Robust design that is lighter than its predecessor.
Good selection of ports with excellent keyboard and trackpad.
Decent performance, display and battery life.
The Lenovo ThinkPad range of laptops has always been about business. When it comes to getting work done, most enterprises entrust their employees with a ThinkPad. While the new ThinkPad Carbon range is becoming a rage for its modern design, the T lineup continues holds onto its own crown. The T series basically builds on the aesthetics of a ThinkPad notebook lineup and adds enterprise grade security and system components. It is hard to distinguish a T series notebook from an X series model. They mainly differ in terms of the target audience.
The latest in the T series is Lenovo ThinkPad T490. Honestly, the question is not about whether T490 is a good laptop. Because, it is indeed a very good laptop. The real question is how good is it, and what does it bring to a workplace. After using the laptop for a couple of weeks, I think the ThinkPad T490 mainly brings peace of mind. It is very well built, has iconic ThinkPad hardware, and peace of mind that it won’t give up on you. There is a reason it’s dubbed, “It’s not a laptop. It’s a ThinkPad.” So, is this the best business laptop in the market right now? Can regular customers use it for work and daily use? Let’s answer that.
Design and Display
Oh, you have got a ThinkPad. This reaction alone proves the kind of design on the ThinkPad T490. It is ThinkPad-esque left, right and center. For starters, there is the ThinkPad branding on the top lid and there is another inside as well. A classic through and through. It comes in matte black finish and you will instantly notice its ruggedness. This one is built to take on the daily abuse. Lenovo says the T490 is tested against 12 military-grade requirements. I don’t have any doubts about Lenovo’s claims here. The laptop should easily withstand spills, drops and even work in extremely cold environments. The company also says that T490 goes through 200 tests for its ability to work in extreme conditions. However, if you want a really rugged model, I would suggest looking at workstation grade ThinkPad P series.
The ThinkPad T490 is a really premium laptop but it does not show that off. In comparison, an XPS 13 or Latitude series from Dell, Microsoft Surface Laptop and Apple MacBook Pro just scream aluminum with their design. Depending on where you stand in terms of design, you will either like it a lot or be fine with it. I have absolutely nothing against showy designs, but ThinkPad serves a clear purpose with its design. It weighs around 1.5Kg, which is not the lightest in the segment. However, the combination of ports offered make the tradeoff acceptable. Lenovo ThinkPad series is still not succumbing to that quest to build ultra thin machines.
At the front, the ThinkPad T490 features a 14-inch Full HD display. Our review unit does not offer WQHD panel or discrete graphics. In other words, this is not a laptop meant for working with multimedia. However, the Full HD panel is really sharp and is bright outdoors as well. I had a complaint with Lenovo IdeaPad C340 I tested a few weeks back. The glossy panel reflected light, making it impossible to work with under office lighting conditions. The ThinkPad T490 has a matte panel and the anti-glare coating means that you see almost zero reflections.
One of the additions on such enterprise machines is what the company calls PrivacyGuard. It is an electronic privacy filter that decreases the angle of vision on your display. It means only your eyes can see content when you are looking head-on at the display. If you think your colleagues are prying on you then this could be a good relief. Other privacy features available as part of design include an IR camera that works with Windows Hello. It works really fast and unlocks almost instantaneously.
The IR camera module is also considerably smaller from those seen on previous generation devices. Above the camera, there is ThinkShutter, a physical camera cover, when you don’t want to be seen on the camera. I strongly think that every laptop should come with a physical camera cover. In a nutshell, the ThinkPad T490 builds on the design of ThinkPad 25. The matte black finish is prone to fingerprints but you can easily wipe it off. Sometimes evolution of tried and tested design is better than trying something entirely new and killing the essence of the product.
Our review unit is not the most specced out version of Lenovo ThinkPad T490. It can be easily described as a middle ground. It comes with 8th generation Intel Core i5-8265U processor. This is a quad-core Whiskey Lake CPU clocked at 1.6GHz and turbo boost up to 3.9GHz. While it’s a 15W TDP processor, Lenovo has opted for the maximum of 25W TDP. In some benchmarks, the performance achievable with 25W TDP over 15W TDP is clearly visible. Our review unit also comes with 16GB RAM and 256GB PCIe NVMe storage. Those buying the laptop can customize it for a Core i7 model, up to 48GB memory and 1TB SSD storage.
