Add another to the small-but-growing list of tabletop PCs. The Lenovo Flex 20 is a middle-of-the-road, 20-inch battery-powered screen with a kickstand, making it half-tablet, half all-in-one. It's thinner and lighter (at 7.7 pounds) than some of the initial tabletop systems, such as the HP Envy Rove 20, but still bigger and heavier than the 18-inch Dell XPS 18.
While there's nothing extraordinarily different about the Flex 20, it has benefited from some post-holiday price adjustments. The original pitch when we previewed the system back in September 2013, was a 20-inch tabletop with a mainstream Core i5 processor for around $900. The Flex's initial release, near the end of 2013, dropped the CPU to a Core i3 (the only configuration currently available), and shaved a bit, but not enough, off the price.
However, as of January 2014, the Flex 20 is available from both the Lenovo online store and retailers such as Best Buy for $749. That feels like a very reasonable entry point to the very interesting world of tabletop PCs, especially as this system includes a wireless mouse and keyboard, and Lenovo's custom Aura software interface, which kicks in automatically when the Flex is set down flat.
You're not getting a particularly high-end configuration, to be sure. The Core i3 CPU is coupled with a 4GB of RAM and a standard 500GB HDD, plus the screen (really 19.5-inches diagonally) has a lower 1,600x900 resolution than other tabletop PCs.
Sony's Vaio Tap 21 goes Core i5, plus a full 1080p screen for $899, and Dell's 18-inch XPS 18 offers similar specs to the Flex 20, plus a 1080p screen, for $799. Between those, I'd say the XPS 18 is my favorite hardware design, but Lenovo's Aura software is excellent, and makes the tabletop argument better than anyone else.
|Lenovo Flex 20||HP Envy Rove 20||Dell XPS 18|
|Display size/resolution||20-inch, 1,600x900 touch screen||20-inch, 1,600x900 touch screen||18-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen|
|PC CPU||1.7GHz Intel Core i3-4010U||1.7GHz Intel Core i3-4010U||1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U|
|PC Memory||4GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||4GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1748MB Intel HD Graphics 4400||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Storage||500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive||1TB, solid state hard drive||500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive, plus 32GB SSHD|
|Networking||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n/ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 Pro (64-bit)|
Design and features
Most of the tabletop systems we've seen follow a similar design philosophy. Rounded corners, often with a chrome trim; a thick, black screen bezel; and a body that tapers slightly toward the back, keeping the form from being too slab-like.
The Lenovo Flex 20 follows this pattern exactly, but adds a distracting orange "ideacentre" logo to the lower-right corner of the system's face. The back of the unit is covered with matte aluminum, which closely matches the similar finish on the included keyboard and mouse.
Interestingly, the Windows button, which takes you back to the Windows 8 tile interface, is a physical inset button on the Flex 20, while most other Windows 8 tablets and hybrids use a capacitive touch button.
The main physical traits that separate a tabletop PC from an all-in-one desktop are the inclusion of an internal battery for short-term portability, and a folding kickstand of some sort to prop the screen up in a more traditional position when it's not face-up on your table.
The XPS 18 from Dell has thin rubbery flippers, while the HP Rove 20 and larger Lenovo Horizon have spring-loaded U-shaped metal hinges that snap out quickly. The Flex 20 has a different design, with a single, wide paddle-like kickstand, hinged at the very bottom edge, and sitting in a recessed cavity in the lower center of the chassis when not deployed.
Pulling up on a tiny, tiny thumb-latch, the kickstand pops open, but only a tiny bit. You'll have to reach back and pull the kickstand out to its fully extended position manually. The hinge is stiff enough to stop at virtually any angle in between, but if you tap or press on the screen, it'll move under modest pressure. But for video or photo viewing, setting the screen at any angle from flat to about 85 degrees works.
Physical volume up/down buttons are on the top edge, along with a screen rotation lock (something more Windows 8 tablets should have), and a power button. Aside from that, most of your interaction will be either through the 19.5-inch touch screen or the included keyboard and mouse. Both have a plastic feel, but are fine for casual use. The keyboard copies the island-style, slightly rounded keys from Lenovo's current laptops, and includes a separate number pad and volume controls. The mouse is big and bulky, and feels like a hollow plastic shell, but at least has large left and right buttons and a substantial scroll wheel.
One note, the keyboard and mouse are neither Bluetooth, nor automatically paired with the Flex 20. Instead, they're both controlled by a single USB dongle, which must be inserted into one of only two USB ports on the system itself, eating up half your expandability. Another note -- the tiny USB receiver is hard to find (at least it was for me). It's secured to the underside of the removable battery cover on the mouse.
The 19.5-inch display is the most visible part of the Flex 20 (I'll give them the extra half-inch for the naming convention). And while the screen itself is clear and bright, it only runs at a native resolution of 1,600x900. That's a budget-minded move, period. Other tabletop PCs, and frankly most non-budget laptops with 14-inch or larger screens, are at 1,920x1,080 now, with a growing number adding even higher resolutions. However, the screen is an IPS model that looks good from nearly any angle and supports 10 simultaneous inputs.
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.