A do-it-all laptop configurable for any task, from $1200-$2000

Highs

  • Plenty of ports, including HDMI, RJ45, TB3
  • Very fast battery charging
  • Lightweight 14” laptop (~2.86 Lbs)
  • Certified MIL-STD-810G durability
  • Discrete GeForce MX 150 GPU option

Lows

  • There are more beautiful alternatives (WxHxD)
  • 1080p display quality could be better
  • Sound quality is average

Rating and Price

  • Rating: 9/10

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.

Display

  • 14 Inch, 1920×1080, 250 NITs, Matte
  • 14 Inch, 1920×1080, 250 NITs, Multitouch, Matte (as tested)
  • 14 Inch, 2560×1440, 300 NITs, Multitouch, Glossy

Lenovo offers multiple display options, and this is smart because people have different priorities and could save serious money by not choosing the most expensive one. If you are comfortable with classic desktop monitors, then the 1920×1080 option would look entirely normal. Touch or not is up to you, depending on your usage pattern.

If you are used to the high pixel density, or PPI, of tablets and phones, you might want to consider the 2560×1440 version. Creative users who need better color rendering might also want to also choose this option because the sRGB coverage is supposed to be near 100%, while the 1920×1080 display we tested may be a bit below 70% sRGB.

The specifications for the displays go from 250 NITs to 300 NITs of brightness, which is quite common in this price range. Higher brightness is a great thing if you use the computer in a bright place (outdoors, photo studio, near a window). Extra brightness is also useful in general for color and higher sharpness perception.

Note: for some reason, our test unit’s display maxed out at ~170 NITs, and it should not happen. We checked, and it seems no-one else is having the issue, so we’ll sort this out with Lenovo later.

The ThinkPad T480S does not come with a digitizer pen.

Webcam

The webcam has a 0.9 Megapixel resolution, with maximum photo resolution of 1280×720 and a maximum video resolution of 1280×720/30FPS.

The webcam has a fixed-focus and is optimized for video conversation. It is quite typical for laptop cameras. Without auto-focus, the image quality is sub-optimum if the subject is too close. Generally, it is OK when the subject moves further away.

Laptop webcam image quality is not a glamorous topic, and they tend to match a very low-end smartphone (if not dumb phones) in terms of quality. We mention it because it is important to set up your expectations, and to be fair, they are “OK” for video calls.

Webcam photo in good lighting (300 NITs)

If you need webcam privacy for personal or professional reasons, you will like the fact that this laptop has a built-in privacy shutter, so there is no need to use tape.

This computer can optionally use an infrared (IR) camera to scan 3D objects such as your face for security purposes (Windows Hello Face Unlock). This works using structured light, very much like Kinect or the iPhone X. Since this is a purchase-time choice, double check if you want to include it.

System performance

Productivity speed

As it is often the case with mobile PCs, the performance between different systems within the similar value, and with the same CPU is quite close. If two laptops use the same CPU with comparable memory and frequency, they should yield near-identical synthetic benchmark results.

Benchmarks like PCMark 8 Work are a bit more representative of the day to day workload of users who would be interested in purchasing this kind of computers.

As you can see, this computer performs quite well, including against computers that could be significantly more expensive (although they may look cooler/better). Also, this shows that the addition of the GeForce MX150 won’t affect office-type work that much.

Storage/disk speed

Disk or SSD performance is absolutely vital for noticeable computer performance, especially at boot time, and while programs are loading files. We use PCMark 8 Storage, which attempts to give a pseudo-realistic average performance estimation than pure disk synthetic benchmarks. This benchmark chart is boring because SSD performance “for most people” is…

Synthetic SSD benchmark offers much more contrasted results although they aren’t representative of average experience, but more of extreme cases that could happen for particular situations/usages. The write speeds of the lenovo SSD is not particularly impressive, and for very specific workloads (heavy video editing, heavy game-level loading) it could show, but most people won’t bump into these situations.

