Ahead of Microsoft’s May education event, Lenovo is flexing its Chrome OS muscle with the launch of the new Flex 11 Chromebook. The Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook is a 2-in-1 device with a 360-degree rotating hinge, allowing the laptop to be used in a number of different modes. Billed as a mainstream consumer device, the Flex 11 comes loaded with Google’s Chrome operating system, support for the Google Play Store to run Android apps and comes with a sturdy and durable device that makes this lightweight computer a good fit for the home and classroom environments.
The Flex 11 comes with an 11.6-inch multi-touch IPS display and the 360-degree hinge allows users to switch between laptop, tablet, tent and media modes. The touchscreen will be beneficial for running Android apps from the Play Store, but unlike the rival Samsung Chromebook Plus, this device doesn’t come with support for an active digitizer, a move likely made to keep costs low.
Samsung’s model, which offers a similar 360-degree hinge, retails for $449, while the Flex 11 comes in at a more affordable $279 when it launches this month.
The Flex 11 is powered by a 2.10GHz quad-core ARM processor, but Lenovo did not specify the exact processor model in its release. Lenovo claims that the processor is specifically engineered to work well with apps from both the Chrome web store and Google Play Store. The company promises that you’ll get good performance with the mobile CPU, even when running touch apps, interactive games and playing HD videos. We’ll have to wait for a review unit to see how the Flex 11 performs when it’s saddled with a number of apps downloaded from the Play Store.
Because of the durable design, the Flex 11 will be a good fit for the education environment. While not considered a rugged machine, the drop-resistant design and spill-proof keyboard means that the Flex 11 will compete well against Dell’s education-targeted Chromebook 11 and Chromebook 13 models. The Flex 11 has an advantage over Dell’s Chromebooks in that Lenovo brings a more versatile hinge to the Flex 11’s design.
Reinforced ports, a sealed touchpad and water channels beneath the keyboard will help keep the Flex 11 running smoothly, even if you spill up to one cup of water. A non-slip texture on the case helps prevent accidental drops, and the device has been tested to ensure that it can survive falls from up to 2.4 feet.
The Flex 11 weighs just under three pounds, which means it weighs about as much as an Ultrabook. At 11.65 × 8.11 × 0.83 inches, the Flex 11 is compact enough for travel, and slim enough to slip into a bag with ease. The display brightness is rated at 250 nits, with Ultrabooks typically averaging around 300 nits. This means that the screen should be readable indoors and under shaded conditions outdoors. At 250 nits, the display may struggle under direct sunlight.
A 720p webcam up top will be able to handle your video conferencing calls, including Google Hangouts.
Ports and Battery Life
Like many of Lenovo’s latest laptops, the Flex 11 relies on a USB Type-C port for connectivity and charging. Additionally, there is also a USB 3.0 Type-A port, single HDMI port, combination audio and microphone jack as well as an SD card slot for connectivity and expandability.
The Flex 11 is designed to last for an entire day, Lenovo claims. The battery is rated for 10 hours of use, so hopefully you can leave the charger at home without fear of running out of power during your day.
The Flex 11 will face competition not only against other rival Chromebooks when it becomes available for purchase this month, but also from convertible Android tablets and from Microsoft. Devices like the Lenovo Yoga Book with its built-in keyboard and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 and Google Pixel C with their add-on keyboard accessories could be seen as good alternatives to Chrome OS. Those devices, however, command a premium over the $279 Flex 11, especially when the keyboard accessories are added.
Additionally, Microsoft is slated to announce its education initiative early next month at a press event. Although details about Microsoft’s plans are not known at this time, it is speculated that the company may announce Windows Cloud, a stripped down version of Windows 10 that only runs Universal apps from the Windows Store. Windows Cloud could be seen as a lightweight version of Windows, similar to Windows RT, with a potential to take on Google’s Chrome operating system.
Additionally, Microsoft may announce updates to Office 365 to make it even more compelling for the classroom, making its Office suite more competitive against the free Google Apps that’s available on Chromebook and on on the web.
Uncertain at this time is whether Microsoft will announce new hardware for the education market at its early May press event. There has been chatter that a low-cost Surface product may arrive to succeed the Surface 3. In the past, Microsoft and its hardware partners have worked together to create low-cost Windows alternatives to Chromebooks. Lenovo’s IdeaPad 110, for example, starts at just $299 and comes with a larger 14- or 15-inch display and full Windows 10 support, making it more versatile than Chrome OS.
Additionally, at the same cost as the Flex 11, users can also opt for Lenovo’s Flex 4, which comes with the same screen size and convertible design, but is loaded with Windows 10 and an Intel Celeron processor instead of Chrome OS on an ARM architecture CPU.