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Lenovo ThinkPad T490 review: Thinner and lighter, but no more modular battery

The 2019 ThinkPad updates roll on with the T490, a versatile, durable 14-inch Ultrabook that's seen some significant changes over last year's T480 that we also reviewed. I used it for more than a week to get a feel for what it has to offer, and like previous years, it's a total workhorse that gets a lot right. Here's what it does right, what it does wrong, and ultimately whether or not it's the right laptop for you.

Lenovo ThinkPad T490 tech specs

Lenovo supplied Windows Central with a review unit of the ThinkPad T490. Compared to last year's T480, it now has the option for updated NVIDIA MX250 dedicated graphics card (GPU), Whiskey Lake Intel processor (CPU) options, and a WQHD display with Dolby Vision HDR and brightness up to 500 nits. It's also thinner, weighs less, and has a smaller footprint than the T480, though gone is the hot-swappable battery option and hard-disk drive (HDD) storage option.

This exact model costs about $1,971, though baseline models start at about $1,017. Here is a detailed breakdown of the hardware that makes up the review unit we have here.

CategorySpec
Processor8th Gen
Intel Core i7-8565U
Four cores
Up to 4.60GHz
RAM16GB DDR4-2400MHz
Dual channel
GraphicsIntel UHD Graphics 620
Storage1TB PCIe SSD
Toshiba XG6
Display14 inches
2560x1440 (WQHD)
Dolby Vision HDR
IPS, glossy, non-touch
PortsOne USB-C 3.1
Thunderbolt 3
USB-A 3.1
HDMI 1.4
RJ45 Ethernet
microSD card reader
Micro-SIM (optional)
Smart Card Reader (optional)
3.5 mm audio
AudioDolby Audio Premium
Dual 2W speakers
WirelessIntel Wireless-AC 9560
802.11ac (2 x 2)
Bluetooth 5.0
CameraFront-facing 720p
Webcam shutter
BiometricsFingerprint reader
IR camera
KeyboardBacklit
TouchpadPrecision
TrackPoint system
Battery50Wh
65W AC adapter
Dimensions12.95 inches x 8.94 inches x 0.70 inches
(329mm x 227mm x 17.9mm)
Weight3.17 pounds (1.44kg)
(WQHD version)

Lenovo ThinkPad T490 design and features

Compared to last year's T480, the T490 is lighter — the WQHD version is the heaviest and starts at just 3.17 pounds (1.44kg) — it has an overall smaller footprint, and it's thinner at 0.70 inches (17.9mm). It's not exactly an exciting look, but it's definitely ThinkPad. The black soft-touch paint covers the entire chassis, and like most ThinkPads picks up a lot of smudges and fingerprints, there's a dual-hinge system that provides about 180 degrees of movement, and there are a ton of ports packed into the slim chassis.

The T490's durable chassis is thinner and lighter than ever, and the 14-inch WQHD display with HDR is absolutely stunning.

On the left side is a USB-C for charging, Thunderbolt 3, USB-A 3.1, HDMI 1.4, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a microSD card reader, and on the right is an RJ45 Ethernet port, another USB-A 3.1, and an optional Smart Card reader. This is a generous selection, and the additional full-size Ethernet hookup puts it ahead of something like the similar ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

The ThinkPad T490 has gone through the usual MIL-STD 810G durability tests to prove its hardiness, and it's an all-around solid laptop. The lid hardly wiggles when shaken, there's minimal flex in the main chassis, and despite its lightness feels like it can put up with a beating. The T490 includes a few security options along with the dTPM 2.0 chip, including a fingerprint reader set into the right palm rest, an optional IR camera above the display, a shutter for the front-facing 720p webcam, and Kensington lock slot. Like the X390 that we recently reviewed, a PrivacyGuard display option is also expected sometime this summer, which will cut down on viewing angles and keep those passing by from seeing what you're working on.

Dual 2W speakers are positioned along the top of the keyboard and hidden beneath a grate that also houses the power button. They're standard Ultrabook speakers that provide loud, clear audio, but don't expect anything miraculous. Along the back edge of the laptop where the lid folds down is also room for Micro-SIM card for those who opt for optional LTE connectivity.

Lenovo ThinkPad T490 display

Our review model has the high-end WQHD non-touch display, and it's absolutely gorgeous. It looks to be the same 14-inch display that's used in the X1 Carbon series, with Dolby Vision HDR and up to 500 nits brightness. It's about a $191 upgrade over the FHD non-touch option, but it's entirely worth it, especially if you're interested in multimedia editing or a bit of design work.

In our testing, color reproduction hits 100 percent sRGB and AdobeRGB, which are both outstanding results. It's also incredibly bright at about 500 nits, almost making up for the glossy finish that can still be a bit of a pain in a sun-drenched room. The bezel is slightly slimmer compared to the T480, further upping the impressive overall look when the lid is open.

