Lenovo's ThinkPad T490 emphasizes display improvements in 2019 refresh

Lenovo's out to show you that ThinkPads hide a little pizzazz under that businesslike black exterior.

Lenovo thinkpad t490
Lenovo

Lenovo’s popular ThinkPad T490 just got a whole lot brighter—or, if you’re concerned about someone peering over your shoulder, there’s a much dimmer option, too.

Of the ThinkPad series of business notebooks, Lenovo considers the 14-inch T490 to be its most popular option. And for years, Lenovo’s displays underperformed its competition. We’ve recently seen Lenovo try to counter that stereotype, however, and the T490 continues that trend. If you buy a ThinkPad T490 (beginning at $999, shipping to the U.S. in June) you’ll have the option of either a brilliant 500-lumen 1440p display, or what Lenovo calls PrivacyGuard. For both displays, the bezels have also shrunk by 22 percent, Lenovo said.

Other improvements for 2019 include up-firing speakers and dual far-field mics. Lenovo also combined a user-facing IR depth camera and HD camera, and put them behind its privacy-minded ThinkShutter sliding cover. Lenovo’s not making a big deal of it, but it’s also offering Nvidia's new GeForce MX250 discrete GPU option. We have scant concrete information about this chip, but it's supposed to provide a little more graphics oomph.

We saw Lenovo bring a little pizzazz to its ThinkPad X1 lineup at CES, and we’re seeing a bit more of the same for the ThinkPad T490 and its cousins, the slimmer T490s and 15.6-inch T590. But there’s still the Lenovo pragmatism: the T490, T490s, and T590, among others, include a revamped, self-healing BIOS that allows admins to lock down the laptops by restricting port access or remotely wiping the laptop.

ThinkPad T490: The display’s the thing

PrivacyGuard, along with Lenovo PrivacyAlert, are technologies Lenovo started showing off last year. Normally, if you wanted to prevent someone from trying to sneak a peek at your laptop screen, you’d need to buy a laptop privacy film from 3M or some other vendor. With PrivacyGuard, Lenovo builds in a special display that you can dim with the touch of a button, making it extremely difficult for anyone to view it from the side. The related Privacy Alert works in conjunction with the PrivacyGuard and the ThinkPad’s IR depth camera, and can alert you if it “sees” anyone looking over your shoulder.

While PrivacyGuard is probably aimed toward the business traveler, consumers and business customers alike will benefit from the new 1440p display, which pumps out a massive 500 nits. (We consider about 250 nits or so to be appropriate for everyday use.) Plus, the same display can benefit from Dolby Vision HDR technology. PrivacyGuard isn’t a feature of the 500-nit display, unfortunately, as it requires its own configuration.

Lenovo thinkpad t490 4 Lenovo

Lenovo’s latest iteration of the workhorse T490 will be available this June.

Lenovo’s T490 still appears to have a fairly sizeable chin below the display, but the side bezels have shrunk to provide a more aesthetically pleasing appearance. It’s nice to see Lenovo taking advantage of the top bezel to house the webcam behind its convenient ThinkShutter privacy shutter. We’d expect the newer speakers to improve the T490’s audio experience, too, another area where Lenovo hasn’t fared as well as its competition. 

Lenovo thinkpad t490 1 Lenovo

A bright new 1440p display headlines the improvements Lenovo made to its most popular ThinkPad, the T490.

At this point, Nvidia’s not saying much about the GeForce MX250, a supposed upgrade over last year’s MX150. What we can say, of course, is that it’ll offer a bit more graphics horsepower than the integrated Intel HD Graphics 620. Rumors also peg the processor inside the T490 as an Intel “Whiskey Lake” Core chip, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

