Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 Convertible Ultrabook Review: An Affordable Convertible
Introduction and Design
Contortionist PCs are a big deal these days as convertible models take the stage to help bridge the gap between notebook and tablet. But not everyone wants to drop a grand on a convertible, and not everyone wants a 12-inch notebook, either. Meanwhile, these same people may not wish to blow their cash on an underpowered (and far less capable) Chromebook or tablet. It’s for these folks that Lenovo has introduced the IdeaPad Flex 14 Ultrabook, which occupies a valuable middle ground between the extremes.
The Flex 14 looks an awful lot like a Yoga at first glance, with the same sort of acrobatic design and a thoroughly IdeaPad styling (Lenovo calls it a “dual-mode notebook”). The specs are also similar to that of the x86 Yoga, though with the larger size (and later launch), the Flex also manages to assemble a slightly more powerful configuration:
The biggest internal differences here are the i5-4200U CPU, which is a 1.6 GHz Haswell model with a TDP of 15 W and the ability to Turbo Boost (versus the Yoga 11S’ i5-3339Y, which is Ivy Bridge with a marginally lower TDP of 13 W and no Turbo Boost), the integrated graphics improvements that follow with the newer CPU, and a few more ports made possible by the larger chassis. Well, and the regression to a TN panel from the Yoga 11S’ much-appreciated IPS display, which is a bummer. Externally, your wallet will also appreciate a $250 drop in price: our model, as configured here, retails for just $749 (versus the $999 Yoga 11S we reviewed a few months back).
You can actually score a Flex 14 for as low as $429 (as of this writing), by the way, but if you’re after any sort of respectable configuration, that price quickly climbs above the $500 mark. Ours is the least expensive option currently available with both a solid-state drive and an i5 CPU.
Design and Portability
The IdeaPad Flex is certainly larger and heavier than its Yoga counterparts, weighing in at 4.07 lbs. versus the Yoga 11S’ 3.02 lbs. But it also feels sturdier; yes, it’s primarily comprised of plastic (with only the slick black brushed aluminum of the palmrest standing as an exception), but it’s well-constructed for a notebook lacking a metal frame. There’s still a small degree of flex when pressure is applied directly downward on the base unit or in a twisting motion, but it’s nothing disturbing. And the display lid—in contrast with that of the Yoga 11S—seems at least somewhat sturdy, with only torsion resistance leaving something to be desired. In everyday use, it shouldn’t be a problem.
The low-key grey-and-black coloring and uncluttered surfaces also manage to evade the look of discount styling, with the only chintzy choice being the shiny black plastic display bezel, which—doubtful we even need to say so—absolutely adores fingerprints. This is to say nothing of ergonomics, of course, which we’ll cover in much greater detail in the next section.
The signature feature of the Flex 14 remains the ability to rotate the display nearly 300 degrees backward to accommodate using the device in “Stand Mode”, which is essentially akin to operating a tablet with a stand. Making this possible are the side-mounted hinges, which do a good job of firmly supporting the display and do not allow any sort of vibration or wobble in the face of heavier typing.
Also returning is the small rubber lip around the perimeter of the bezel (to protect the plastic-covered touchscreen while closed), as well as the raised shelf surrounding the keyboard, though it doesn’t retain its purpose as a platform on the Flex. That’s because—unlike the Yoga models—while in Stand Mode, two raised rectangular platforms at the top of the base unit double as feet for the notebook, working alongside two smaller triangular rubber feet near the bottom to keep it propped up off the surface at a slight angle. This seems to work better, and it also allows Lenovo to choose the aforementioned brushed metal for the palmrest as opposed to being limited to rubber.
Another problem solved by the addition of the rubber feet is the operation of the edge-mounted buttons while in Stand Mode. On the Yoga, we had trouble using them when the base unit was flat again the surface, but having the base elevated slightly rectifies this. You’ll find the same assortment of hardware control buttons—Power, Volume Up/Down, Lenovo OneKey Recovery—lining the notebook’s left and right edges. Alongside them is a slightly wider selection of ports as well, though not much: the Flex 14 adds just a single USB 2.0 port (for a total of two USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 ports) and a 10/100 Ethernet port to the repertoire of available connections (versus the Yoga 11S).
Maintenance is once again a bit of an afterthought, with a total of sixteen screws securing the bottom panel of the notebook. The good news is that once that’s finished, nearly every major component is immediately accessible. This is in contrast to the Yoga 11S, which requires removal of the rubber feet, keyboard, and top panel to access the innards.