The Lenovo ThinkPad L480 ($706.99 as reviewed, customizable via Lenovo.com (opens in new tab)) is the kind of laptop that might just fit the bill for everyday business purposes, so long as you can live with some sacrifices. This laptop offers decent performance via its Intel Core i5 processor, sports a well-designed keyboard and is built to take a beating, but it lags behind the competition with a weak display and poor speakers. The ThinkPad L480 can handle the basics, but consider some alternatives before you take the plunge.
The ThinkPad L480 sports a boring-but-functional, all-black, plastic design. Coming in at 13.2 x 9.3 x 0.9 inches and 3.9 pounds, it's sizable, but not too bulky. Considering its thickness and weight, the L480 is not the most portable machine, but it'll get the job done.
Its closest competitor, the Dell Latitude 5490, is almost identical in size and weight, at 13.1 x 9 x 0.8 inches and 3.8 pounds.
Durability and Security
The ThinkPad L480 is MIL-SPEC tested, meaning it's capable of withstanding extreme temperatures, high altitudes, solar radiation, fungus, humidity, mechanical shock, high vibration and sand damage.
You can find further specifications for each test category on Lenovo's website (opens in new tab). As for security features, the L480 has a Match-in-Sensor fingerprint reader and a secure lock slot.
Along the ThinkPad L480's left side, you'll find a USB Type-C port and a Type-C mechanical docking port.
There's also a microSD card reader, an Ethernet port, an HDMI 1.4 port and a USB 3.1 port.
The right side houses a headphone/microphone combo jack, another USB 3.1 port and a secure lock slot.
The ThinkPad L480's 14-inch, 1920 x 1080 display is underwhelming. In the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailer, colors were less vibrant than expected. The giant squid monster's tentacles lacked the same vibrant pink hue found on my personal monitor (a NEC MultiSync PA271W), and the surrounding glowing-orange environment of the trailer's opening sequence also failed to pop.
Furthermore, L480's dim display caused the shadows on the same squid monster to obfuscate details and hide the monster's fainter gross, gushy characteristics under a veil of darkness.
The ThinkPad L480 scored a lowly 66.3 percent on the sRGB color gamut test, which explains the panel's unimpressive colors (the average is 112 percent). The Dell Latitude 5490 earned an even more disappointing score of 65 percent.
The ThinkPad L480 measured 208 nits of brightness on our light meter, which is nowhere near as bright as the 306-nit average. However, it beat the Latitude 5490's 178 nits.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Pointing Stick
The ThinkPad L480 has a solid keyboard; the keys offer 1.5 millimeters of travel and require 70 grams of force to actuate, meaning key presses feel satisfying and responsive. This combination of well-engineered travel and actuation allowed me to score 94 words per minute with a 99-percent accuracy rate on the 10fastfingers.com typing test. That's much higher than my usual 85 wpm with a 98-percent accuracy rate.
The 3.9 x 2.7-inch touchpad is fine for the most part, but it does not respond well to two-finger commands. When I tried to select text for copying and pasting using only the touchpad, it sometimes stuck and refused to capture the text I wanted, forcing me to operate with a single finger to get it to play nicely. And even then, single-digit inputs were slightly finicky, as they'd occasionally fail to register if they were made shortly after a two-finger motion.
The laptop's red, nubby pointing stick moves proportionately to pressure, meaning you'll have to apply some serious force to get the cursor moving at a decent speed. This can be a bit of a chore, which is why I found myself opting for the touchpad, despite its issues with two-finger commands.
The ThinkPad L480's bottom-mounted speakers are simply not loud enough. Even at 100 percent volume, the audio failed to fill a small conference room. At max volume, the sound distorted and made the chimes in Sarah Schachner's "Winds of Cyrene" sound like they were being played through a couple dozen wind socks, given how fuzzy they sounded. Similar issues occurred with Hi-Finesse's "Dystopia," which suffered from milder, albeit noticeable, distortion during some of the more intense electronic segments.