ThinkPad T490 basic features

  • Display: Up to 14-inch WQHD (1440p), 500-nit HDR with Dolby Vision
  • Processor: Up to “8th Gen Core vPro i7,” probably Whiskey Lake
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620/Nvidia GeForce MX250
  • Memory: Up to 48GB DDR4
  • Storage: up to 1TB PCIe SSD
  • Ports: 2 USB-C (1 USB 3.1, 1 Thunderbolt 3) 2 USB-A 3.1, HDMI 1.4, MicroSD, mic/headphone jack, mechanical docking
  • Audio: Dolby Audio Premium, dual array far-field mics
  • Battery: 50Wh (estimated 16 hours of use)
  • Privacy features: Windows Hello IR camera with ThinkShutter; optional PrivacyGuard/PrivacyAlert, Kensington lock, dTPM 2.0 fingerprint reader
  • OS: Windows 10 Pro
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi, CAT16 LTE-A 
  • Dimensions: 12.95 x 8.93 x 0.70 inches (17.9mm); up to 3.23 pounds
  • Price and availability: $999, shipping in June

ThinkPad T490s: A slimmer option for slightly more

If you’d like a slimmer version of the T490, Lenovo’s T490s will ship in June for a somewhat higher starting price of $1,279. It shares some of the improvements of its chunkier cousin, the T490, such as the 1440p Dolby Vision HDR panel or the 400nit PrivacyGuard panel. It’s 13 percent thinner than the older T490s. Lenovo also says it includes a new aluminum top cover, which accompanies the silver color option.

Lenovo thinkpad t490s 4 Lenovo

Lenovo’s ThinkPad T490s is available in both black and silver options.

The slimmer form factor means that there’s no discrete GPU option, though.

ThinkPad T490s basic features

  • Display: Up to 14-inch WQHD (1440p), 500-nit HDR with Dolby Vision
  • Processor: Up to “8th Gen Core vPro i7,” probably Whiskey Lake
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620
  • Memory: Up to 32GB DDR4
  • Storage: Up to 1 TB PCIe SSD
  • Ports: 2 USB-C (1 USB 3.1, 1 Thunderbolt 3) 2 USB-A 3.1, HDMI 1.4, MicroSD, Mic/headphone jack, mechanical docking
  • Audio: Dolby Audio Premium, dual array far-field mics
  • Battery: 50Wh (estimated 20 hours of use)
  • Privacy features: Windows Hello IR camera with ThinkShutter; optional PrivacyGuard/PrivacyAlert, Kensington lock, dTPM 2.0 fingerprint reader
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 6 Gig+ technology with Bluetooth 5.1
  • OS: Windows 10 Pro
  • Dimensions: 12.94 x 8.88 x 0.63 inches (16.1mm); up to 2.81 pounds
  • Price and availability: $1,279, shipping in June

ThinkPad T590: a larger, 4K alternative

Likewise, if you’re opting for something a bit more robust, Lenovo has the ThinkPad T590. The 15.6-inch laptop doesn’t boast as many new features as its smaller siblings. Here, though, Lenovo has boosted the display option to a full 4K, also with 500 nits' brightness and Dolby Vision HDR. The larger footprint ensures that Nvidia’s GeForce MX250 makes another appearance. Lenovo said it was also able to trim 11 percent of the weight compared to its predecessor.

Lenovo thinkpad t590 Lenovo

Lenovo doesn’t charge as much for size as it does for weight: the T590’s starting price is less than the T490s.

ThinkPad T590 basic features

  • Display: Up to 15.6-inch UHD (4K), 500-nit HDR with Dolby Vision
  • Processor: Up to “8th Gen Core vPro i7,” probably Whiskey Lake
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620/Nvidia GeForce MX250
  • Memory: Up to 48GB DDR4
  • Storage: Up to 1 TB PCIe SSD
  • Ports: 2 USB-C (1 USB 3.1, 1 Thunderbolt 3) 2 USB-A 3.1, HDMI 1.4, MicroSD, Mic/headphone jack, mechanical docking
  • Audio: Dolby Audio Premium, dual array far-field mics
  • Battery: 50Wh (estimated 20 hours of use)
  • Privacy features: Windows Hello IR camera with ThinkShutter; optional PrivacyGuard/PrivacyAlert, Kensington lock, dTPM 2.0 fingerprint reader
  • OS: Windows 10 Pro
  • Dimensions: 14.4 x 9.76 x 0.78 inches (19.1 mm); up to 3.87 pounds
  • Price and availability: $1,029, shipping in June
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