Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Evaluation: This Traditional ThinkPad Has a Drawback

Lenovo ThinkPad T490 14-inch

"The ThinkPad T490 is a classic workhorse."

  • Outstanding build quality

  • Superior keyboard and great touchpad

  • Very long battery life

  • Discrete graphics option

  • Not the thinnest or lightest

  • Inferior ad for the price

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The Lenovo ThinkPad T490 is a boring laptop. But sometimes boring is good – like economy limousines that are second to none to get people from point A to point B with little or no effort. Some people want this security and reliability in a laptop. The ThinkPad T490 is just right for you.

I have a mainstream version of the laptop with an 8th generation Whiskey Lake Core i5-8265U CPU, 8 GB RAM, and a 256 GB PCIe solid-state drive for $ 1,322 with a full HD display low power consumption (1,920 x 1,080) tested. It's about the same vanilla as you can get in a business laptop today.

Does the ThinkPad T490 live up to its reputation of being a solid choice for discerning ThinkPad enthusiasts who don't need the flair of the X1 line?

The legendary ThinkPad

It is becoming less and less obvious what a ThinkPad should look like. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is nearby, but adds a carbon fiber weave to the lid of the 4K version that doesn't normally stand out from ThinkPads. Don't let me start with the aluminum case of the ThinkPad X1 Yoga. The ThinkPad T490 is much more what a die-hard ThinkPad fan wants to see – it's black on black, and just a few red accents break up the monochromatic color scheme.

The chassis is made of plastic with a glass fiber back and feels stable enough in your hand. It also enjoys the matte soft-touch finish that makes traditional ThinkPads so inviting. If you like ThinkPads because you know they will last forever, you will see the ThinkPad T490 as well. I have to find some flexibility in the display, which the X1 Carbon also demonstrated, but the rest of the chassis is solid enough. You have to look at the all-metal X1 Yoga to get a stiffer chassis.

A feature that you won't find on the T490 is thin bezels. You are downright chunky. The laptop was reduced in size compared to the previous model T480. It's thinner at 0.7 inches and lighter at 3.17 pounds heaviest compared to the more powerful T480. It's a welcome loss of size that extends to the width and depth of the T490. Nobody will confuse this with a MacBook or XPS, but that's the point. ThinkPads dance to their own groove.

A hit in this groove has always been excellent connectivity. You will find a full-size HDMI 1.4 connector, a USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 connector, a USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 connector with power supply, DisplayPort and data transfer, a USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 and a microSD card reader and a proprietary docking station port – all on the left side of the laptop. On the right side there is a full-size Ethernet connection and another USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 connector.

Seriously, that's a lot of connectivity, and all the important basics are covered. There's even a micro SIM slot in case you want to add an LTE data service and want to be really portable. My test device included the Intel 9560 802.11AC radio with Bluetooth 2.0, but you'll get Wi-Fi 6 if you choose the upcoming 10th generation versions (more on that later).

Oh yes, this beautiful ThinkPad keyboard

Another ThinkPad thing that does the T490 right is its keyboard. I found it to be as excellent as ever, with a lot of depth and a clicking, precise mechanism. The white lettering on black keycaps is as visible as ever, although the backlight is optional in a strange twist and my test device didn't have it. That's a shit and another reason for me to express my love for the Specter keyboards from HP, which I love so much.

The usual red TrackPoint nubbin is right in the middle of the keyboard and works almost always. Of course, this also means that two additional buttons create space on the touchpad, but that's not a big deal. The touchpad is large enough and it is a Microsoft Precision version. This means that the various multitouch gestures are well supported by Windows 10.

Unfortunately, there is no touch display, although this is an option for both the Full HD and the WQHD panel (2,560 x 1,440). I've gotten used to touching displays – it's much easier to scroll long web pages and occasionally tap popups. Not everyone will miss their absence, but I definitely did.

Windows Hello support is provided by a standard fingerprint scanner that worked reliably in my tests and an optional infrared camera for facial recognition. Privacy is further enhanced by the usual ThinkPad ThinkShutter, which can physically cover the webcam and protect you from prying eyes.

