- Editor's Rating
- Ships with full keyboard
- Good specs
- Keyboard backlighting not helpful
- Does not charge via USB
- Various design compromises
Quick TakeThe Nextbook Flexx 11 is great for the price, and ships with a keyboard. Just be aware of the compromises inherent in a budget device.
A nearly 12-inch Windows tablet with keyboard priced under $200, the Nextbook Flexx 11 features huge power for a tiny price tag. Is it a good deal? Let’s take a look.
Although a suggested retail price of $224 stretches the definition of a “budget tablet,” the Flexx 11 really does fall into that category considering what it offers. An almost 12 inch screen, quad-core 1.8 GHz processor, the full Windows, 64GB of memory, included keyboard, and a slate of other functions all make it a powerhouse for the money, especially considering that it can be found for a street price of around $180 as of this writing. But a good look and good price aren’t everything, so we went under the hood to test it out.
One note before we do, though; Nextbook also makes a version of this called the Ares 11, featuring nearly the same hardware but running Android 5.0. So if Windows isn’t your thing, you might still want to read on.
Build and Design
Looking strictly at the main device, you might be able to mistake the Flexx for any other tablet, if maybe an oversized one. It follows a pretty standard design: matte black plastic casing, ports on one edge. The power and volume buttons are on the back, along with the Windows Start button, which is a little unusual.
Where it really starts to differ is when you look at the full picture. Included in the standard package is a keyboard dock. Unlike other devices where this might be an extra, it’s included in the sticker price. It’s not quite a laptop size keyboard, but it tries, and it’s large enough that you can get the hang of it. The docking connector features a plastic tab and hook arrangement that lets you seat the tablet against it and click it into place. Once it’s there, you disconnect the tablet by pressing a button at the top of the keyboard and pulling.
This design actually has advantages over the keyboard covers for the Surface and iPad, or the rotatable displays on laptop/tablet hybrids. Unlike cover-based keyboards, this system gives you the solid attachment of a real hinge, so you can use it at various angles or just on your lap, rather than absolutely having to rest it on a table. It also beats the “twist and flip” style of designs used by laptop hybrids, in that it enables a true tablet mode without the bulk of the keyboard.
The design isn’t perfect, of course. For starters, because all of the really important hardware is on the screen side, the keyboard is actually thinner than the vertical portion, putting it slightly out of balance. Not too badly, but it takes a little getting used to. Also, without having the “twist and flip” option, you do have to carry the keyboard separately if you want to keep that option available while using the tablet as a tablet. It’s a tradeoff, of course, but it’s probably one of the better ones.
The dock uses simple Surface-type contacts, rather than a slide-in docking connector. This is a little looser, so it isn’t one hundred percent secure at all times; the keyboard can sometimes lose contact with the pressure pins if things get wiggled, making the tablet think it’s been undocked. A more serious docking system would run the risk of breaking the connector, so that’s avoided, but you should be prepared for occasional inconvenience or disconnections.
Moving on to the technical portions of the design, the Flexx doesn’t lack for options there, all of which sit along the tablet portion’s left side as it fits into the keyboard. There are standard microUSB and microHDMI connectors for transferring files or connecting to external monitors. A microSD card slot for memory expansion, which Nextbook guarantees to be compatible up to 64GB, although there’s no reason why larger cards shouldn’t work. Look carefully and you’ll also see a reset button and built-in microphone. There’s also 3.5mm jack for headphones, and lastly, a dedicated power connector.
This power connector is an old-fashioned barrel-type receptacle for the included 3 amp AC charger. No, unfortunately the Flexx does not charge off USB; its power requirements are simply too high, demanding wattage that current USB chargers aren’t equipped to provide. This is another one of those design compromises; if you want the huge, bright screen and extras like USB Host, you need a dedicated power supply.
DisplayThe keyboard is relatively less interesting technically, but for the two full-size USB Host ports, one on either rear corner, making it easy to hook up flash drives or other small peripherals. Of course, “small” is relative; there’s nothing stopping you from hooking up an external hard drive or the like, except for power. The Flexx isn’t going to provide a lot of juice to those ports–not that any laptop does, but this will likely be less–so any larger peripherals you want will need their own power supplies. On the bright side, with the USB ports on the keyboard, you could practically use it as a docking station for almost anything, needing only that, power, and an HDMI hookup to become a full PC.
