At first glance you'd think that Lenovo had made a tactical mistake delivering a 20" tablet running Windows 8. After using it for a couple months, it proved to be a solid home computing experience with a few fun tricks up its sleeve.
The Flex 20 is aimed at a mid-range consumer market, those folks who might be targeting an entry level iMac for instance. It's $800-ish street price slots it in nicely for home and small office use. A 20" (1600x900) touchscreen is powered by a Haswell based Intel Core i3 dual core, Intel HD graphics chip, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. There are only two USB 3 ports on board, no other connections as this machine is WiFi only, and a pair of terrific stereo speakers are built in. Lenovo is known for durable computing solutions, and Flex 20 follows this trend. The aluminum chasis feels solid, and the entire machine rests on hinged foot which is very sturdy. Two months of active use, and it didn't loosen up over the course of our review.
The computing internals aren't particularly exciting, similar to many Ultrabooks, but it's all built around portability and offering up a solid bang for buck.
Portability might be a funny thing to talk about when it comes to this size display, but it genuinely is a part of the Flex 20's DNA. We might call it "semi-portable" computing. Lenovo built in a battery capable of driving the whole system for around two hours. While writing out articles, and keeping the screen brightness around medium, I was able to just beat their run time estimates. Obviously gaming at full brightness will run the battery down faster.
It seems wholly unnecessary for a machine many will use to replace a desktop. For the first two weeks of the review, it spent all of its time on a desk in the office. After that however, it started venturing out to other parts of my home. The dining room, the living room coffee table, then the kitchen. You don't carry it around like a tablet or a laptop, but anytime you know you're going to stage for a little while, the Flex 20 offers up a much nicer work experience.
As a work machine, Flex 20 is more than capable of pounding out documents and spreadsheets. Thankfully we've entered an era of computing where that's really just not much of a concern. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the Flex 20 handled audio recording and editing. It's more than adequate for voice and podcast style applications, and I think it would make a handy solution as a gigging interface for musicians. It's not designed for workstation grade applications, but I see no reason why it couldn't handle some low level video editing as well.
Lenovo bundles in a pretty complete accessories pack. Not only is there a wireless keyboard and mouse in the box, but you also get joysticks, air hockey paddles, and a wireless die for board gaming. The Flex sits on a large hinge, and folding that hinge down allows the system to rest flat for a table top gaming experience. Lenovo bundles in a software skin called Aura which functions a little like the interface in 'Minority Report', allowing users to slide photos around, watch movies, and load up games which make use of those bundled accessories.
Traditional gaming options work well too. The Flex 20 was more than capable of running Windows 8 apps like Halo: Spartan Assault. I was happy to see that full fledged PC games ran reasonably smooth as well. It chewed through Arkham City with decent load times and few hiccups.
Only having two USB 3 ports can feel a touch claustrophobic. The wireless keyboard and mouse use an RF receiver which will take up one of those precious ports. If you don't have decent WiFi, you might need to rely on a USB to Ethernet adapter which would take up the other.
I also ran into a bug where the Flex would refuse to wake up after a prolonged sleep. Fiddling with the power management settings minimized when it would occur, but I hope Lenovo addresses this in a future update.
What we're left with is a really interesting and unique computing solution which has some overlaps with tablets, laptops, and desktops without being anyone of those things on its own. It was liberating being able to move it to the kitchen or living room. I could work where I wanted on a larger screen than my laptop. Plus it's a solid all ages experience with options for traditional input or touchscreen control.
There are a few compromises to make, but those shopping an affordable, flexible, and sturdy home computing solution should consider it.
Hit the related video to see the Flex 20 in action!