Lenovo have been on quite a roll this year, having recently been pegged as the number one PC manufacturer in the world. That hasn’t slowed them down either, with the company revealing their new lineup of devices a few weeks ago, and another reveal to be scheduled later this week. One of the devices that made its way to me last week was the Lenovo IdeaCentre Flex 20, a somewhat lightweight tabletop PC that is aimed towards home users.
The Flex 20 is as standard as most PCs can be, except instead of resting on a base, the device is propped up by a single hinged stand at the back, which can be adjusted for varying angles of use, or closed completely to lay the device flat. The hinge itself feels quite durable, and didn’t flex or strain when pressure was applied to it. Even when sudden direct pressure was applied to the screen, the device didn’t buckle or tip over, which is something that can easily happen in a scenario involving over-enthusiastic kids. The only downside of having to prop up the Flex 20 is that its screen will easily reflect any overhead lighting, which would be avoided if the display could stand completely upright.
Weighing in at nearly 4kg, the Flex 20 is sturdy enough to sit in one place, but thanks to it’s built in battery, it can be quickly disconnected and taken to another room. That’s right, the Flex 20 can last up to two hours when unplugged, which is more than enough time for some quick multiplayer gamer, watching videos in the garden, or following a recipe in the kitchen. Around the top of the device you have the power and volume buttons while at the side you have the power connector, headphone jack, and two USB 3.0 ports. It’s a bit disappointing that there are only two USB ports available here, as one of them is automatically taken up when you connect the dongle to use the supplied keyboard and mouse. There’s also no memory card reader, which I think would have been a great addition.
My review model came kitted out with an Intel i3 4010U processor at 1.7GHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, and integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics. These specs are the entry-level model, and you can get up to an i7 model if you wish, though of course this will be a more expensive option. I found myself wishing that I had received the i5 or i7 versions for review, because the i3 model just seemed to lag a bit too often in almost everything I was doing.
Surprisingly enough, both 3DMark and PCMark refused to run on the Flex 20. I wasn’t sure if this was down to Windows 8.1 or not, but no matter what I tried I couldn’t get either application to even start up, which was a bit of a let down. Still, even without these two benchmarks the overall performance was slightly above average – opening around 8 tabs in Chrome with mixed content started to strain on the system, and photo editing software seemed to take its own time to start up and render images. More basic applications and games worked well however, and anything that I downloaded from the Windows Store seemed to run without any issues, so it’s best keeping things lightweight unless you’ve got slightly beefier specs. And since you’re running off integrated graphics, any videogames you play will have to run at low quality settings.
Lenovo bundles a number of software titles and programs on the Flex 20, including its rather unique “Aura” interface. When launched, this gives you access to a number of apps and programs, such as games, education apps, video, music, and more. You can also log in to the Lenovo store to download more programs for the Flex 20. The interface is fairly straightforward, though it can take a number of taps before you can exit each application and return to the main menu.
The 19.5 screen on the Flex 20 sports a resolution of 1,600 x 900, which is fine for certain games, and acceptable for watching movies on. It’s sadly doesn’t support full HD resolution, which is a pity, and it’s also quite reflective and glossy, so make sure you’ve set up the Flex 20 in an area where it won’t reflect a lot of lighting or sunshine.
One serious gripe I do have with AIO PCs is how manufacturers seems to focus every bit of effort on the AIO itself, and then cobble something together when it comes down to the keyboard and mouse. Lenovo bundles a slim keyboard with the Flex 20, as well as n oddly curved mouse that you have to twist in order to use it properly. The keyboard felt a little bit cramped, and the keys were a bit too stiff for my liking. Certainly an irritating thing about the keyboard is that there’s an “Fn” key in the place of the “Ctrl” key on the lower left side, so almost every time I kept hitting the wrong keyboard combination, which was very frustrating. I would have loved it more if Lenovo included a full-sized keyboard, which in all honesty would be much better to use and be just about as wide as the Flex 20 itself. I eventually swapped out the bundled keyboard for my regular Logitech keyboard which made things a lot more comfortable.
The included mouse as well was a bit peculiar to use, and didn’t quite fit my hand very comfortably. I have to give Lenovo points for their creative design, but in terms of usability again I had to eventually swap out the bundled mouse for a more comfortable wired one.
It’s a bit weird talking about battery life when reviewing a PC, but as mentioned before what makes the Flex 20 so special is that you can unplug it and take it around the house for around two hours or so. On a full charge, I ran a 720p video file on loop with Bluetooth and Wifi on, and was able to get about 1hr 42 minutes before the power adapter was required. So essentially you could watch a movie comfortably in the house somewhere without needing to rush for the charger (unless it’s Lord of the Rings).
The Flex 20 remained cool and quiet regardless of what I was doing, a trait that not all AIOs share.
It’s easy to see how the Flex 20 would fit into a home environment. Do some basic office work on a desk, lay it down flat on the floor to play games with your kids, carry it to the bedroom to watch a movie before bed, and prop it back on your desk for a Skype call. The possibilities with the Flex 20 are many, but sadly its occasional performance issues are hard to ignore. It would have been nice if Lenovo had used an SSD instead of a regular hard drive to help alleviate some of the slowdowns, but this may have driven up the cost of the device. Still, the Flex 20 is a great device for multiplayer family fun without being tied down by cables or controllers.