Skip to main content

Lenovo’s Flex 5G proves it’s too early to buy a 5G laptop

Lenovo’s Flex 5G proves it’s too early to buy a 5G laptop

/

And with or without 5G, this isn’t a great laptop for $1,399

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Lenovo Flex 5G
The Flex 5G looks like most of Lenovo’s sub-$1,000 laptops
Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

Lenovo’s Flex 5G has a lot to live up to as the world’s first 5G-enabled Windows 10 2-in-1 laptop. Not just that, it also needs to convince people that putting ARM-based processors in a Windows laptop is a perk, not a liability that spells incompatibility doom for those who rely on a lot of apps. No pressure.

First, let’s start with 5G. This is technically the world’s best 5G-ready laptop — only because there are currently no alternatives. As you’d expect and hope for given its $1,399 price, its support for Verizon’s ultra-wideband (UWB) mmWave 5G network means that under ideal conditions, downloads and uploads absolutely fly. But it’s only as good as Verizon’s network currently allows, and given that its low-band sub-6GHz spectrum (which this laptop also supports) won’t come until later in 2020, it takes some serious effort to find a fast connection. 

Eventually, the interplay of mmWave and sub-6GHz spectrum means the fast connection will find you, but until then, you’ll have to find it yourself. If you have to travel far out of your way just to take advantage of this laptop’s defining feature, I’d suggest skipping this laptop altogether for now.

Using this machine in range of Verizon’s 5G nodes in Brooklyn, at best, serves up connection speeds that are about twice as fast as what I get on my PC plugged in via Ethernet at home. On average, I got around 500Mbps download speeds and 50Mbps upload (note: Verizon still pushes uploads through its LTE network). I never hit gigabit speeds like my colleague Chris Welch did in a previous Verizon 5G test using phones, but the performance was far better than I’ve ever experienced on LTE. In an area where I was getting 335Mbps download and 61Mbps upload, it took the laptop about 15 seconds to download a 355MB video from Google Drive and about one minute to upload it. 

Lenovo Flex 5G
This is where you’ll see whether you have 5G UWB service, or not. It doesn’t allow you to toggle between 5G and LTE.
Lenovo Flex 5G
The Flex 5G comes in an iron grey color, and the chassis is covered in a grippy coating.

Hitting those fast speeds was great, but finding the sweet spot was like finding an invisible needle in a broadly defined haystack, thanks to Verizon’s unclear 5G coverage map. I traveled to five different spots said to have 5G, and I found that having 5G signal and losing it can come down to walking 20 feet or turning a street corner. Just like that, close to half-gigabit download speeds go down to 170Mbps. That’s still very fast, but it illustrates how touchy mmWave is and why it’s not worth relying on fully right now regardless of the device you’re using as a vehicle to access it. Sometimes, the laptop failed to pick up on the 5G signal entirely, though it’s tough to know whether I should blame the laptop, or perhaps it just wasn’t working in the area for whatever reason. I don’t have a 5G phone, so I couldn’t test it on a second device.

I’m lucky to have several nearby locations in my area where Verizon has UWB nodes because this isn’t representative of every city in the US. Though, since mmWave has such a short, delicate range, I wouldn’t call the process of finding a 5G hotspot even in a well-served area convenient at all — especially during a pandemic. 

Lenovo Flex 5G
This laptop has a 720p camera with IR for logging in via Windows Hello.
Lenovo Flex 5G
The port selection is sparse, with the audio jack and two USB-C ports comprising all of what it has to offer.

All said, being able to use 5G on a laptop is an impressive feat, and it’s something that I find far more useful to have in this form factor than in a smartphone. The Flex 5G’s 2-in-1 design adds more use cases with its tent mode, allowing you to post up and stream a movie over 5G if you want. You can also twist the screen around to use it as a tablet. Plus, Windows 10, even in the limited ARM-based version available here, grants me more flexibility for work in terms of application support and multitasking than a phone can.  

Lenovo Flex 5G specs

  • 2.84GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx
  • Integrated Qualcomm Adreno 680 graphics
  • 8GB of LPDDR4X RAM at 1,866MHz (soldered)
  • 256GB of UFS 3.0 storage
  • 14-inch IPS display, 1920 x 1080, 16:9
  • Two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C ports (Power Delivery, DisplayPort), audio jack, SIM card slot
  • Power button, airplane mode toggle switch
  • 12.71 x 8.54 x 0.58 inches, 2.9 pounds
  • 45W charger
  • 60Wh battery
  • HD webcam with IR for Windows Hello
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Precision touchpad
  • Connectivity: LTE, mmWave, sub-6GHz
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11ac
  • Bluetooth 5.0

Though, with the good comes a disproportionately high heaping of disappointment here if you’re hoping this is a no-compromises laptop. The Flex 5G’s ARM processor is more powerful than I expected it to be, but it presents some serious limitations in terms of apps you can run in Windows 10. Ultimately, this laptop suffers a similar fate of the Surface Pro X, another machine built with an ARM processor.

I was met with several incompatibility errors when trying to install a few apps that I’d rather not live without, like Affinity Photo or Xbox Game Pass. You might be able to get some apps working through the built-in emulation settings available in Windows 10 Pro, but even those can’t fix the big issue that 64-bit x86 apps still cannot run here. This is disappointing, though I’m pleased with the progress Microsoft has made to find ARM-compatible apps in its Microsoft Store. My colleague Dieter Bohn encountered incompatible apps that he purchased through the store in his review the Surface Pro X, though it seems much harder to make that mistake now because, according to Microsoft, the store automatically filters the store to show compatible apps. As such, I couldn’t spot any apps within view that didn’t work on the Flex 5G, though there might be outliers if you’re looking for a specific app or game.

