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Lenovo ThinkPad T480 Review

Our Verdict

The Lenovo ThinkPad T480 makes you more productive with its industry-leading endurance and strong performance.

For

  • Epic battery life (with extended battery)
  • Snappy keyboard
  • Good performance

Against

  • Dull screen
  • Heavier than competitors

Whether you're writing a quarterly report for the board of directors or banging away on your senior thesis, you want a laptop that is not only fast but also makes you faster. With its 17+ hours of battery life, snappy keyboard and plethora of ports, Lenovo's ThinkPad T480 helps you work quickly and focus on being productive, rather than worrying about running out of juice or finding a dongle. Starting at $1,049 ($1,636 as tested), this 14-inch laptop offers the best balance of usability, portability and price of any current business laptop.

Design

The ThinkPad T480 has a design aesthetic that's functional but not sexy, with the standard raven-black Lenovo chassis that's adorned by a soft-touch lid. There's been no change in looks for the past couple of years, so you probably couldn't tell the T480 apart from a T470 or a T460.

At 13.25 x 9.15 x 0.78 inches and 3.58 pounds (3.98 pounds with the high-capacity battery), the T480 isn't the slimmest or lightest 14-inch business laptop around. But it's more than portable, and its relative heft leaves room for a hot-swappable battery -- something you won't find on the lighter ThinkPad T480s (3 pounds, 0.72 inches thick) or the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2.49 pounds, 0.62 inches thick). The HP EliteBook 1040 G4 (3.4 pounds, 0.6 inches thick) and the 13-inch Dell Latitude 7390 (2.9 pounds, 0.7 inches thick) are both thinner and lighter.

Ports

With the ThinkPad T480, your dongle budget shrinks to zero. This Lenovo laptop has every port you could possibly need, including dual two USB 3.0 connectors, a full-size Ethernet port, HDMI-out and an SD card reader.

The T480 uses a USB Type-C port for charging and provides a separate Thunderbolt 3 connection for plugging into high-speed peripherals, such as external graphics cards. Charging over Type-C allows the laptop to use an entire ecosystem of third-party chargers and docks.

With its tactile, smile-shaped keys and strong feedback, the ThinkPad T480's keyboard offers a really good typing experience.

Durability and Security

This laptop can handle the rigors of business travel, without falling apart. Like all ThinkPads, the T480 has passed MIL-SPEC tests that subject it to extreme temperatures, humidity, dust and vibrations. It has also undergone Lenovo's own bump tests.

If you're buying the T480 for a large enterprise, you'll appreciate that it's available with Intel vPro, a technology that makes remote management easy. The laptop also comes with dTPM encryption, an optional fingerprint reader and an optional IR camera. The fingerprint sensor uses match-on-chip technology to make hacking less likely.

How Much Does the ThinkPad T480 Cost?

If you order the ThinkPad T480 from Lenovo.com, you can configure it to order, choosing your own display, memory, storage and CPU options. You can choose up to a Core i7-8650U CPU, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB PCIe SSD. The screen can go up to 1080p touch or 2560 x 1440 nontouch. There's also an optional Nvidia MX150 discrete GPU.

The $1,049 starting configuration comes with a reasonably powerful Core i5-8250U CPU, but it has a low-res, 1366 x 768 display; just 4GB of RAM; and a 500GB hard drive. Our $1,636 review configuration has a Core i5-8350U CPU; Nvidia MX150 graphics; a 1920 x 1080, non-touch display; 8GB of RAM; and a 256GB SSD. Whatever else you choose, we strongly recommend that you get the 72=watt-hour battery ($29 premium) and at least the 1080p screen (an extra $53).

Display

Great for productivity, the 1920 x 1080, nontouch screen on our ThinkPad T480 provided sharp images and solid viewing angles, but its colors and brightness were nothing special. When I watched a trailer for Pacific Rim Uprising, colors like the orange fire coming from a Jaeger and the blue in John Boyega's suit were accurate but didn't pop. Fine details, like some medals on a military uniform, were easy to make out.

