Lenovo Flex 6 (14″) Review

Posted on June 27, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 3 Comments

The 14-inch Lenovo Flex 6 hits the sweet spot with its affordable pricing, flexible design, and premium features. It’s a great choice for those who simply can’t afford one of the firm’s more expensive convertible PCs, like the ThinkPad X1 Yoga or Lenovo Yoga 910.

Design

The Lenovo Flex 6 is a 14-inch convertible laptop with a 360-degree hinge. It’s optimized for the traditional laptop use case, but it can be used as a slightly big, heavy, and awkward tablet as well.

That flexibility explains the device’s name, of course. And if you’re familiar with this type of convertible PC, you know that they can be used in various usage modes, like a traditional laptop, stand (presentation), tent, and tablet. The Flex 6 very much delivers on this range of functionality, albeit with a bit less elan than its more expensive stablemates.

It’s all about compromise: Lenovo has to cut corners somewhere to keep this product, which costs roughly half that of the truly premium ThinkPad X1 Carbon I’m also reviewing, more affordable.

And sure enough, the Flex 6 comes clad in an ABS plastic and glass fiber exterior, which I find to be perfectly serviceable. As important, Lenovo uses brushed aluminum on the keyboard deck, lending a more premium look and feel and, I assume, better durability against oils and smudges. That’s good design: Lenovo put its most pleasing and premium materials up front and center where it matters the most.

The Flex 6 also features smallish bezels, at least on the top (10.5 mm) and left and right sides (8.8 mm). But I recommend not looking to closely at the even smaller bezels you can find as you move up in the price sheet. And that bottom bezel is over an inch tall, a victim of the industry’s sad use of 16:9 displays. Oh, to have that wasted space back.

Display

Speaking of the display, it’s on the lackluster side. It’s a Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS panel, but it throws only 250 nits of light. That’s a very low number, and the Flex 6 display is indeed one of the dimmer panels I’ve used recently. Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly usable, and the glossiness of the panel really helps. But you’ll find yourself keeping it at or near its topmost brightness setting, and that can impact battery life.

That said, the display sports both multitouch and smartpen capabilities, and given the price range of the Flex 6, it’s a perfectly reasonable compromise. Which, again, is the point here.

Components and ports

Internally, the Flex 6 is outfitted with modern components. Or, at least it can be. My review unit, for example, came with a quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5-8250U processor, dedicated NVIDIA MX130 graphics, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of PCIe-based SSD storage.

But you can scrimp and find configurations with a 7th-generation Intel Core i37130U or a Pentium 4415U, integrated graphics, 4 GB of RAM, and less storage. There’s even a 1366 x 768 non-IPS display option. My advice is to skip these low-end components, though I understand why the $470 starting price I see today on Lenovo’s website might be compelling. My review, and any recommendations I make here, are both based solely on the Core i5 review configuration.

And on that note, I was impressed with the performance of this PC, both in real-world use and in my video encoding benchmark. The Flex 6 encoded the 4K video Tears of Steel to 1080p/30fps using Handbrake in just 1:06, finishing neck-and-neck with the far more expensive and otherwise impressive MateBook X Pro.

The noise and heat level were as expected: The fans kick in from time to time, but not in any objectionable way.

Externally, the Flex 6 shines. It offers 2 full-sized USB 3.0 ports, 1 USB-C port, 1 full-sized HDMI port for video-out, a 4-in-1 smart card reader, and the standard combo headphone jack. You’ll note that the USB-C port is not Thunderbolt 3-compatible, but that is acceptable at this price range. (And I don’t think a lot of Flex 6 customers are going to complain about the device’s inability to drive two external 4K displays at 60 Hz.) The Flex 6 uses a proprietary power plug instead of relying on USB-C.

It also provides a nondescript 720p webcam (with no privacy shade, naturally), and excellent dual Harman speakers with surprisingly rich and spatial Dolby Audio Premium sound. We must have suddenly shifted into a golden age of laptop audio, and while the Flex 6’s output can’t quite match the quality of the MateBook X Pro’s quad speaker setup, it’s still really impressive. It gets loud, and it doesn’t distort as you blast it even louder.

Finally, the Flex 6 ships with a Windows Hello-compatible fingerprint reader, similar to that on Lenovo’s ThinkPad products, a nice touch.

Keyboard, touchpad, and pen

With its ThinkPad-like scalloped keys, the Flex 6 offers a great typing experience. It doesn’t offer the “peekaboo” hideaway keyboard functionality of the far more expensive ThinkPad X1 Yoga, but then I wouldn’t expect such a thing at this price point. (And let’s face it, few will even use this PC in stand/presentation mode—where the keyboard is underneath the device—anyway.)

