If you asked me a couple of years back if I would ever buy a Chromebook, I would have kept laughing. I was of the opinion these were wannabe laptops for kids.
Recently I did buy one in an impulse though. I thought: let ‘s see if i can use this to write some stuff on the go or give it to the kid for watching some YouTube.
What is a Chromebook?
A Chromebook is an alternative to the classic laptop running Chrome OS. Chrome OS is a lightweight operating system which sits somewhere between that of a classic laptop and that of a Tablet. At first they were presented mainly as a cost-effective device for schools. They can be used with Google ‘s office alternatives, watch movies on YouTube or browse the internet. Unlike windows laptops in the same price range Chromebooks are responsive, fast and don’t need an anti-virus program running in the background.
A little history
Back in the day I worked as a salesman at an electronic store. Apart from household appliances, fridges, tv’s and all kinds of other electronics we sold computers and laptops. These mostly consisted of consumer brands like HP, Acer, Packard Bell and Asus. Most of these brands started to come with so called Netbooks around 2007. The Netbook’s purpose was to give consumers a cost-effective way to access online content. Back then we didn’t have big mobile phones with large internet contracts.
Netbooks were not known for being fast. They usually had a Celeron or Atom processor, coupled with 1 or 2GB of RAM, and a maximum of 32gb of storage space. Usually they were shipped with windows Xp and later windows 7 starter. Screen sizes typically ranged from 7 to 10″. Netbooks typically had a price between €179,- to €279,-.
Me and my colleagues usually presented them as portable devices to watch some movies, or to make notes on. There really wasn’t that much else to do with them to be honest. The things were slow and the build quality usually wasn’t that fantastic either. I noticed most people buying these mini-laptops were parents, wanting to give the kids a “my first Sony” laptop.
Death of the Netbook
Netbooks slowly died out as fewer people wanted a small and sluggish device when the normal laptops became less bulky and cheaper. Smartphones with bigger screens started to come out and people had more access to WIFI and mobile data.
The final nail in the coffin was the Tablet-rage which was started by Apples Ipad and followed by Samsung, Asus and many others.
Introduction of the first Chromebooks
A year or so after the release of the Ipad, Chromebooks started to come out. They were marketed as cheap, safe and fast alternatives for laptops in the classroom. Students did not need to rely on expensive software and there were no risks of viruses. Brands like Samsung and Acer were among the first ones to launch these devices. Unlike the Ipad a Chromebook came in a laptop design which means a keyboard was attached to the device.
The Google play store on your Chromebook
Everyone who owns an Android device is familiar with the google play store. When Google announced that Chromebooks would support apps from its play store they instantly became a lot more interesting for most people. Not all apps are optimized to be used on a Chromebook though so sometimes you wil have to manually make the screen for it larger. Most of the time though there are no issues.
The Lenovo Ideapad Flex 5 Chromebook
A challenging quest
I was looking for a portable device to be able to write some articles on the go. At first I thought of just using my wife’s windows laptop. But after taking it with me to the local library there were two major issues I had with it. It was big and bulky, and it had terrible battery life. I started to look at some smaller laptops and set myself a budget of €500,-. Of course I soon discovered there are a lot of compromises to make in this price-range. Screens are usually not that great, storage is small, keyboards are rubbish or or the build quality is just awful. Most of the time a couple of these negatives were fused together in one package.
Stumbling upon a deal that would change my mind
When browsing through some forums, websites and looking at some buying guides I stumbled upon the Lenove Flex 5 Chromebook. For €399,- it had a pretty impressive list of specifications, ill list the most important ones here:
- 13.3 inch full-HD OLED touch screen
- 100% DCPI
- 8GB of LPDDR4X ram
- Core I3-1115G4 processor
- 256GB M.2 SSD
- WIFI 802.11AX
- two USB C 3.2 Gen1 ports
- one USB A 3.2
- Bluetooth 5.1
- foldable screen (you can use it as a tablet or put it in tent mode for example)
As you can see this is a pretty impressive package for just €399,-. So i thought, lets do it. At worst case scenario I’ll just use it as a tablet replacement.