Lenovo also allows customization where buyers can add NVIDIA GeForce MX250 GDDR5 with 2GB of memory. I would recommend this option only if you are going to do some kind of multimedia work. Else, the integrated graphics will suffice for most of your needs. The system performance is really good with no slowdown or stuttering during daily use. Since it lacks dedicated graphics, processing photos can be slower than usual. This is more of a machine meant to be used for web applications and office applications. If you are an executive who lives on Microsoft Office and the internet then this machine won’t give you any complaints.
Another thing to note is that Lenovo ThinkPad T490’s 256GB NVMe storage offers excellent transfer speeds. However, there are other laptops in the market with Samsung PCIe NVMe storage that offer even faster transfer speeds. One way to get even faster speed is to opt for higher capacity storage. Most OEMs tend to reserve a faster speed for their higher capacity drives. The laptop runs noiseless for most part but during my test, I received BIOS update couple of times when the fans cranked up to become really loud. However, the fan noise is never so loud that your colleague sitting at the next desk can hear it.
The ThinkPad T490 comes with a 3-cell 50Wh battery. The battery is standard across all the models and our review unit has modest hardware. It is one of the laptops where I managed to get through the work day without any issue. In my use case, which involves mix use of web applications, Slack running in the background and podcast on Spotify, I averaged between seven and nine hours of battery life. It is not as great as the battery life seen with ThinkPad T480, which came with a 72Wh battery pack. Lenovo includes a 65W power brick in the box which charges via USB Type-C port. It does not draw as much power but charges up to 80 percent in just one hour.
If you are a busy executive, you can get through multiple meetings and conferences with charges in between. The only disappointment in terms of the hardware is lack of 4G connectivity on the Indian variant. The global models come with optional 4G SIM slot. On the Indian variant, it is blocked. With data rates plummeting and 4G coverage at over 80 percent, it would have made sense to have that option. Overall, the Lenovo ThinkPad T490 offers a good mix of performance and battery life. There is a compromise in terms of graphics but folks in this segment won’t mind it.
Keyboard, Trackpad and Software
The ThinkPad T490 got updated to Windows 10 version 1903 last week. This is the May update, which is the most stable version of Windows 10 out there. The update brings a light theme in addition to dark theme already available. One of the most useful features is separate Cortana and Search applications. This version also brings option to pause updates for Windows 10 Home users. Other new features include Sandbox and improved control center. With Windows 10 1903, the brightness control is in the control center, which makes it convenient to toggle or set brightness. There are also a number of improvements to default apps and Microsoft Edge.
If you are getting a ThinkPad then you know what to expect on the input devices. The keyboard on the ThinkPad T490 is among the best I have seen on a laptop. It has very good travel and the key feels natural when you press the actuation point. There is no mushy feeling or need to press really hard to get to the actuation point. There also seems to be some kind of a silicon housing underneath to absorb the sound. These keys aren’t silent but they aren’t loud either. If you are someone who keeps complaining about butterfly keys on the MacBook Pro then this will feel miles better.
The trackpad on the Lenovo ThinkPad T490 is also responsive with very good feedback. It is considerably large and supports all Windows 10 gestures. There are usual buttons on the top and you can even navigate using the trackpoint. It is not as easy as moving on the trackpad but once you get comfortable, the trackpoint can be really comfortable to use. I’m amazed that Lenovo is sticking with old school pointing mechanism while consumer electronics companies are proprietary ports in the name of aesthetics.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T490 is undoubtedly one of the best business laptops in the market right now. Lenovo has made the right changes over its predecessor. It has the right mix of ports including two USB 3.1 ports, two USB Type-C ports, a microSD card reader, HDMI 1.4 and headphone jack. The battery is non removable but it doesn’t seem to be a big tradeoff. It sticks to the ThinkPad name of reliability and security.
One of the reasons to get this laptop over competing devices from Dell, HP or Apple has to be robust security options. It comes with a discrete TPM module in addition to other security, privacy and biometric options. The lack of 4G SIM slot is a bummer but most of us are now familiar with the advantages of hotspot. Now, to answer the main question. I think the ThinkPad T490 is not only good for enterprise customers. It is also a very good laptop that anybody can use. Priced just over Rs 1 lakh, Lenovo’s business oriented laptop impresses as a consumer laptop.