If you're looking to save some money, Lenovo also offers 1366x768 HD displays — likely reserved for Enterprise buys — as well as the aforementioned 1080p non-touch and touch options. If you're buying this laptop for yourself, at least go with an FHD display, but consider opting for a smaller SSD (which can be upgraded later) to start and make room in your budget for the knockout WQHD display.

Lenovo ThinkPad T490 keyboard and touchpad

The keyboard hasn't changed much if at all compared to the T480. It's using the same cupped keys, it has the perfect amount of travel, and it's soft when bottoming out without feeling springy. ThinkPad's generally have outstanding keyboards, and the T490 is no different.

Included here is the iconic ThinkPad TrackPoint system, with red pointer nub in the middle of the keyboard and physical buttons positioned between keyboard and standard touchpad. Nothing wrong here either, as you'll have no issues with pointing. The surface is smooth, it tracks perfectly, and it's using Microsoft's Precision drivers for an optimal experience.

Lenovo ThinkPad T490 performance and battery

The biggest change compared to the T480 is the removal of the Bridge Battery system, which offered a modular design for hot-swapping batteries in the field. You could charge up a couple of extra batteries before heading out, and when one was low, you could pop it out and add another fully-charged battery without powering down the system. This has now been removed in lieu of a single 50Wh battery that gets between six and seven hours of life from a charge when going about regular work. With a lower res display you'd likely see slightly better battery life, though by adding an NVIDIA MX250 dedicated GPU, there would no doubt be a further hit to longevity.

I used the T490 regularly for about a week, and though I didn't get into any intensive tasks, it remained cool and quiet. You will hear the single fan kick on once in a while, but it doesn't get noticeably loud. This model comes with 8GB of RAM soldered onto the board, as well as another slot that you can upgrade yourself for improved performance. I ran some synthetic benchmarks to see how it stacks up to similar Ultrabooks.

CPU

Geekbench 4.0 Benchmarks (Higher is better)

DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
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

Whiskey Lake Intel Core i5 and Core i7 CPU options give a bit of a boost to performance, and you shouldn't have any problems unless you start getting into specialized design and dev tasks. In that case, you might want to check out a mobile workstation, like the ThinkPad P52.

GPU

Geekbench 4.0 OpenCL (higher is better)

DeviceGPUScore
Lenovo ThinkPad T490Intel UHD 62037,920
Lenovo ThinkPad T480Intel UHD 62018,245
Lenovo ThinkPad X390Intel UHD 62037,440
Huawei MateBook X ProNVIDIA MX25045,365
HP Spectre x360 13tIntel UHD 62037,487
Surface Laptop 2Intel UHD 62035,473

There is also the option available to add an NVIDIA MX250 dedicated graphics card if you need some extra performance for editing or design.

PCMark

PCMark Home Conventional 3.0

DeviceScore
Lenovo ThinkPad T4903,620
Lenovo ThinkPad T4803,254
Lenovo ThinkPad X3903,934
LG gram 14 2-in-13,452
Lenovo Yoga C9303,506

SSD

CrystalDiskMark (Higher is better)

DeviceReadWrite
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

Lenovo has scrapped the option to add a hard-disk drive to these PCs, though the PCIe SSD can be had up to 1TB in size. Our review model is using a blazing Toshiba SSD, and you can save some money by going with smaller storage size and upgrading it yourself later.

Should you buy Lenovo's ThinkPad T490?

ThinkPad T490 (Image credit: Windows Central)

The ThinkPad T490 is positioned more than ever as a more affordable alternative to the X1 Carbon, thanks to slimmer and lighter chassis, 14-inch WQHD display with HDR option, and powerful performance hardware. There is the option to add an NVIDIA MX250 GPU for a bit more graphics power, though gone is the modular battery and option for an HDD.

If you like the latter two features, the ThinkPad T480 is still available from Lenovo, though it doesn't quite offer the same performance. Overall, the T490 is an impressive Ultrabook with tons of configurations options available, upgradeable SSD and RAM, and optional LTE connectivity.

Cale Hunt
Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

2 Comments
  • This is why I don't get why Intel are pushing out a 10 series CPU, if devices are still being made with 8th gen chipsets, what's the point? Conversely, why would anyone buy this if a newer chipset is mere months away in a device that is actually cheaper?
  • Thanks. While I desired the better screen, the lack of external battery and battery life was a major issue to me. But what really made up my mind to get a T480 while I could was the fact that I can swap out the WiFi adapter to get WiFi 6. No such option in the T490, nor can I have an internal 2½" drive (a TB SSD doesn't cost a fortune today). A full size SD card reader is important to me, too.
    There's a lot of us out there who don't care the least about shaving off another slice of weight. Having the jmbo battery also works as a practical handle when you carry it around.
    The final nail was price, of course. With a T480 trading at $400 less than a comparable T490, my final decision was quite easy. I expect Lenovo to change course so that the next model will not just be a cheaper version of the s-series, but address the user segment that have enough muscle to deal with a slightly higher weight. After all, at less than 2 kilograms, who can seriously claim that the weight of the T480 is a problem?