When the Lenovo Flex 5G manages to latch onto a 5G signal, its cellular throughput is fast—astoundingly fast, in fact. It’s finding a Verizon 5G signal that’s the problem.
The state of Verizon’s 5G deployment is a mixed bag compared to that of its rivals. On the one hand, Verizon’s high-band, mmWave-based 5G network offers some of the fastest 5G speeds in the country. Recent surveys indicate that Big Red’s 5G throughput can be up to 10 times faster than that of its competition.
On the other hand, Verizon has yet to pull the switch on its sub-6GHz 5G network (which it plans on doing by sharing bandwidth with its existing 4G network, via a technology known as Dynamic Spectrum Switching). That means Verizon lacks the nationwide (albeit far slower) 5G coverage offered by AT&T and T-Mobile, which have concentrated on sub-6GHz 5G networks. (The Lenovo Flex 5G’s bespoke 5G antenna supports both mmWave and sub-6GHz 5G signals.)
For now Verizon’s 5G coverage is limited to just 36 cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York City, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. (Here is the complete list.) A closer look at Verizon’s 5G coverage maps reveals a patchwork of 5G areas in each of those 36 cities, generally concentrated around streets and intersections. Cross the street, and you could easily lose your 5G signal.
My Brooklyn apartment happens to be only a block away from the nearest 5G coverage area in my neighborhood. This particular area stretches barely two blocks down Court Street in Carroll Gardens, encompassing all of three intersections.
Standing in front of a toy store on the corner of Court and Carroll, the Flex 5G registered a 5G signal, and boom! Speedy goodness. My Google speed tests registered download speeds between 381Mbps and 476.7Mbps—a far cry from the maximum theoretical mmWave download speeds of 2Gbps, but very much in line with the top Verizon 5G speeds reported in real-world surveys. Upload speeds were generally quite impressive, ranging from 44.8Mbps to 55.5Mbps. Pretty cool. But just a few steps away the 5G signal faded, and the Flex 5G slipped back into 4G LTE mode.
In short, your 5G experience with the Flex 5G is all about location, location, location. Verizon execs have been bullish about their 5G rollout, promising to begin deploying sub-6GHz 5G service—which would lay the groundwork for nationwide 5G coverage—before the year is out (although to be clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean coast-to-coast Verizon 5G by Christmas). But unless you happen to be in a Verizon 5G city and you’re near one of the little red blotches on Verizon’s 5G coverage map, the Lenovo Flex 5G won’t—for the time being, anyway—live up to its name.
The Lenovo Flex 5G’s Arm-based CPU can't run our standard laptop performance benchmarks, which are mostly designed for X86 systems. We ran a modified suite for Arm-powered laptops, including a couple of app-based PCMark tests and a web-based benchmark. We’ve grouped the Flex 5G with similar laptops running on Snapdragon processors. We’ve also tossed in a few Intel Core-powered laptops to give you an idea of the inherent tradeoffs.
Cutting to the chase, the Flex 5G turns in a decidedly mixed performance. While its test results (along with my own real-world experience) indicate that it can handle everyday productivity apps with relative ease, the Flex 5G’s Snapdragon 8cx processor can’t deliver the silky-smooth performance of, say, an Intel Ice Lake Core i7 CPU or even a Whiskey Lake Core i5 chip. The octo-core 8cx also hits some turbulence when it comes to multimedia and photo editing. What the Flex 5G’s Snapdragon does undeniably deliver, however, is spectacular battery life.
PCMark 10 Apps
To test how the Lenovo Flex 5G handles day-to-day PC duties, we fired up PCMark 10 Apps, a benchmark that uses the actual Microsoft Office suite to simulate working in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, while also measuring how long it took to load those various programs.
The results are aren’t bad, but we’ve seen better. The Flex 5G does manage to snag a third-place finish behind the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3, a 4K laptop powered by a bleeding-edge Intel Core i7 Ice Lake CPU, although it also trails a system (the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet) with an older Whiskey Lake Core i5 chip. It’s more equal to a 7th-gen Core i5 system (the first-gen Microsoft Surface Laptop), and it turns in a substantially better showing than the Samsung Galaxy Book S and its (non 5G-enabled) Snapdragon 8cx CPU. Overall (and as I can attest after my real-world experience over the past few weeks), the Flex 5G simply doesn’t deliver the ultra-smooth Office performance that recent Intel Core-powered laptops can.
PCMark 8 Creative
Our next benchmark tests how a laptop handles a mix of media and entertainment content, including web browsing, photo and video editing, video chat, and light gaming. While these tasks generally demand just a single CPU core, we’re expecting that full-on Intel Core processors will have a leg up compared to Snapdragon-powered laptops.
