The ThinkPad T480s ($1,429 to start and as tested) offers strong performance and over 11 hours of battery life in a durable, business-friendly, 3-pound package. It has an 8th Gen Intel Core processor that provides solid performance, and a ThinkShutter camera cover for a simple privacy enhancement that covers the webcam when you're not using it. However, the default 1080p display is bland and the keyboard isn't as responsive as on other ThinkPads we've tested. The ThinkPad T480s is a good choice, but Lenovo's own X1 Carbon offers a better experience for just a little bit more.
What the ThinkPad T480s Costs
We reviewed the base model T480s, which costs $1,429 with an Intel Core i5-8250U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD and 1080p display with ThinkShutter. The top-tier model is $2,449, with an Intel Core i7-8650U CPU with vPro, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and a 2560 x 1440 display with an infrared camera.
Through its website, Lenovo also sells various models with Core i5 and i7 CPUs, a 1080p touch display, and varying storage and RAM options. You can also customize one yourself.
For our money, we'd pick a configuration with the quad-HD screen, IR HD Camera and 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD for $1,795.
I usually get bored of seeing the same design year after year, but the ThinkPad truly is a classic. The T480s adopts the familiar black, soft-touch plastic with the ThinkPad logo in the top left-hand corner. The 14-inch display has a moderate bezel, but that includes room for the new ThinkShutter camera, which lets you disable it with the flip of a switch.
Otherwise, there's more black soft-touch plastic with the ThinkPad logo again on the right-hand corner of the deck, and some red accents, including the TrackPoint nub and some lines on the left- and right-click buttons.
Lenovo's ports are pretty standard across its notebooks at this point. The left side features a USB Type-C port for charging (points for eschewing the barrel connector), a proprietary docking connector that includes Thunderbolt 3, Ethernet, an HDMI output, USB 3.0, a headphone jack and an SD card slot.
On the opposite side are just a lock slot and USB 3.0 port.
The 3-pound, 13 x 8.92 x 0.7-inch machine is heavier and a little thicker than its competitors. Dell's Latitude 7390, is 2.9 pounds and 12 x 8.2 x 0.7 inches, while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is 2.5 pounds and 12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches. However, it's a lot lighter than its big brother, the ThinkPad T480, which is 0.78 inches thick and weighs 3.6 pounds.
Security and Durability
The T480s has undergone MIL-SPEC tests for drops, shocks, vibrations and other environmental stressors, so it should survive being jammed in a suitcase and rattled around in a carry-on baggage compartment. The review unit we received doesn't support vPro for remote management, but if you get a more expensive configuration with an Intel Core i5-8350U or Intel Core i7-8650U, you will have it.
The unit comes with a fingerprint reader so you can log in with Windows Hello. Our model doesn't include an IR camera (ThinkShutter would block it, anyway) to allow you to log in with facial recognition, though you can get that if you upgrade from a 1080p display to a 2560 x 1440 screen.
The T480's 14-inch, 1080p screen isn't up to par with its competitors. It's a little too dark and not as vivid as we're used to. When I watched a trailer for Ant-Man and The Wasp, I found myself double- and triple-checking that I turned the brightness up all the way. Ant-Man's red suit was more of a burgundy than usual, while the gold on The Wasp's costume didn't pop against the rest of her navy outfit.
Lenovo's display covers just 72.1 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is less than the premium laptop average of 110 percent as well as the Latitude (132 percent) and X1 Carbon (129 percent).The ThinkPad T480 managed 127 percent of the color gamut.
MORE: Laptops with the Best Display Brightness
And at 269 nits, it's dim, too. The average is 287 nits, the Latitude is an average 286 nits and the X1 Carbon is a lustrous 293 nits. The T480's 1080p screen hit 281 nits. On the bright side, Lenovo offers a 2560 x 1440 display that may be brighter and more colorful.
Keyboard, Touchpad and TrackPoint
I was a little let down by the keyboard on the T480s. Pressing the keys called for 1.6 millimeters of travel and 68 grams of actuation, according to our measurements, which generally indicate a solid keyboard. But when I got my hands on it, it didn't feel as good as prior ThinkPad keyboards I've tested: the keys weren't as punchy as I'm used to, and it felt kind of flat. However, compared to most laptop keyboards, the feel is still above average. On the 10fastfingers.com test, I reached 105 words per minute, which is just slightly under my usual range, with my usual error rate.
The 2.9 x 2.5-inch touchpad supports all of Windows 10's gestures, so you'll be multifinger tapping to invoke Cortana and Action Center, and scrolling to browse the web and switch between apps without an issue. ThinkPad die-hards will take comfort in the TrackPoint nub. It hasn't changed at all, but it continues to let you move the pointer without taking your hands off the keyboard.
