The Lenovo ThinkPad E490 has some of the hallmarks of a great ThinkPad, such as an excellent keyboard, solid battery life and decent performance, all for $980 (starting at $682). But this laptop stumbles with its dull display, unreliable touchpad and poor speakers. Despite these shortcomings, however, the ThinkPad E490 is a decent business laptop for the price. Check out the best ThinkPads and best business laptops for something with a little more kick.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 price and configuration options
I tested the $980 model of the ThinkPad E490, which comes with an Intel Core i5-8265U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, a 1920 x 1080 display, Windows 10 Pro and a fingerprint reader.
The base model costs $682 and drops you down to a Core i3-8145U CPU, a 500GB HDD, a 1366 x 768 display and Windows 10 Home, while cutting the fingerprint reader.
If you're maxing it out, you get a Core i7-8565U CPU, 32GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 1TB HDD. That model costs $1,773.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 design
The ThinkPad E490 sports a sleek, black aluminum hood. It's home to a steel ThinkPad logo accompanied by a red LED dot. It looks like a standard ThinkPad, so if that's the design you want, you won't be disappointed.
The E490's interior is more or less the same as other ThinkPads': a black deck, a carved-out section for the keyboard, a fingerprint reader and red accents for Lenovo's signature pointing stick. The top and side bezels are relatively narrow, but the bottom bezel is straight-up thicc.
MORE: Best Lenovo Laptops
At 4 pounds and 12.9 x 9.5 x 0.8 inches, the ThinkPad E490 is both heavier and thicker than its competition. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes in at 2.5 pounds and 12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches, while the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 is 2.7 pounds and 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 ports
There's a decent number of ports on the ThinkPad E490, considering its size.
On the left, there's a USB Type-C charging port, an HDMI 1.4b port, two USB 3.1 ports (one always on) and a headphone jack.
The right side features a Kensington lock slot, an RJ45 Ethernet port, one USB 2.0 port and a microSD card reader.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 security and durability
Like other ThinkPads, the E490 has passed 12 MIL-STD-810G tests, including ones that put the machine up against extreme temperatures, high vibration, high altitude, temperature shock and sand.
For security, the ThinkPad E490 comes with a Match-in-Sensor fingerprint reader and a dTPM 2.0 chip. A few things you'll miss by going with the ThinkPad E490 are features like vPro for remote management and an IR webcam, which you can use to access Windows Hello. These features are present in Lenovo's X1 line.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 display
The ThinkPad E490's 14-inch, 1920 x 1080 display is disappointing. I've seen brighter and more colorful displays on budget laptops.
In The King's Man trailer, Ralph Fiennes was sword fighting a baddie in a large barn, and the display was too dark to see the detail in the dimly lit room. When Djimon Hounsou and Harris Dickinson were training outside, the grass and the manor were washed out with a red tint. However, the panel was sharp enough to reveal the stubble on Fiennes' face.
According to our colorimeter, the ThinkPad E490's panel covered a measly 64% of the sRGB color gamut, which is less than half of the premium-laptop average (130%). In comparison, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (129%) and the Surface Laptop 2 (176%) excelled in color.
The ThinkPad E490's display was just as disappointing when it came to brightness. It averaged 268 nits, significantly below the category average of 345 nits. Although the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (293 nits) and the Surface Laptop 2 (321 nits) also fell below the average, they were a lot closer.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 keyboard and touchpad
Though the ThinkPad E490's display doesn't live up to the X1 Carbon's standards, the keyboard surely does, as its keys are pleasantly soft and boast deep travel.
On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I nailed 72 words per minute, which is just above my current 70-wpm average. The keys traveled 1.8 millimeters and required a meaty 81 grams of force to actuate. Both numbers are well within our preferred parameters (1.5 to 2.0 mm of travel and at least 60 grams of actuation force).
