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First, the good. The Flex 5 has a much nicer chassis than many other Chromebooks you’ll see in this price range — it’s actually one of the better-built Chromebooks I’ve used this year. Though the bottom is made of plastic, it’s far from the cheap-looking fare that’s commonplace among budget laptops. (No huge plastic bezels around the screen either.) The keyboard deck has a soft-touch texture that’s quite smooth and doesn’t pick up a ton of fingerprints despite its dark color.
As a consequence, the device looks a lot better than your average laptop-cart Chromebook. It certainly looks more modern than
It is, however, a bit on the large side as 13-inch Chromebooks go, at 0.7 inches thick and a weight just under three pounds. (It’s just slightly lighter than the Spin 713.) That makes it a bit heavy to hold as a tablet for long periods of time, and you’ll want something smaller if you’re looking for a device you won’t notice in your backpack. Still, it’s quite portable, and far from anything I’d describe as heavy.
The keyboard is a highlight of this device for me. The keys are backlit (not a guarantee at this price point) and look sleek against the black deck. It’s comfortable, with 1.4mm of travel, without being too loud. The touchpad is also an easy click and quite accurate, though it’s on the rough side texture-wise.
The 1920 x 1080 display is crisp and vivid. It also has stylus support, though a pen isn’t included. It is noticeably blurrier than the Spin 713’s higher-resolution panel, however. It’s also not the brightest screen around, maxing out at 250 nits, and I did see glare here and there while I was working during the day. And I’m not a fan of its 16:9 aspect ratio — Chromebooks that use 3:2 or 16:10 displays are able to cram noticeably more screen real estate into a smaller chassis.
The 720p webcam is surprisingly usable. It delivers a picture that’s grainy but accurate, even in low-light settings. There’s a physical shutter, though it’s very tiny and hard to see. I couldn’t make it out unless I leaned very close to the webcam, and generally just felt around for it.
If you’ll be making a lot of video calls, though, you should note that the audio isn’t great. Sound comes from two 2W front-facing speakers on either side of the keyboard. My songs got loud enough, but everything aside from vocals (and especially the percussion) was thin and tinny.
My Flex 5 review unit has an Intel Core i3-10110U, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC storage. (Per Amazon, its MSRP is $429.99, but it’s currently listed at $341.95.) The base model,
I was surprised by how well my Flex 5 unit performed. The Core i3 flies. I saw no visible sluggishness or slowdown, even when I was running multiple programs like Adobe Lightroom and Google Photos on top of a heavy load of Chrome tabs and Android apps. The experience wasn’t noticeably different from that of using the Spin 713 with a Core i5 and an SSD (though it may make a difference for you if you’re running Linux or using heavier apps).
Chrome OS ran just fine on this device. Features like multiple sign-in (which allows you to switch between two accounts without signing in and out) and tablet mode (which has Android-esque gestures for easily switching between windows and apps while you’re using the Flex as a tablet) didn’t give me any trouble. Most of the apps I usually use (primarily Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Gmail, Spotify, and Notepad) are serviceable these days on Chrome OS, though they still don’t offer a ton of benefit over their browser counterparts. Strangely, Slack — the Android app I complain about the most — was not available for this device.
The Flex 5’s fans were usually running during my usual multitasking work (generally utilizing around a dozen Chrome tabs and an app or two). They were quiet enough that it wasn’t bothersome, but I did hear them (alongside some tiny coil whine) if I put my ear to the keyboard. Fortunately, they succeeded in keeping the chassis cool — the bottom was often toasty, but never so hot that I couldn’t keep the device on my lap.
Battery life, however, was a disappointment. I averaged just over five and a half hours of consistent work with the screen at 50 percent brightness, running some trials with a bunch of Android apps and some just with Chrome. That’s the worst result I’ve seen from any recent Chromebook — the Spin 713 averaged seven hours and 29 minutes, and that still wasn’t a great result for the category. The Flex also took a while to charge. The 45W adapter took an hour to juice the laptop’s battery up to just 54 percent with light Chrome use.
Many of the sentences in this review have had “but” at the end. That’s because almost everything about the Flex 5 is acceptable… with some caveats. And that’s a fair way to describe my feelings about this Chromebook: acceptable with caveats. For a maximum of $429.99, that’s enough to earn it my recommendation as a solid midrange purchase — especially since it handles my workload as well as any premium Chromebook I’ve tested recently without frying itself.
To put into perspective how low that price is: the Core i3 model of the Chromebook Spin 713 (with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage)
The most significant benefit most people will get from the extra money is extra battery life and storage — but better displays (especially the Spin’s 3:2 aspect ratio), better speakers, and better ports will be a big help to some users as well. But if you’re wed to the sub-$500 price point, you’re unlikely to find better build quality, with a better keyboard and a better port selection, than the Flex 5, in either the Chromebook or Windows spheres. Premium Chromebooks with chassis to rival those of premium Windows laptops have been on the rise for a few years now, and it’s nice to see that trend extending to lower-priced devices as well.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge