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Boring but still the best Chromebook

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When it comes to reliable, long-lasting Chromebooks, Lenovo has been our go-to for years. Yes, the Acer Chromebook Spin 714 — and its predecessor, the Spin 713 — may be more powerful, but they’re twice the price most people want to pay for a Chromebook. The Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5i and Flex 5 before it have both offered punctual performance for much better prices. The last two generations have topped our best Chromebooks chart for years, and this one will be dethroning the two currently on that list.


This technically isn’t an entirely new laptop, as the hardware here is all but identical to the 14-inch Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook from last year, aside from an upgraded processor and the Google Titan C2 security chip. And while I do wish Lenovo had gone an extra step to help the Lenovo Chromebook Plus Flex 5i stand out, it’s hard to have any complaints about a Chromebook that works excellently, is durable enough to take a beating in your backpack, and can regularly be found under $400.

Boring but still the best Chromebook
Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook Plus

Chromebook Plus brings a small bevy of subtle improvements to what was already the best Chromebook for the masses. This no-nonsense laptop ticks all the essential boxes for an everyday laptop and does it for a reasonable price.

Operating System
Chrome OS

CPU
13th Generation Intel® Core™ i3-1315U

GPU
Integrated Intel® UHD Graphics

RAM
8GB

Storage
128 GB

Battery
Up to 10 Hours

Speakers
2 x 2W stereo speakers by MaxxAudio

Colors
Storm Grey

Ports
2x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, USB-A 3.2 Gen 1, microSD card slot, 3.5mm audio combo jack

Dimensions
19.7 x 315.5 x 229 mm

Weight
1.62kg

Price
$499

Display type
IPS

Webcam
1080p

Display dimensions
14 inches, 16:10 aspect ratio

Display resolution
1920 x 1200 pixels

Charge speed
45W USB-C Power Delivery

Wi-Fi connectivity
Wi-Fi 6E

Bluetooth
Bluetooth 5.1

Form factor
2-in-1 convertible

Stylus
USI support, no pen included

Pros

  • New features, same price
  • Upgraded chipset
  • Adequate power for regular work
Cons

  • A teeny bit heavy
  • Wish the screen was 2K
  • The bottom feet of the lid can catch some surfaces

Pricing and availability

Readily available and frequently on sale

The Lenovo Chromebook Plus Flex 5i was announced on October 1, 2023, and launched a week later, on October 8, in the United States and parts of Europe. The list price for this laptop is $500 in the United States and £499 in the United Kingdom, and for the 512GB model being sold in Germany, you’ll be coughing up €679.

That said, if Best Buy doesn’t have the Chromebook Plus Flex 5i on sale, you shouldn’t have to wait long to see it come back around. The laptop was down to $379 for Black Friday and has dropped as low as $350, a full 30% off less than three months after its launch.

Design and hardware

“She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”

If you’ve seen or held a Lenovo Chromebook in the last three years, you can skip the next three paragraphs because absolutely nothing here is new except an extra word at the end of the Chromebook branding on the lid. The lid is smooth aluminum — no texturing here like on the Lenovo Flex 3i — and the main body is plastic. Most ports are on the laptop’s left side, but you do get USB-C ports on each side for easier charging.

The backlit keyboard is flanked by stereo speakers that get impressively loud, though a bit tinny and distorted at those higher volumes. The built-in microphones sound fine for video calls if you don’t have your Yeti handy, and as per the Chromebook Plus hardware standards, the webcam sitting above the screen is 1080p rather than the (sub)standard 720p of most Chromebooks. The privacy shutter on the Flex 5i isn’t back with a small red dot but rather a full red circle to easily remind you why your screen is black when you enter that 1-on-1 with your boss.

This 2-in-1 hinge is a nice stiffness out of the box to where you can open it with one hand, but to get the angle you really want, you’ll need to use a second hand or an elbow. When folded all the way back, the Flex 5i makes for a super-heavy tablet, but I much prefer flipping it into stand mode or tent mode when playing games or scrolling through a few hundred Webtoon chapters.

The rubber feet on the back of the Lenovo Chromebook Plus Flex 5i's lid

There are precious few things to nitpick about the Flex 5i, but there’s one that drives me slightly crazy as someone who spends a lot of time using this laptop on a fabric couch with various throw blankets. With the hinge on this 2-in-1 Chromebook, the back of this laptop will partially rest on the bottom edge of the lid, and two little slightly rubberized nubs stick out on each end of the laptop to allow for a more steady platform.

They’re great when you’re using the Flex 5i at a table or desk, but they catch on clothing and woven material very easily. Those little nubs have caught on my couch cushions about half a dozen times, as well as my woven throws. It shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for anyone, but if it drives me a little crazy, it’ll probably do the same to you, too.

Display

Fine is fine, but is it too much to ask for more?

Superman Smashes the Klan comic on the Lenovo Chromebook Plus Flex 5i in tablet mode

The touchscreen here hasn’t changed from the non-Plus version of the 14-inch Flex 5i, which is to say it’s adequate but not mind-blowing. It can reach 300 nits brightness with its 16:10, 1920 x 1200 pixel multi-touch display with a glossy finish. Reflections can be a bit much outdoors on extra-sunny days, but otherwise, the Flex 5i works just fine inside or out.

Touch responsiveness for the screen has been great, with accurate and immediate reactions after browsing, working, and playing about 30 hours of Stardew Valley. That said, I really wish Lenovo could’ve stepped outside its comfort zone here to help the Flex 5i get an edge over its competitors. Especially now, when Acer’s backed off 2K touchscreens in the Spin 713 — my most-missed feature from the Spin 713 — Lenovo offering a 1440p panel would’ve given us a much-appreciated upgrade.

The Lenovo Chromebook Plus Flex 5i's screen washed out in cloudy weather

At the very least, I would’ve liked to see the maximum brightness bounce up to 400 nits. 300 nits is above the 250-nit standard for Chromebooks, but it’s the bare minimum for a visible screen by laptop standards. This photo was taken on a cloudy day, and while I could keep working, it’s still an annoyance a $500 laptop shouldn’t have.

Software and performance

Works hard, plays light, and gets everything done with ease

A Neuschwanstein Castle wallpaper on the Lenovo Chromebook Plus Flex 5i

While Chromebook Plus touts an array of new software features in its ads and product listings, 98% of the time, you will not notice any difference in performance compared to its non-Plus counterpart. That is to say, with 1-3 windows and 6-15 tabs, you won’t experience any slowdowns, especially with the tab management changes in Chrome OS this year and 8GB of RAM.

You’re not going to be doing any hardcore gaming on this Chromebook, but after almost 30 hours in Stardew Valley, it’s perfectly fine for lighter Android games and browser-based gaming. Don’t expect to crack open Steam for Chromebook and start playing Witcher or Civ VI, regardless of whether this laptop can install Steam and download games.

Coming back to the Plus-exclusive toolbox, the Flex 5i is compatible with Adobe Photoshop for Web and Adobe Photoshop Express and gives you a three-month subscription to Adobe Photoshop. More importantly, Chromebook Plus users get access to HDR and the previously Pixel/Google One-exclusive Magic Eraser in the Google Photos Android app. I stress app because it’s not available on the Google Photos website, which is unfortunate. After all, the Android app isn’t designed for keyboard shortcuts like the website.

The Lenovo Chromebook Plus Flex 5i's lid flat on a speckled table

You likely won’t realize the camera and audio control panel is even there until you get bored during your next weekly staff meeting on Google Meet or (god forbid) Teams. It can automatically run a noise cancelation filter to get the landscaping crew outside off your mic, artificially improve your lighting, and blur your background, should your platform of choice not already have this built in. Even better, it gives you camera and mic toggles on your shelf so you can mute and unmute yourself without having to snap back to the call’s tab.

The most promising Plus feature for actual knuckle-down-and-type work, File Sync inside the Google Files app, might not be available if you use too much cloud storage. This Google Drive feature on a Google operating system penalizes you if you use Google storage too much. I have 666.8 GB of Google Drive storage, and the Flex 5i’s hard drive is 128 GB, so File Sync errors out after spending the better part of half an hour checking storage space.

Battery life and charging

This workhorse laptop lasts a full workday

The USB-C, USB-A, 3.5mm and microSD ports on the Lenovo Chromebook Plus Flex 5i

On medium screen brightness, the Flex 5i lasts about 8-9 hours on a single charge, and even when set all the way up to 250 nits, it’ll hold on for 5-6 hours. On average, it tends to need a recharge around happy hour or dinner time; then, I’ll top it off overnight after working until midnight.

Lenovo ships a standard 45W USB-C Power Delivery charging brick with the Flex 5i, the same one it has had with every Chromebook for the last five years. It offers basically the same charging speed as every other 13- to 14-inch Lenovo Chromebook in the last couple years. If you run yours down until you get the warning notification — don’t be ashamed, I’m like that, too — it’ll take about an hour and a half to recharge to full. If you’re topping off when the battery is at 30-50%, it will be back to almost full at the end of your 30-minute lunch break.

Competition

It’s a crowded field, but the Flex 5i’s bang for your buck is clear

Acer Spin 714

Despite my praise of the Chromebook Plus Flex i5 feeling somewhat lackluster so far, nothing quite matches its blend of practicality and productivity. HP’s Chromebook Plus x360 14c also sports an Intel Core i3 processor and 8GB of RAM, but it runs for $700, which is just not competitive with this $500 — and, honestly, usually $380 — 2-in-1 from Lenovo.

The Asus Chromebook Plus CM34 Flip is at least the same $500 list price. It uses an AMD Ryzen 3 7320C instead of Intel, and its Ponder Blue colorway is a bit prettier than Lenovo’s Storm Grey, making me sorely wish we’d gotten the same blue for this Chromebook as the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 3i Chromebook (Gen 8). The only downside is that it’s not getting deals as frequently or as deeply.

Another classic contender in this space is the Acer Chromebook Spin 714 (2023), with an i5 rather than an i3 processor and 340 nits brightness for better visibility. The $700 list price is a bit steep, but as it’s been out months longer than the Flex 5i, it’s no stranger to deep discounts that can bring it down to $530-$570, even under $500 at times, but it’s still a significant price bump from the Flex 5i. The Spin 714 is not currently a Chromebook Plus model, but it is on the list of laptops that would be eligible to get those features in a future update. But there’s no telling when or if that update will actually take place.

Should you buy it?

The Android Police homepage on the Lenovo Chromebook Plus Flex 5i outside at Epcot

Lenovo hasn’t reinvented the wheel — in fact, it barely made any physical changes to the Chromebook Plus Flex 5i. But I’ll happily take it if it wants to save on design costs and give us more frequent price cuts instead. After all, this was already a laptop we loved, and now it comes with extra software perks for the same price. It may not be as sexy as the Pixelbooks of yore, but for working on day in and day out for months and years, the Flex 5i series has never let me down before, and the Chromebook Plus model looks ready to outlast all of its predecessors.

I’m not sure I would pay $500 for this laptop unless I needed a working laptop by tomorrow morning, as waiting a week or two will no doubt bring some kind of deal, but once it’s under $400, the Chromebook Plus Flex 5i is well worth its price tag.

Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook Plus, angled view

Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook Plus

Flashiness has its place, but for your primary laptop, you want long-lasting stability, and the sturdy Lenovo Chromebook Plus Flex 5i brings that in spades. While the Chromebook Plus benefits may seem small, they can bring some well-appreciated quality-of-life improvements to your daily computing.

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