The 3.9 x 2.7-inch touchpad got a little sticky at times, since the material isn't too soft. What's more concerning, however, is that the touchpad occasionally didn't respond to commands like simple surfing or two-finger scrolling. Surprisingly, the touchpad does have Windows 10 precision drivers, which is designed to make the touchpad experience better.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 audio
The ThinkPad E490's bottom-firing speakers were quiet and lacked sufficient bass in our tests. I listened to "Red Like Roses" by Jeff Williams featuring Casey Lee Williams, and when the vocals hit their highs, the audio was distorted. Meanwhile, the heavy guitar and drums drowned out the vocals during the chorus. And, as you might imagine, the bass that was supposed to emanate from the percussion was muted. You'll want to bust out a pair of headphones while you work on this machine.
There's a Dolby settings menu in the Lenovo Vantage app that lets you change presets to Dynamic, Movie, Music, Gaming or Voice. The Dynamic mode sounded the best with music because it allowed the vocals to shine a little, but it couldn't make the audio desirable.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 performance
Powered by an Intel Core i5-8265U processor and 8GB of RAM, the ThinkPad E490 experienced a minor slowdown with 30 Google Chrome tabs open and five 1080p YouTube videos playing.
On the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance test, the ThinkPad E490 scored 12,644, falling short of the 13,080 premium-laptop average. The Surface Laptop 2's Core i5-8250U (12,744) did slightly better, while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's Core i5-8250U (13,173) managed to slip past the average.
The ThinkPad E490 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 20 minutes and 31 seconds on our HandBrake benchmark, flying by the category average (22:27). However, it couldn't beat the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (19:00) or the Surface Laptop 2 (17:30).
Lenovo's 512GB SSD copied 4.97GB of data in 18 seconds. That translates to 283 megabytes per second, which is more than half of the premium-laptop average (559 MBps). The Surface Laptop 2's 256GB SSD performed worse, at 203 MBps, while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's 512GB SSD nailed a solid 565 MBps.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 graphics
Outfitted with an Intel UHD 620 GPU, the ThinkPad E490 scored 72,070 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark, coming short of the premium-laptop average (85,465). With the same GPUs, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon hit 80,588, and the Surface Laptop 2 got 71,647, which are also under the average.
In real-world testing, the ThinkPad E490 averaged 50 frames per second on the Dirt 3 benchmark, and although the game is playable, that score is below the 67-fps category average. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the Surface Laptop 2 did much better, hitting 64 and 82 fps, respectively.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 battery life
The ThinkPad E490's battery life does not disappoint, netting you just enough to get through the workday. As the ThinkPad E490 continuously surfed the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, the battery lasted 8 hours and 15 minutes, which is the exact average for premium laptops.
However, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (11:01) and the Surface Laptop 2 (9:22) will net you significantly more time.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 webcam
Lenovo's 720p shooter produced washed-out, blotchy photos. Half of the ceiling washed out with no detail due to the lighting, and the red in my shirt was drained and lifelese. Meanwhile, my hairline looked like a bunch of blotchy pixels trying to figure out where my forehead ended and hair started.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 heat
The ThinkPad E490 does fine under pressure, so there's no need to whip out a lap desk. After the laptop streamed a 15-minute 1080p video, the underside measured 94 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just under our 95-degree comfort threshold. The center of the keyboard and touchpad hit 89 and 81 degrees, respectively. The hottest the machine got was 97 degrees, on the upper-right underside.
Lenovo ThinkPad E490 software and warranty
All of the branded software that Lenovo provides is located in the Lenovo Vantage app. Through the Vantage app, you can update your system, adjust hardware settings (power, audio and visual) and run hardware scans.
However, you also get some lovely Windows 10 apps, like Gardenscapes, Candy Crush Saga and Asphalt Street Storm Racing.
Lenovo's ThinkPad E490 is a good choice if you're looking for a great keyboard, decent performance and workday-long battery life. But be wary of its dull display, tiny speakers and unreliable touchpad.
If you can spend a little extra, get Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which can be configured for $1,225 with similar specs (the difference being a 256GB SSD). It has longer battery life, a smaller footprint and stronger performance.
Overall, the ThinkPad E490 is a mediocre business laptop, but it'll get the job done at a reasonable price.