Last year’s Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook was and still is one of our top picks for the category, primarily because it was a bargain for a premium Chromebook. The 2021 Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook (the added “i” denotes an Intel chip, though 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 is mainly a move from Intel’s 10-gen Core i3 processor to an 11th-gen Core i3 that boosts performance while basically leaving battery life about the same, at nearly 11 hours in our tests. If you’re looking for a better Chrome experience at a more sensible price, the Flex 5i is a great place to start. That said, the 10th-gen model is still around and a steal at about $330.
- Excellent performance and battery life for its price
- Privacy shutter on webcam
- USB-C ports for charging on both sides
- USI pen-enabled display
- Display too dim for outside work
- USI stylus not included
- Best configuration at Costco only
The Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook starts at $450 direct from Lenovo with an 11th-gen Intel Core i3, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of 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 these days, the memory is soldered on and can’t be upgraded later. While Chrome is plenty usable with 4GB of memory, having it maxed out at 8GB will give you headroom for more demanding tasks now and in the future. The current Flex 5i isn’t available in the UK or Australia, but the 2020 Flex model is and starting at £430 and AU$649 respectively.
Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook
|Price as reviewed||$550|
|Display size/resolution||13.3-inch 1,920×1,080-pixel touch display|
|CPU||3GHz Intel Core i3-1115G4|
|Memory||8GB LPDDR4X 3733MHz (onboard)|
|Graphics||128MB Intel UHD Graphics|
|Storage||128GB PCIe SSD|
|Networking||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|
A step up for student Chromebooks
Most Chromebooks that are less expensive than the Flex 5i typically have smaller displays, all-plastic bodies and slower processors. Spending a bit more for this Lenovo is worth it because it’s simply better. The lid is covered in metal while the chassis is made from soft-touch plastic, giving it a higher-end look and feel. It is only slightly larger than 11.6-inch models like those commonly used by school districts. However, the larger 13.3-inch display here makes a big difference when scrolling through learning sites or just whenever you need to see more of your work on the screen all at once.
While the display’s color and contrast are fine, the screen is a bit dim. I found myself regularly trying to increase it beyond its max setting. This was mostly when I was using it in a bright room near a window or outside. Otherwise, the display was good enough, and it is USI (Universal Stylus Initiative) pen-enabled and will work with Lenovo’s USI Pen and others.
Above the display is a serviceable 720p webcam. The mic quality is fine, too, so you should have no trouble being seen and heard on your next Google Meet. Virtually no Chromebooks have decent 1080p-or-better webcams, which is a shame considering the increase in remote work and school. However, with the Flex 5i model, Lenovo did add a physical privacy shutter for the webcam so you can instantly block it. That’s likely more valuable for most people than a higher-resolution camera.
On the right side of the laptop are a USB-C port, volume rocker and power button, all of which can be accessed in tablet mode. But watch out, because the power button is easy to press accidentally when you steady the laptop to plug something into a port on the left side. It’s not a big deal since Chrome asks which you want to do — power off, sign out or lock — before it does anything; it’s just annoying. Lenovo did put USB-C ports on both sides, though, and you can charge the Chromebook from either.
The rest of the Flex 5 is just roundly good. The keyboard is comfortable with a pleasing snappiness to it. Plus, it’s backlit, which is something you won’t find on cheaper models. The touchpad is nothing special but gets the job done and is just big enough.
Overall performance is strong and I didn’t experience any sluggishness while working in Google Docs and Sheets, streaming video or music and doing basic photo and video edits. Battery life is pretty good, too, coming in at 10 hours, 48 minutes in our streaming video test. For more typical work use, I’d expect it to last about 6 to 7 hours before needing a charge, but it’s all going to depend on what you’re doing.
I played a couple of Android games from the Google Play store and didn’t experience any slowdowns doing that, either. And if you want to take advantage of Google’s streaming game service, Stadia, or Nvidia’s GeForce Now service, you’ll appreciate the Flex 5i’s fast Wi-Fi 6 support (though you’ll likely 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 regularly. Cheaper Chromebooks can certainly help you get your work done right now. The Flex 5i’s features and performance should keep you going longer, though, and for only a little more money.