As we predicted, the Lenovo Flex 5G sits near the bottom, in a tight race with the Snapdragon 8cx-powered Galaxy Book S, the Microsoft Surface Go with its Pentium 4415Y chip, and the Surface Pro X with a Microsoft SQ1 CPU, a semi-custom processor developed by Microsoft and Qualcomm. While the Flex 5G’s PCMark 8 Creative score is the lowest of the four, the results in this subgroup are essentially too close to call. Sitting in the top three, the Intel Core laptops easily outpace the Qualcomm- and Pentium-based systems.
Similar to PCMark 8 Creative, WebXPRT 3 measures a laptop’s performance in various multimedia and light editing tasks, although unlike the PCMark benchmark, WebXPRT runs in a browser (we used Microsoft Edge) rather than as a standalone app.
Here we can see the Lenovo Flex 5G closing the gap with the two Core i5 laptops, delivering that “i5-equivalent” performance that Qualcomm initially promised with its Snapdragon 8cx CPU. Interestingly, the Flex 5G’s WebXPRT 3 score is a notch better than that of the Galaxy Book S and its (non 5G-enabled) 8cx chip, while all the Qualcomm-powered laptops (save for the older Lenovo Yoga C630 and its aging Snapdragon 850 chip) easily outstripped the Surface Go and its Pentium CPU. Perched atop the chart: the Ice Lake-powered Surface Laptop 3, no surprise there.
3DMark Night Raid
Besides its multimedia performance, we also wanted to take the Lenovo Flex 5G’s integrated Adreno 680 graphics core out for a spin. While the Adreno 680 can’t compete with a dedicated graphics card or Intel’s new, super-charged Iris Plus integrated graphics, it should turn in solid numbers compared to Intel’s mainstream UHD Graphics core.
Checking the results, the Flex 5G’s Adreno 680 performance is right where it should be, just a sliver ahead of the Galaxy Book S and its twin Adreno 680 chip. Slightly ahead of the Flex 5G and the Galaxy Book S is the Surface Pro X with its marginally more powerful Adreno 685 core, while the two Core i5 laptops with UHD 620 and HD 620 chips sit considerably further back. In short: The Flex 5G has solid graphics chops under the hood, good enough for light photo editing or (very light) gaming. We’d put Adobe Premiere on the list too, but don’t forget, Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite won’t run (or at least, not yet) on the Flex’s Arm-based CPU.
Get ready for the Flex 5G’s mic-drop moment.
To test battery life, we loop a 4K video using the stock Windows Movies & TV app, with screen brightness set to approximately 250 nits (81 percent for the Flex 5G) and the volume set to 50 percent, headphones on. Keep in mind that looping a 4K video doesn’t consume nearly as much juice as, say, encoding video or rendering 3D images, so these numbers reflect lightweight real-world performance.
And, wow. Armed with its 60 watt-hour battery, the Flex 5G blows away all comers and enjoys a comfortable cushion over its closest competitors, the (otherwise underpowered) Lenovo Yoga C630 (which also sports a 60Whr battery) and the Galaxy Book S (which, actually, turns in a great performance given its 40Whr battery). While you can’t expect 27 hours of battery life from the Flex 5G during real-world use, I did routinely get a full day’s worth of work out of the Flex on battery power, with hours to spare.
Now let’s consider a couple of issues. For starters, while we turn off all user-accessible adaptive brightness settings before running our battery drain test, we still saw the Flex 5G aggressively adjusting its screen brightness as the video looped, particularly during bright scenes. That kind of behavior will surely boost the Flex 5G’s results in our test.
Also, remember how we were saying earlier that the three-pound Flex 5G feels kinda heavy? Well, blame the 60 watt-hour battery. So while the Flex slays the Samsung Galaxy Book S and its “mere” 40Whr battery, the Galaxy Book S (which, to be fair, has a 13-inch screen versus the Flex’s 14-inch display) weighs a mere two pounds rather than three. In other words, the Flex 5G’s amazing battery life will cost you about a pound, and trust me, you’ll feel it when you toss the Flex into a backpack.
If you absolutely, positively need a 5G laptop this very second, by all means, head on down to your local Verizon store and sign up for the Lenovo Flex 5G. It delivers the goods once it connects to a 5G signal (provided you can find one), it delivers all-day-plus battery, and it boasts a solid (if heavy) design with a bright full-HD display and plenty of biometrics. But the Flex 5G’s Snapdragon 8cx processor constrains its productivity performance. Given the army of competing 5G laptops that’s about to arrive, our instinct would be to wait on this one.