Samsung has returned to the consumer laptop market in the UK with a series of new machines led by the Galaxy Book Flex.
Unlike most of the PC market, the Book Flex is refreshingly only available in one version in the UK with a choice of silver or blue, costing £1,349.
The royal blue version reviewed here is simply stunning, with a deep blue aluminium body, lid and bottom, trimmed with silver sides. It certainly stands out against the crowd. The silver one is much more standard.
The Flex bit refers to the screen, which folds all the way over to the back, making it a laptop that turns into a tablet. However, this isn’t detachable, meaning you’ll have the keyboard facing outward when folded into tablet mode. Weighing 1.16kg, it is pretty light for a laptop, but not for a tablet.
It’s only 12.9mm thick, which means slipping it into a bag is easy, while build quality is top-notch, making it feel very solid. It compares favourably to the 13in laptop competition, including the Surface Laptop 3, Dell XPS 13 and Apple MacBook Pro.
The keyboard is good. The good-sized keys are isolated and well-spaced with a reasonable amount of travel and feel. The trackpad is excellent – large enough, responsive and accurate, with a good click to it. The power button is on the side of the machine, rather than the deck, as are the speaker grilles.
A fingerprint sensor handles biometric login with Windows Hello. It’s fairly big, fast and accurate, but its placement takes some getting used to as it takes up half the space usually dedicated to the right shift key.
The screen is both a strength and a weakness. It is a 13.3in LCD (QLED) full HD screen with a true widescreen (16:9) ratio, similar to a TV. It’s bright, beautiful and colourful with 100% DCI-P3 coverage. It even has a super-bright “outdoor mode” that boosts the screen temporarily so you can see it more easily in direct sunlight at the touch of a button but this does drain the battery more quickly.
However, it is noticeably less crisp than higher-resolution screens of a similar size fitted to similarly-priced competitors such as the Surface Laptop 3, Apple’s machines and Dell’s 4K XPS 13.
Having a 16:9 ratio makes it excellent for watching widescreen videos and movies, but it is less good for working on, simply because the screen isn’t that tall. That means you end up doing a lot of vertical scrolling as sites and documents don’t fit as well as on laptops that use a taller ratio such as 16:10 or 3:2.
The Book Flex’s other trick is a concealed S-Pen stylus, which is the same one shipped with Samsung’s Galaxy Note series of large-screen smartphones. The stylus slides into a slot next to the Thunderbolt 3 ports and is stored neatly away until you need it. You push it in to release the stylus and then write on the screen. Like the recent Note 20 Ultra, you can use it like a magic wand by pressing a button and swiping it in the air in various directions to control apps for tasks such as skipping a track or adjusting volume.
Screen: 13.3in FHD (1080p) QLED touchscreen (LCD, 166PPI)
Processor: 10th-generation Intel Core i5
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus
Operating system: Windows 10 Home
Camera: 720p HD
Connectivity: Wifi 6, Bluetooth 5, 2x Thunderbolt 3, 1x USB-C, microSD/UFS, headphone
Dimensions: 202.9 x 302.6 x 12.9mm
Top chips, long battery life
The Book Flex ships in one configuration in the UK, with a 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD, which are more or less the minimum requirements for top-end laptops in 2020.
As such, it is a powerful, capable machine that can handle most things other than graphically intense gaming and professional video editing, which would require a higher resolution display.
The Book Flex sailed through everything I threw at it, including fairly complex image manipulation in Affinity Photo on an external 4K monitor. It was generally cool-running too, with the fans occasionally audible at a low level, and the deck of the laptop becoming only slightly warm to touch. The feet on the bottom do not give it much ground clearance, meaning it was cooler when used on a hard surface rather than a soft table.
The laptop also has a good selection of ports. It has two full Thunderbolt 3 ports on the right side and one USB-C only port on the left, which means you have more flexibility in your connection options when you have one port for power and another for a monitor. A microSD card reader, which can also take the faster UFS memory, is in the left side but unlike most competitors is contained in a sim-tray-like mechanism. You need a sim-ejector tool or long paperclip to access it, which lends itself more to storage expansion using a card you don’t remove, rather than as a traditional reader you just use briefly with a card you take out of your camera or similar.
