Lenovo ThinkPad E490 review: Budget business laptop with all-day battery and upgradeable hardware

Lenovo does its best to ensure there's a ThinkPad for everyone, from those who'd like a budget workhorse without any unnecessary frills, to those who'd like a premium device with all the latest technology. The ThinkPad E490 that I've been using for about a week is in the former camp, with a starting price that's cheaper than most ThinkPads and a feature set that is more geared toward a life of hard work rather than anything fancy. Let's see whether or not it's worth the money and whether or not it has the right stuff to be your next laptop.

What you'll love about the ThinkPad E490

Like the majority of ThinkPads, the E490 has a chassis that's made up of a polymer blend covered in black soft-touch paint. It picks up fingerprints and smudges, but it's durable; it has undergone MIL-STD 810G certification testing to ensure it can put up with extreme conditions you wouldn't normally find in an office, so it's ready to follow you into the field. A single hinge runs along the majority of the intersection between lid and bottom chassis, and it allows the display to rotate back about 180 degrees to sit flat. It's a bit wobbly, but it does allow you to open the lid with one hand, a feature often seen on premium devices.

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Processor8th GenIntel Core i5-8265UUp to 3.90GHzFour cores
GraphicsIntel UHD 620
Storage512GB M.2 PCIe SSD
Display14 inches1920x1080 (FHD)Non-touchIPS, matte
SecurityFingerprint readerdTPM 2.0Kensington lock slot
WirelessIntel Wireless-AC 9260802.11ac (2 x 2)Bluetooth 5.0
PortsUSB-C 3.1 (Charging)Two USB-A 3.1USB-A 2.0HDMI 1.4bRJ45 EthernetmicroSD card reader3.5mm audio
Size12.9 inches x 9.5 inches x 0.86 inches(329mm x 242mm x 21.9mm)
WeightFrom 4.06 pounds (1.84kg)

The E490's budget status means it's slightly thicker and heavier than the premium ThinkPads, coming in at about 0.86 inches thick and weighing in at about 4.06 pounds (1.84kg). However, the chassis holds quite a bit of hardware, including dual SODIMM RAM slots, 2.5-inch SATA hard drive, and M.2 PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), all of which can be upgraded post purchase if you'd like to keep the laptop up to date. Just pop off the back cover, and you have easy access to everything.

Along the sides, you'll find a generous selection of ports. On the left is a single USB-C that doubles as a port for the AC adapter, HDMI, two USB-A 3.1, and a 3.5mm audio jack. On the right side is a microSD card reader, USB-A 2.0, RJ45 Ethernet, and a Kensington lock slot if you'd like to keep your laptop safe on your desk overnight. There are enough ports here that you should have no issues connecting most of your accessories, though it would be nice to see Thunderbolt 3 to help keep the laptop relevant longer into the future.

With the E490 comes an outstanding ThinkPad keyboard, complete with cupped keys, ample travel, and perfect spacing. If you type all day, you won't have any problems here, though make sure you opt for the backlit keys. It will cost a bit more, but you won't have any problems working in the dark.

Built into the keyboard is a TrackPoint system, which includes a red pointing nub and physical buttons above the Precision touchpad. It all works as it should, and the standard touchpad with mylar surface is smooth and responsive. To the right of the touchpad, built into the armrest, is a fingerprint reader for Windows Hello. It worked almost instantly every time I opened the laptop, so no issues there.

The durable ThinkPad E490 has a stellar keyboard, all-day battery, and upgradeable hardware, all for a budget price.

One of the laptop's finer features is its battery life. I ran the 45Wh battery from full while streaming video and saw about eight hours from the charge, which translates to about 10 hours of standard usage at 60 percent screen brightness. An E490 model with HD rather than FHD display would likely last longer, but we recommend you get the higher-res display. To add to the impressive battery life, charging with USB-C delivers about 80 percent battery life in an hour, so you can top up quickly and get back to work.

The review model I have here is one of the more expensive models on offer, coming in at about $945, but it includes an 8th Gen "Whiskey Lake" Intel Core i5-8265U processor (CPU), 8GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 512GB PCIe M.2 solid-state drive (SSD), which together deliver respectable performance that can cut through just about any non-specialized task with ease. You can drop down to a Core i3 CPU, 500GB hard-disk drive (HDD), and HD display and pay closer to about $657.

