of course, there is development for Windows on Arm, but it’s slow going. Adobe, for example, has announced a version of its Fresco drawing and sketching app for Windows on Arm devices, but we don’t know exactly when it’s coming. Regular Dropbox doesn’t work, so if you use that for storage, you need to use the neutered “Dropbox for S mode,” which doesn’t store files on your device.
Some popular programs do have native versions, like the popular media player VLC, Netflix, Twitter, Skype, and Windows Terminal. You’ll want those versions from the Microsoft Store. The new, Chromium version of Edge supports Arm as well. Mozilla has native Arm compatibility for Firefox in beta. Native apps tend to be swift, on par th a basic x86 app. But you’ll have to see if your apps are supported or decide if there are alternatives you’re willing to use.
One big area where Microsoft has made progress is the Microsoft Store, which, in my time with the device, only listed native apps for software that the Flex 5G could emulate. Previously, the store would include applications that you couldn’t run on Windows 10 on Arm.
Productivity Performance of Lenovo Flex 5G
The Lenovo Flex 5G uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx processor paired with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of UFS 3.0 storage. This isn’t a power-user tool, but for a mix of word processing, spreadsheet editing, emailing and web browsing, it will do the trick.
On Geekbench 4.3, the Flex earned a multi-core score of 11,369, handily beating the Surface Pro X’s Microsoft SQ1, based on the same Snapdragon chip (6,843). The Galaxy Book S with Intel’s Core i5-L16G7 “Lakefield” processor hit 5,509, a lesser score, and that didn’t have to emulate the benchmark. The XPS 13 2-in-1, with an Intel Core i7-1065G7, beat the pack at 19,225.
The Flex transferred 4.97GB of files at a rate of 270.7 MBps, surpassing both the Surface Pro X and Galaxy Book S, but was slower than the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (462.7 Mbps).
Lenovo Flex 5G Connectivity
With the Lenovo Flex 5G, the company is first to market with a notebook to support the new wireless standard. The computer has antennas that work with both mmWave and Sub-6 GHz technology. In the United States, Verizon’s 5G network is used exclusively for the laptop.
My own 5G experience was mixed. I consulted Verizon’s 5G coverage map of New York City and was able to find a few blocks of ultra-wide band coverage within walking distance. But that’s the rub - while 5G devices (mostly phones) are here, the network is not. Outside of those few blocks I was back to good old-fashioned LTE. And inside, you’ll need to use LTE or Wi-Fi.
Even in those areas, coverage was spotty. I tried downloading a 1080p movie trailer, and it took me five minutes. But downloading a 220 MB .zip file took just seconds. Uploading that file, I was back to minutes, all while the laptop said I was connected to the 5G network. At best, online speed tests said I reached over download speeds of 250 Mbps and a lowly 5 Mbps..
The first 5G laptop may be here, but the network needs to be built out. Sure, this thing works on LTE, so if you need a laptop with 4G connectivity this can do that. But this product is designed for 5G, and it’s part of what you’re paying for. If you want to use that feature, you have to go look for it.
5G is just not reliable enough to use as the biggest selling point of a product yet. For many, as they stay in their homes during a pandemic, being connected to Wi-Fi is enough.
Display on Lenovo Flex 5G
The 14-inch, 1920 x 1080 touchscreen on the Lenovo Flex 5G isn’t the brightest in its class by pure numbers, but it’s good enough, and it offers a strong showing when it comes to colors. For example when I watched the trailer for Tenet, a woman who shows John David Washington out of a building wears a navy coat that stood out even in a dark alley while next to a black car.
Lenovo’s screen covers 81.4% of the sRGB color gamut, beating out the rest of the group. The Samsung Galaxy Book S was almost as good (80.5%), while the XPS 13 2-in-1 and Surface Pro X fell slightly behind.
The Flex 5G’s panel measured an average of 410 nits of brightness, which is brighter than the Galaxy Book S (334 nits) but worse than the Surface Pro X (448 nits) and far dimmer than the XPS 13 2-in-1.
Lenovo Flex 5G Keyboard and Touchpad
Lenovo is known for its keyboards, and the one on the Flex 5G is excellent. It boasts deep travel but still feels clicky when you type, but it’s also fairly quiet for those who don’t want to make too much noise when they type with purpose.
I took it to task with the 10fastfingers.com typing test and blazed through at 110 words per minute. If you’re using this keyboard on the go, you won’t be disappointed.