The touchpad is mylar-surfaced rather than glass, another concession to cost. But it is a precision touchpad, meaning that it can take full advantage of Windows 10’s gestures and doesn’t require any third-party configuration software. Also, I had no issues in use, and while there is a slightly detectable difference in feel to a real glass touchpad, I found that it worked well.

The Flex 6 is compatible with Lenovo’s $50 Active Pen, but this peripheral does not come with the PC. It provides 2048 levels of sensitivity, but no tilt. And because there’s no integrated holder inside of the PC, you will need to use a USB-based holder which blocks the power button. That’s not very elegant, but most Flex 6 customers will probably never even consider buying a pen. Those that do will need to deal with Wacom’s configuration software, too.

Portability

Designed more for lugging around the home than for the jet-setting executive, the Flex 6 delivers as expected from a portability perspective.

That is, it’s a bit on the heavy side, at 3.5 pounds vs. a bit over 3 pounds for the ThinkPad X1 Yoga I’m also reviewing. And a bit thick, at 17.6 mm (.69-inches), vs. 17.05 mm (.67-inches) for the X1. But that’s the compromise: The Flex 6 starts can be had for as little as one-third the price of an entry-level X1 Yoga.

Battery life, unfortunately, was a bit disappointing, with the Flex 6 providing just 7 hours and 6 minutes of life on my Wi-Fi streaming HD video test. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a result that low: The 2018 ThinkPad X1 Carbon hit 10:34 on this same test, and the Huawei MateBook X Pro landed at almost exactly 10 hours.

That said, one needs to consider the normal use cases for such a device: Most Flex 6 customers will likely use this PC in home and home office scenarios where battery life isn’t as important.

Software

While Lenovo continues to set the bar for unobtrusive software bundles on its ThinkPad products, its consumer offerings are a bit busier.

Yes, you still have to deal with the crapware and advertising that Microsoft provides with Windows 10 Home. And as with ThinkPads, a Lenovo Vantage app provides driver updates, troubleshooting, and support.

Beyond that, Lenovo adds a unique Dolby app for the sound system (which seems reasonable until you find the related and redundant Realtek Audio Console app), a Dropbox offer, a Lenovo App Explorer (because we need another app store), something called LenovoUtility (which doesn’t appear to do anything but is keyboard-related), and, if you did get an Active Pen, the Wacom configuration app. Ugh.

Unfortunately, this is the way the PC industry is going, where only those who can afford to pay more can get a cleaner (if not fully clean) Windows 10 software image.

Pricing and configurations

Lenovo prices the Flex 6 at $470 to $800 depending on configuration.

That entry-level price will net you a Pentium processor, integrated graphics, a 1366 x 768 display, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of PCIe-based SSD storage. That same configuration, but with a 7th Generation Intel Core i3-7130U processor, costs $600.

The review unit, with its quad-core 8th generation Core i5 processor, discrete graphics, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage, costs $800. I strongly recommend sticking with this configuration, though I didn’t test the other, less capable offerings.

I don’t have a lot of recent midmarket PC reviews under my belt for comparison purposes. But a comparably configured Surface Pro, with its smaller display and previous-generation dual-core processor, costs $1260 including a type cover. A comparable but less versatile Surface Laptop costs $1100. And if you want to stick with Lenovo, the ThinkPad L480 I’m now reviewing, configured similarly, would cost about $1150. That’s what budget pricing looks like in the ThinkPad lineup.

Recommendations and conclusions

While the Lenovo Flex 6 may seem unexceptional compared to many of the laptops I usually review, that view is skewed. PC makers routinely ship their best and most expensive products to reviewers who are only too happy to hand out rave reviews for these unobtainable products. So I salute Lenovo for reaching out to me with this mid-market product, which I feel offers an excellent value for the money.

Indeed, this is the type of PC I would buy myself: At well under $1000, the Flex 6 provides exactly the performance and flexibility I need, and it does so for hundreds less—usually, many hundreds less—than the competition. As such, the Flex 6 is recommended, assuming you can live with its somewhat dim display and mediocre battery life.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Versatile design
  • Excellent value
  • Surprisingly strong performance
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Active Pen support

Cons

  • Dim display isn’t ideal for productivity work or tablet use
  • Display is 16:9
  • Mediocre battery life
  • Too much unnecessary software

 

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