According to our colorimeter, the ThinkPad T480's screen can reproduce a bland 77 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is way less than the 111-percent premium-laptop category average. Its lighter brother, the ThinkPad T470s, returned a similar mark of 72 percent. However, both were blown away by the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (129 percent with 1080p screen, 199 percent with 2K HDR screen), the Dell Latitude 7390 (132 percent) and the HP EliteBook 1040 G2 (112 percent).

The screen's matte surface keeps reflections at bay, which helps overcome the screen's below-average brightness of 269 nits. The X1 Carbon (293 nits with 1080p screen, 469 nits with 2K HDR screen), EliteBook 1040 G4 (292 nits) and Latitude 7390 (286 nits) were all noticeably more luminous, as was the average for premium laptops (293 nits). The T470s had the same 269-nit score.

Audio

For a mainstream business laptop, the ThinkPad T480 actually sounds pretty good. When I played AC/DC's "Back in Black," the music was free from tinniness, and I could hear a small separation of sound between the percussion on the left and the guitar on the right. At maximum volume, the audio filled my dining room.

The built-in Dolby audio software, which lives in the Lenovo Vantage settings app, has profiles for voice, movies, music and games. By default, Dolby changes the sound profile based on what app you're in, so it should know which one you need. You can also optimize the microphones for single or multiple voices and have the system filter out keyboard noise, in case you're typing while on a call.

Keyboard, Touchpad and Pointing Stick

With its tactile, smile-shaped keys and strong feedback, the ThinkPad T480's keyboard offers a really good typing experience. The keys have 1.7 millimeters of travel and require 72 grams of force, making them deeper and stronger than the keys on most business laptops. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I scored a rate of 105 words per minute with a 6-percent error rate, which is faster but more error-prone than I usually am.

ThinkPad aficionados may note that the keyboard on the T480, while great overall, isn't as responsive as the one on last year's T470 or the one on this year's X1 Carbon (6th Gen), both of which have deeper travel (2 and 1.8 mm) and stronger feedback.

Like other ThinkPads, the T480 has both a TrackPoint pointing stick and a buttonless touchpad. Though not everyone likes the feel of a pointing stick, I find it the most accurate and efficient method of navigation. When working on the ThinkPad, I was able to move around the desktop and type quickly, without ever lifting my hands off of the home row.

With its six-cell, 72-watt-hour battery, the T480 lasted an epic 17 hours and 19 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test

In my tests, the 3.9 x 2.6-inch buttonless touchpad provided accurate navigation around the desktop, without any sticking or jumping. The pad also responded immediately to multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom and three-finger swipe.

Performance

WIth its Intel Core i5-8350U CPU, Nvidia MX150 GPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB PCIe SSD, our Lenovo ThinkPad T480 was more than fast enough to handle every task we threw at it. I used the laptop as my work computer for a day, and even with dozens of tabs open and the occasional video conference, I never experienced any lag.

The laptop scored a strong mark of 12,047 on Geekbench 4, a synthetic test that measures overall performance. That's way ahead of the premium-laptop category average (9,724) but slightly behind the Core i7-8650U-enabled Dell Latitude 7390 (13,990) and Core i5-8250U-powered X1 Carbon (13,173). The ThinkPad T480s with Core i5-8250U got a nearly identical score of 12,044, while the HP EliteBook 1040 G4, which still has a 7th Gen Core i5-7200U CPU, got just 8,360.

It took the T480 just 1 minute and 11 seconds to match 65,000 names with their addresses in Excel. That's about 30 seconds better than the category average (1:42) and within 10 seconds of the T480s (1:01), the Latitude 7390 (1:07) and the X1 Carbon (1:11). The EliteBook took a full 2 minutes and 7 seconds.

When we transcoded a 4K video to 1080p using HandBrake, the T480 completed the task in 18 minutes and 9 seconds -- much quicker than the category average (21:46), the T480s (19:14) and the X1 Carbon (19:00). The Latitude (17:00) was a little quicker.

The T480's 256GB PCIe-NVMe SSD took just 19 seconds to copy 4.97GB of mixed media files, for a rate of 267 MBps. That's about on a par with the category average (272.45 MBps) and the T480s (282.7 MBps). However, the X1 Carbon (565.4 MBps) and the Latitude 7390 (318.1 MBps) were much faster.

