Lenovo ThinkPad T480 review: A powerful, efficient workhorse notebook with USB-C Thunderbolt 3

Hardware Reviews / Reviews / Tech
Lenovo-ThinkPad-T480-review

The Lenovo ThinkPad T480 is an excellent choice for business on the go given its performance, specifications, customization options, and price point.

TA-ratings-93We definitely review a lot of laptops here at Techaeris and we’re back with another! This time, our Lenovo ThinkPad T480 review takes a look at another of the company’s workhorse notebook offerings. Read on to see how it performs!

Specifications

The Lenovo ThinkPad T480 (as tested) has the following features and specifications:

  • Processor: 8th Generation Intel Core i7-8650U (4C, 1.9 / 4.2GHz, 8MB)
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • Memory: 16GB
  • Display: 14″ FHD (1920×1080) IPS, multi-touch
  • Storage: 512GB SSD M.2 PCIe NVMe Opal2
  • WLAN & Bluetooth: Intel 8265 ac, 2×2 + BT4.1
  • Ports: Thunderbolt 3 (Type-C); USB 3.1, Type-C; 2x USB 3.0, Type-A; HDMI 1.4b; Ethernet extension connector (side docking); RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet; Microphone/Headphone Combo Jack; 4-in-1 SD card reader
  • Camera: HD 720p w/ ThinkShutter camera privacy filter
  • Keyboard: 6-row, spill-resistant, multimedia Fn keys, LED backlight
  • Navigation: TrackPoint pointing device and buttonless Mylar surface touchpad
  • Audio: 2 x 2 Watt Speakers, dual array microphones
  • Security: dTPM 2.0, Touch Fingerprint Reader, Intel vPro
  • Battery: 24W x 24W
  • Case Materials: Display cover: Magnesium Hybrid or PPS; Bottom: Glass-Fiber Reinforced Plastic
  • Dimensions:  13.25 x 9.15 x 0.79″ (333.6 x 232.5 x 19.95mm)
  • Weight: Starting at 3.49lbs (1.58kg)

What’s in the box

  • Lenovo ThinkPad X280 Notebook
  • Power adapter

Design

We recently reviewed the Lenovo ThinkPad X280 and to be honest, the ThinkPad T480 is very similar in design with a few minor exceptions. The T480 features the same slim matte black finished design with the ThinkPad logo and red LED dot on the “i” which lights up when the laptop is powered on. The Lenovo logo is debossed into the lid in a show of subtle branding.

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The familiar ThinkPad lid.

Upon opening the laptop, the familiar ThinkPad design greets you. The screen, which is attached to the base of the laptop by two aluminum hinges, has the usual bezels on the left and right (roughly 1/2″), a slightly larger bezel on the top, and an even larger bezel on the bottom. The HD webcam is centered within the top bezel and includes a ThinkShutter privacy slider. The Lenovo logo is located in gloss black on the left side of the bottom bezel with the T480 nameplate on the right. The lid does lay all the way back, allowing for the laptop to be used flat but unfortunately doesn’t flip over into a 2-in-1 tablet mode. Sure, Lenovo does offer 2-in-1 options but personally, I don’t see the benefit of having a touchscreen lay that flat without having a tablet mode option.

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The Lenovo ThinkPad T480 touts a familiar design which works rather well.

The six-row keyboard features chiclet-style keys which are responsive and comfortable for hours of typing. The top row is slightly narrower in height and the Fn keys offer quick access to volume, brightness, Wi-Fi, and other controls. To access the actual function key functionality, like F5 to refresh, you have to hold the Fn key down which seems to be becoming the norm on laptops these days.

Centered between the G/H/B keys is the familiar ThinkPad TrackPoint nub. Again, the left Fn and Ctrl keys are swapped, a commenter on our X280 review suggested that this was because the Fn+spacebar combination toggles the backlit keyboard so it makes it easier to find in dimmer lighting conditions. The keyboard also has a dedicated PrtSc button between the right Alt and Ctrl keys; Fn+PrtSc launches the Windows 10 Snipping Tool, which is quite handy. The arrow keys are also a nice size, not full-size but not half-size like on some keyboards and have the PgUp and PgDn keys above the left and right arrow keys.

