Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Review

Introduced earlier this year, the Lenovo ThinkPad T490 is a “do it all” business laptop that has a wide gamut of possible configurations, making it simple to deploy to various roles, from office workers to developer or even creative staff.

Data shows that prospect T490 customers are mostly comparing it to other Lenovo laptops, including the X1 Carbon, the ThinkPad X390, and various T4xx variants such as T490s and T495 (AMD CPU). The Macbook Pro is the only non-Lenovo comparison that is frequently requested.

Quick specifications overview

Config as tested: Intel i7-8565U + Intel 620 HD GPU, 16GB, 1TB SSD, 2560×1440 IPS LCD

There are four CPU options currently listed on Lenovo.com, as follows: Core i5-8265U, Core i5-8365U, Core i7-8565U, and Core i7-8665U.

By default, the graphics processor is an Intel integrated GPU, but at least one SKU has an NVIDIA GeForce MX250 as an option, which would double the graphics performance.

The RAM goes from 8GB-16GB that is soldered on the motherboard, with an additional 32GB as a user-upgradable DIMM module, for a maximum of 48GB.

SSD NVME storage options include 256, 512 or 1024GB. We will go over the display options later in the review, but you can see that the breath of possible options

Industrial Design

The ThinkPad T490 has the general look and feel of the ThinkPad family with a soft black paint finish and the same sturdiness as its cousins (including the X1 Carbon Gen7 we just reviewed) with a spill-proof keyboard and a dozen Military endurance tests certifications.

Read our What is MIL-STD-810G article for a complete explanation, or you can check Lenovo’s leaflet to see the 12 tests details.

“SPILL-PROOF KEYBOARD AND A DOZEN MILITARY ENDURANCE TESTS CERTIFICATIONS”

A closer inspection quickly reveals notable differences with a laptop like the X1 Carbon: the ThinkPad T490 is slightly heavier than the ultralight X1 Carbon (2.45 Lbs), but stays in the Thin & Light laptop category, at 3.21 Lbs.

The chassis is made fiber-glass mixed with Polyphenylene sulfide or Polyamide, depending on the location.

The Macbook Pro 13 (2019) is ~6% lighter than the ThinkPad T490 but has a chassis size, which is smaller by about ~30%. That said, the Apple laptop’s keyboard is extremely shallow, and the MacBook has not been certified to Military-Specs, nor has an extensive array of ports.

Keyboard and Trackpad

As mentioned earlier, the keyboard is a typical “ThinkPad keyboard” with all the goodness that comes with it: comfortable 1.3mm key-travel, curved keys, and spill-proof. In short, it has an impeccable typing experience.

This keyboard is backlit (2 levels of brightness) with a monochrome light, which is very handy at night, in bed, or in a plane. We’d like

“IN SHORT, AN IMPECCABLE TYPING EXPERIENCE”

The trackpad is a little larger (+18% in surface area) than the one found on the X1 carbon. It’s clearly not the biggest trackpad on the market, as the MacBook Pro and a few others feature oversized trackpads.

On laptops, most people use scroll and pinch & zoom motions. More advanced usages require up to four fingers, and circular gestures tend to be more comfortable with a larger surface. This trackpad is suitable for general usage. Check the Windows 10 gestures

Ports

  • 2x USB Type-A, 3.1 Gen1
  • 1x USB Type C, TB3
  • 1x USB Type C, 3.1 Gen1
  • 1x Standard HDMI1.4
  • 1x Ethernet, RJ45
  • 1x Flash Reader, MicroSDXC
  • 1x Anti-theft slot, Kensington
  • 1x 3.5mm audio

The number of ports is impressive, and that’s the advantage of having a relatively thick (17.9mm) design. The ThinkPad T490 isn’t a bad-looking laptop, but there are sexier and thinner designs on the market.

The great thing about this computer is that you don’t need to have that HDMI or Ethernet dongle that never seems available when you really need it.

The Thunderbolt 3 USB-C connector also opens a world of connectivity to high bandwidth devices such as external monitors, GPUs, and docking solutions. Lenovo has a USB-C dock that allows MAC address passthrough, which simplified network security inside enterprises.

Simple things like the SD-Card reader can make life much easier for photographers or users who need to copy data from such peripherals.

Sound

The sound system of the ThinkPad T490 is made of two speakers oriented upwards. They are hidden behind the grill just at the bottom of the screen.

The sound quality is decent, but even with Dolby Premium, it couldn’t match the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s quad-speaker system or the Lenovo YOGA C930’s soundbar which has one of the best sound quality we’ve heard.

It’s very much good enough for video conference and casual movie watching, but having a better sound experience would have taken things to the next level.

Display

Lenovo has been offering broader display choices on a number of laptops, and the T490 is one of them. With no less than six display options (6!!) there’s definitely something for everyone.

Our review unit is equipped with the highest-quality WQHD IPS LCD panel. With a resolution of 2560×1440, it is sharp, and we measured the maximum brightness to 519 NITs, or 4% higher than the 500 NIT specifications.

The colors are excellent, thanks to the 100% Adobe RGB color gamut. This panel is, without a doubt, a worthy option for Creative users who do photo or video work. That’s particularly true given the CPU/GPU/RAM options that we’ll cover later.

