Linux on a Lenovo Flex 5

#Linux #Hardware #Lenovo

When daughter started university two years ago, she got a used Thinkpad X1 Carbon Gen2 (2014) running Ubuntu (kids grew up on recycled machines using Linux), and she was very happy to have a good computer she didn't have to pay for. However this summer she started to have problems with it. I suspect these are mostly software problems, but she also had two missing keys on the keyboard. Sourcing a replacement keyboard and replacing it with the risk of it not working at all was a problem as she cannot afford much downtime, with all her schoolwork and two volunteering positions as a crisis line responder.

I know how she treats electronic devices (i.e. badly) so I did not want to invest into something too expensive, but I still wanted the best bang for the bucks.

So for the first time in many, many years, I decided to purchase a new computer. I know how she treats electronic devices (i.e. badly) so I did not want to invest into something too expensive, but I still wanted the best bang for the bucks. Daughter had also expressed the wish to get a 2-in-1 that she can convert into a tablet for displaying music sheet when playing the piano.

I got her a Lenovo Ideapad Flex5 14 aka 14ARE05 (awkward name), a budget-friendly 2-in-1 notebook computer with a 14” display, AMD Ryzen 4500U processor, 16 GB or RAM and 512 GB or SDD storage, 10+ hours of battery life. For $950 CAD (around $700 USD) it is a reasonably priced considering how Canadians usually get an unfavourable exchange rate.

The big unknown was how well the machine would run Linux. I opted for Ubuntu because daughter will have to install software by herself; Ubuntu being the most widespread distribution, she is more likely to find online resources and instructions that apply to her system.

I also installed a Windows 10 VM so that she has access to a Windows environment in the event that her school or work require the use of proprietary software, but I doubt she will ever need to start it.

I kept the original Windows 10 OS, shrinking it to minimum: this is for firmware updates only and she should never need to use it.

The system automatically boots into Ubuntu 20.04. Everything worked out of the box save for two small details: display brightness control and automatic screen rotation.

With the stock Ubuntu kernel (5.4), brightness control has no effect at all. To solve that I installed one of the latest mainline kernel (5.7.8) and brightness can now somehow be adjusted: increasing works fine, decreasing goes halfway down and then turns off the display altogether, but you can turn it back on by going up. A bit quirky, but it still works.

Kernel 5.7.9 introduced a bug where the touch-screen became unresponsive, so I stayed on 5.7.8, but I expect newer versions to fix that. It is an experimental kernel after all.

2021-01 edit: the 5.8.x family of kernels had a bug where the integrated microphone ceased to function. However all is well now with the 5.10 kernel

As for automatic screen rotation, it looks like the orientation sensor is detected but the driver does not read values properly. I showed daughter how to change display orientation manually and it is not a big deal.

I am pretty sure it is only a matter of time until somebody figures it out. This Lenovo model was just released and while I was expecting some problems, I must say that overall the system is perfectly usable as is.

So would I advise the purchase of e Lenovo Ideapad Flex 5 14 (AMD) to use with Linux?

Yes, definitely. For the price, this machine has very solid specs and can be used as a fully functional daily driver in Linux.