The HP c640 Chromebook and Lenovo Flex 5G can be considered transitional products as we move from our current model of desktop computing to the eventual model of cloud computing that is our projected future. Both products are advanced models, taking into account the learnings from the last three to five years on both Google’s and Microsoft’s attempts to embrace our eventual cloud future. In addition--and I find this fascinating--both products have adapted somewhat discarded methods from each other to get there.
For instance, Chromebooks started on ARM chips and were penalized for performance, while the traditional Windows-based notebook has long been criticized for battery life and WAN connectivity. The HP c640 has an Intel processor, and the i7 version I have is no performance slouch, the Lenovo Fex 5G is ARM-based has a whopping 25 hours of battery life and that 5G WAN connection.
The HP Pro c640 vs. Lenovo Flex 5G: Performance Appliance vs. Connected PC
In some ways, I look at both these products and wonder if their respective companies mixed up their offerings’ core requirements. But this kind of seeming confusion is often what happens when the industry is attempting to pivot to a new model by using existing technology. Because the cloud side of this solution isn’t fully cooked yet, those building the client hardware are struggling with the related requirements.
As a result, we have a high-performance Chromebook that isn’t always connected and a relatively low-performance laptop that is. Today’s world doesn’t yet have 5G fully deployed, and the cloud portion of the solution isn’t fully cooked, which drove HP to pivot its offering to the current reality. But 5G is rolling out, and VDI solutions are taking off, putting the Lenovo product more on the cutting edge and closer to where the market will go during the next decade.
This seeming inconsistency, I think, also reflects on the differences between Google and Microsoft. Google is closer to a pure-play cloud vendor, but Microsoft with Azure has a more robust cloud business offering. So both products somewhat better reflect the core technology differences of their respective platforms.
On spec, both products have 14-inch screens; both have fingerprint readers (the Lenovo will also do facial recognition, which isn’t working as well right now with mask requirements). The Lenovo has a 400-nit screen, giving it an advantage over the HP, which only has a 250-nit screen (thus the Lenovo can more easily work outside). Prices aren’t cheap for either product as configured (though you can get a Pentium-based HP for under $500) the Core i7 version I was sent to review is $1,129 while the Lenovo Flex 5G is $1,399.99.
Both products have a similar set of ports, and both have a SIM slot for memory expansion. The Lenovo comes packaged with one year of Office 365 Personal; the HP is more tied to Google applications but can run a version of Microsoft 365. Both have front-firing speakers with HP-branded B&O, and Lenovo branded Dolby Atmos (Bang and Olufsen is arguably better for music and Dolby Atmos for streaming movies). I use headphones when I’m listening to anything on a notebook, so I don’t drive folks near me nuts. But both solutions should be exceptional for those who use laptop speakers more than I do.
The Ideal Buyer
Even though both of these products are bridge products to the cloud future, the ideal buyer for both is very different. The HP buyer likes the idea of a regular laptop computer but would rather have Chrome than Windows.
The HP Pro c640 is an excellent notebook computer that runs Chrome, so clearly, it’s not for a Microsoft shop. This notebook is for someone who is mobile but mostly works inside and needs laptop-level performance for what they do (if they don’t need the i7 performance, they can save a lot by buying the Pentium, i3 or i5 versions instead).
The Lenovo Flex 5G is for someone who loves the idea of a Chromebook but wants Windows. They desire to be able to work outside, at least occasionally, are often nowhere near a power plug (or want to leave the charger behind), and they are doing local light work and a lot of work using VDI or some other connected technology. I should add that this product becomes much more attractive if the user is in an area that has upgraded to 5G. And, finally, this product would perform best in Microsoft shops.
Wrapping Up: Which is better?
This question is kind of like asking: Which is better, the Corvette C8 or the Tesla S; both are fantastic cars, but they address very different needs and requirements. It comes down to what your core need is. The HP addresses the core need for an enterprise that wants both a Chrome appliance and a more traditional and secure laptop experience. On the other hand, Lenovo better addresses the need for an enterprise that wants a Windows laptop that has a crap ton of battery life that is always connected and is very aggressive with remote or cloud apps.
Both of these products are on the path to the cloud future. They are simply taking very different paths, one closer to Google, the other closer to Microsoft, to get there, and both represent state of the art on their respective paths.
Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.