“A WORTHY OPTION FOR CREATIVE USERS”

Display options

  • Default – HD TN antiglare (1366×768, 250 nit)
  • +$76 FHD IPS (1920 x 1080, 250 nit), lower color gamut
  • +$182 FHD IPS Touchscreen (1920 x 1080. 300 nit), lower color gamut
  • +$182 FHD IPS with PrivacyGuard (1920 x 1080, 400 nit)
  • +$187 FHD IPS Low Power (1920 x 1080, 400 nit)
  • +$349 WQHD IPS with Dolby Vision® (2560 x 1440, 500 nit, 100% Adobe RGB)

The FHD “low power” is of particular interest for those who value maximum battery life and depending on our environment, you may save a bit of money by getting a display with lower brightness, but I’ve marked the models with a relatively low color gamut (~70% sRGB) that you should avoid if you do creative work.

I was surprised to see a 720p option with low brightness and low color gamut as the default selection. It is probably okay to use for office work, but with a starting price of ~$1300, it would be nice to have a 1080p/FHD display.

The display’s webcam is a typical 720p model that can record at 30 FPS. It’s okay for video conferencing, but if you have a recent high-end phone, you’ll get much better video quality from your phone’s selfie camera.

To protect your privacy, Lenovo has included a physical shutter to block the camera lens. This is hack-proof and looks a lot classier than tape or post-its.

Performance

From a computing standpoint, the ThinkPad T490 can stretch more than most because it has a discrete GPU option associated with a maximum of 48GB of RAM. That can be particularly attractive if you need to do scientific or heavy imaging work.

The base model comes with 8GB of RAM, but as you upgrade processors, some come with a minimum of 16GB. The additional memory can be added in the form of a DIMM slot and is user-upgradable.

At publishing time, only Intel Gen8 CPUs are available, some with vPro and others not. Lenovo was not ready to confirm that Gen 10 CPUs would make their way into thew ThinkPad T490 in the future, but if you are willing to wait, I think these newer CPUs will arrive soon and bring slightly higher CPU performance and about 2X GPU performance.

  • Core i5-8265U (base)
  • Core i5-8365U (+$182)
  • Core i7-8565U, 16GB min (+$182) – As tested
  • Core i7-8665U, 16GB min (+$409)

CPU / RAM benchmark

Office apps benchmark

Creative editing (photo/video) workload benchmark

As it stands, the system performance is very similar to other computers equipped with the same CPU/GPU/Display resolution combo. The ThinkPad T490’s main advantage is to enable 48GB RAM as the upper-limit, which could change everything if you use Photoshop, Premiere, or any other memory-intensive app.

When RAM gets low, and you hit the SSD for storage swapping, your CPU performance becomes effectively meaningless anyway.

For comparison, the Macbook Pro 13 is limited to 16GB of LPDDR3 RAM, while this one can get 48GB of LPDDR4 RAM. The Macbook Pro 15 gets 32GB max.

Gaming benchmark

As the gaming benchmark shows, if you want higher performance, you have two options: switch to an Intel 10th generation processor (XPS 13 7390 i7), or use a discrete GPU like the NVIDIA GeForce MX (T480s + Matebook X i7 above). The good news is that the T490 can be configured with an NVIDIA GPU to reach these levels of performance.

From a wireless connectivity standpoint, the Lenovo offers a good WIFI AC (WiFi-5) set up and an optional 4G LTE connectivity option.

This works very well for most users, but if your home or enterprise has a WiFi-6 router, then you might be missing out on extra features and performance. Perhaps some food for thoughts, but in our opinion, it’s not a purchase criterion for a WiFi-5 laptop.

Battery

The 50Wh (Watt-hours) of battery capacity is decent but slightly below-average in the thin & light category. For instance, the MacBook Pro 13 packs 58Wh of battery (+16%).

If you compare with the X1 Carbon, Dell XPS 13, Matebook X Pro, and the ThinkPad T480s — all of them have better capacity-per-weight ratios, and they all pack more battery per cubic inch than the T490, so it’s certainly something that this particular design could improve upon.

Fortunately, Lenovo has RapidCharge, a technology that charges the battery at a theoretical speed of 40Wh per hour, but in practice, it can go as high as 47Wh per hour.

In the standard PCMark 8 Work Battery test, we got 6h38mn of continuous use, which is not bad for such a test, but keep in mind that our high-resolution display does consume much more power than 1080p screens.

And don’t forget that Lenovo also has that low-power display option. Changing screens can get you 30%-50%, or more battery life. Inversely, adding a discrete GPU option will use more power. Forget the benchmarks and think in terms of total system power relative to the battery size.

Laptops are becoming increasingly configurable at order time, and individual system benchmarks are much less relevant unless you purchase the exact same model.

Be mindful that battery tests are never representative of real-world usage, because app settings, background tasks, brightness status, and network conditions are always different. The most important part of battery life is to look at the battery capacity (in Wh) and the overall system power baseline (CPU thermal design point, or TDP).

Conclusion 8.8/10

The Lenovo T490 (official US product page) is designed as a business laptop, and it shows. It puts aside a lot of typical consumer product “wants,” such as a thin body and glam design in favor of incredibly flexible configuration options and a ton of ports to help you stay productive and dongle-free.

With a starting price close to $1300, we would have liked to see a more powerful base model with at least a better display and perhaps more RAM. At the same price, the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen7 offers a much lighter chassis and better screen.

The ThinkPad T490 can address a vast market, going from people who only deal with black and white documents to creatives who want excellent color and fast graphics processing.

In the end, it can serve a user-base that other ThinkPads may not be able to, perhaps because of particular technical details. Maybe that explains why prospective buyers are comparing it with many other ThinkPads.

I feel like this could be the preferred ThinkPad model from an IT-department perspective because it can serve so many people within a company. The ThinkPad T490 is a jack of all trades and if budget is a concern, you may want to read our ThinkPad T480s review as last year’s model is still selling.

Overall product rating: 8.9/10

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