The speakers on the ThinkPad T480s are average, as far as laptops go. When I listened to Linkin Park's "Numb," the vocals, keys and electric guitar were clear, and I could even occasionally make out some vinyl being scratched on the turntables, but the bass was nowhere to be found.
MORE: I Spent More Than $200 on Headphones: You Should Too
There's no software on board to adjust the speakers, so take them as they are.
Even the base model T480s is a strong multitasker. With an Intel Core i5-8250U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD, the laptop could easily handle 25 pages in Chrome, including one playing a 1080p clip from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
On Geekbench 4, an overall performance test, the T480s earned a score of 12,044, beating the premium laptop average (9,718) but not the Latitude (13,990, Core i7-8650U) or X1 Carbon (13,173, Core i5-8250U). The T480 with the same CPU scored a nearly identical mark of 12,047.
It took the SSD 18 seconds to transfer 4.97GB of files, which comes out to 282.7 megabytes per second. While that's speedier than average (271.3 MBps), it's slower than both the Latitude (318.1 MBps) and X1 Carbon (565.4 MBps). The T480 got a similar score of 267 MBps.
MORE: Which GPU is Right For You?
The T480s took 1 minute and 1 second to pair 65,000 names and addresses in our Excel macro test, beating the premium average (1:42), Latitude (1:07) and X1 Carbon (1:11). The T480 took 1 minute and 11 seconds.
On our Handbrake video-editing benchmark, it took the T480s 19 minutes and 14 seconds to transcode a 4K video file to 1080p. That's better than the average (22:11) but worse than the X1 Carbon (19:00), T480 (18:09) and Latitude (17:00).
In terms of graphics, the ThinkPad's integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics won't play intense games, but on our Dirt 3 benchmark, it ran the title at 57.1 frames per second, falling just under the average (59 fps) and X1 Carbon (64 fps), but higher than the Latitude (56 fps).
The ThinkPad T480s works overtime. It ran for 11 hours and 29 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test 2.0, which continuously browses the web and a series of videos and graphics tests at 150 nits of brightness. That's almost half an hour longer than the X1 Carbon (11:01), more than an hour later than the Latitude (10:23) and far more enduring than the premium laptop average (8:31). It also handily beats the ThinkPad T480 with its three-cell battery (8:07), but falls short of the T480 with extended battery (17:19).
The 720p webcam on the T480s is solid, and I'd happily use it in a meeting. Photos I took at my desk are were sharp and colorful. My sweater appeared just the right shade of olive green and I could see the dimple in my right cheek. Light coming in from the room's windows was harsh, but not overly blown out.
On models with a 1080p display, Lenovo includes its new ThinkShutter. You just slide a physical barrier in front of the camera when you're not using it to keep anyone from spying on you through your webcam. I expect to see this in a lot more laptops, because this implementation is stupid easy, and people are becoming more privacy-conscious.
Despite being a slim laptop, the T480s doesn't get too hot. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, it measured 95 degrees Fahrenheit on the underside -- meeting our maximum threshold for being comfortable. It measured 92 degrees at the center of the keyboard and 86.5 degrees on the touchpad.
Software and Warranty
The T480s is about as clean a slate as you can start with. The only software Lenovo includes is Vantage, a one-stop shop for hardware settings, system updates and easy access to warranty information.
Otherwise, there's just some bloatware that comes on literally any Windows 10 PC, like Candy Crush Soda Saga, Bubble Witch 3 Saga, March of Empires: War of Lords, Dolby Access, Disney Magic Kingdoms and Autodesk SketchBook.
MORE: What is vPro?
Lenovo sells the ThinkPad T480s with a one-year warranty. See how it performed on our Best and Worst Brands and Tech Support Showdown.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T480s succeeds, not because of its slim chassis, but because of its long battery life and a camera cover that will soothe the souls of the privacy conscious. But the display is dim and bland, and the keyboard, which is good, just doesn't feel as great as the legendary ThinkPad keyboards that we're used to.
If you have a little extra cash, Lenovo's 6th Gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which starts at $1,519, has a more attractive design, a brighter display and a best-in-class keyboard. If you spend more on the HDR display, you'll have one of the best on the market. It also includes ThinkShutter. On the other hand, if you are on a tighter budget or want even more battery life, you can consider the much bulkier ThinkPad T480, which starts at $1,049 and lasts over 17 hours on a charge with its extended battery.
But if you're looking for a slim productivity laptop with plenty of battery life, the ThinkPad T480s is a strong choice.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag