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Lenovo ThinkPad T480s Review

The Lenovo ThinkPad T480s is a business laptop pitched to be “designed for mobile power” while being IT-friendly, secure and very lightweight (~2.9 lbs). This caught our attention, and we wanted to see how far we could push it, and if it would deliver.

Configuration as tested

In this test, out unit was a Lenovo Thinkpad T480s with an Intel Core i7-8550U (+integrated GPU), 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD (model LENSE20256GMSP34MEAT2TA, made or branded by Lenovo). Our display is a 1920×1080, 250 NITs, multitouch. The GPU is the Intel integrated GPU.

Configuration options

Lenovo offers a broad array of CPU, RAM, storage and display options. We will explain some of them later, but here they are

  • CPU: Intel i5-8250U, i5-8350U, i7-8550U and i7-8650U (i7 8650u)
  • RAM: 8GB soldered to the motherboard. One SODIMM slot can receive up with 16GB for a maximum total of 24GB
  • SSD Storage uses an m.2 2280 slot over SATA or NVME. The NMVE option is the fastest.
    • 128GB SATA
    • 128GB SATA + OPAL 2.0
    • 256/512/1024GB PCI-E NVME + OPAL 2.0 (as tested)
  • Display
    • 1920×1080, 250 NITs, no touch
    • 1920×1080, 250 NITs, multitouch (as tested)
    • 2560×1440, 300 NITs, multitouch, glossy

Industrial design

With 331 x 226.8 x 18.45 mm dimensions and a weight of 1300g (2.87 lbs), the ThinkPad T480S is a thin & light laptop. In its category, its size is relatively large, but its weight is within -3% to +7% of its main competitors, the Dell XPS 13 (9370) and the Huawei Matebook X Pro.

As usual, the ThinkPad identity of the design is clearly recognizable, and you will find all the primary visual features of that line of product: soft black paint (silver paint optional), angular design, iconic trackpad and TrackPoint, and the ThinkPad keyboard. The T480s’ design is very efficient from a utilitarian perspective, but although it is decent-looking, I don’t think that people will buy it based on looks.

“DECENT-LOOKING BUT I DON’T THINK THAT PEOPLE WILL BUY IT BASED ON LOOKS”

The chassis is mostly made of Magnesium. The Magnesium metal is ~30% lighter than aluminum for the same or better strength, which is why you see it more often in laptop designs. Although some PC-Makers do build all-magnesium computers, most models have a mix of metal and plastic to cut the cost.

The display back-cover (laptop’s top) is not the same, and is made of CFRP, which is commonly called “Carbon Fiber.” It is a costly material that has extreme durability and lightness. It is even lighter than Magnesium and does not conduct heat as much, which is superb to avoid hot surfaces. That said, it can get scratched easily and could appear like plastic after a coat of paint.

Durability

The ThinkPad T480s has passed MIL-STD-810G tests. This means that it will survive U.S military battlefield storage and transportation conditions. This is not the same as “battlefield usage,” but it does prove an objective level of endurance that many laptops cannot achieve, or be certified to achieve.

MIL-STD-810G is much more on-point for laptops than it is for phones because laptops’ mass is high enough that internal parts could be destroyed by a bad fall. Also, laptops displays are well insulated from cracking (when closed), so this is not a primary concern here. Breaking something inside is.

Components Upgrades

The laptop chassis is not sealed, and the user or technician can quickly open it to access/repair/upgrade internal components. Once open, the RAM module can be added/replaced, and that’s true for the SSD as well.

Being able to upgrade critical components such as memory and internal storage provides a potentially high value to the buyer. Such upgrades can be done at a later time for a fraction of the price, because:

  1. Prices for memory and storage drop steadily over time
  2. Many PC-Makers have higher margins on these order-time upgrades.
  3. Component sellers have a lower margin and a vast array of after-market products

Keyboard and trackpad

The keyboard and trackpad are used every time, all the time, so comfort is an essential part to consider when evaluating a mobile computer.

This keyboard has keys that are 252.2 mm² (~0.39 sq in) big, which is considered to be substantial. Their key travel is 1.8 mm, and that is very comfortable. They also have a U-shape key design, which means that the keys are not flat, but curved downwards in the middle. This makes the downward push force naturally push the fingertip towards the center, thus helping avoid typing errors.

The key size, key layout, and key shapes are significant factors in making the keyboard more or less comfortable. Most of it is a matter of personal preferences, so it is important to try, if possible at all. This keyboard is backlit with a monochrome light, which is very handy at night, in bed (you should not) or in the plane (the backlight has 2 levels of brightness).

The trackpad surface material is Mylar. Mylar is a polyester material also called BoPET. Very smooth surfaces that are electrically insulated are manufactured from it, and BoPET is also less fragile than glass, another favorite material for luxurious mobile computer trackpads. Some cannot feel the difference with Glass, but many also think that Glass is more agreeable and creates less friction at the fingertips.

With a trackpad surface of ~9.77 Square-inches, the trackpad is comfortable. When compared to the competition, this particular size is not particularly impressive.

Like any other touch-interface, the size of the trackpad in relation to the gestures matters. On laptops, most people use scroll and pinch+zoom motions. More advanced usage require up to four fingers, and circular gestures tend to be more comfortable with a larger surface. Check the Windows 10 gestures

Ports

  • 1x Standard HDMI1.4
  • 1x 3.5mm audio
  • 1x USB Type A, 3.1 Gen1, Always-on
  • 1x Ethernet, RJ45
  • 1x Flash Reader, SD
  • 1x USB Type C, 3.1 Gen1
  • 1x USB Type C, Thunderbolt 3
  • 1x USB Type A, 3.1 Gen1
  • 1x Anti-theft slot, Kensington

The number of ports is one of the ThinkPad T480s clear advantages. These days, it can be tough for business users to find a full-size Ethernet RJ45 and a full-size SD Card on the same computer. Two USB-A (standard) and two USB-C (including a Thunderbolt 3) should be more than enough for all users. The Thunderbolt 3 can extend ports by being the connection to a full-on dock.

“THE NUMBER OF PORTS IS ONE OF THE THINKPAD T480S MANY ADVANTAGES”

The full-size HDMI video connector will please anyone who has to connect often to a projector or an external monitor. A lot of users just hate having to lug around dongles for extra USB ports, Ethernet, SD, and HDMI — you won’t need that with the T480s!

Speakers

Being a “work laptop,” the speaker configuration of the ThinkPad T480s is a very basic 2x 1-Watt. The sound is okay (~6.5/10) for watching videos on youtube and listening to music, but it could use some improvements. For example, the ThinkPad L380 Yoga we reviewed recently has 2x 2-Watt speakers, and it sounds better already.

When the sound is pushed to maximum, you can hear distortion creeping in, but it goes away if you reduce the volume a bit.