Graphics

With the optional Nvidia MX150 GPU on our review unit, we saw performance results that were good enough for any basic productivity task, media viewing or playing some low-end games.

When we fired up a game of Dirt 3, the system managed a strong rate of 117 frames per second at 1920 x 1080 resolution, which is nearly double the category average (60 fps) and the scores from the Lenovo ThinkPad T480s (57 fps), the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (64 fps), the Dell Latitude 7390 (56 fps) and the HP Elitebook 1040 G4 (63 fps).

On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, a synthetic graphics test, the T480 scored 132,991, which is far better than the scores from the T480s (73,764), the X1 Carbon (80,588) and the Latitude 7390 (80,426), as well as the category average (81,182).

Battery Life

Among all current-generation laptops we've tested, the ThinkPad T480 is the battery-life king. With its six-cell, 72-watt-hour battery attached, the T480 lasted an epic 17 hours and 19 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. That time dwarfs the premium-laptop category average (8:52) and the still-excellent endurance of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (11:01 with 1080p screen, 10:28 with 2K HDR screen), the ThinkPad T480s (11:29) and the Dell Latitude 7390 (10:23).

However, if you buy the ThinkPad with its default, three-cell battery, the endurance drops to a below-average mark of 8 hours and 7 minutes. So make sure you get the system with the 72-watt-hour battery ($29 extra at Lenovo.com). Because the ThinkPad T480 uses Lenovo's hot-swappable Power Bridge battery system, you can even carry extra batteries with you and swap them in and out without shutting the laptop down.

Webcam

The 720p lens on the ThinkPad T480 captures images with solid colors and brightness for a built-in webcam. When I took some selfies, details on my face were clear, and everything in the room appeared luminous but a little whitewashed. If you don't configure it with the optional IR camera, the T480 has Lenovo's new ThinkShutter, which slides over the sensor to help protect your privacy.

Software and Warranty

Lenovo keeps it really simple with the ThinkPad T480's preloaded software. There's only one first-party utility: Lenovo Vantage, which gives you fine control over all the key settings, from the webcam to the audio output and the screen. The Smart Settings screen lets you choose whether you want the system to optimize for performance or for a cool and quiet experience.

Though Lenovo puts no bloatware on the laptop at all, the T480 still comes with the standard set of unnecessary apps that Microsoft shovels onto every Windows 10 computer. These include Bubble Witch Saga 3, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Spotify, Disney Magic Kingdoms and Autodesk SketchBook.

Lenovo backs the ThinkPad T480 with a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor, where the company pays for shipping both ways if you need service. You can pay extra to extend the warranty up to five years in total or to add accidental-damage protection or on-site service. See how Lenovo fared in our Tech Support Showdown and brand ratings.

Bottom Line

With its epic battery life, strong performance, snappy keyboard and durable design, the Lenovo ThinkPad T480 is one of the best productivity laptops you can get. If the T480's dull screen doesn't excite you, being able to get a ton of work done for over 17 hours on a charge should get you feeling juiced.

If you have a lot more money to spend, consider the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (starting at $1,519), which has a better keyboard and a more colorful display, along with a chassis that weighs more than a pound less. However, if you want the best battery life you can get, along with a strong typing experience and plenty of pop, the ThinkPad T480 is your best choice.

Tech Specs

CPUIntel Core i5-8350U
RAM8GB
Size13.25 x 9.15 x 0.78 inches
Weight3.58 pounds / 3.98 pounds (with battery)
Display Size14.1
Native Resolution1920x1080
Hard Drive Size256GB
Hard Drive TypeNVMe PCIe SSD
Operating SystemWindows 10 Pro
Ports (excluding USB)HDMI, Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.0, USB Type-C, Combo Headphone/Mic Jack, Ethernet
Video MemoryShared
Wi-Fi802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Wi-Fi ModelIntel Dual Band 8265 Wireless-AC
Warranty/Supportone year standard warranty
USB Ports4
Touchpad Size3.9 x 2.6 inches
RAM Upgradable to16GB
Graphics CardIntel HD Graphics 620
Company Websitewww.lenovo.com
Card SlotsSD memory reader
BrandLenovo
Highest Available Resolution2560 x 1440
BluetoothBluetooth 4.1
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The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.