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Lenovo ThinkPad T480s review: A solid business workhorse with all-day battery life

Lenovo’s ThinkPad T-series laptops are designed to deliver the performance and durability required by demanding business users. They are not the most portable devices in the ThinkPad lineup, but with 14-inch and 15-inch screens they offer plenty of screen space for working. Battery life is good too, with Lenovo claiming up to 13.5 hours of uptime away from mains power. The T series is newly refreshed with 8th generation Intel Core processors, and here we’re examining the 14-inch ThinkPad T480s.

The pitch-black shell of the T480s with a silver ThinkPad logo askew on one corner is as distinctive as a business laptop gets — especially with the iconic dot over the ‘i’ that winks as a reminder the laptop is powered when the lid is down. Inside, the keyboard sports those idiosyncratic pot-bellied keys that allow just a bit more tapping area than usual, while the red TrackPoint sits between the G, H and B keys, with dedicated buttons above the trackpad.

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The 14-inch ThinkPad T480s runs on 8th-generation Intel Core processors with integrated HD 620 graphics, and up to 24GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage. It’s 18.45mm thick and weighs 1.31kg.


Images: Lenovo

The build is solid, as you’d expect with a ThinkPad. There is some flex in the lid, but not enough to make me fear for its safety in a travel bag. Nor is the weight, at 1.31kg, anything to worry about. As a 14-inch laptop, the T480s does need a reasonably sized bag, but it’s nice and thin, measuring 331mm wide by 226.8mm deep by 18.45mm thick (although it tapers towards the front).

Laptops aren’t always easy to open. Lenovo’s solution is to allow the full length of the lid to overbite the base, making it easy to get purchase anywhere to open it up. It still needs two hands, but this design is an ergonomic solution to a perennial problem.

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The ThinkShutter is a simple but welcome privacy addition.


Image: Lenovo

A new, surprisingly low-tech, feature for some of Lenovo’s 2018 laptops is the ThinkShutter. It’s a sliding cover for the 720p webcam, and can be put in place to help ensure personal privacy when the camera is not in use. Just flick it to one side to make or take a video call. This can be found on all three of the new T-series laptops — the T480s, T480 and T580.

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The keyboard is well-thought-out, comfortable and quiet.


Image: Lenovo

I’ve already noted the familiar design of the Lenovo T480s keyboard and TrackPoint. The keys are nicely springy and make just the gentlest of clicking sounds when pressed. They are very comfortable to use, and there’s little chance of missing the double-height, almost double-width Enter key. The keyboard is rigid, with no flex at all.

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The trackpad is responsive and its tactile rather than glassy finish might seem old-fashioned, but works well. I’m not the biggest fan of the TrackPoint system in general, but for those who do like it, the wide buttons and central scroll rocker work very well.

The keyboard backlight has two brightness levels, toggled by holding the Fn key down and tapping the space bar. This is a much more ergonomic solution than having to find a specific Fn key in poor lighting.

The PrtSc key has been given a new lease of life: a simple tap grabs a full-screen image as usual, but using the Fn key as well opens up the Windows Snipping tool, making it easier to grab a small area of a screen.

A fingerprint sensor is embedded into the wrist rest just to the right of the trackpad.

The 14-inch screen on my review sample was a matte, non-touch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS panel. Maximum brightness was high enough for general use, and viewing angles good. If you want a touch screen, and/or 2,560-by-1,440-pixel resolution, you can select from a range of configurations. (Note, though, that touch is currently only available in one of the preconfigured models on Lenovo’s UK website, and it’s not a higher-resolution option.)

The screen is large enough to be used for presentations, and the fact that it can be laid flat on a desk might prove useful in some information-sharing scenarios.

The speakers deliver sound through two narrow grilles on the underside of the chassis. Because of this location, sound is distorted when the laptop is laid onto material (when resting on a lap, for example), and some fidelity is also lost when the laptop sits on a desk. If there’s one design issue I’d like to see fixed, it’s the speaker location.

That noted, there’s little audio distortion at the highest (quite loud) volume, and the speakers are certainly good enough to use in professional presentations.

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As well as USB 3.0, USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports, the T480s offers full-size HDMI and Ethernet (RJ-45) ports and a flash card reader, with a smart card reader as an option.


Images: Lenovo

The ThinkPad T480s offers a good array of ports and connectors, including USB-C and Thunderbolt 3, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, full-size HDMI and RJ-45 Ethernet. To fit into the thin base, the latter has a small pop-out section. There’s also a 3.5mm headset jack and a 4-in-1 MicroSD card reader (SD, MMC, SDHC and SDXC).

Options include a smart card reader, LTE mobile broadband and NFC. The SIM caddy is on the chassis base, at the back.

There are six variants of this laptop available off the page in the UK, and, as usual with Lenovo, you can further customise these to meet specific requirements.

My review sample was very similar to the £1589.99 pre-configured variant, with one difference – its standard 8GB of RAM had been boosted to 16GB.

Here are the preconfigured models available in the UK:

Intel Core i5-8250U, Windows 10 Home, 14.0-inch 1,920 x 1,080 non touch screen, Intel HD Graphics 620, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD
£1,059.99 (inc VAT; £883.32 ex. VAT)

Intel Core i5-8250U, Windows 10 Home, 14.0-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen, Intel HD Graphics 620, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD
£1,119.99 (inc VAT; £933.32 ex. VAT)

Intel Core i7-8550U, Windows 10 Pro, 14.0-inch 1,920 x 1,080 non touch screen, Intel HD Graphics 620, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
£1,309.99 (inc VAT; £1,091.66 ex. VAT)

Intel Core i7-8550U, Windows 10 Pro, 14.0-inch 1,920 x 1,080 non touch screen, Intel HD Graphics 620, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, integrated mobile broadband
£1,589.99 (inc VAT; £1,324.99 ex. VAT)

Intel Core i7-8550U, Windows 10 Pro, 14.0-inch 2,560 x 1,440 non touch screen, Intel HD Graphics 620, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, integrated mobile broadband
£1,679.99 (inc VAT; £1,399.99 ex. VAT)

Intel Core i7-8650U, Windows 10 Pro, 14.0-inch 2,560 x 1,440 non touch screen, Intel HD Graphics 620, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD, integrated mobile broadband, NFC
£2,249.99 (inc VAT; £1,874.99 ex. VAT)

Lenovo claims up to 13.5 hours of life from the fully-charged 57Wh battery, which should be enough for all but the most extended work days. This is probably a fair figure: one test session, involving writing to an online source, some web browsing, and some music streaming, it took four hours to deplete the battery from 100 percent to 70 percent. According to Lenovo, the T480s’s rapid charging feature can deliver 80 percent battery life in an hour.

Conclusions

Lenovo’s ThinkPad T480s has many plus points, and the upgrade to 8th Generation Intel processors is welcome. It’s a pity that you have to go rather well beyond the entry-level price to get more than 128GB of storage, and further still if you need integrated mobile broadband. Touch-screen support is only available in one off-the-shelf configuration too. The T480s is highly configurable, but of course every tweak will add to the overall cost.

It is good to see an SD card reader and a full-size Ethernet port as standard, complementing USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, and the ThinkShutter is a nice addition. However, the all-day battery life is the star attraction.

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