It’s been 10 years since Google introduced the first Chromebook. The CR48 was a hot little number in terms of design, though under-powered by todays standard. Since Google launched them, manufacturers have taken the Chromebook concept and really run with it, especially over the last year with COVID-19 and a combination of work/school from home sending demand skyrocketing.
The Lenovo Ideapad Flex 5 i5 Chromebook is priced at $1,299 making it a more premium option for Chrome OS users in Australia. There’s few options at this end of the market, but with Chrome OS improving functionality, manufacturers have finally started bringing higher end devices to Australia.
The Ideapad Flex 5 comes with a 10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G1 processor, 8GB RAM and 128GB of onboard storage all powered by a battery capable of 10 hours of use and charged by USB-C.
There’s a large 13-3-inch FHD WVGA touchscreen with 360-degree hinge which lets you use it as a laptop, tablet, in tent mode or any number of configurations.
I’ve been using the Ideapad Flex 5 i5 Chromebook for a couple of weeks now – and here’s how it went.
In terms of design, the Lenovo Ideapad Flex 5 feels decently solid in design with a mix of metal and plastic for the lid and body making it both durable and lightweight.
The display on the Ideapad Flex 5 is good, though can leave a little to be desired in terms of brightness when you head outside, or sit next to a window.
There is a decent bezel surrounding the screen which aids in reducing phantom touches when in tablet mode, and a 720p webcam mounted above. As webcams go, this is pretty average with a washed out fuzzy result, though the subject matter didn’t help 😉. The built-in microphone operates pretty well though. Lenovo has also included an LED which lets you know when the webcam is in use, as well as a privacy cover which lets you disable it physically with the flick of a switch.
The display is touch sensitive, and works quite well responding quickly to touches in both laptop and tablet modes – and every other mode in between. The hinge Lenovo uses is top notch, letting you effectively position the display at any angle, without having to worry about it slowly changing position.
For anyone who spends a lot of time typing, the Ideapad Flex 5 Chromebook has a decently firm keyboard which doesn’t have a lot of travel in the keys, and a comfortable spring back that makes it easy to type on. There’s also the benefit of having the keyboard backlit if you need to work in low-light conditions.
The trackpad is also well made and more importantly responsive, supporting multi-function touches and gestures – three finger swipe up lets you create new desktops!
Either side of the keyboard are speaker grilles, with the speakers aimed upwards and at you for a more direct sound. The speakers are rated at 2W, so while they won’t rock your world you will still get a decently clear sound out of them.
In terms of performance, the combination of an i5 processor and 8GB of RAM is a near perfect trade-off between performance and price. The 10th Gen i5 processor runs smoothly, and given the ability of Chrome to eat as much RAM as available thanks to my leaving large number of tabs open, 8GB is definitely worth it.
Despite running a fairly powerful hardware, there’s very little fan noise from the Chromebook. When surfing the web, or doing ‘normal’ day-to-day websurfing there was very little noise. It’s only when I started throwing a bit more processing – Games etc. – dat the Chromebook that you hear anything. There’s a couple of vents on the bottom of the unit for heat dissipation when the fan does kick in, but it happens so rarely that you’re in little danger of a warm lap if they do kick in.
For storage, I tend to find 128GB of on-board storage is enough for most things – at least until I started looking into functionality – which we’ll get to shortly. There is a microSD card slot on board which lets you expand the on-board storage, or you can integrate with cloud storage vendors in the Files app for a pretty seamless experience.
Lenovo includes a pretty decently sized battery in the Ideapad Flex 5 Chromebook capable of up to 10-hours of battery life. In my tests I averaged around 9 to 10.5 hours of battery life, depending on what I was doing. For basic web browsing I was able to eke out a little more but when I attempted to push the limits, it still responded fairly well.
Charging through the USB-C port(s) is also relatively easy, and fast with a full charge coming in around an hour and a half in my testing.
There are a number of connectivity options with the Ideapad Flex 5, including two USB-C ports, a USB-A port, combo audio jack (mic+Headphones) and microSD card slot, with WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5 on-board for wireless connections.
I’d like to see more USB-A ports, but given they’re disappearing from most laptops it’s a bonus that it has one at all.
Chromebooks run Chrome OS – it’s the Google Chrome browser most people know and love, but writ large and running a laptop.
Chromebooks are self-updating. Google updates Chrome every 4 weeks – it used to be every 6 weeks, however they recently announced the process was speeding up. Updates are applied in the background, then when you restart the Chromebook, the updates are applied automatically so there’s no waiting at boot for updates to apply.
Using Chrome OS you get all the useful features of the Chrome browser you love – synced passwords and bookmarks, and loads more.
For the 10-year anniversary of Chromebooks, Google announced a bunch of new features which are going live across Chromebooks now.
New features announced include an advanced Screen Capture tool for recording your screen or taking screenshots. There’s also a new Phone Hub to link your phone to your Chromebook, and let you access your phone and respond to your SMS messages, check your battery, or even locate your phone if you need. Google has also revamped the clipboard so it now stores up to 5 items which can include screenshots/recordings, files and recent downloads.
Functionality wise, these base updates add a large amount to the range of what Chromebooks can do – but that’s just scratching the surface. Chromebooks offer a lot more functionality these days thanks to the integration of Android apps through Google Play, and full-blown Linux support.
I’ve been using Chrome OS for some time now and beyond video editing – which there are options – I’ve found little that can’t be done in a browser.
Android Apps/Google Play
Google began offering Android apps on Chrome OS in 2016, so it’s not a new feature to install the latest Android games and apps on your Chromebook.
The experience of Android apps on Chromebooks vary, some are great but you’ll definitely hit apps or games which don’t really handle running on Chrome OS that well. The convenience you get from having access to this wide repository of apps expands the functionality of what Chromebooks can do a good deal though, and it’s worth having them around.
Getting a bit nerdy for a second, Chrome OS is essentially built on top of Linux, and while Chrome OS had the ability to run a Linux Chroot – Crouton – alongside Chrome OS, there’s now full Linux support in Chrome OS.
Linux support isn’t enabled by default, but it’s easily enabled in settings and having Linux apps able to be installed on your Chromebook opens up a LOT of possibilities.
Using Linux I can install a very complete Development environment, or getting a bit more consumer friendly I can install the Linux version of VLC or other apps, I can install GIMP, Minecraft (Java Edition) or even a full on version of Steam which then lets me install the Linux version of games on my Chromebook – yes, you read that right. I played Tomb Raider, Command and Conquer (remastered) and many more games from my Steam library on the Chromebook – and they ran decently well.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a gaming PC, but it can play desktop games – and for anyone, that’s some great functionality.
Should you buy it?
Ask most people if you should buy a $1,299 Chromebook and the answer is no, but I’m in the heck yes category.
Chromebooks haven’t gotten the best reputation in Australia. Just try asking a sales assistant about them at your local electronics store. Most will tell you they’re under-powered, or have limited functionality – both misconceptions are extremely outdated, especially when you consider the specs on the IdeaPad Flex 5 i5 Chromebook and the expanded functionality of Chrome OS.
The average consumer spends most of their time in a browser which makes Chrome OS a great option for most users. The Ideapad Flex 5 i5 Chromebook though offers a more premium option for Aussies looking for a more powerful Chromebook.
It’s got power, portability and it looks pretty good to boot. You can find the Ideapad Flex 5 Chromebook from $1299 from JB Hifi, Big W or Officeworks.