Lenovo ThinkPad T480s vs. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Lenovo's ThinkPad is one of the most recognizable lines in notebook history. It goes back decades and represents one of the most famous business brands in the world. They are conservatively designed and well built, and offer some specific design features that appeal to a specific niche of users. Two models from the range are worth around 1,000 US dollars: the ThinkPad T480s and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

We pitted the two against each other in several categories, taking into account the improvements that Lenovo has made with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon compared to the last generation model. The T480 was also refreshed with the T490 in 2019. Lenovo has since changed its naming scheme, replacing that range with the better-named T14 and T15.


Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

If you place the ThinkPad T480s and X1 Carbon far enough apart, you will find it difficult to tell the difference between them. Both use the usual deep black color scheme with a soft-touch surface and have the usual ThinkPad logo with a bright red "i". Hold them in your hand with your eyes closed, and both offer the same rugged build quality designed to meet MIL-STD-810G specifications.

However, at some point you will find that the X1 Carbon is considerably thinner and lighter (0.62 inches and 2.49 pounds) than the T480 (0.72 inches and 2.9 pounds). The added weight of the latter didn't add much to the benefits either, as the connectivity between the two was nearly identical. The T480 alone has an integrated Ethernet port, but both support the innovative ThinkPad Pro Dock from Lenovo.

Both notebooks also have the usual ThinkPad keyboard design, similar touchpads and the obligatory red TrackPoint nubbin in the middle of the keyboard, which is essential for ThinkPad fans. We found the X1 Carbon's keyboard to be faster and more precise, and the T480s version a bit stiff.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is thinner, lighter, and has a faster keyboard that outperforms its clunkier siblings in this category.


Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2018) reviewBill Roberson / Digital Trends

Lenovo configured our test devices differently, making it difficult to accurately compare their performance. The T480 had an 8th Generation Core i7-8550U CPU while the X1 Carbon had a Core i5-8250U, while both came with 8GB of RAM and a fast 256GB PCIe SSD.

Unsurprisingly, both notebooks performed similarly and were in line with other notebooks in the same class. The T480s had a slight advantage in our handbrake benchmark, which encodes a 420MB video as H.265. Here the thicker T480s seemed to benefit from additional cooling as they went through the coding process in less time than could be explained by the CPU difference alone.

In terms of storage speed, the X1 Carbon's PCIe SSD was almost twice as fast as that of the T480. That is not to say that the latter is by no means slow, as both notebooks can access data as quickly as the typical productivity task requires.

The difference in performance between the two notebooks lies in the very different Full HD displays. Both are 14-inch panels with anti-glare coatings, but the similarities end there. The display of the X1 Carbon had better contrast, a much larger color gamut, more accurate colors and a higher brightness.

In addition, the X1 Carbon is an integral part of the Lenovo product range, while the T480 was a one-off model. The T480 was retired from February 2021, but Lenovo is advancing the eighth generation of ThinkPad X1 Carbon machines. The latest model has an Intel i7-10610U, 16 GB RAM and a 512 GB PCIe SSD. Comparing the performance between an eighth and tenth generation Intel processor is not a fair fight. As such, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is really the only option that should be considered.


Lenovo Thinkpad T480s hinge closeMark Coppock / Digital Trends

As mentioned before, the X1 Carbon is significantly lighter and thinner than the T480 and is easier to slip into a backpack to carry from place to place. That doesn't mean the T480s is thick and heavy – technically it's also a thin and light notebook, just not quite as much as the X1 Carbon.

In terms of battery life, however, the T480s wins. And that's strange, because despite their different sizes, both have a battery capacity of 57 watt hours. The X1 Carbon lasted longer in our most demanding web benchmark test, but it lagged behind the T480 when surfing the web and playing videos.

While the T480s isn't a class leader in its off-charger longevity, it does manage to improve on the X1 Carbon which may or may not get you a full day of work on a single charge. That makes your decision a little easier – if you want thinner and lighter, the X1 Carbon is the winner. But when battery life is important, the T480 wins this category.

The slim frame of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon wins

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2018) reviewBill Roberson / Digital Trends

Although the X1 Carbon appears to be positioned as the higher quality of the two devices, the T480s is just as high quality as a notebook. A relatively mundane configuration of a Core i7-8550U, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, and a Full HD display retails for $ 1,700 (on sale for $ 1,360). On the higher end, the T480 costs $ 2,665, which has the advantage of a WQHD display and a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU. You can't find a brand new configuration in 2021, however.

The newest X1 Carbon costs just $ 950 according to coupons. It has an i5-10210U, 8 GB memory, a 256 GB SSD and a full HD display. A tricky configuration costs a little more than $ 2,200 according to coupons. It has a faster i7-10610U, 16 GB RAM, a 1 TB SSD and a 4K IPS display with Dolby Vision support.

The ThinkPad T480s offers better battery life than the X1 Carbon, but that's all it has to offer. Since the two don't separate a lot of money and the high-end configuration of the X1 Carbon is even slightly lower than that of the T480, we recommend using the thinner and lighter of the two.

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