Battery life was very good. Lasting an average of 11 hours between charges during the work day, including 90 minutes of photo editing, lots of browsing and word processing, with the screen brightness set to 70%. The 2020 MacBook Pro and Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 each lasted 7.5 hours under similar conditions.
Part of that long battery life is the comparatively low-resolution screen, which consumes less power. Most of the competition have the higher resolution 3K or 4K screens, which are noticeably crisper than full HD.
The Book Flex has a trick up its sleeve. The trackpad doubles as a wireless charger that can power a Qi-compatible smartphone, watch, headphones or other accessory. Of course you can’t use the trackpad when it’s charging something, so it’s of limited use, but could be handy for charging up a set of headphones or similar without reaching for a cable.
The Book Flex comes with a 65W USB-C charger and recharges from flat to 100% in two hours, reaching 50% in about 50 minutes.
The Book Flex can generally be repaired by authorised service centres. Samsung rates the battery for at least 1,000 full charge cycles while still maintaining at least 80% capacity. Samsung also has battery lifespan-extending options on the laptop, such as those that limit the maximum charge to 85% to prolong its useful life.
The battery can be replaced out of warranty by authorised service providers. The laptop is not made from any recycled materials and while Samsung does offer trade-in and recycling schemes for other devices, it does not yet for laptops.
Windows 10 Home
The Book Flex ships with Windows 10 Home in the UK, with a few Samsung apps and tools installed, plus McAfee Livesafe, which I have had problems with in the past so uninstalled immediately, reverting to the built-in Windows Defender for anti-virus.
Most of the Samsung apps are useful. The Samsung Settings app allows you to change a variety of features, including battery lifespan-extending settings, booting options, audio and video effects, quick settings and a silent, low-performance mode. Samsung Update handles drivers and other bits, although so can Windows Update. There are tools for the S-Pen, a Quick Search app, a recovery tool for if things go wrong, and a security app that allows you to use your webcam to monitor login attempts to the laptop.
Using the laptop was generally trouble-free, apart from one instance attempting to join a WebEx video conference. This caused the sound card drivers to fail, requiring a full removal of the sound card software and drivers to rehabilitate.
You can get the laptop to boot from cold when the lid opens.
The speakers are surprisingly loud and clear, but lack any real bass and vibrate through the deck of the laptop quite a lot.
The webcam and microphones are about average for video calls – good enough in bright light and if you speak up at a distance.
A really useful charging and battery status screen is displayed when you charge the laptop while powered off.
The Samsung Galaxy Book Flex is available in royal blue or silver for £1,349.
For comparison, Dell’s XPS 13 has a starting RRP of £1,399, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 costs from £999, Huawei’s Matebook X Pro costs £1,400 and Apple’s 13in MacBook Pro costs £1,299.
The Galaxy Book Flex marks a solid return to the laptop market in the UK for Samsung.
It ticks most boxes, has a good amount of power on tap, long battery life, a good keyboard and solid build. The screen is colour-rich and bright, but its 16:9 ratio and relatively low resolution let it down compared with better-equipped rivals.
The ability to fold the screen all the way over is not something I would routinely use, but is useful for folding up like an A-frame or for the occasional document markup using the included S-Pen stylus, which is excellent and neatly tucked away until you need it.
The fingerprint sensor is great, but its placement, replacing half the right shift key, isn’t fantastic. It has three USB-C ports, of which two are Thunderbolt 3, which is better than some competitors that ship with just one or two. The microSD card reader is great for adding more storage, but less good for use for swapping cards in and out of cameras and the like.
I like the laptop, I just don’t love it. But if you want a solid, flexible and adaptable convertible laptop, with long battery life and plenty of power, the Samsung Galaxy Book Flex is one of the best.
Pros: long battery life, 10th-gen Intel Core i5, 2x Thunderbolt 3 + 1x USB-C ports, microSD/UFS slot, bright screen, convertible hinge, good keyboard, good trackpad, fingerprint scanner, hide-away stylus
Cons: 16:9 screen ratio, lower resolution screen, odd fingerprint placement in keyboard
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