Lenovo Refines Features, Performance in Familiar ThinkPad T480 Design

REVIEW: The venerable T-Series line of ThinkPad laptops continues with improvements that keep these computers current and relevant, while retaining their looks and toughness.

ThinkPad T480 Laptop Review

At first glance, the new Lenovo ThinkPad T480 appears indistinguishable from last year’s T470, and that’s no accident. For nearly two decades, ThinkPads have had the same rugged, flat-black looks, similar keyboard layouts and clear usable screens. But under that business-like appearance lives a laptop computer that keeps getting better every year. 

But there’s more to the T480 than just looks. There are some important improvements over the similar laptop we reviewed last year. Lenovo has done away with the bottom-mounted docking connector that was a characteristic of T-series ThinkPads since their inception. While the docking connector worked well as a way to provide power and external connections to the laptop, it required a lot of space inside. 

The docking connector has now moved to the side as a USB-C connector along with an Ethernet connector, both of which fit into a new side-mounted docking station. This will still allow the rear of the computer to be raised for easier typing, but it’s a simpler arrangement that has advantages beyond just docking. 

Those connectors now include an industry-standard Thunderbolt connector that Lenovo says includes “anti-fry” technology. This means that you can use any power supply that will support the USB-C standard and provide enough power. The anti-fry feature means that if you happen to try a poorly engineered power supply it won’t ruin the computer’s electronics. 

The computer also includes two standard USB 3.0 ports on the right side, along with a standard RJ-45 Ethernet connector. There’s also an HDMI connector on the right, although many users probably will take advantage of the Thunderbolt port for their external video needs. 

The similarity with the T470 continues with the keyboard, which appears to be identical. Like its predecessor, the keyboard is spill-resistant, and it’s well designed for typing. Unlike many other laptops, the keys have good travel, good tactile feedback, and they’re shaped to encourage proper finger placement for fast typing. Excellent keyboards have been a hallmark of Lenovo laptops and the T480 continues with that. 

The particular unit that Lenovo provided for testing this time did not include the touch screen, which has remained unchanged from the T470. Because so many laptops these days include a touch screen, I found it was a little disoriented to use the review model without the touch screen. 

Of course, Lenovo includes both a touchpad in front of the keyboard and the red rubber pointing device in the center of the keyboard, both of which work well. So if you’re not used to a touch screen, you might not miss it. 

However, Lenovo’s touch screens are superb, as I found when I reviewed the T470 last year. If you decide to buy a T480, do yourself a favor and order the touch screen. The price difference is minimal and the increase in convenience is significant. 

You can configure ThinkPads such as the T480 with a variety of processors, video cards and you can choose the amount of memory you need. You can also choose between a hard drive and a solid state drive. The review machine was equipped with a 1.8 GHz four core Intel Core i5 8th generation processor. It also included a 256 GB SSD and 16 GB memory. 

When I compared the performance of this machine against the T470 I reviewed last year, which had a 2.8 GHz i7 processor and 16 GB of memory, the benchmark scores using Geekbench 4 from Primate Labs, the single core scores were nearly identical while the multi-core scores for the i5 were substantially higher. 

The performance numbers are reflected in use. This computer is quite fast and even compute intensive tasks, such as manipulating large spreadsheets, ran without noticeable delay. 

The T480 includes the security features you’d expect in a business laptop, including a fingerprint reader and a new video camera shutter that lets you prevent hackers using it to see what you are doing. The fingerprint reader stores fingerprint images on the device itself, making it difficult if not impossible to hack. 

As you’d expect with a ThinkPad, this device meets MIL-STD 810G for ruggedness and environmental factors. The laptop includes two batteries, one of which can be swapped while the other is in use. The largest battery can provide over a day’s worth of continuous use. 

The ThinkPad T480 that we tested retails for about $1,500. Current discounts dropped that by $300, so if you bought one at the time this was published, it would set you back about $1200, which is not unreasonable for a business machine of this grade. A fully configured version with an i7 processor, a larger SSD and an Nvidia graphics card could cost more than $2000. 

In many ways, the ThinkPad T480 is the perfect business laptop. Its 13.25 inch by 9.15 inch dimensions are easily accommodated in a briefcase and it only weights three and a half pounds. Its magnesium and fiber glass case, its rugged build and its MIL-STD testing make it an ideal choice for life in an overhead bin or a hotel room. Lenovo’s global warranty support means it’s well suited for the business traveler. 

Lenovo describes the T480 as a workhorse, and that’s exactly what it is. It may not be fancy enough to impress fellow business travelers at your favorite airline frequent flyer lounge, but it will work no matter what your destination is. That’s really what you need in a business laptop.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...