Hands-On with the Lenovo ThinkPad T490s

Posted on August 7, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 17 Comments

Lenovo’s ThinkPad T490s accompanied me on my three-week home swap near Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. It’s an exceptional laptop, with a classic design and excellent performance, durability, and portability.

Design. When you have a classic, iconic design, you don’t mess with it. As such, the ThinkPad T490s provides the standard ThinkPad black look and feel, which I find to be professional-looking and understated. The materials are premium, durable (Mil-Spec rated), and pleasant to touch, with a carbon fiber hybrid in the display lid and a skin oil-resistant magnesium in the bottom. All the familiar ThinkPad touches are here, from the angled ThinkPad logo with the lit red dot on the “i” indicating power to the iconic ThinkPad keyboard and dual pointing system.

Display. While the ThinkPad T490s can be configured with a variety of 14-inch display panels, the review unit arrived with a mid-tier option, a Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS display with an anti-glare coating that pumps out 400 nits of brightness. Despite its 16:9 aspect ratio, Lenovo has done a good job of minimizing bezels, especially on the sides, which are 13 percent smaller than in last year’s model. And the display can lay flat, which is useful. The review unit’s display was not multi-touch capable, which I find to be an odd omission in 2019.

Components. As one would expect, the ThinkPad T490s provides a nice selection of modern components, including a four-core 8th-generation Intel Core processor—an i5-8265U in the review unit—8 or 16 GB of RAM, and speedy M.2/PCIe SSD storage (512 GB in the review unit).

Performance, noise, and heat. Performance has been excellent for the standard productivity tasks in which I engage, but I’ve also used it to write code in Visual Studio. The cooling system vents out of the right side of the device, and that can get warm if the device is running hard. But fan noise is minimal, as is the heat.

Connectivity. The T490s provides dual-band Intel 9560 Wi-Fi 801.ac wireless networking and Bluetooth 5.0 support. There is an Ethernet extension connector paired with one of the device’s USB-C ports for use while docking, but no cellular broadband.

Ports. I really appreciate the level of expansion provided by the ThinkPad 490s. There are two USB-C ports (one with Thunderbolt 3 that double as a dock connection), an Ethernet extension connector (for a dock), a full-sized USB 3.1 port, and a full-sized HDMI-out port on the left, and a full-sized USB 3.1 port on the right. I’d prefer to see at least one USB-C port on the right side, but the USB-C ports at least provide anti-fry technology.

Keyboard and touchpad. As a ThinkPad, the T490s is outfitted with an excellent 6-row, island-style, and backlit keyboard and the vaunted dual pointing system with TrackPoint and touchpad capabilities. But I have two gripes about the keyboard: Lenovo continues to reverse the Fn and CTRL keys (though you can reverse them in software) and the tiny arrow and PgUp/PgDn buttons crowded into the lower right corner made for too many mistypes.

Unique hardware features. Those concerned with privacy will be delighted to see that Lenovo outfitted the T940s with a ThinkShutter privacy filter for the webcam, which is a decent if unexceptional 720p unit. The T940s also supports two forms of Windows Hello authentication via its fingerprint reader, which is excellent, and its webcam.

Portability. At just 2.81 pounds, the ThinkPad T490s feels quite light in my hands, and it’s barely noticeable in my carry-on bag. And it delivered 7:40 in real-world battery life on average, according to the Windows 10 battery report, which analyzed about a month’s worth of regular usage. As good, you can charge the laptop to 80 percent in 60 minutes. Overall, it’s a highly portable road companion.

Software. Lenovo continues to lead the market when it comes to eschewing crapware in its ThinkPad products. Aside from the sad junk that ships with Windows 10 Pro, the T490s is delightfully devoid of unnecessary fluff. There are a few innocuous third-party utilities for such things as the Intel graphics, Thunderbolt 3, the audio system, and the TrackPoint. And then Lenovo’s recently-updated Vantage app, which provides support services and driver downloads. That’s it.

Pricing and configurations. The Lenovo ThinkPad T490s starts at about $1200. For that price, you get Windows 10 Home, an Intel Core i5-8265U processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB M.2 PCIe-NVMe SSD, and a 14-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS display that emits a relatively dull 240 nits of light. You can choose other configurations or customize to improve all of these components, up to Windows 10 Pro, an Intel Core i7-8665U vPro processor, 16 GB of RAM, a 1 TB OPAL 2.0 M.2 PCIe-NVMe SSD, and 500 nit IPS display with HDR for a price north of $2100. The review unit, with its Core i5 processor, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD, and 400-nit non-touch display retails for about $1800. But remember that Lenovo’s prices can fluctuate a lot, and various systems are often on sale.

Recommendations and conclusions. I’m not surprised to report that the ThinkPad T490s is a delight to use and travel with. It’s an excellent option for mobile professionals who desire the style of the X1 series but need more in the way of expansion. As a premium offering, you’ll pay top dollar for a T490s, but the device’s durability, style, and portability will make it a worthwhile investment. The ThinkPad T490s is highly recommended.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Elegant ThinkPad design
  • Dual-pointing with TrackPoint and precision touchpad
  • Ample expansion
  • Windows Hello fingerprint reader and camera
  • ThinkShutter privacy camera

Cons

  • Multi-touch is optional
  • 16:9 display
  • A few keyboard quibbles
  • Pricey

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