The Lenovo ThinkPad L480 sports a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-8250U CPU with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD and an Intel HD Graphics 620 integrated GPU. As I expected, it could run a hefty load of Google Chrome tabs without breaking a sweat.
On the Geekbench 4 test, which measures overall performance, the L480 scored 11,405, which is higher than the mainstream average of 10,782. However, both of those numbers are much lower than the Dell Latitude 5490's whopping 14,838. For reference, the Latitude 5490 has an Intel Core i7-8650U CPU.
The ThinkPad L480 took 1 minute and 13 seconds to complete the Excel Lookup test, which is ahead of the 1:36 average but behind the Latitude 5490's 59 seconds. In the File Transfer test, the L480 copied a 4.97GB mixed-media file in 23 seconds, for a transfer rate of 212 megabytes per second. That's below both the 281-MBps average and the Latitude 5490's 267MBps (256GB M.2 PCIe NVME SSD).
The ThinkPad L480 took 18 minutes and 38 seconds on the HandBrake test, which measures the time it takes to transcode a 4K video to 1080p. That's faster than the 22:12 category average but behind the Latitude 5490's 16:00.
In terms of graphical performance, the ThinkPad L480's integrated GPU ran Dirt 3 at 50 frames per second, which is fine but lags behind the competition. Using its own Intel 620 GPU, the Dell Latitude 5490 triumphed with a superior 69 fps. The average is 71 fps, and we consider anything over 30 fps to be playable.
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When we ran the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited synthetic graphics test, the ThinkPad L480 scored 68,857, which is far below the 86,493 average. The Latitude 5490 did much better, scoring 89,735.
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness), the ThinkPad L480 lasted 7 hours and 56 minutes, which is less than the 8:18 mainstream-laptop average and 2 hours shorter than the Dell Latitude 5490's runtime of 9:54. While battery numbers can fluctuate slightly depending on the intensity of laptop usage, this is a good idea of how much time you'll get out of each laptop without a charger.
The 720p camera on the ThinkPad L480 isn't great. In the selfies I took in the office, the pictures looked blown out at the top because of the ceiling's relatively dim, yellow lights. Thankfully, the webcam left every other color intact, such as the contrasting reds and blues of my plaid, button-down shirt. My test shots lacked detail; my hair looked like some sort of low-res watercolor collage. Still, the camera is fine for the average Skype call.
During our heat test, which consists of streaming a full-screen HD video for 15 minutes, the laptop hit 102 degrees Fahrenheit on its underside, which is several degrees above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The middle of the keyboard and touchpad were in the acceptable range, at 91 degrees and 82 degrees, respectively. However, the area to the immediate right of the touchpad runs a bit hot all the time. This area is not measured in our test, but it will leave your right palm somewhat warm, so be wary of that.
Software and Warranty
Because it's a business laptop, the ThinkPad L480 has some bloatware, but not much. Microsoft included a bunch of useless software via Windows 10, including Bubble Witch 3 Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga and March of Empires.
For its part, Lenovo employed a rather light touch, including only its Vantage software, a useful program for fine-tuning your ThinkPad experience. (It lets you tinker with screen settings, webcam settings and most other things you might want to mess around with.)Beyond that single useful app, the L480 comes with no bloatware from Lenovo.
I reviewed the $706.99 iteration of the Lenovo ThinkPad L480 available at TigerDirect. It has a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-8250U processor with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD and an Intel HD 620 GPU. On Lenovo's site, the base model costs $756 and has a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i3-8130U CPU; 4GB of RAM; a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; and an Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU. The high-end iteration gives you a 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD, a backlit keyboard and a fingerprint reader. Both of the systems featured on Lenovo's site are customizable.
The $706.99 Lenovo ThinkPad L480 is solid, but you could do better if you're willing to spend just a bit more. It's a capable multitasker with good durability, but it fails to outmuscle any of its competitors, including the $799 Dell Latitude 5490, which has a longer battery life and features better performance for a similar price. If you're on the hunt for a functional business laptop at a decent price, the ThinkPad L480 is worth a look, but we'd recommend saving your pennies for something with a bit more oomph.
Credit: Laptop Mag