When Google created the Chromebook line, it had yet to define a niche. It was unclear if Chromebooks were intended for casual web browsers, kids, those new to computers, or any host of other defining factors. The company tried different tactics (RIP Chromebook Pixel), but saw particular success in one area: education. The result is Chromebooks For Education, a series of Chrome OS devices that are intended to satisfy the needs of modern students while maintaining an affordable price for educational institutions.
Lenovo has actively created Chromebooks For Education products, achieving a respectable level of success. The Flex 11 Chromebook is the consumer version of the company’s education-oriented offerings. It bears the marks of its ancestry with a humble yet sturdy design and a low price that correctly matches the needs of the target market. The Flex 11 Chromebook is not a perfect device, but it has a number of strengths that make it well worth considering. Continue reading for our breakdown of the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook.
The design of the Flex 11 Chromebook is simple. Varying shades of grey make up the color scheme and the exterior of the device is made of tough plastic with an outer ring of extra-tough plastic to protect against drops and dents. The interior design is just as pragmatic. Simple plastic makes up the bulk of the design and wraps around the sealed touchpad. The keyboard is water-resistant, the hinges and ports are toughened, and the entire device is drop-resistant. Applying pressure and trying to twist yields no flex. This is a device that’s built to last.
It’s easy to see why this was made for schools. The ruggedized design ensures that the Flex 11 Chromebook can handle children’s rather careless actions with fragile electronics. The benefits extend beyond children, as adults who aren’t delicate will also appreciate the peace of mind that such a design brings.
The touchscreen display of the device is a bit deficient in visual quality, with a low 1366×768 resolution and moderate maximum brightness. Even with those flaws, the low resolution keeps things running smoothly while maintaining the sub-$300 pricetag. One aspect of the display that isn’t flawed is touch responsiveness. Accurate, quick, and able to handle 10-point multi-touch, it’s far better than we expect from a device at this price point.
As far as connectivity goes, the Flex 11 Chromebook checks the basic boxes. A 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the right side of the device, while the left holds an SD card reader, one USB 3.0 port, one HDMI port, and one USB Type-C port that’s also used for charging the device. Lenovo does include Bluetooth 4.0, so plenty of wireless accessory options are possible.
If you plan on doing a great deal of typing, you may want to try out the Flex 11 Chromebook before buying. The water resistance of the keyboard is great, with Lenovo touting that it can handle up to a full cup of water. I didn’t test it with quite that much, but it did a great job of keeping the water away from sensitive electronics. The downside is that the key travel is shallow and the keys themselves are easily pressed, making it common to press keys that you don’t intend to. It’s not a deal-breaker, and you’ll likely grow accustomed to it, but it is worth considering.
Don’t worry about the trackpad, as it is far better than the average trackpad for an inexpensive device. It’s fast, responsive, and is surprisingly accurate in following your finger. Tapping is easy as pie, and if you prefer to click, you’ll be pleasantly rewarded with a satisfying response. Scrolling gestures are fine, though pinch-to-zoom was inconsistent in my experience.
The software is standard Chrome OS, and it has the same features and limitations as other Chrome OS devices. It should be noted, however, that Chrome Beta users can try out the new option of installing Android apps. This feature is still young, so it has quirks, but it should improve as Google fleshes out the compatibility and design hiccups.
Performance is above average for a low-cost Chromebook. Lenovo is using a 2.1GHz MediaTek ARM processor and 4GB of RAM to keep things going. It works fairly well, playing HD video smoothly and maintaining simultaneous tabs without much lag. Battery life will take a hit when you’re watching video. Lenovo suggests 10 hours of battery life, which is a tad optimistic compared to actual usage. A charge generally held for about 8 hours of use, though that will drop to 5-6 hours if you’re playing video the entire time.
Lenovo’s Flex 11 Chromebook is a device that is made to work. It’s not flashy, it’s not gimmicky, and it’s certainly not making a statement. The Flex 11 Chromebook is designed to offer all the capabilities of Chrome OS in hardware that will last, and it manages to offer that at a price that makes it accessible to students and low-income individuals. The strengths of the Flex 11 Chromebook outweigh its weaknesses, and it’s worth your time to check it out, as it may be just what you’re looking for.