Lenovo has seen the future, and the future is hinges. Or so it thinks.
As the industry continues to try to distinguish laptops from tablets, many manufacturers are focused on giving notebook PCs enhanced flexibility without sacrificing power. With the new IdeaPad Flex, Lenovo takes a cue from its biggest success on this front to date, the IdeaPad Yoga, which features an innovative hinge that lets the screen rotate through a full 360 degrees. Sensors orient the display and disable the keyboard depending on how you fold it, letting you use the laptop in any orientation, from standard keyboard-in-front to folded in half as a makeshift slate.
The Flex isn’t quite as ambitious, but it is on the same track. Here, instead of folding flat, the hinge folds through 300 degrees. So it’s about one-sixth less ambitious as the Yoga.
The implementation of this design is a bit different, too. Three hundred degrees sounds like a lot, but it really only lets you use the machine in two modes: as a standard laptop or in “stand mode,” where the screen folds back as far as possible and the keyboard faces down, behind the LCD. This is a curious design decision, as the same thing could have been accomplished by letting you make an inverted V shape with the laptop — an approach that would have had the great advantage of not requiring you to put the keyboard face down on the table.
Who really wants their keyboard smack up against a coffee-smeared cafe counter or sticky airplane tray table? So why can’t you do the V-trick with the Flex? There’s no sensor on the Flex to detect if your screen’s orientation is inverted. Lenovo product engineers, are you listening?
On the downside, the keyboard is in keeping with recent IdeaPads, a super-flat key design that’s tough to type on. And the touchpad is a rickety affair that misses taps and feels disturbingly loose in the chassis. Lenovo is well overdue to revisit what is on the whole a flubbed design.
At 4.1 pounds, the IdeaPad Flex is a lightweight laptop that, for the most part, works well. It’s got a few flaws that are rather glaring — particularly the touchpad and the screen’s failings — but by and large it gets the job done. If you can overlook these problems, at $999 it’s a decent value.