Samsung Galaxy Book Flex review: QLED for the win

Samsung Galaxy Book Flex

“The Samsung Galaxy Book Flex boasts incredible battery life and a vibrant QLED display.”
  • Light, thin design
  • Good performance
  • Excellent battery life
  • QLED display has great colors
  • Built-in S Pen
  • Awkward keyboard placement
  • Huge bottom bezel
MSRP $1,349.00

Samsung runs a tech empire. From phones and TVs to air purifiers and vacuums, Samsung has expanded to build it all, down to the individual components powering these products.

Laptops, though, have always been the one small domain outside of its borders. Sure, there have been plenty of Samsung laptops over the years, but none that were truly worth flying Samsung’s proud banner on.

But 2020 is the year of Samsung’s laptop conquest, and the Galaxy Book Flex is its warhorse. It starts at $1,349, though my more expensive configuration comes with 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and a Core i7 processor. There’s no question this is the best laptop Samsung has ever made, but does that make it one you should buy?

QLED display and battery life

The Galaxy Book Flex has a few standout features borrowed from other areas in Samsung’s empire. The most notable feature is the QLED display. which comes from Samsung’s extremely successful TV business. As an alternative to standard LED, the Galaxy Book Flex is the first laptop to use QLED, which harnesses quantum dots. The results are game-changing.

It’s bright (428 nits) and has high contrast (1,080:1), but QLED really makes a difference in color gamut and accuracy. It hits 92 percent of Adobe RGB, which is a color space most laptop screens struggle with. That colorful, accurate screen is important for photographers, perhaps making this one of the best photography laptops you can get at this price.

There’s a even an “Outdoor Mode” that cranks up the brightness to 600 nits, which can be useful if you’re working outside. That’s Samsung flexing its muscle.

The Galaxy Book Flex has some of the best battery life you can get in a laptop.

Samsung does have two competitors, though. The 13-inch MacBook Pro still has a brighter, more colorful screen, and a higher-resolution display. OLED screens also provide better contrast and colors, but they are rare on 13-inch laptops. It’s only an option on the HP Spectre x360 13, and it only comes in 4K, which looks great, but is costly. It’s a $300 display upgrade on the Spectre, while QLED comes standard on the Galaxy Book Flex.

In addition, 4K OLED screens are costly in terms of power. The Galaxy Book Flex’s QLED 1080p fares far better in terms of battery life. In fact, the Galaxy Book Flex has some of the best battery life you can get in a laptop.

It delivers close to 14 hours of battery in light usage and a whopping 17.5 hours when playing local videos (not streaming). A lot of laptops promise such numbers, but none deliver quite like the Galaxy Book Flex. It outlasted the battery life champion Dell XPS 13 by an hour, and lasted over twice as long as the 4K Spectre x360.

Sticking to 1080p helps here, but Samsung has also squeezed in a 69.7 watt-hour battery. That’s a huge battery for a laptop of this size, and it pays dividends.

S Pen and keyboard

The S Pen is also borrowed from another of Samsung’s products — in this case, the Galaxy Note. Previous Samsung laptops have also featured the S Pen, such as the Notebook 9 Pen and the Galaxy Book 2 from 2018. The stylus itself hasn’t changed, but it’s now housed in a slot located above the keyboard. A click of the pen in the slot ejects it, allowing for quick and easy access (plus you won’t lose it). This accessibility has always been what makes the S Pen special: It’s part of the device, not an add-on peripheral.

The S Pen works well for all the usual stylus capabilities, such as note-taking, sketching, and selecting. One button on the S Pen opens up a familiar menu of options, which lets you dive right into drawing on the screen. These simple apps are quite basic, but they provide a good entry point for trying out the S Pen for the first time.

A larger stylus like the Surface Pen or Apple Pencil will feel more comfortable in the hand for illustrations and detailed work. The S Pen is just barely long enough to fit my hand, and doesn’t imitate the feeling of a real pencil all that well. That’s never been the point, though. Like on the Galaxy Note, the S Pen’s greatest strength is its convenience. It’s always there, and it’s easy to take out and start writing.

The Galaxy Book Flex is a 2-in-1, meaning you can fold the screen totally flat using its 360-degree hinge. Unfortunately, the screen is quite wobbly, and the hinge is a bit loose, so using it in any position other than totally flat makes note-taking difficult.

The convenient location of the S Pen has a downside, too. To make room in the chassis, Samsung was forced to compromise the typing experience. The keyboard sits closer to you, leaving less room for the palm rests. They’re an inch narrower than on a MacBook Air, and about a half-inch narrower than on the Dell XPS 13. The missing support is just enough to make typing on the Galaxy Book Flex uncomfortable, with the edges of the aluminum chassis digging into your palms. It also makes the keyboard layout feel cramped, even though the keycaps aren’t any smaller than those on most laptops.

To make things worse, the Galaxy Book Flex uses a low-travel keyboard. It’s not as shallow as the old MacBook keyboards, but the keypresses could use some more depth.

