The IdeaPad Flex 14 is a compelling option for consumers and small businesses that want a budget-priced, touch-capable Windows 8 notebook.
Lenovo manufactures a lot of notebooks, but the supremely thin ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Lenovo’s notebook/tablet hybrid, the IdeaPad Yoga 11S have achieved near-icon status. The IdeaPad Flex 14 takes design cues from both, resulting in a relatively slim, modestly priced 14-inch laptop.
The Flex 14’s display pivots 300 degrees so that you can operate it in tent mode or lay it keyboard-down on your desk to present it to someone sitting across from you. Unlike the Yoga, however, the Flex 14’s lid doesn’t flip all the way back to operate as a tablet. The Flex 14 echoes the X1 Carbon’s tapered form factor, but where that Ultrabook measures just 0.7 inches high at its thinnest edge, the Flex 14 is 0.85 inches. But then, the Flex 14 costs nearly $500 less.
The Flex 14’s Notebook Worldbench score of 278 is about what we expected for a notebook with these specs, but it’s slightly below what the comparably equipped Dell XPS 12 achieved (both machines use Intel’s Intel Core i5-4200U, but the Dell we tested had only 4GB of DDR3/1600 to the Lenovo’s 8). The Flex 14 delivered exceptionally good battery life of 7 hours and 38 minutes. And since it has a removable battery, you can carry a spare with you (provided you don’t mind the additional weight) and double your productivity time.
Our review unit had a rather small SSD—just 128GB—so you’ll need to be picky about choosing the apps and media library additions you keep on hand. Given the limited space on the SSD, I wish Lenovo had been more careful with its pre-installed software choices. I particularly resented having a trial version of the PDF-creation app Nitro Pro as the only available program for opening the on-board user guide. Yes, the trial is free, but you get annoying nag windows urging you to buy, and after 30 days you’ll need to install Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader just to open the manual.
Lenovo also skimped in a couple of other areas: The onboard Wi-Fi adapter supports only 2.4GHz networks, for starters. That can seriously impact media-streaming performance if you’re in an area with lots of other legacy Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth devices, microwave ovens and/or certain cordless phones (5GHz Wi-Fi is much less prone to interference). Lenovo also left out its signature red pointing stick: You get only the touchpad, which has mechanical corners for left and right mouse clicks. It’s responsive and pleasing to use when you’re not swiping and tapping the multitouch-enabled 1366-by-768 display.
The Flex 14 makes a good first impression—it has the sleek black soft-touch case we’ve seen on other recent Lenovo laptops—but the island chiclet keys lack the subtle sculpting found on more expensive Lenovos, and they feel somewhat mushy.
The balance of the Flex 14’s connectivity options are decidedly basic: 2 USB 2.0 ports, but just 1 USB 3.0 port, HDMI out, an SD/MMC card slot, a headset jack, and 10/100 ethernet (as opposed to the gigabit Ethernet that’s become more common on laptops).The integrated 720p webcam captures decent video for Skype calls, and the speakers deliver good audio when they’re not obstructed (being located on the bottom of the laptop towards the front, the sound is muffled when the keyboard is in its conventional position).
The Flex 14 is more than adequate for business and productivity apps, but its gaming performance is weak. That’s to be expected from a notebook that relies on integrated graphics.
Our review unit is priced at $749, which marks the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 as a solid, but not spectacular value.