Lenovo Flex 20 review: A frill-free 20-inch tabletop PC for less

There was some occasional sluggishness in using the on-screen controls. That might be because of the slower Core i3 processor included here, although many functions, particularly anything with the highly optimized Windows 8 tile interface, was fast and responsive.

Lenovo Flex 20
Video None
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery
One difference between tabletop PCs and more traditional all-in-one desktops is the lack of ports and connections in the former. In this case, connectivity options are surprisingly narrow, with only two USB 3.0 ports -- no SD card, no video output, etc. Even worse, if you use the included wireless keyboard and mouse, one of those two USB ports gets eaten up by the receiver.

The single Intel Core i3 configuration currently for sale doesn't offer any upgrade options, which is a shame, as it holds the system back from being more potentially useful as an all-purpose family PC. The newly discounted $750 price seems fair, at least, and this is the least-expensive tabletop PC you'll find.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In our performance testing, the system performed as expected, running a bit slower in our benchmarks than similar products with more powerful Core i5 processors. In hands-on use, it was a bit of a mixed bag, depending on the exact task or application running. The main Windows 8 tile interface and Internet Explorer, remain incredibly well-optimized for nearly any hardware, and feel very smooth. Simple games, such as Microsoft's own Halo: Spartan Assault, also ran fine.

Other apps ran into some occasional lag and delay, especially on launch. Lenovo's own Aura interface -- essentially a software overlay with radial fingertip menus for use in tabletop mode -- stuttered more than a few times, and may be better suited for PCs with more RAM and a better CPU.

For everyday Web surfing, communication, social media, and video viewing, the basic Core i3 should be fine, but I'd be hesitant to make this my mission-critical, all-day, every day PC.

Battery life is less important to these big 20-inch systems than a small, portable laptop, as they might move from room to room, but you'll likely never be too far from an outlet. In our video playback battery drain test, the Flex 20 ran for 3:17. That's long enough for movie night, or a board game session, but both the HP and Dell tabletop PCs ran longer.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
Tabletop PCs, a term not yet used as widely as it should be to describe this style of computer, are a lot of fun, and a strong potential growth area as buyers decide what the family PC of the future should look like.

Lenovo's version breaks no new ground -- it's not the fastest, largest, thinnest, or longest lasting. But thanks to some post-launch price adjustments, it is the least expensive. The real hook for this product over the competition is Lenovo's excellent Aura software interface, plus the sold-separate accessories, including air hockey paddles and wireless e-dice. But if you're looking for the ultimate tabletop PC, wait for the next version of Lenovo's 27-inch Horizon model, coming later in 2014.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Multimedia multitasking (iTunes and Handbrake)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Video playback battery drain test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

System configurations

Lenovo Flex 20 Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i3 4010U; 4GB1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1748MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive

Dell Inspiron 23 Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700MQ; 12GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB AMD 8690A Graphics; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Dell XPS 18 Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.8GHZ Intel Core i5-3337U; 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000 embedded graphics chip; HD1 32GB SSD HD2 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive

HP Envy Rove 20 Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i3 4010U; 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000 embedded graphics chip;1TB SSHD hard drive

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Lenovo IdeaCentre Flex 20

Part Number: 57318377

MSRP: $1,099.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

About The Author

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of laptops, desktops, and Windows tablets, while also writing about games, gadgets, and other topics. A former radio DJ and member of Mensa, he's written about music and technology for more than 15 years, appearing in publications including Spin, Blender, and Men's Journal.