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The ThinkPad 480 keyboard, TrackPoint, and trackpad.

Below the keyboard and centered in the palm rest area is the trackpad with the left, middle, and right buttons located at the top. Where the T480 differs in design from the X280 is the placement of the power button and fingerprint scanner. In the case of the T480, the power button is to the right of the top of the keyboard while the fingerprint scanner is to the right of the bottom of the keyboard. Finally, the familiar silver ThinkPad logo is angled on the lower right of the palm rest.

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The fingerprint scanner sits to the right of the keyboard instead of below it like on the X280.

On the left side of the laptop, you’ll find your USB-C 3.1 power port, a second USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port, Ethernet Extension port, openings for the internal cooling fins, and the slot for an optional Smart Card. One note about the Thunderbolt 3 port. Lenovo has added anti-fry protection to prevent damage to your laptop from poorly designed USB-C chargers that are common on the market today.

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The ports on the left side of the ThinkPad T480.

On the right side, you’ll find the Kensington lock slot, full-sized 4-in-1 SD card slot, RJ-45 Ethernet port, two USB-A ports (one always-on for charging), a full-size HDMI 1.4b port, and a 3.5 mm audio headset jack.

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The ports on the right side of the ThinkPad T480.

Finally, the bottom of the laptop has your usual four rubber feet, cooling slots, and two down-firing speakers near the front on either side. The ThinkPad T480 also features a removable battery coupled with an internal battery — something lacking in most laptops these days — allowing you to carry a spare in case you need to swap out while on the road.

The Lenovo ThinkPad T480 is also MIL-STD 810G tested against 12 military-grade and 200 in-house durability tests. The testing includes humidity, low/high temperature, sand, high vibration, mechanical shock, high altitude, and temperature shock testing, among others. As such, you can be assured that this portable notepad should  survive whatever accidents you may encounter in day to day use.

As expected from the Lenovo ThinkPad line, the T480 offers up the familiar styling in a compact package without sacrificing looks. While it’s familiar and maybe even a bit dated looking, it’s a design that works well for a portable notebook workstation.

Display

The Lenovo ThinkPad T480, as tested, features a 1920×1080 FullHD touchscreen. Given the 14-inch screen size, with the Windows scaling setting set to 125%, the resolution works well with the touchscreen functionality and is nice and crisp.

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The touchscreen has a 1080p resolution which works well with the 14″ display.

The screen does get quite dim — almost black — and at full brightness is suitable for most lighting situations. I did find though that it wasn’t quite bright enough to use outside on the patio on a bright sunny day. It was adequate for sure but could definitely use a bit more brightness. For the most part, I found using it at around 75% brightness during the day was more than adequate.

Colours are pretty decent as well on the display and it is acceptable for photo editing and video watching.

Software

We’ve been here plenty of times with our laptop and desktop reviews and Windows 10 has come a long way since launch. As such, it works well with the laptop and we encountered no issues during testing.

As far as bloatware is concerned, Windows 10 is getting bad again with the number of games it installs — even on a fresh install — including Candy Crush Saga and Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Of course, these can be easily uninstalled but really, as an end user, you shouldn’t have to uninstall pre-installed apps but rather install the apps you want.

Lenovo, on the other hand, has only included their Lenovo Vantage app which is their relatively new hub which allows you to run performance scans, update your Lenovo system, adjust settings, install other apps, and more. When launching it for the first time, you can choose between Personal, Home and Office, or Employee use for different layouts of the main screen.

Performance

With its Kaby Lake Intel Core i7-8650U processor, 16GB of RAM, and 5122GB SSD hard drive, the Lenovo ThinkPad T480 ran smoothly for the tasks we put it through. As a business laptop, we stuck to the basics of web browsing, word processing, photo editing, and video consumption. Photo editing with Lightroom and Photoshop was as expected given the internals on our review unit. Video editing wasn’t too bad either, although the export portion of the process did take a bit longer considering the specifications of the laptop due to the integrated Intel 620 graphics card. There is a discrete 2GB NVIDIA MX150 graphics option available if you plan on doing more video edition or need the graphics power.

