Lenovo looks to offer some of the utility found from its popular Yoga covetable laptop line at a more affordable price with the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14. With its 300 degree rotating display hinge design the Flex isn’t nearly as nimble as the Yoga, but the device can switch between traditional Laptop and Stand Modes with relative ease.
With its less flexible frame and modest standard resolution display the Flex 14 offers an attractive $480 starting price point. Of course that affordability quickly fades when users begin opting for more competitive specs including Intel Core processors and SSD storage options.
With the inability to transform into a tablet, the Flex offers considerably less utility than that of the Yoga. Is the price drop worth design concession? Read the full review to find out.
Build and Design
The Lenovo Flex 14 sports a soft to the touch black plastic display case. The lid cover is easy to grip, feels great and proves resistant to fingerprint marks and smudges. Metallic Lenovo lettering adorns the top left-hand corner of the display lid. The inside of the display case features a shiny black plastic finish, while a thin grey plastic strip (an orange variant is also available) outlines the outer edges of the display lid and chassis. The notebook’s deck offers a brushed aluminum finish, which is comfortably cool to the touch and sports a horizontal vertical striation design. While the aluminum deck originally offers an appealing aesthetic the finish becomes marred far easier than the more resilient lid cover.
Living up to its namesake the Lenovo Flex 14 features a flexible display hinge design. However, unlike Lenovo’s more limber Yoga line of notebooks — which can transform into a tablet– the Flex 14 can only alter between Laptop and Stand Modes. Switching to Stand Mode is easy enough; users simply bend the display back and flip the device over so that it rests with the keyboard facing downwards. Small rubber pads are located at the bottom right and left-hand corners of the deck’s face to help provide extra grip when using the device in Stand Mode.
Measuring in at 13.5″ x 9.87″ x 0.84″ and weighing in at 4lbs. the Flex 14 is more portable than the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E431(4.6lbs.), but considerably heavier than it’s more flexible counter-part the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13(3.3lbs.).
The plastic aluminum chassis combo proves sturdy as the chassis hardly gave an inch when pressure was applied. The Display case is a bit more fragile as it easily flexed when forced, though no noticeable rippling occurred on screen.
Ports and Features
The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 offers a respectable level of connectivity. The left side of the device is outfitted with a power jack, an Ethernet Connector, an HDMI connector and a USB 3.0 port. The right side of the device features a power button, two USB 2.0 ports, a 2-in-1 card reader an audio jack, and independent volume controls. The power button and volume controls on the right side of the machine are a nice touch and make it easy to control the device while in Stand mode. It would have been nice to see a VGA connector so that users with older monitors could easily connect their external displays to the Flex 14, but users deadest on connecting old monitors can opt for a HDMI to VGA dongle if needed.
Left: Power jack, Ethernet connector, HDMI connector, USB 3.0 port Right:Two USB 2.0 ports, 2-in-1 card reader, headphone jack
The Flex 14 also features voice command functionality with Nuance’s Dragon Assistant software. The software is currently in beta and works in a similar fashion to that of Apple’s Siri or Google Now. However, while those programs offer a wide array of speech functions and the ability to answer certain questions such as the score of a sports game or movie ticket times; Dragon Assistant only responds to limited set command prompts.
Launching the software will run users through a quick and easy setup process where the program is trained to recognize the users voice and speech patterns by reading a number of set phrases. Once the program has been setup, it can be accessed by clicking on the program’s Icon or by reciting the phrase Hello Dragon. After that users simply say a voice-activated command such as Launch Notepad or Search Google for Cute Puppies. While the number of phrases that Dragon Assistant knows is currently somewhat limited (around 30 prompts) the application can interact with an impressive number of features and applications. Users can set up their email and social media networks to quickly check their accounts and post new updates, as well as instantly search from a wide array of websites; including Google, Yahoo, Amazon and many more. Those who find all of these options overwhelming can also find a complete list of the available commands by simply asking what can I say?
While the hands free functionality is a nice addition to the Flex 14, users are far better off opting for normal control mechanisms. To be fair Dragon Assistant is still in beta and the software will likely improve once a retail model is released, but the current version’s utility is marred by its sluggish response times. While the software is able to directly connect to the various online accounts and networks doing so can take upwards of twenty seconds. The software is able launch programs much faster thought the speech recognition software does mess up on occasion launching random applications or taking on a completely different task all together. On more than one occasion Dragon Assistant immediately launched Bing before I was able to even give a command prompt.
Display and Sound
The Flex 14 houses a 14-inch HD LED display with 10-point Multi-touch controls. The unit that Notebook Review tested was priced at $800, for that price the device’s standard 1366 x 768 resolution display felt more than a little flat; however, the display is far more appealing at the Flex 14′s more affordable price points. That being said the glossy display still manages to provide a serviceable viewing experience recording a 168 nits brightness and offering vibrant color contrast. Text images were easy to read and the 10-point touch controls were responsive and accurate, allowing users to comfortably control the Flex 14 from Stand Mode.
The more serious issue with the display comes from its limited viewing angles. On the horizontal axis the display holds up well enough with images becoming distorted around 120 degrees. At that point images begin to fade and noticeable reflections begin to appear on the screen. This issue proves far more pronounced when moving the display along the vertical axis. Tilting the display forwards or backwards even slightly causes the display to become faded and reflective. The display’s limited viewing angles are indicative of the display’s sensitivity to light. When in heavily lit areas the display’s issues become exacerbated, as the reflective sheen can sometimes make it difficult to fully see the images on screen. Luckily the display holds up perfectly fine in normal conditions, just don’t expect strong performance outdoors or in heavily lit areas.
The Flex 14 houses two speakers located on the bottom top left and right hand corners of the chassis. Powered by Dolby Home Theater v4 software the two speakers are quite boisterous with sound levels capable of providing audio to a modestly sized room with relative ease. The two speakers also manage to provide solid audio quality as the pair was able to accurately detail an orchestral track with limited distortion at 100 percent capacity.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Lenovo Flex 14 offers an AccuType Chiclet-style keyboard. The squared keys feature a smooth plastic finish that is slippery to the touch. Luckily each key also offers an inward curve design that makes griping the keys easy despite the smooth surface area. The keyboard offers exceptional spacing for a 14″ device. Key travel distance is far more limited, but the Flex 14 makes up for that with responsive feedback as keys quickly snap back into place.
Located directly below the spacebar the Flex 14 houses an attractive touchpad that is outlined by a thin sliver metallic strip. The pad itself is devoid of mouse buttons, instead designating the bottom portion of the pad (as denoted by a small line graphic) to act as a right and left mouse buttons. Without any physical cues on the touchpad it can difficult to discern exactly where these designated portions of the pad are situated. However, users can also opt to sue the touchpad’s multi-finger gestures support with a two-finger click as a right-mouse click.
The touchpad is outfitted with a sleek rubbery surface that allows fingers to quickly travel with limited friction for added control and sensitivity. Equipped with synaptic drivers the touchpad reads swipes, clicks, and multi-finger gestures with consistent accuracy and no noticeable lag.
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