Kids drop things all the time, and they don't necessarily need a ton of performance from an education laptop. Built to withstand 2.4-foot drops and keyboard spills, Lenovo's Flex 11 is a 2-in-1 Chromebook that's strong and simple enough for the classroom. The $279 laptop is not powerful, but it's more than adequate for elementary- or middle-school homework. Discerning students may take issue with the Flex 11's shallow keyboard and below-average battery life, but its durability and low price make it an attractive option for parents and educators.
The Flex 11 has a functional design. That's my nice way of suggesting that it's darn ugly, but it can take a punch.
The lid is gray plastic surrounded by a gray rubber bumper. Lenovo's logo is written in (you guessed it) yet another shade of gray in the bottom right-hand corner. The only hint of color in the whole thing is the Chrome logo in the top left.
When you lift the lid, you'll find a 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 touch screen surrounded by a thick black bezel. There's a silver plastic palm rest below an island-style keyboard with the usual Chromebook layout (a search key instead of backspace, no function row).
Lenovo claims the Flex can survive a 2.4-foot drop. It's not very high, but it's about the height of a small schoolchild attempting to hold the device in one hand. Additionally, the laptop's keyboard is water-resistant to protect against spills.
Measuring 11.7 x 8.1 x 0.8 inches and 3 pounds, it's a fairly average size for an 11-inch education Chromebook. The Dell Chromebook 3189 is larger at 3.2 pounds and 12 x 8.2 x 0.8 inches, while the Acer Chromebook 11 N7 C731T is a lighter 2.8 pounds and 11.7 x 8.3 x 0.9 inches.
The majority of the useful ports are on the left side, including the USB Type-C port (used for charging), an HDMI output, a USB 3.0 port and an SD card slot. The right is sparser with just a lock slot, headphone jack and volume rocker.
The 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 touch screen on the Flex 11 is dim and not as colorful as I would like, but perfectly usable for most tasks. When I watched a trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming, it was hard to make out the webbing on Spider-Man's suit in a scene where he stands on a roof at night, and his red-and-blue costume isn't as bright as I would expect.
The Flex 11 covers just 73 percent of the sRGB color gamut, falling well below the ultraportable average (98 percent) and a smidge less than the Dell (81 percent), but just above the Acer (72 percent).
The colors you can see are very accurate. The Flex 11 has an excellent Delta-E score of 0.2 (0 is ideal), far lower than the average (2.7) and the Acer (1.5). Only the Dell (0.3) came close.
It's not a terribly bright display at 227 nits; the average is 286 nits, while the Acer reached 235 nits. The Dell was even dimmer at 223 nits. Despite the number, I found that with the exception of dark scenes in videos, it was still perfectly usable for simple web browsing.
Keyboard and Touchpad
I wouldn't want to do my homework on the Flex 11. The keyboard is shallow at 1.1 millimeters and requires 69 grams of force to press. The keys are made from slippery plastic, which added a few more errors than I usually get on the 10fastfingers.com typing test. I reached 95 words per minute (short of my usual 107 wpm) with a 4 percent error rate (double my usual 2 percent error rate).
The 4.1 x 2.4-inch touchpad on the Chromebook works exactly as expected, and supports Chrome's limited gestures, such as using two fingers to move forward and back in the browser and three fingers to switch tabs. The only issue I found is that it istoo stiff when pressing down to click.
The Flex 11 surprised me with its speakers; it's forcefully loud for an 11.6-inch laptop. It immediately filled our mid-size conference room when I listened to Cage The Elephant's "Cold Cold Cold." The vocals, percussion and acoustic guitars shined, although there was a bit of an echo. I could barely make out the bass at all.
Lenovo's Flex 11 uses a MediaTek MT18173C processor, and has 4GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC storage. It's enough for some basic multitasking, and I had 15 sites open in Google Chrome before I noticed a lag when switching between tabs.
On the WebGL Aquarium graphics benchmark, the Flex 11 rendered 2,000 fish at 37 frames per second. Acer's Chromebook reached 25 fps and the Dell only hit 13 fps.
Chrome OS is Google's lightweight operating system that relies primarily on the web browser of the same name. If you've used Chrome on Windows or macOS, you can use a Chromebook.
For now, most of the apps are web-based, though a few are set up to work offline, including a special version of Gmail. Eventually, Android apps will come to Chrome OS en masse, but for now, they're only on a specific few Chromebooks. The Flex 11 is scheduled to be able to use the Google Play Store, which will give it access to thousands of games and productivity programs, but there is no concrete date set.
The Flex 11 falls slightly short on battery life. It endured for 7 hours and 57 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which continuously browses the web over Wi-Fi. That's less than the ultraportable average (8:25), the Dell (9:09) and the Acer (10:38).
The 720p webcam on the Flex 11 performed OK in bright light, accurately reproducing my gray shirt and blue eyes. Some parts of my face, especially around my beard, were pixelated and the background was noisy. At a shot at my desk, the fluorescent lighting was blown out and my face appeared covered in shadow.
The Flex 11 got a little warm while we ran our heat tests. After streaming 15-minutes of HD video from YouTube, the underside measured 94.5 degrees and the center of the hinge reached 97.5 degrees, the latter of which surpasses our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Warranty and Support
The Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook is a durable 2-in-1 with enough processing power to handle multitasking for homework and research. Its screen is bland, though, and the keyboard is shallow and flat, so it's not the best to type on. If you have a bit more money, the $329 Dell Chromebook 3189 is also a durable, education-focused 2-in-1, but it lasted longer on our battery test. But for $40 in savings, the Lenovo Flex 11 keeps up with its rivals in the education space regarding performance (and surpasses its cheapest rival in Acer) with a capable 2-in-1, marred by only a few unfortunate blemishes.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/ Laptop Mag