The Lenovo Chromebook in real life
The laptop, or Chromebook in this case makes a solid impression. The Chromebook is mostly made of sturdy polycarbonate material with an aluminum lid. I like the dark grayish color and compact design. On the left you can find on the of the USB-C ports, an USB-A, the headphone jack and a microSD port. on the right there is a second USB-C port and a kensington slot.
The Oled panel
This particular model comes with a Samsung Oled panel. This ensures the screen is vivid and has beautiful blacks. Watching movies on this device is a treat. There is a risk of burn in with an Oled panel, but personally I’m not that concerned as I never use any static images on my screen for prolonged periods. The screen is touch sensitive so when folding it around it can be used like a tablet.
Tablet and tent mode
Like I said, the Lenovo Chromebook can be folded flat. This way the keyboard sits on the back and is automatically disabled. You can use the Chromebook in tablet mode this way which can be handy when you are using some of the apps or streaming services on the couch. I ordered myself a Lenovo USI-pen which this device supports so I can use the pen for drawing or making notes in tablet mode. Another option is to set it in “tent” mode. I use this mode in the kitchen sometimes when I want to look at a recipe for example while cooking.
Lenovo has gotten much praise over the years for their excellent keyboards in their ThinkPad laptops. This Chromebook doesn’t have that same keyboard, but it is still among the better ones I have used on a keyboard. The keyboard has a nice travel and feel to it. There is little flex, unless you press real hard down the middle. The letters are easy to see thanks to the white print on the grey/silver keycaps. I love the fact the keyboard comes with a back-light as well. If you still want to use a separate keyboard though you could check out the Akko 3084B Plus for example. This is the wireless version of the 3084S which I have reviewed on this site.
Audio and connectivity
Audio is ok, nothing that will wow you. For casually watching a show or online conversations it will do just fine. But realistically I think most people pair their portable devices with (wireless) earphones these days. Speaking of wireless, the Lenovo IdeaPad 5 has wifi 6AX and Bluetooth 5.1 which are both not the absolute latest and greatest but still very modern. Good luck finding a portable computer for this price with WIFI 6E and Bluetooth 5.2 though.
Color saturation fix
I did find one issue though which had me concerned I had a defective panel. When watching movies on streaming services or YouTube I sometimes experienced some weird color changes. My screen would give a sudden red or green flickering, at first I thought it had something to do with my settings or the apps I used. Fortunately I found that this is a problem with the automatic display settings in Chrome that does something weird. The color saturation randomly keeps shifting. Until Google finds a fix with a software update there is a way to resolve this manually.
- type in your browser: chrome://flags
- Go to force color profile
- set this to one of the other settings that work for you instead of automatic (for me the best one was SRGB)
Chrome OS on one hand looks a lot like what you find on most tablets. There are some differences though. Chrome OS is more of a desktop oriented interface which relies on Google’s services, mostly the Chrome browser. In the Chrome browser you can, unlike the mobile version on android tablets, use plugins. Another benefit is the life expectancy. My unit will get software updates for Chrome OS until at least June 2029. With most Android tablets you can feel lucky when you get just 1 update.
One downside is the reliance on internet connectivity. When you don’t have this you can still use your downloaded files or type your text in google’s own alternatives to office but you won’t be able to acces things like Microsoft office which can only be used as an web based version on a Chromebook. This however has been no issue to me so far.
One of the updates Chrome OS received is the Phone Hub which serves as an extension for your android device. This lets you quickly switch to sites recently visited on your phone, receive notifications and quickly look at the latest shot photos.
Overall impression of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex5 Chromebook
So far I have been very satisfied with the Chromebook. For me it’s a perfect device to use on the couch, take it with me to the library or just do some casual gaming. The screen is very nice, typing on it is excellent, it’s fast, quiet and doesn’t annoy me with notifications or having to restart with every little change.
The battery life is OK, but I have seen better and occasionally I can hear the fan spin briefly. The build quality is decent enough for me but I managed to get a small dent in the aluminium top which annoys me a bit. I also wished there was a convenient way to store the optional USI pen.
Personally I am very satisfied with the Chromebook and will keep this as my portable device next to my desktop.