CPU

Benchmarks such as Geekbench 4 are somewhat representative of heavy multi-core tasks such as video-editing, (3D) effects rendering, and other things that will work on large data-sets.

3D Graphics / GPU speed

This is a great way to show you how a discrete GPU makes a difference, just look at the Huawei Matebook X Pro score! Fortunately, the Lenovo T480s can optionally be equipped with the exact same GPU (see “gfmx150” bar in the chart). If you need higher GPU performance, we recommend getting the GeForce MX150 option.

Performance for the price + bottom-line

For your money, you get excellent performance, maybe not as much value as the Lenovo L380 Yoga (which is a value-oriented computer), but for an $1150-$1500 laptop, this is quite good. We use the lowest priced configuration for each CPU+GPU combination. This proves once again that you can trade “good looks (thinness)” for performance/$ : all the super-compact computers land at the bottom of the chart.

Temperature and cooling

We ran a very intensive CPU test named Prime 95. It pushes CPU utilization to 100%, and things will heat up to the point where the thermal manager comes in to stabilize the temperature of the system to avoid system failure.

With an ambient temperature of 24.5C, the hottest point on the keyboard was at 36C just above the “H” key, and the hottest point at 41C was above the heat exhaust to the right. At the bottom, the hottest location reached 38.8C. We took some Infrared photos with a FLIR One camera to show you the hotspots.

When exposed to heat for long durations (many minutes), human skin can deteriorate starting from 44C / 111.2F. Getting your skin exposed to a 41C surface won’t make you jump, but will feel warm. For short duration contacts (seconds), scientists demonstrated that what most people consider to be a burn starts when the skin temperature reaches 62.5C / 144.5F.

Battery

The ThinkPad T480S has a battery capacity of 57 Wh, which is very good and quite common in this class of computers.

In our tests, we found the charging speed of this laptop to be 0.9 Wh/mn (or 54 Wh/hour, from 0%-80%), which is very fast (even ~11% faster than Lenovo’s X1 Yoga 2018 or Huawei’s Matebook X Pro, and 20% faster than the L380 Yoga ). Charging speed can sometimes offset capacity, and it is essential for anyone who cares about battery life.

Be mindful that battery-life tests are never representative of real-world usage, because app settings, background tasks, brightness status and network conditions are always different. The most important is to look at the battery capacity (in Wh) and the overall system power baseline (CPU thermal design point, or TDP) in Watts.

Conclusion

The Lenovo ThinkPad T480s does deliver on many of its promises, and we are impressed by the overall capabilities, speed and configuration options. Lenovo has really made it possible to address a wide gamut of needs and budgets with this model.

The processor and GPU options enable this laptop to compete in price and performance with the best options in the 13.3-14” class. In fact, with a maximum of 24GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD NVME storage, it can outperform nearly all business laptops we looked at, including Lenovo’s own X1 Carbon 2018, usually the “tip of the spear” of the ThinkPad line.

Feature-wise, the ThinkPad T480s can compete with the best at many price points. At the same time, it offers an impressive array of full-size ports which is very impressive for a 2.9 Lbs, extremely durable, laptop. We suspect that many purchases will be triggered just because of that.

"FEATURE-WISE, THE THINKPAD T480S CAN COMPETE WITH THE BEST AT MANY PRICE POINTS"

However, it is fair to say that to get all these features and flexibility, Lenovo has to go for a computer that is larger (in volume) and not as pretty as other competitors, with 84.5 CI (Cubic Inches) for 1300g. There are smaller and more compact alternatives if that is what you want. The Dell XPS 13 9370 (42 CI, 1210g), or the Huawei Matebook X Pro (58 CI, 1330g) are much smaller in volume, but not in weight. The X1 Carbon would be a better nemesis for those.

In the end, it seems challenging to cater to both markets, and I think that Lenovo understands that well. The level of convenience offered by the ThinkPad T480s simply cannot be reproduced by any of the competitors we looked at. The chances are that it will reside in a well-insulated SMB niche market.

Overall product rating: 9/10

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