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Lenovo ThinkPad T490s review: A more portable T490 that toes the line of the X1 Carbon

We reviewed Lenovo's standard ThinkPad T490, refreshed for 2019, and noted its port selection, gorgeous display options, and chassis that was thinner and lighter than the T480. Now we have the ThinkPad T490s in our hands, which is a slimmed-down version that has quite a few of the same features, including LTE support, generous port selection, and multiple display options. Let's take a look at whether or not the T490s has the right stuff to be your next Ultrabook.

Lenovo ThinkPad T490s tech specs

Lenovo supplied Windows Central with a review unit of the ThinkPad T490s, complete with 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor (CPU), 16GB of DDR4 RAM, 512GB M.2 PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and 14-inch low-power FHD display with about 400 nits brightness.

This exact model costs about $1,623, but you can start a baseline model at about $922. Here is a detailed breakdown of the hardware that makes up the review unit we have in-hand.

CategorySpec
Processor8th Gen
Intel Core i5-8265U
Four cores
Up to 3.9GHz
RAM16GB DDR4-2400MHz
Soldered
GraphicsIntel UHD 620
Storage512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD
User upgradeable
Display14 inches
1920x1080 (FHD)
Low-power 400 nits
IPS, matte
PortsThunderbolt 3
USB-C 3.1
Two USB-A 3.1
HDMI 1.4
Lenovo Ethernet adapter
MicroSD card reader
Smart Card reader
3.5mm audio
AudioDual 1W stereo speakers
WirelessIntel Wireless-AC 9560
802.11ac (2 x 2)
Bluetooth 5.0
LTEFibocom L850-GL (optional)
CameraFront-facing 720p
ThinkShutter
BiometricsFingerprint reader
IR camera (optional)
KeyboardBacklit
Spill-resistant
TouchpadPrecision
TrackPoint system
Battery57Wh
Dimensions12.95 inches x 8.89 inches x 0.63 inches
(329mm x 225.8mm x 16.1mm)
WeightFrom 2.81 pounds (1.27kg)

Lenovo ThinkPad T490s design and features

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The ThinkPad T490s chassis is well-balanced and impressively light, starting at about 2.81 pounds (1.27kg) and measuring 0.63 inches (16.1mm) thin. It's still just a bit bigger and heavier than the premium X1 Carbon, though it does start at a lower price. Compared to the T480s, it has been slimmed down in almost every way. The chassis, as usual, is made up of a magnesium main portion and a carbon fiber lid, which gives it durability without a lot of weight. This laptop has gone through MIL-STD 810G testing to prove its resilience over and above conditions you'd find in an office. The laptop doesn't bend when twisted, and the lid feels sturdy enough to take some abuse. No, it can't be opened with one hand.

Due to its size, the T490s does not have a full-size RJ45 Ethernet port like the standard T490, instead relying on Lenovo's proprietary adapter hookup.

Gone too is the microSD card reader on the left side of the chassis for easy access. It is instead bundled with the rear SIM card slot that's a lot less convenient if you're one who often swaps out cards. Still, the left side of the laptop holds USB-C (for charging), Thunderbolt 3, USB-A, HDMI, and a 3.5mm audio jack, as well as another USB-A on the right side and space for an optional Smart Card reader. You're still getting a generous selection of ports here, though if you hate dongles or often use microSD, the T490 might be more attractive.

Like any worthwhile ThinkPad, the T490s has some extra security options on top of the dTPM 2.0 chip. A snappy fingerprint reader is built into the right palm rest, an IR camera for facial recognition is available on select models (including this one), and there's a webcam shutter that effectively eliminates any unwanted spying through the standard front-facing 720p camera. A PrivacyGuard option, which cuts down on viewing angles so really only you can see what's on your screen, is expected to be made available later in 2019.

For audio purposes, there are dual 1W speakers located on the bottom of the chassis. They're just alright, getting loud enough to clearly hear what's being played but not offering much depth. At higher volume sound is hollow, but for a business laptop, they get the job done.

Lenovo ThinkPad T490s display

Lenovo has a few different 14-inch displays to choose from, including the low-power, non-touch FHD option in the review unit. It has an IPS panel for wide viewing angles and manages to hit upwards of 400 nits brightness, yet the power draw is small enough that battery doesn't take a heavy hit. Contrast is excellent, and color reproduction hit 99-percent sRGB and 78-percent AdobeRGB in our testing. The matte finish does a great job of cutting down on glare, and, combined with the above-average brightness, you shouldn't have issues working outdoors or in a sun-soaked space.