I went on a downloading spree to see what kinds of things would work, and it was predictably hit-or-miss. The .exe file for Slack that automatically downloads from its site wouldn’t install since I didn’t have the right kind of processor, though the version on the Microsoft Store worked fine. Also, don’t count on it to run Photoshop, let alone even download it. Adobe claimed that support is coming to Creative Cloud apps on ARM processors, but that still isn’t here.

Lenovo Flex 5G
The keyboard is one of the highlights here. Its layout is comfortable, the keys have the right amount of resistance, and it’s backlit.
Lenovo Flex 5G
Lenovo fit in a fingerprint sensor, which you can use to log into the laptop if you’d rather not utilize Windows Hello with the webcam.

This is far from a gaming laptop, but I was surprised that games like Undertale, BioShock, and Dead Cells ran, and did so at a playable frame rate at the screen’s full 1080p resolution. Though, all other games I tried, including Persona 4 Golden, Abzû, and Hades, show an error on Steam that I need a processor capable of running 64-bit x86 apps. Get used to seeing that. 

On the bright side, Microsoft’s Edge browser built on Chromium runs very well. The most recent batch of updates have granted it native support for ARM processors, and I found it to be much faster at loading pages and general navigation than Google Chrome. It seems to drain the battery slower, too. What’s more, Edge’s Progressive Web Apps are a clever way to get around some, but not all, of those app incompatibilities. For example, Spotify’s web player runs smoother than trying to use the app that’s available on the Microsoft Store. Installing it as a web app makes it feel like a dedicated app, so that worked well in some limited cases.

AGREE TO CONTINUE: Lenovo Flex 5G

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

To use the Flex 5G, you have to agree to:

  • Windows 10 License Agreement
  • Lenovo software privacy statement
  • Microsoft account

The following agreements are optional:

  • Windows Hello PIN or fingerprint
  • Connecting to Wi-Fi
  • Activity history
  • Sync an Android phone
  • OneDrive backup
  • Microsoft 365
  • Set up Cortana
  • Privacy settings, including online speech recognition, find my device, inking and typing, advertising ID, location, diagnostic data, and tailored experiences
  • Save your email address on your device
  • Add the device to your Lenovo ID for support, updates, and more

Final tally: three mandatory agreements and 16 optional ones

One of the big advantages of ARM compared to an Intel or AMD CPU is the efficiency and its impact on stretching out the battery life. Lenovo claims 24 hours of battery life with the Snapdragon 8cx with 5G, though you’ll experience less when you’re tethered to 5G service. To give an idea of its longevity, I brought the Flex 5G around to connect to various 5G spots in my neighborhood, where I uploaded and downloaded a 350MB video several times. I then stopped to have a Google Meet video call, type this review, and talk over Slack for 30 minutes. Now, after another 90 minutes of using it at home over LTE, it’s down to 84 percent. By the end of this long day of putting it through the paces, I was only able to bring it down to 69 percent.

This kind of intense, multi-hour adventure with the Flex 5G proves how reliable and efficient its battery and fanless chipset are. No matter what your use cases are, I think this laptop can easily make it through a demanding day of work or two, plus after-work activities, even if you’re relying on its cellular connection the entire time.

Lenovo Flex 5G
The Flex 5G charges with its included 45W USB-C power brick. It charges quickly, though you won’t have to charge it often thanks to its great battery life.

Unlike the Surface Pro X and the Galaxy Book S, another ARM-based Windows 10 laptop, the Flex 5G isn’t fitted with what I consider to be flagship-quality hardware. This laptop was originally called the Yoga 5G when it debuted at CES 2020, and despite it ending up with a slightly different name now, this machine is cut from a familiar cloth. The design would be fine in a traditional $700 2-in-1 laptop, but its generic, plasticky build doesn’t make its $1,399.99 price feel justified. Though, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few niceties. I love the keyboard and the grippy, matte-textured chassis that make it easy to carry around with confidence that I won’t drop it. The 14-inch 1080p IPS touchscreen is also a high point. It’s hard to read in direct sunlight, which doesn’t bode well when it comes to hunting for 5G service outdoors, but it’s crisp, bright, and has generously wide viewing angles when used indoors.

There will be better 5G laptops in the future, but like the state of 5G in general, we’re not there yet. And it’s not clear when more options that support 5G will arrive, be cheaper, easier to find, or more convenient to use. For right now, Lenovo’s Flex 5G is an incredibly safe bet as a first-generation device. Compared to what the first round of 5G-enabled phones looked like, there’s not much about the design that sets it apart from other laptops. And until support for ARM processors improves drastically, the fast but fleeting 5G service that’s available currently through Verizon isn’t appealing enough to make this investment — or the monthly cost for Verizon’s 5G — worthwhile.

Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

Update: Added more battery life impressions.

Correction, July 10th, 2020: This review originally stated that Microsoft didn’t filter its store’s app offering based on the ARM processor. According to a comment from Microsoft, it now automatically filters compatible apps when you’re logged in.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Striking out

E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


A
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.


A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
J
Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


A
External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


A
External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.