The touchpad is quiet, tracks well, and even doubles as a wireless charger. Now, there’s something I’ve never seen in a laptop before. A Qi-powered phone or pair of earbuds will charge up wirelessly, which is a neat addition. You won’t be able to use the laptop much with a phone sitting in the way, but I could imagine this being a convenient option in a tight spot.

Design

Historically, Samsung has made some of the lightest laptops. They’ve also been some of the flimsiest. The Galaxy Book Flex manages to balance those two things, using aluminum to provide stability, while keeping weight at just 2.5 pounds. It’s lighter than both the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and the MacBook Air, but just as well-built as the Galaxy smartphones it shares its brand with.

The Galaxy Book Flex is pretty, too. The silver-colored, diamond-cut edges subtly reflect light, and of course, the navy blue color is memorable. If you want something different but even more bold, check out the red on the Galaxy Chromebook, the Chrome alternative to the Flex.

Both are a bit too bold for my preference. The Flex is similar to the HP Elite Dragonfly in tone, but it’s even brighter and more pronounced. Compared to the Flex’s two primary competitors, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and the HP Spectre x360, the Galaxy Book Flex is the aesthetic I prefer the least.

It’s more than just a color preference. The bezels are my real hang-up. The top and bottom borders are narrow, and to make up for it, the Galaxy Book Flex sports an abnormally large bottom chin. It’s a real eyesore. Sitting next to the XPS 13, it’s comical how high up the screen starts. It even looks strange next to the MacBook Air, which I often criticize for its own large bezels.

These bezels end up spoiling what is otherwise an attractive design.

Along the silver sides, you’ll find a selection of USB-C ports, but no full-size USB-A. Two Thunderbolt 3 ports flank the right side, next to the power button and S Pen. The headphone jack, MicroSD card slot, and a USB-C 3.1 port are found on the left side.

Next to these ports is a pair of speaker grills. The audio output is branded by AKG, and the result is impressive sound quality. The MacBook Air is still in another league, but the Galaxy Book Flex has a more full-bodied audio profile than some competitors, even providing a hint of bass in the mix. It blows the XPS 13 2-in-1, which has tinny, downward-firing speakers, out of the water.

Performance

The Galaxy Book Flex is powered by a standard mix of high-end components. On the processor front, it uses Intel’s latest 10th-gen Ice Lake processors, which equips the laptop with four cores, eight threads, and a 1.3GHz base clock speed. My review unit was the Core i7 variant with 16GB of RAM, though the only 13-inch model sold in the states comes with just 8GB of RAM. It also ships with 512GB of SSD storage.

I’d like to see more configurations in the future, but the one offered makes for quite a fast computer. My daily routine consists of dozens of Chrome tabs, Spotify, Slack, Office, and some light photo editing. The Galaxy Book Flex never flinched. It will spin up its fans and get a little warm seemingly randomly, but it was never loud or hot enough to be a distraction.

There are faster laptops in this class, like the XPS 13. The Galaxy Book Flex was only 5 percent behind in Geekbench 5, but it was 24 percent slower in Handbrake video encoding. You might not plan to do a lot of video encoding with the Galaxy Book Flex, but its content-creation powers might be a bit dulled compared to the powerful XPS 13. Still, it’s one of the more powerful laptops with these processors.

The Galaxy Book Flex has Iris Plus graphics as well. These are Intel’s highly improved integrated graphics, which promise double the power of the old Intel UHD graphics. The Core i7 model comes with the best of these Iris Plus graphics, allowing for improved content creation and even some light gaming.

It still struggled with a game like Fortnite, which is unfortunate. You’ll need to drop the resolution to playable frame rates. But the Galaxy Book Flex can handle lighter games like Rocket League without too much trouble.

Our take

The Galaxy Book Flex is everything you could want in a modern laptop. It’s sleek, portable, and powerful — and beats some of the best laptops in key areas like display and battery life. The addition of the S Pen housed within the chassis is only the icing on the cake.

Some small user experience hiccups like the keyboard placement and bezel size keep it from true greatness, but it’s without a doubt the best laptop Samsung has ever made.

Are there any alternatives?

There are countless laptop options, but the Flex’s closest competitors are the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and HP Spectre x360 13. The Galaxy Book Flex wins in battery life and display, though I prefer the keyboard and bezel size of the other options. The Spectre x360 is also a battery life champ, plus it’s the cheapest of the three. I prefer the design and look of the XPS 13 2-in-1, though the Galaxy Book Flex’s colorful QLED screen is great for photographers. I do wish there was a 4K option, as well as a cheaper Core i5 model.

If you’re willing to ditch the 2-in-1 element, the Dell XPS 13 remains the best laptop you can buy, as it can be configured with a touchscreen.

How long will it last?

The Galaxy Book Flex should last you at least four or five years. It’s components are up to date and the build quality is excellent. Samsung offers a limited one-year warranty at the time of purchase.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Its top-notch battery life and display make it a standout 2-in-1 laptop.

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