Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 6 14 (2019) review: A solid, bargain-priced 2-in-1 saddled with iffy battery life

Its battery and display could be better, but for just $500, you’re still getting a lot.

One of the best things about Intel’s 10th-gen Ice Lake processors is that we’re seeing much cheaper prices for laptops powered by 8th-gen Intel CPUs, and here’s a case in point. The Lenovo IdeaPad 6 14 manages to pack in a quad-core Core i5 chip and a full-HD touchscreen into a 2-in-1 form factor, all for just $500. It’s a solid system by any standard, delivering impressive productivity performance for its price. Unsurprisingly, however, you’ll have to settle for some compromises, including a dim display (typical for a budget system) and mediocre battery life.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested. 

Price and configuration

We tested a $499 version of the IdeaPad Flex 6 14 (SKU number 81EM000KUS, available on Walmart.com) that, on paper, looks like a solid performer when it comes to everyday computing tasks and productivity, although it’s a little cramped in the storage department.

  • CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U
  • RAM: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM
  • GPU: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • Display: 14-inch 1920 x 1080 touchscreen
  • Storage: 128GB SSD

For a $500 convertible, these specs look pretty much on target. That 8th-gen, quad-core Intel Core i5 CPU usually does the trick when it comes to Office, web browsing, and other daily computing chores. The 8GB of RAM should help smooth any multitasking bumps. Lenovo doesn’t specify whether the touch-enabled 14-inch screen uses IPS display technology, but based on the solid viewing angles I saw during my testing, I’d say it’s a safe bet. The integrated graphics is standard issue for a productivity-minded laptop in this price range. You’ll be able to play chess and do a little light photo editing, but if you try to play Fortnite, you should expect chopping and jaggy visuals. Our biggest gripe would be with the skimpy 128GB solid-state drive, which only leaves about 92GB of free space once you account for Windows, Office, and other miscellaneous apps.

Design

Lenovo isn’t known for flashy design when it comes to its laptops, and our onyx-black IdeaPad Flex 6 14 review unit is no exception.

lenovo flex ideapad 6 14 81em000kus angle Ben Patterson/IDG

It’s a bit on the plain side, but the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 6 14 is also pleasingly thin.

Measuring 12.9 x 9 x 0.7 inches, the Flex 6 14 feels pleasingly thin, but it’s also a tad heavy at 3.4 pounds (or 3.9 pounds if you include the AC adapter). Its flat aluminum lid is featureless save for a small, understated Lenovo logo in the back-left corner. Being the 2-in-1 laptop that it is, the Flex 6 14 lets you rotate its display all the way around for tablet use, or you can also tent it on a desk or place it keyboard-down with its display angled up, kiosk style.

Speaking of the Flex 6 14’s touchscreen, it arrives with fairly thin bezels along the sides and top, but also a chunky 1.5-inch bottom bezel. Looking down at the keyboard, the brushed aluminum hand rest looks polished and refined, if a little plain.

Display

The IdeaPad Flex 6 14’s full-HD display is something of a mixed bag. Let’s start with the good points, including its sharp 1920x1080 resolution, as well as its solid viewing angles, with the screen’s brightness fading only slightly when viewed from a 45-degree angle or greater. As I mentioned earlier, Lenovo doesn’t specify whether this particular model of the Flex 6 14 uses an IPS (in-plane switching) panel, but it sure looks like it does.

lenovo flex ideapad 6 14 81em000kus tented Ben Patterson/IDG

You can tent the IdeaPad Flex 6 14 on a table thanks to its 2-in-1 design.

I was less impressed by the display’s overall brightness, though, with the screen coming in at a relatively dim 231.7 nits (or candelas). In general, we prefer laptop display brightness closer to the 250-nit range. While 230 nits is still adequate for indoor viewing, you’ll have a tougher time seeing the display if you take the Flex 6 14 outdoors.

Back on the plus side, the Flex 6 14’s touchscreen responded promptly and smoothly to my taps and swipes, and I had no trouble typing using its onscreen keyboard. The display is compatible with Lenovo’s Active Pen, which is available for an additional $50 (or $38 once you apply Lenovo’s “instant” discount).