The low-power display option has excellent color, and it will significantly extend the T490s battery life.

If you need a touch display the option is available, though the brightness is capped at 300 nits and its elevated power draw will drain the battery much faster. To keep the cost down there is an FHD display that manages just 250 nits brightness, and you can expect to see a PrivacyGuard option later this year. There seems also to be mention of a WQHD option with HDR support, though it's unclear in which markets or when it will be made available.

It's interesting to note that the low-power display option comes at a premium cost (expect to add about $299 to the price), which pushes the cost into range of the X1 Carbon that comes standard with the same 400-nit, low-power display. If you're buying a laptop for ultimate portability and power, it's worth weighing the differences before making a final decision.

Lenovo ThinkPad T490s keyboard and touchpad

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As laptops thin out the keyboard travel often also shrinks, but the T490s does well to hold onto the classic ThinkPad feel. There's plenty of movement for a comfortable typing experience, and bottoming out is as soft as ever. If you're moving from an older ThinkPad, you might notice a marginal difference, but it's not something that should take more than a day to get used to. The three-tier backlight makes it easy to work after hours, and there are no surprises when it comes to key placement and size.

The Precision touchpad is also classic ThinkPad, with a smooth mylar finish that tracks well and has space for Windows 10 gestures. Above are three physical buttons that tie into the TrackPoint system, completed by the red pointing nub in the middle the keyboard. It all works without trouble to promote productivity, and if you're a long-time ThinkPad fan, you shouldn't be let down.

Lenovo ThinkPad T490s performance and battery

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The T490s is sporting 8th Gen Intel "Whiskey Lake" CPU options, including up to a Core i7-8665U vPro. The review unit has the standard Core i5-8265U, which was more than enough to handle everyday productivity tasks while staying cool under load. The single fan spun up a few times, but it was never egregiously loud, and there were no signs of any thermal throttling.

RAM is unfortunately soldered to the board here so you'll probably want to equip your model with as much as possible, especially if you plan on using the laptop for years to come. If you'd rather keep your options open, the standard T490 does have upgradeable RAM.

The T490s actually has a slightly larger battery than the T490, and coupled with the low-power display option; I got between nine and ten hours of life while going about regular tasks. That was with display brightness at a comfortable 200 nits, higher than the 150 nits we often test at. The USB-C charger makes short work of topping up, and you can expect to get about an 80-percent charge in an hour. I ran some synthetic benchmarks to get an idea of how the T490s stacks up to other laptops we've recently reviewed.

CPU

Geekbench 4.0 Benchmarks (Higher is better)

DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Lenovo ThinkPad T490si5-8265U4,91115,834
Lenovo ThinkPad T490i7-8565U5,43115,608
Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1i7-8665U5,46915,800
Huawei MateBook 14i7-8565U5,32717,522
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

PCMark Home Conventional 3.0

DeviceScore
Lenovo ThinkPad T490s3,575
Lenovo ThinkPad T4903,620
Lenovo ThinkPad X3903,934
LG gram 14 2-in-13,452
Lenovo Yoga C9303,506

SSD

CrystalDiskMark (Higher is better)

DeviceReadWrite
Lenovo ThinkPad T490s3,060.7 MB/s1,542.3 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad T4903,254.8 MB/s2,954.9 MB/s
Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-13,110 MB/s2,825 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

Read speeds are excellent but the Intel SSD does suffer a bit when it comes to write speeds. Luckily you can replace the M.2 SSD after purchase.

Should you buy Lenovo's ThinkPad T490s?

If you're a fan of the T-series ThinkPads and need a powerful 14-inch business partner that remains quite portable, the T490s should be a great fit. It offers quite a few ports, the keyboard and touchpad are superb, and the low-power display option sucks up minimal battery and still offers excellent color and contrast. It's durable, it's attractive, and it starts at a respectable price. Optional LTE hardware keeps you connected at all times, and the extra security features available, including IR camera, fingerprint reader, and webcam shutter, are more than welcome.

If you'd like to hold onto a full-size Ethernet port and better placement for the microSD card reader, definitely check out the slightly larger ThinkPad T490 that we also loved. And once you start scaling up the hardware in the T490s, you might want to shift your attention to the new X1 Carbon, especially if you want to go as thin and light as possible and hold onto many of the same features found in the T490s.

Cale Hunt
Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

1 Comment
  • Great review but I didn't see any mention as to whether or not the battery is user-replaceable. Is it?