The screen features a 1366 x 768 resolution that is, appropriately, much more common on laptops than on tablets. It’s better than the 720P HDTV standard, although stretched across the 11.6 inch screen it still gives a pixel density of only 135 DPI. That’s livable, but not amazing.
The crisp and vivid colors do help in that regard, so you’re not likely to be disappointed. The extra screen area definitely is noticeable; although it’s only an inch and a half over your average large tablet size, that’s a lot more area than it sounds like, providing a quarter more raw area than a 10 inch tab.
Here lies the biggest selling point of the device. Its docking connection frees you from the “tables and desks” limitation imposed by wireless or flap-cover keyboards. This one is the real deal, rigidly attached, and with a full adjustable hinge to let you position the screen how you want, or close it up like a laptop, even putting it to sleep in the process.
Incidentally, if you’re confused about the product description using the term “Pogo keyboard,” it’s actually relatively simple. “Pogo pin” is the way to describe the way a keyboard button triggers its function: When the Flexx 11 says it has a “Pogo keyboard,” it means a laptop-style rather than a touch membrane keyboard, which is all the better. Overall, the keyboard is solid. The keys are somewhat small due to the size of the device, but it’s definitely a massive step up from any kind of on-screen typing.
The downside though is the keyboard backlighting. Although there’s a very strong set of blue LEDs under the keyboard, the text on the keys themselves is not translucent, so all you really get is an outline of where the keys are; you still need ambient light if you’re actually going to read them. I would recommend simply turning off the keyboard backlighting entirely in order to save the power. It looks cool, but that’s almost its entire use.
There is also a touchpad for mouse control. As touchpads go, it’s acceptable, but that’s not a very high bar. For laptop use, get a real mouse.
Under the hood, the Flexx sports a quad-core Intel Atom processor. As you may have read in previous reviews, these processors normally run at 1.33 GHz to conserve power, but can “burst” up to 1.83 GHz for sprints when you need extra speed. That’s nothing to sneeze at either, as the Atom processors are highly efficient, and it’s evident when they drive Windows with glassy speed on the Flexx 11. It’s not a desktop replacement, but short of power gaming or similarly high-end apps, it’s solid.
For memory, we have 64GB of internal flash, of which 44GB is available out of the box, as well as 2GB of DDR3 RAM. The Flexx should also happily accept any size of memory card, allowing for up to 200GB of additional on-board memory without even bringing the question of USB drives into the picture. For wireless, we have WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0, but unlike most tablets, no GPS. Granted it might be a bit large for in-car navigation, but if you do want to do anything location-based, you’ll need an external GPS device.
The Flexx supports Windows 10, though it might ship with Windows 8, in which case it can be upgraded.
The cameras on the Flexx are not good at all. Grainy, poor light performance, lots of color noise, and low resolution. Both the front and rear cameras shoot at 2 megapixels. Overall, they’ll do the trick for Skype or video chat, just not well.
Not to dance around the point, but your battery life on the Flexx is going to vary wildly depending on a couple of factors, mostly if and how you’re using the keyboard. Since it has no built-in battery of its own, the keyboard, along with the USB ports and all that bright blue backlighting, is pulling power from the tablet battery. Depending on conditions, you could easily get anywhere from three hours of battery life up to more than eight. So this is a wonderful reason to turn off that useless keyboard backlighting, and be conscious of the display brightness. A proportionally larger screen draws proportionally more juice.
The Flexx 11 provides what is clearly a great piece of hardware, as long as you understand exactly what you’re buying. Not quite a tablet, not quite a laptop, the Flexx is a compromise between the two. It’s not just a poor man’s Microsoft Surface; it’s also a very good alternative to Google’s Chromebooks. The Flexx 11 offers a full Windows experience with a Chromebook like price and form factor. And as a bonus, you get a large screen tablet for those times when that’s what you need.
- Solid design
- Good specs
- Keyboard backlighting not helpful
- Does not charge via USB
- Some compromises necessary to hit price point