The Lenovo ThinkPad T480 definitely has enough under the hood to get your office and basic computing tasks done without slowing you down. It can be configured as well with various processors, hard drives, RAM, and video card options allowing you to pick the components you need for the job you’re getting done.

As far as the touchscreen and trackpad are concerned, both functioned well and — as is the case with touchscreens — I found myself adapting quickly to using both in conjunction to speed up workflow.

Sound Quality

Even with the two down-firing 2W speakers on the underside of the laptop, the sound quality was surprisingly good. As expected, there’s not much in the way of bass but the speakers on the T480 do get quite loud and are crisp even at full volume. While you’ll want to use a headset to fully enjoy music or videos, the onboard speakers are acceptable in a pinch should you not have one handy.

Camera

The 720p front-facing webcam and dual-array microphones work great for video conferencing or video calls and the webcam is crisp enough given it’s intended purpose. The ThinkShutter privacy slider is a great inclusion for those wanting to ensure their webcam is not being used without their knowledge. Simply slide it to the right and a red dot appears where the camera is to let you know it’s covered.

If you’re a fan of Windows Hello facial login, there is also an IR camera option, unfortunately (from what I understand), you’re losing the ThinkShutter privacy slider if you do go that route.

Battery Life

Battery life on laptops is always a funny thing. During testing, we mostly stuck to word processing, some music streaming, and the odd video watching. As mentioned above, the ThinkPad T480 has dual batteries with Lenovo’s Power Bridge technology. When being used on the go, the notebook draws off the rear, swappable battery first. When recharging the batteries, the notebook charges the internal one. This way, if you’re swapping out the rear battery, you don’t have to worry about the T480 shutting down while you do so. Unless, of course, you’ve let the internal battery run out as well.

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In addition to an internal 24W battery, the ThinkPad T480 has a swappable rear battery for extended usage.

Depending on what we were doing, we saw between 8 and 10 hours of battery life on default settings. Considering Lenovo claims a battery life of up to 14.4 hours as configured (according to MobileMark 2014 tests), our testing came in a bit low. However, battery life always depends on use such as lighting and what you’re doing on it. Either way, during our tests, we were able to get enough done in a typical workday without having to plug in which is definitely acceptable.

If you require even longer lasting battery, the system can be configured with a 72Wh battery as well. With this option, Lenovo claims up to 29 hours (based on MobileMark 2014) of usage before requiring a recharge.

Price/Value

With a starting MSRP of $959USD before instant savings, the ThinkPad T480 is configurable and currently available starting at $859.99 after instant savings. Our review unit comes in around the $2,118 mark before instant savings (which currently bring it down to $1,906.20). Personally, I’d definitely add in the NVIDIA GeForce MX150 and 72Wh battery which adds about $150 to the price, but those upgrades would be well worth it.

Wrap-up

If you’re looking for an efficient, powerful, business-focused laptop to take on the go, the Lenovo ThinkPad T480 is an excellent choice given its performance, specifications, customization options, and price point.

*We were sent a review unit of the Lenovo Thinkpad T480 for the purposes of this review.

Lenovo ThinkPad T480

$959USD+
9.3

Design

9.5/10

Display

9.5/10

Software

9.5/10

Performance

9.5/10

Sound Quality

8.5/10

Camera

9.0/10

Battery Life

9.0/10

Price/Value

9.5/10

Nailed it

  • Durable design
  • Plenty of customization options
  • 1080p touchscreen
  • Fantastic performance
  • ThinkShutter privacy slider
  • Optional IR camera for Windows Hello
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • Dual batteries, one swappable

Needs work

  • Pretty standard design that's changed only slightly over the years
  • Price may be an issue for some
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