Keyboard, trackpad, and speakers

The Flex 6 14’s backlit keyboard boasts a pleasingly tactile feel, with a decent amount of travel (the distance an individual key moves when it’s struck), a solid tactile bump in the middle of each keystroke, and a satisfyingly springy rebound. There’s no dedicated numeric keypad nor any media playback hotkeys, but there are Alt-enabled hotkeys for volume, muting the mic, disabling the camera, and Windows lock.

lenovo flex ideapad 6 14 81em000kus keyboard Ben Patterson/IDG

The Flex 6 14 boasts a comfy keyboard, and yes, that’s a fingerprint reader right there.

The mid-size trackpad sits centered directly beneath the keyboard. It allowed for precise cursor movements while keeping the herky-jerkies to a minimum. The trackpad was small enough that my palms didn’t brush it while I typed, but even when I tried deliberately brushing my palms over the trackpad, it did a nice job of rejecting those accidental (or not so accidental, in my case) inputs.

Sitting near the bottom-right corner of the Flex 6 14’s keyboard is a Windows Hello-enabled fingerprint reader, which I used to sign in to my Windows account during the majority of my testing. I’ve had trouble with finicky fingerprint readers in the past, but the one on this Lenovo almost always recognized me on the first try, even when I swiped my fingertip at an angle.

The Flex 6 14 features a couple of down-firing Harman Kardon-designed speakers. Dolby audio helps to boost the soundstage a tad, but otherwise we’re talking your standard meh laptop speakers, almost entirely lacking in bass response. You’re better off plugging in headphones if you want to hear decent sound.

Ports

The Flex 6 14 comes with a standard array of ports for a 2-in-1 convertible in its price range. On the left, we find a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, a USB 3.0 Type-A port, a full HDMI port, a combo audio port, and a barrel-shaped charging port.

lenovo flex ideapad 6 14 81em000kus left ports Ben Patterson/IDG

Left-side ports on the IdeaPad Flex 6 14 include HDMI, USB-C, USB 3.0 Type-A, and a combo audio jack.

On the right, there’s a second USB 3.0 Type-A port, a media card reader, and a laptop security slot.

lenovo flex ideapad 6 14 81em000kus right ports Ben Patterson/IDG

On the right side of the Flex 6 14 you get a second USB 3.0 Type-A port, a media card reader, and a laptop security slot.

All in all, we can’t complain about the Flex 6 14’s collection of ports. Sure, Thunderbolt 3 ports would have been a plus, but you’ll almost never find any in a laptop this inexpensive. If we had to quibble about something, it would be about the too-easy-to-press power button on the Flex’s right edge.

 

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Performance

Overall, the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 6 14’s performance in our benchmarks was about as middling as we expected. Part of the challenge is its 2-in-1 form factor, which is tougher to keep cool than a traditional clamshell laptop. We were also somewhat disappointed by the Flex’s iffy battery life, especially given the size of said battery. On the other hand, the quad-core IdeaPad Flex 6 14 managed to put up some solid numbers when it came to multi-core performance.

PCMark 8 Work 2.0 Conventional

Our first benchmark measures how a given laptop performs when it comes to daily computing tasks. PCMark 8 Work 2.0 simulates such everyday desktop chores as online shopping, social network browsing, tinkering with spreadsheets, and video chatting. A laptop that gets a PCMark 8 score higher than 2,000 can typically run Office without skipping a beat.

lenovo ideapad flex 6 14ikb 81em pcmark8 Ben Patterson/IDG

The IdeaPad Flex 6 14’s solid PCMark 8 score promises buttery Office performance.

While our IdeaPad Flex 6 14 comes in sixth out of nine laptops in our comparison chart, they’re all more or less clumped together in the 3,100-to-3,500 range, which is well above the minimum needed.

HandBrake

Now things get a little tougher, with our HandBrake benchmark designed to see how a CPU performs under a crushing load—in this case, converting a 30GB MKV file into a format suitable for an Android tablet. Running HandBrake will turn up the heat on any laptop CPU, and it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half to complete. It therefore shows us how a laptop deals with thermal performance over a relatively long period of time.

lenovo ideapad flex 6 14ikb 81em handbrake Ben Patterson/IDG

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 6 14 turned in an impressive HandBrake performance given its $500 price tag.

As we can see from the chart, the Flex 6 14’s HandBrake score is pretty solid, beating out last year’s model while holding its own against an IdeaPad S340 with a quad-core Whiskey Lake Core i5 processor (which, to be fair, isn’t that much of an upgrade compared to the Kaby Lake Refresh chip in the Flex 6 14). Down at the bottom of the chart is an Acer Aspire 5 with a dual-core i3 processor, which goes to show what a difference a quad-core CPU makes when it comes to processor-intensive tasks such as video encoding.

Cinebench

Here’s another test of multi-core CPU performance. Our Cinebench test measures how long it takes for a laptop to render a 3D image in real time, and as with HandBrake, it’s a benchmark that favors multi-core processors. Unlike the lengthy HandBrake test, however, Cinebench only takes a few minutes to run, showing how a particular laptop handles a short burst of intense CPU activity.

lenovo ideapad flex 6 14ikb 81em cinebench Ben Patterson/IDG

We’ve seen better Cinebench scores from laptops in the Lenovo’s price range, but we’ve seen worse, too.

While the IdeaPad Flex 6 14’s Cinebench performance isn’t as impressive as its HandBrake score, it still manages to stay above the 500 mark, which is what we’d expect from a quad-core COre i5 CPU. That said, the Flex 6 14’s Cinebench result falls surprisingly short of last year’s Flex 6 14, and its single-thread performance is also a bit on the low side. Again, though, while we would have liked to see better Cinebench numbers, there’s nothing here that raises a red flag.

3DMark Sky Diver

Saddled with integrated graphics as it is, the IdeaPad Flex 6 14 is no gaming machine and doesn’t claim to be. Still, we run the graphics-oriented 3D Mark Sky Diver benchmark so you can see how different parts compare and decide for yourself. For most mainstream productivity, integrated graphics will suffice—just don’t expect to play anything beyond basic games.

lenovo ideapad flex 6 14ikb 81em 3dmark Ben Patterson/IDG

The Flex 6 14 and its integrated graphics core lands pretty much where we expected in our 3DMark Sky Diver test. Note the lone laptop with discrete graphics way at the top of the chart.

We won’t keep you in suspense: nothing to see here, with the Flex 6 14 landing in essentially the same blah territory as similar laptops with integrated graphics cores. The sole exception is the Acer E 15 at the top of the chart, which comes with a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics card. Entry level though it is, the GeForce MX150 demonstrates just how big of a visual boost you can get with discrete graphics.

We should also note that last year’s IdeaPad Flex 6 14 comes in dead last despite having discrete GeForce MX130 graphics in its favor. We were surprised by that result then, and we’re still puzzled as to why the older Flex fell so far short given its discrete graphics card.

Battery life

We test battery life by looping a 4K video using the stock Windows Movies & TV app, with screen brightness set to about 250 nits (which, in the case of the IdeaPad Flex 6 14, meant dialing its brightness all the way up) and setting the volume to 50 percent, with headphones plugged in.

lenovo ideapad flex 6 14ikb 81em battery life Ben Patterson/IDG

We were disappointed by the Flex 6 14’s mediocre battery life, although at least it did better than last year’s model.

The Flex 6 14’s disappointingly mediocre, with its 48 watt-hour battery lasting an average of 473 minutes, or just shy of eight hours. Now, eight hours might sound pretty good, but that figure will fall once you start putting stress on the CPU, and we’ve also seen plenty of laptops with similar-sized batteries manage to make it well past the 500-minute mark.

Bottom line

Having ticked off all of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 6 14’s performance numbers—some good, some only so-so—there’s one more figure we should focus on: 500, as in dollars, which is a pretty inexpensive price tag for a polished quad-core convertible like this one. Sure, we would have preferred better battery life and a brighter display, but compromises are the name of the game when it comes to budget laptops. If you’re in the market for a bargain-priced yet productivity-focused 2-in-1 and you can live without all-day battery life, the IdeaPad Flex 6 14 is worth a look.