I ran some synthetic benchmarks to get a better idea of how well the E490 stacks up against other laptops we've recently reviewed.


Geekbench 4.0 Benchmarks (Higher is better)

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DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Lenovo ThinkPad E490i5-8265U4,40212,021
Lenovo ThinkPad L390i5-8265U4,32011,499
Lenovo ThinkPad L380i5-8250U3,9459,775
Lenovo ThinkPad T490i7-8565U5,43115,608
Lenovo ThinkPad T480i5-8250U3,94012,559
Lenovo ThinkPad X390i7-8565U5,47218,059
MSI PS63 Moderni7-8565U4,90914,466
Huawei MateBook X Proi7-8565U5,19216,757
HP Spectre x360 13ti7-8565U5,05614,767
Surface Laptop 2i5-8250U4,20313,233
LG gram 14 2-in-1i7-8565U4,82913,889


PCMark Home Conventional 3.0

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Lenovo ThinkPad E4903,212
Lenovo ThinkPad L3903,217
Lenovo ThinkPad L3802,762
Lenovo ThinkPad T4903,620
Lenovo ThinkPad T4803,254
Lenovo ThinkPad X3903,934
LG gram 14 2-in-13,452
Lenovo Yoga C9303,506


CrystalDiskMark (Higher is better)

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Lenovo ThinkPad E4901,606.6 MB/s800.8 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad L3902,189.3 MB/s1,350.4 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad L380545 MB/s528.9 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad T4903,254.8 MB/s2,954.9 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad T4801,738.1 MB/s1,174.9 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad X3903,024 MB/s1,563.2 MB/s
Huawei MateBook X Pro3,0416 MB/s2,779 MB/s
HP Spectre x360 13t3,085 MB/s1,182 MB/s
LG gram 14 2-in-1558.1 MB/s523.1 MB/s
Lenovo Yoga C9302,596.2 MB/s806 MB/s

The speedy Toshiba M.2 PCIe SSD can be replaced with something even faster, and there's always the 2.5-inch storage bay (in this case sitting dormant) that you can use for bulk SATA storage in the form of either an HDD or SSD.

What you'll dislike about the ThinkPad E490

Lenovo must cut corners somewhere to keep the price of the E490 down, and unfortunately, it's the display that takes the biggest hit. It doesn't get bright enough to easily work outdoors on a sunny day, but at least it does have a matte finish to cut down significantly on glare in normal working conditions. And while it does just fine for most productivity tasks, color reproduction is below average, hitting 67 percent of the sRGB gamut and 51 percent AdobeRGB. Contrast is actually not bad, and you likely won't notice the color reproduction during everyday use, at least until you compare it to a more expensive laptop.

The other thing you might dislike about the E490 is its size and weight. Compared to the 14-inch ThinkPad T490 ⁠— weighing in at just 3.17 pounds (1.44kg) and measuring 0.70 inches at its thickest ⁠— the E490 is bulky. However, the T490 has a starting price, that's about $400 more. I quickly got used to the E490's size, even moving from the lightweight LG gram 15Z980, and it's still sized to easily slip into a backpack or messenger and be carried around with you wherever you go.

Should you buy the ThinkPad E490?

The E490 is a ThinkPad in the classic vein, with a durable body, outstanding keyboard, respectable performance, and long-lasting battery life. It's a bit bulkier than other, more expensive models, but it also comes at a starting $657 price that's well into the budget field. For those who just need a solid workhorse and don't mind a display with sub-par color reproduction and no Thunderbolt 3 port, this is going to be an awesome device. The ability to upgrade SSD, 2.5-inch hard drive and RAM only means it will last longer into the future.

If you like the idea of a far better 14-inch display (WQHD resolution and HDR support), better port selection, optional LTE, and a thinner and lighter chassis, you should check out the ThinkPad T490. It's more expensive, but for some, the upgrades will be worth the cost. And if you're looking for a ThinkPad that's about the same price but comes with a touch display option, have a look at the ThinkPad L390.

Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond. If it runs Windows or in some way complements the hardware, there’s a good chance he knows about it, has written about it, or is already busy testing it.