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Lenovo ThinkPad T590 laptop review: The 4K display offers excellent image quality but requires a lot of energy

Andreas Osthoff, 👁 Andreas Osthoff (translated by Stephanie Chamberlain), 09/27/2019

Image quality vs. battery life. The standard 1080p display in the ThinkPad T590 wasn't able to convince us in our review. Fortunately, Lenovo offers an optional 4K matte display that provides excellent image quality. However, you have to accept a loss in battery life in exchange.

We've already reviewed the Lenovo ThinkPad T590, and we especially really didn't like the quite dim standard display. Contrary to the manufacturer's 14-inch models, the display options for the 15.6-inch ThinkPad are limited, and there is no high-quality 1080p panel. If you want better image quality, you'll have to opt for the optional 4K display, which at least has a matte surface. As a bonus, it also supports DolbyVision HDR and has a brightness of 500 nits according to Lenovo. The price premium for the 4K display is 235 Euros (~$257) in Lenovo's online shop.

Since the case and the rest of the hardware configuration do not differ from our first review device, we'll focus this article on the display itself and its effects on power consumption and therefore also on the battery life. Please refer to our thorough review of the T590 for all further information corresponding to the case, the input devices and performance. The following photos of the case come from the FHD version too.

Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N40009GE (ThinkPad T590 Series)
Graphics adapter
NVIDIA GeForce MX250 - 2048 MB, Core: 1582 MHz, Memory: 1752 MHz
Memory
16384 MB 
, DDR4 2400, dual-channel, max. 40 GB, 1 slot 8 GB soldered
Display
15.6 inch 16:9, 3840 x 2160 pixel 282 PPI, NE156QUM-N66, IPS, 10 bit, HDR Dolby Vision, glossy: no
Mainboard
Intel Cannon Lake-U PCH-LP Premium
Storage
WDC PC SN720 SDAQNTW-512G, 512 GB 
, 444 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, 1 Docking Station Port, Audio Connections: 3.5 mm stereo, Card Reader: microSD, 1 SmartCard, 1 Fingerprint Reader
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, CAT 6 4G/LTE Fibocom L830-EB, LTE
Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 19.95 x 365.8 x 248 ( = 0.79 x 14.4 x 9.76 in)
Battery
57 Wh Lithium-Ion
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64 Bit
Camera
Webcam: 720p
Additional features
Speakers: stereo 2x 2W, Keyboard: chiclet, Keyboard Light: yes, 65-watt power adapter, 36 Months Warranty
Weight
1.837 kg ( = 64.8 oz / 4.05 pounds), Power Supply: 361 g ( = 12.73 oz / 0.8 pounds)
Price
2049 Euro
Note: The manufacturer may use components from different suppliers including display panels, drives or memory sticks with similar specifications.

 

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Display – ThinkPad with matte 4K panel

Subpixel array
Subpixel array
Minimal screen bleeding on the side edges
Minimal screen bleeding on the side edges

The display in our review device comes from the BOE supplier and is of very high quality. Subjectively, you can rejoice in a vivid and sharp image, which is minimally grainy. This is only noticeable on white areas. However, this is really just nitpicking; the same goes for the light screen bleeding on the two side edges. PWM is not used.

Lenovo advertises the display with a brightness of 500 nits, which we're able to thoroughly confirm with our measurement. As a matter of fact, all measuring points surpass this value, and it's around 520 nits on average. The high brightness gives the black value a hard time, resulting in it being slightly elevated at 0.37. But the contrast ratio is still very good at 1435:1. What we don't like, however, is the brightness gradation, because even at one level below the maximum, the value drops to only ~220 nits, and at 80% it is only 139 nits.

Compared to the Full HD display of the T590 and to the optional 4K display of the old ThinkPad P52s, the new matte 4K display is clearly superior in all areas. The 10-bit display supports DolbyVision HDR in addition, and apps like Netflix, YouTube or Amazon Prime make the videos available in the corresponding quality. The system chooses the maximum brightness automatically in order to intensify the HDR effect. Although videos look great, the effect can't be compared to a proper HDR TV due to the limited brightness.

