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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Comments (17)

17 responses to “Hands-On with the Lenovo ThinkPad T490s”

  1. Avatar

    red.radar

    My daily driver has been a Thinkpad T450 I snagged off eBay real cheap last year. It was supposed to be a backup machine for a project but I loved it so much I sold everything else I had and put a few upgrades into it.


    I really like like the dual battery functionality that allows you to swap out and keep running. It’s great when in the field, although I think the S variant is 100% internal. And I can’t agree more with your point on the excellent Lenovo vantage app and the lack of crapware.


    Mine is great although I am starting to lament not having thunderbolt3 and my display is a little crummy @ 1600x1050.

    • Avatar

      wright_is

      In reply to red.radar:

      Unfortunately the dual battery functionality was dropped. I have a T480 (the "s" version is even thinner and lighter), which is great, but I miss not being able to put in the bigger battery.

      It also has the Thunderbolt 3 port for docking (although, strangely, Lenovo have 2 USB-C ports on the left side, the rear one is for charging, whilst the front one is Thunderbolt 3 + Charging... That confused the heck out of me at first, I simply pulled out the charging cable and plugged the TB3 dock into the port, nothing happened. apart from it said it was still being charged...

      Still a great machine though.

  2. Avatar

    Stooks

    We just bought this for my daughter who is about to leave for college. I got a great price on it because of a back to school sale, the same 8265U CPU, added the 16gig option and 512gig M.2, plus touch screen and a extra power adapter...out the door for just over $1300. 8gig of memory is on-board, as in you can't remove it. So adding the 16gig option bumped it up to 24gig.


    We got the laptop and she loves it. Logged into her school Office 365 account and installed Office. My wife liked it so much she wanted one to replace her aging Dell Inspiron. However 3 weeks had passed and the cheapest we could get it was for just over $1600. I told her to call Lenovo and ask them for the same deal...and they did it. Her's is on the way.


    I am a big fan of the T series laptops. I have been using them for many years, since the IBM days. I currently use a T580 as my daily driver. The lack of krapware is a great and the Lenovo tool is really nice for driver/firmware updates. I added a Samsung 1TB 970 to mine for VM's and wireshark captures. Having and ethernet port is a huge plus!

    • Avatar

      jmarco

      Got Lenovo X-1 last thanksgiving. Followed their pricing on their website for 8 mos. and found the best discounts offered then. Kudos to Lenovo for matching your previous purchase. My own experience with Lenovo support was unusually nice. I had messed up my new laptop by trying to replace wifi adapter after opening the laptop's backside: I sent it to Lenovo repair and fessed up to my mistake. I told them that I would gladly pay for the repairs. But to my surprise they did not charge me anything to fix it. Shipping charges to and from Lenovo repair facility was prepaid by them. I am planning on buying another lenovo laptop.

  3. Avatar

    hrlngrv

    Semantics: with almost all laptops having 16:9 screens, is it really a con? I can agree that 3:2 would be a pro, but anything as ubiquitous as 16:9 is more baseline than either pro or con.

  4. Avatar

    warren

    Ehhh. Not a fan of the soldered memory in these newer T490s laptops.... if something goes wrong with it, it's an expensive repair instead of a simple hardware swap. Unless there's some way of turning off the onboard RAM and only using what's in the SO-DIMM slot?


  5. Avatar

    simont

    Small typo - under Unique hardware features, you keep saying T940s

  6. Avatar

    StevenLayton

    Paul, I bet you didn't leave the laptop, taken in the hero image, sat like that for a second longer than you needed, lol.

  7. Avatar

    roho

    I have a T480 also and love it. It replaced an Ideapad where the screen went wonky. I sent it back to Lenovo and they repaired the screen but it only lasted a few months and went wonky again. Avoid the ideapads and pay extra for the Thinkpad line.

  8. Avatar

    crp0908

    My biggest gripe about all Lenovo devices is that the Fn and Ctrl keys being reversed. I use multiple devices from several different manufacturers every day. I have found myself making frequent typing mistakes on the Lenovo devices because of this.


    What software can be used to reverse them?

  9. Avatar

    djross95

    Paul, my understanding is that this has soldered RAM and a non-upgradable battery, but the SSD can be replaced. Is that the case? I'm on a bit of jihad against non-upgradable laptops (I'm looking at you, Apple) and ThinkPads used to buck that trend. My sense is that they're now following Apple down the road of throwaway "appliances". Great review, and thanks!

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