Good performance, as needed

My test device was limited to the 8th generation Core i5. This is a great quad-core chip for basic productivity tasks, and the ThinkPad T490 is no exception. In the synthetic GeekBench 4 benchmark, it was only slightly below average with 4,158 for single-core and 12,395 for multi-core. The completion of our handbrake test, which converted a 420MB video to H.265, took just over five minutes.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon and X1 Yoga performed similarly, if only a little faster. Some other laptops with the same CPU were faster, including the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s, which completed the handbrake test about a minute faster. So with Core i5s, you can get faster laptops, and the T490 itself will likely take a step forward as it becomes available with Comet Lake 10th generation CPUs in the next few weeks.

Interestingly, and this is a first: You can configure the ThinkPad T490 with a discrete NVIDIA GeForce MX250 GPU. These are discrete entry-level graphics, but they surpass the Intel UHD 620 graphics integrated in my test device. This chip will not only play better, but will also promote creative applications.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon and X1 Yoga that I tested both had 4K displays and the same battery capacity of around 50 watt-hours as the ThinkPad T490. Suffice it to say that their battery life wasn't particularly good.

Enter the T490 with its energy-saving Full HD display and the economical Core i5. In a word, the battery life was excellent. Starting with our most realistic test, which went through a number of popular and demanding websites until the battery ran out, the T490 lasted a very strong 11.73 hours. This is almost the top of our results and beats most laptops. This also means that the T490 spends a good part of a working day performing the tasks that productivity users prefer.

The battery life in laptops is getting better and the T490 kept up.

If you'd like to try Netflix after a long day at work, the T490 is for you. In our local video test, it took almost 17.5 hours, which is again at the top of our list. If you run a demanding application that is CPU intensive, the T490 will give you about four hours.

The battery life in laptops is getting better and the T490 kept up. This is a laptop that keeps you off a plug all day. This is a good thing because Lenovo has discontinued the modular bridge battery option for the T480. With this type of battery life and a quick charge feature that brings the battery back to 80 percent in just one hour, you are less likely to miss the hot-swap battery option.

A disappointing presentation

I was ready to give the ThinkPad T490 a higher score in this test, but I had left the display test forever. Unfortunately, the full HD display in my test device for a premium laptop is downright disappointing, and that will cost the T490 a few points.

The colors are surprisingly muted on only 45 percent of AdobeRGB and 61 percent of sRGB. Frankly, these are the results I expect from a laptop in the $ 500 range. Most premium laptops are closer to 95 percent of sRGB and 72 percent of AdobeRGB. The colors are also not that precise. You definitely don't want to edit photos or videos on this screen.

You won't hate the display, but you won't love it either.

To make matters worse, the display is not too bright with a maximum of 273 nits. We want to see displays that can reach 300 nits or more – this is the point at which a display has a chance to outshine bright ambient light. The contrast of the T490 is also bad at 670: 1 – the latest premium laptops are closer to 1000: 1, and you can see the difference. For example, black text on a white background is not displayed, which leads to a dreary experience.

Subjectively, the display is hardly acceptable for the T490's focus on productivity work. You won't hate it, but you won't love it either. More importantly, it's not as comfortable to use as most of the other premium displays I've tested, and the laptop is suffering.

Our opinion

The ThinkPad T490 lives up to its status as the workhorse of the line. It's not exciting to look at – unless you love the iconic ThinkPad look – but it's well built, performs well, and lasts all day, and some of it on battery.

However, the display is a big disappointment. It's just not good enough for the price. That's why I can't recommend the ThinkPad T490 to most people, despite its excellent keyboard and durable construction.

Is there a better alternative?

I've already mentioned several alternatives, including the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and X1 Yoga (if you want a 2-in-1 device). Both are a little fancier, a little thinner and lighter and work just as well. They also offer 4K display options (and probably better Full HD displays) that the T490 doesn't like.

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme is another option if you're looking for insanely fast components and superior expandability. But don't forget the Dell XPS 13 if you don't need 14 inches.

How long it will take?

The ThinkPad T490 is going through the apocalypse and may still have a small charge remaining. It is also well equipped and connected. If you're waiting for the 10th generation CPU versions, you're up to date. You only get a one-year warranty, which is a shit, but Lenovo is happy to sell you a longer one with great service and support.

Should you buy it

No, unless you're most interested in the keyboard or durability.

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