The 4.3 x 2.5-inch touchpad could be slightly wider, but my only real issue with it is that it’s stiffer to click than I would like unless you’re at the very bottom. Otherwise, it’s smooth and responsive thanks to Windows precision drivers.
Lenovo Flex 5G Audio
The Dolby Atmos speakers on the Flex 5G don’t get quite as loud as most laptops, but it was enough to just fill up my apartment. That’s good enough for me.
But it also wasn’t as detailed as some others. When I listened to Dashboard Confessional’s “Vindicated,” the bass was effectively non-existent, and the drums felt a little lost in the mix. I recommend leaving the music profile on in the Dolby Atmos software. Some of the other presets made it sound a bit hollow.
Lenovo Flex 5G Upgradeability
Unless something is broken and needs to be repaired, there’s not much point in opening up the Lenovo Flex 5G. It’s easy enough to get into, with just seven Torx screws holding the bottom plate on, but once that’s off, you’ll see that besides the battery, there’s just a giant heat sink covering the processor and 5G module.
You should also remove the SIM card tray prior to opening the unit. It’s on top of other parts and is right next to one of the screws.
The storage and RAM aren’t replaceable. This is the only configuration, and you can’t change it.
Lenovo Flex 5G Battery Life
Editor's Note, July 28: Due to an issue with the Lenovo Flex 5G's screen dimming during our tests, we had to re-test to get a proper number. The original review stated that it lasted 23 hours and 43 minutes. We have resolved the display issue and have updated with our new score.
In our testing, the Flex 5G proved to be long-lasting on our battery test, which browses the web, streams video and runs OpenGL benchmarks, all over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. The test ran for 17 hours and 30 minutes, proving the Snapdragon 8cx to be wildly efficient in this system.
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 lasted 11 hours, which is nothing to shake a stick at, especially on an Intel laptop. The Surface Pro X and Samsung Galaxy Book S lasted more than a full work day, but didn’t have the endurance to match the other laptops.
Lenovo Flex 5G Heat
The Lenovo Flex 5G stays remarkably cool. We took measurements after streaming 15 minutes of video from YouTube.
The center of the keyboard, between the G and H keys, measured 30.9 degrees Celsius (87.6 degrees Fahrenheit) while the touchpad measured 30.8 degrees Celsius (87.4 degrees Fahrenheit).
The hottest spot on the bottom of the laptop hit 31.9 degrees Celsius (89.4 degrees Fahrenheit).
Lenovo Flex 5G Webcam
Like most 720p webcams, the one in the Flex 5G is just passable. In a shot with lots of natural light, I still looked slightly pale and sickly. Details, like hairs on my head, were about as good as you get at this level, however.
The webcam also has infrared support to log in to Windows 10 with facial recognition. It is positioned on a tab that just outs to easily open the laptop with one hand, so be sure not to smudge it when you lift the lid.
Lenovo Flex 5G Software and Warranty
The only piece of software that Lenovo added to the Flex 5G is its Lenovo Vantage software, This gives easy access to warranty information and has some tips, but doesn’t have features we’ve seen on some x86 machines, like easy driver updates and customization options.
There’s still the usual Windows 10 bloat, including Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, Farm Heroes Saga, Candy Crush Friends and more.
The Lenovo Flex 5G comes with a 1 year warranty.
With a tried-and-true design, a nice screen and some seriously incredible battery life, the Lenovo Flex 5G is the best Arm-based Windows experience I’ve had so far. Sure, the laptop has 5G capability, but those networks aren’t widely available, so many who buy this may be paying for something that will work in the future better than it does now. And at the moment, this laptop is limited to Verizon’s 5G network.
Performance continues to be Snapdragon-based laptops biggest weakness. Some software simply doesn’t work on this laptop or others like it, like the Surface Pro X, which mars the experience. The performance from emulation is decent, but we’re still waiting for a bunch of Arm native applications on Windows.
If you need more ports, better performance or a guarantee that all x86 applications work, other 2-in-1s, like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, may be better choices, and Intel Core i5 and Core i7 versions can be had for a similar price. If you don’t need the power, the Samsung Galaxy Book S starts at $949.99 with full x86 compatibility, though it, too, isn’t very impressive from a performance standpoint.
Those looking for something that looks nice with a great keyboard and a solid screen will be pleased by the Flex 5G, as long as they’re not doing anything that requires x64 applications. But for that, you can also get a much cheaper laptop.