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Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Review: The WQHD HDR panel convinces in the test, but makes only limited sense in an office laptop

Andreas Osthoff, 👁 Andreas Osthoff (translated by Mark Riege), 09/13/2019

More pixels and less battery life. Like the ThinkPad X1 Extreme before it, the 14-inch ThinkPad T490 also gets a higher resolution WQHD panel with 100% AdobeRGB color-space coverage. The excellent image quality is countered by a reflective display surface and increased power consumption.

Until now, we were only able to test the ThinkPad T490 with the new low power 1080p displays, but Lenovo also offers a higher resolution WQHD display, which in addition to HDR is also supposed to offer full coverage of the AdobeRGB color space. Since we have already tested the ThinkPad T490 twice, in this article we will only concentrate on the image quality and the effects on the power consumption and with that naturally also on the battery life.

For all the other information on the ThinkPad T490, we refer to our two detailed reviews. The images of the case below also come from our previous T490 review.

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Lenovo ThinkPad T490-20N30000GE (ThinkPad T490 Series)
Graphics adapter
NVIDIA GeForce MX250 - 2048 MB, Core: 1582 MHz, Memory: 1752 MHz, Optimus
Memory
16384 MB 
, DDR4-2400
Display
14 inch 16:9, 2560 x 1440 pixel 210 PPI, B140QAN02.0, IPS, glossy: yes, HDR
Mainboard
Intel Cannon Lake-U PCH-LP Premium
Storage
Toshiba XG6 KXG60ZNV1T02, 1024 GB 
, 902 GB free
Soundcard
Intel Cannon Lake-LP - cAVS
Connections
3 USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen1, 1 USB 3.1 Gen2, 1 Thunderbolt, 1 HDMI, 2 DisplayPort, 1 Kensington Lock, Audio Connections: 3.5 mm audio port, Card Reader: mSD UHS-I, 1 SmartCard, 1 Fingerprint Reader, NFC
Networking
Intel Ethernet Connection I219-V (10/100/1000/2500/5000MBit/s), Intel Wireless-AC 9560 (a/b/g/n = Wi-Fi 4/ac = Wi-Fi 5), Bluetooth 5.0
Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 18.9 x 339 x 227 ( = 0.74 x 13.35 x 8.94 in)
Battery
50 Wh Lithium-Ion
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64 Bit
Camera
Webcam: 720p with infrared and ThinkShutter
Additional features
Speakers: 2 watts stereo, Keyboard: chiclet, Keyboard Light: yes, 65-watt USB-C charger, 36 Months Warranty
Weight
1.466 kg ( = 51.71 oz / 3.23 pounds), Power Supply: 345 g ( = 12.17 oz / 0.76 pounds)
Note: The manufacturer may use components from different suppliers including display panels, drives or memory sticks with similar specifications.

 

Display – The ThinkPad with a great WQHD display, but it is reflective

Subpixel grid
Subpixel grid

In its online configurator, Lenovo asks for an additional 160 Euros (~$177) for the reflective WQHD panel. For that, you get more pixels, an even more powerful background illumination, and complete coverage of the AdobeRGB color space. However, there is also a large disadvantage compared to the other panel, since it is very reflective. This becomes particularly noticeable outdoors, but even in very bright spaces indoors it can lead to problems with light sources. 

The subjective impression of the display is excellent, there is no PWM, and screen bleeding is also not a problem. Our test unit barely misses the advertised brightness of 500 nits. The average value is about 470 nits, which is not bad at all. The same goes for the black value (0.28) and the contrast ratio (>1700:1). By the way, this is the same panel that we were already able to test in the 2018 version of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. However, at the expense of the black value, that version was still slightly brighter.

Like in last year's X1 Carbon, the display supports Dolby Vision HDR. Windows as well as apps such as Netflix or YouTube recognize the display and offer the corresponding content. As soon as you play a video, the system automatically adjusts itself to the highest brightness. Overall, HDR content looks very good. However, you can only compare it to HDR in a TV to a limited extent, since this is not a 10 or even 12-bit panel. In addition, the maximum brightness is simply not high enough to achieve a real "wow" effect.

