X

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

The specs won't wow you, but this is the least-expensive way to get a family friendly 20-inch tablet/all-in-one hybrid.

ackermandan-square
Dan Ackerman
ackermandan-square

Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

See full bio
8 min read

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

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.

Lenovo_Flex_20_35827160_03.jpg
7.4

Lenovo Flex 20

The Good

The <b>Lenovo Flex 20</b> offers a big, battery-powered screen for less than the competition, plus a very handy custom software interface for tabletop mode.

The Bad

The screen resolution is low, the CPU underpowered, and the battery not very long-lasting.

The Bottom Line

It costs less than some other tabletop PCs, but the Lenovo Flex 20 can still be a very good family-style household computer if you don't mind the lower-end specs.

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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
Price $749 $929 $1,399
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
Optical drive None None None
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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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

Lenovo_Flex_20_35827160_03.jpg
7.4

Lenovo Flex 20

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Battery 7