466
cd/m²
495
cd/m²
459
cd/m²
458
cd/m²
486
cd/m²
444
cd/m²
481
cd/m²
470
cd/m²
448
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
B140QAN02.0
X-Rite i1Pro 2
Maximum: 495 cd/m² Average: 467.4 cd/m² Minimum: 4.7 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 90 %
Center on Battery: 487 cd/m²
Contrast: 1736:1 (Black: 0.28 cd/m²)
ΔE Color 1.9 | 0.6-29.43 Ø6, calibrated: 0.8
ΔE Greyscale 2.4 | 0.64-98 Ø6.3
100% sRGB (Argyll 3D) 88.7% AdobeRGB 1998 (Argyll 3D)
Gamma: 2.25
Lenovo ThinkPad T490-20N30000GE
B140QAN02.0, IPS, 2560x1440, 14
Lenovo ThinkPad T490-20N3S02L00
NE140FHM-N61, IGZO IPS LED, 1920x1080, 14
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2018-20KGS03900
B140QAN02.0, IPS, 2560x1440, 14
Average of class Office
 
Screen
-59%
-5%
Brightness middle
486
418
-14%
578
19%
Brightness
467
400
-14%
533
14%
Brightness Distribution
90
88
-2%
84
-7%
Black Level *
0.28
0.24
14%
0.38
-36%
Contrast
1736
1742
0%
1521
-12%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 *
1.9
4.7
-147%
1.9
-0%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 max. *
3.6
8.7
-142%
3.8
-6%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 calibrated *
0.8
2.1
-163%
0.8
-0%
Greyscale DeltaE2000 *
2.4
5.9
-146%
3
-25%
Gamma
2.25 98%
2.06 107%
2.14 103%
CCT
6464 101%
7350 88%
6377 102%
Color Space (Percent of AdobeRGB 1998)
88.7
59.9
-32%
88.8
0%
Color Space (Percent of sRGB)
100
92.1
-8%
100
0%

* ... smaller is better

CalMAN Grayscales (AdobeRGB color space)
CalMAN Grayscales (AdobeRGB color space)
CalMAN Saturation (AdobeRGB color space)
CalMAN Saturation (AdobeRGB color space)
CalMAN ColorChecker (AdobeRGB color space)
CalMAN ColorChecker (AdobeRGB color space)
CalMAN Grayscales calibrated (AdobeRGB color space)
CalMAN Grayscales calibrated (AdobeRGB color space)
CalMAN Saturation calibrated (AdobeRGB color space)
CalMAN Saturation calibrated (AdobeRGB color space)
CalMAN ColorChecker calibrated (AdobeRGB color space)
CalMAN ColorChecker calibrated (AdobeRGB color space)

Our additional measurements show that the deviations of the colors and grayscale are already very low in the state of delivery. There is no color tint and the display really does not need any calibration. However, you need to keep one thing in mind: In contrast to other manufacturers such as Dell or HP, Lenovo does not offer any option to modify the color space or color profile. So as long as you work in the AdobeRGB color space, everything is okay, but as soon as you work with sRGB files, there are some high color deviations (see screenshot below).

The color-space coverage is very high. sRGB is completely covered and AdobeRGB up to 88.7%. To determine these values, we use the Argyll tool, which calculates the overlap in 3D. If you only look at the 2D overlap, which is possible with CalMAN for example, the result comes out at 99.6%.

CalMAN ColorChecker (sRGB color space)
CalMAN ColorChecker (sRGB color space)
AdobeRGB coverage: 99.6% (CalMAN 2D overlap)
AdobeRGB coverage: 99.6% (CalMAN 2D overlap)
AdobeRGB coverage: 88.7% (Argyll 3D overlap)
AdobeRGB coverage: 88.7% (Argyll 3D overlap)
sRGB coverage: 100%
sRGB coverage: 100%

Display Response Times

Display response times show how fast the screen is able to change from one color to the next. Slow response times can lead to afterimages and can cause moving objects to appear blurry (ghosting). Gamers of fast-paced 3D titles should pay special attention to fast response times.
       Response Time Black to White
20 ms ... rise ↗ and fall ↘ combined↗ 7.6 ms rise
↘ 12.4 ms fall
The screen shows good response rates in our tests, but may be too slow for competitive gamers.
In comparison, all tested devices range from 0.8 (minimum) to 240 (maximum) ms. » 22 % of all devices are better.
This means that the measured response time is better than the average of all tested devices (25 ms).
       Response Time 50% Grey to 80% Grey
51.2 ms ... rise ↗ and fall ↘ combined↗ 24.4 ms rise
↘ 26.8 ms fall
The screen shows slow response rates in our tests and will be unsatisfactory for gamers.
In comparison, all tested devices range from 0.9 (minimum) to 636 (maximum) ms. » 86 % of all devices are better.
This means that the measured response time is worse than the average of all tested devices (39.8 ms).

Screen Flickering / PWM (Pulse-Width Modulation)

To dim the screen, some notebooks will simply cycle the backlight on and off in rapid succession - a method called Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) . This cycling frequency should ideally be undetectable to the human eye. If said frequency is too low, users with sensitive eyes may experience strain or headaches or even notice the flickering altogether.
Screen flickering / PWM not detected

In comparison: 51 % of all tested devices do not use PWM to dim the display. If PWM was detected, an average of 9418 (minimum: 43 - maximum: 142900) Hz was measured.

Outdoors or with light sources, the glossy surface leads to strong reflections. The viewing-angle stability is good, and only when shifting it vertically does the image brighten relatively early. However, in practice the reflections turn out to create the bigger problem.

Outdoors
Outdoors
Outdoors
Outdoors
Viewing-angle stability
Viewing-angle stability

Power Management

Power Consumption
Off / Standbydarklight 0.28 / 0.61 Watt
Idledarkmidlight 3.84 / 9.5 / 12.9 Watt
Load midlight 53.6 / 66.9 Watt
 color bar
Key: min: dark, med: mid, max: light        Metrahit Energy

Battery Life

WLAN runtime at maximum brightness
WLAN runtime at maximum brightness

The higher pixel density in combination with the brightness, which was again increased, also inevitably leads to higher power consumption. So if you choose the WQHD display, you have to expect a significantly shorter battery life in mobile use. In the WLAN test with an adjusted brightness, the T490 is unable to last for 6 hours. The other two T490 models still lasted for more than 9 hours here. In the WLAN test with the maximum brightness, it lasts only slightly more than 4 hours, which is again 3 hours less than the other two models.

Battery Runtime
H.264
Lenovo ThinkPad T490-20N30000GE
8565U, GeForce MX250, 50 Wh, 2560x1440
478 min ∼91%
Lenovo ThinkPad T490-20N2004EGE
8265U, UHD Graphics 620, 50 Wh, 1920x1080
677 min ∼129%
Lenovo ThinkPad T490-20N3S02L00
8565U, GeForce MX250, 50 Wh, 1920x1080
523 min ∼100%
WiFi v1.3
Lenovo ThinkPad T490-20N30000GE
8565U, GeForce MX250, 50 Wh, 2560x1440
352 min ∼65%
Lenovo ThinkPad T490-20N2004EGE
8265U, UHD Graphics 620, 50 Wh, 1920x1080
572 min ∼105%
Lenovo ThinkPad T490-20N3S02L00
8565U, GeForce MX250, 50 Wh, 1920x1080
543 min ∼100%
Battery Runtime
NBC WiFi Websurfing Battery Test 1.3
5h 52min
Big Buck Bunny H.264 1080p
7h 58min

Pros

+ robust case
+ more compact and lighter than the predecessor
+ diverse equipment
+ very comfortable input devices
+ bright and saturated display with a high color-space coverage
+ above average CPU performance
+ 25-watt version of the MX250 is used
+ fan is mostly silent

Cons

- very reflective display with significantly increased power demands
- no color profile for sRGB
- no full-sized SD card slot anymore
- Thunderbolt 3 is only connected with two PCIe lanes
- case is hard to open
- high case temperatures
- throttling in the stress test
- less flexible without PowerBridge

Verdict – The WQHD panel is just not quite suitable for the T490

In review: Lenovo ThinkPad T490. Test unit provided by Lenovo Germany.
In review: Lenovo ThinkPad T490. Test unit provided by Lenovo Germany.

The reflective WQHD panel didn't really convince us in the ThinkPad T490. On one hand, the image quality is very good and those who need color-space coverage that is as large as possible in the laptop display can grab it without hesitation. Last year, our opinion probably would have been more positive, but with the new 1080p displays, Lenovo already offers displays that are very good and bright. Those are also matte displays and need less power, which is just more suitable overall for a mobile business device such as the ThinkPad T490, in our opinion.

While the WQHD panel offers great image quality, it is very reflective and reduces the battery life significantly. Those who can make do with the smaller sRGB color space should rather choose the new Low Power Full HD panel, which is also able to convince.

Otherwise, there are of course all the same advantages and disadvantages that we already pointed out in our detailed review of the ThinkPad T490 with the Core i7 and the GeForce MX250.

Lenovo ThinkPad T490-20N30000GE - 09/12/2019 v7
Andreas Osthoff

Chassis
85 / 98 → 87%
Keyboard
93%
Pointing Device
91%
Connectivity
0 / 80 → 
Weight
69 / 20-75 → 90%
Battery
71%
Display
89%
Games Performance
78 / 78 → 100%
Application Performance
87 / 95 → 91%
Temperature
86%
Noise
93%
Audio
55%
Camera
39 / 85 → 46%
Average
78%
87%
Office - Weighted Average

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Review: The WQHD HDR panel convinces in the test, but makes only limited sense in an office laptop
Andreas Osthoff, 2019-09-13 (Update: 2019-09-15)