525
cd/m²
529
cd/m²
526
cd/m²
516
cd/m²
531
cd/m²
528
cd/m²
510
cd/m²
517
cd/m²
521
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
NE156QUM-N66
X-Rite i1Pro 2
Maximum: 531 cd/m² Average: 522.6 cd/m² Minimum: 5.8 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 96 %
Center on Battery: 528 cd/m²
Contrast: 1435:1 (Black: 0.37 cd/m²)
ΔE Color 2.5 | 0.6-29.43 Ø6, calibrated: 1
ΔE Greyscale 3.5 | 0.64-98 Ø6.2
97.7% sRGB (Argyll 3D) 84.3% AdobeRGB 1998 (Argyll 3D)
Gamma: 2.31
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N40009GE
NE156QUM-N66, , 3840x2160, 15.6
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N4002VGE
LP156WFC-SPD1, , 1920x1080, 15.6
Lenovo ThinkPad P52S-20LB001FUS
Lenovo LEN40BD, , 3840x2160, 15.6
Response Times
12%
23%
Response Time Grey 50% / Grey 80% *
48.4 (24.8, 23.6)
37.2 (19.2, 18)
23%
43.2 (24.4, 18.8)
11%
Response Time Black / White *
27.2 (14, 13.2)
27.2 (17.2, 10)
-0%
18 (13.2, 14.8)
34%
PWM Frequency
980.4
Screen
-85%
-42%
Brightness middle
531
276
-48%
305.5
-42%
Brightness
523
262
-50%
282
-46%
Brightness Distribution
96
88
-8%
78
-19%
Black Level *
0.37
0.23
38%
0.24
35%
Contrast
1435
1200
-16%
1273
-11%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 *
2.5
5.6
-124%
3.51
-40%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 max. *
4.4
16.4
-273%
7.28
-65%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 calibrated *
1
4.7
-370%
3.15
-215%
Greyscale DeltaE2000 *
3.5
3
14%
4
-14%
Gamma
2.31 95%
2.18 101%
2.18 101%
CCT
7189 90%
7075 92%
7291 89%
Color Space (Percent of AdobeRGB 1998)
84.3
36.9
-56%
58
-31%
Color Space (Percent of sRGB)
97.7
58.1
-41%
89
-9%
Total Average (Program / Settings)
-37% / -70%
-10% / -32%

* ... smaller is better

Further measurements with our X-Rite i1Pro2 spectral photometer show that color reproduction is very decent out of the box. A light blue tint can be noticed with the grayscales though, and the color temperature is a bit too cool as well. 

CalMAN grayscales (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN grayscales (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN saturation (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN saturation (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN ColorChecker (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN ColorChecker (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN grayscales calibrated (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN grayscales calibrated (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN saturation calibrated (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN saturation calibrated (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN ColorChecker calibrated (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN ColorChecker calibrated (vs. AdobeRGB)
CalMAN ColorChecker (vs. sRGB)
CalMAN ColorChecker (vs. sRGB)

We took control of this with calibration, and the corresponding profile is available to download freely above in the display box. Both the grayscales and the colors lie below the target value of 3 now, so the human eye isn't able to notice any difference from the reference color. Together with the high color-space coverage, the panel can actually also be used for image-editing, but there's a limitation here. As we already know from other Lenovo panels, converting the color space is not possible. Everything is okay as long as you're working in the AdobeRGB space, but compared to the sRGB reference, large color deviations appear (see screenshot on the right). The competitors from Dell or HP do this better.

sRGB coverage: 97.7%
sRGB coverage: 97.7%
AdobeRGB coverage: 84.3% (Argyll, 3D intersection)
AdobeRGB coverage: 84.3% (Argyll, 3D intersection)
AdobeRGB coverage: 96.2% (CalMAN, 2D intersection)
AdobeRGB coverage: 96.2% (CalMAN, 2D intersection)

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
27.2 ms ... rise ↗ and fall ↘ combined↗ 14 ms rise
↘ 13.2 ms fall
The screen shows relatively slow response rates in our tests and may be too slow for gamers.
In comparison, all tested devices range from 0.8 (minimum) to 240 (maximum) ms. » 56 % of all devices are better.
This means that the measured response time is similar to the average of all tested devices (24.9 ms).
       Response Time 50% Grey to 80% Grey
48.4 ms ... rise ↗ and fall ↘ combined↗ 24.8 ms rise
↘ 23.6 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. » 80 % of all devices are better.
This means that the measured response time is worse than the average of all tested devices (39.6 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 9270 (minimum: 43 - maximum: 142900) Hz was measured.

There are barely any limitations outdoors thanks to the combination of high brightness and a matte display, and with the exception of direct sunlight, content is readable without any issues in sunny environments too. There's nothing to complain about in regard to the viewing-angle stability, either.

Outdoors
Outdoors
Viewing-angle stability + vertical shift
Viewing-angle stability + vertical shift
Viewing-angle stability + horizontal shift
Viewing-angle stability + horizontal shift

Energy consumption – The 4K display devours power

Energy consumption

The elevated power demand of the 4K panel is easily noticeable in the idle measurements. At full brightness, we detect a full 4 watts more, which will naturally have an impact on battery life.

Power Consumption
Off / Standbydarklight 0.31 / 0.6 Watt
Idledarkmidlight 4.3 / 12.4 / 16.2 Watt
Load midlight 65.6 / 69.5 Watt
 color bar
Key: min: dark, med: mid, max: light        Metrahit Energy
Power Consumption
Idle Minimum
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N40009GE
3840x2160
4.3 Watt * ∼105%
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N4002VGE
1920x1080
4.1 Watt * ∼100%
Idle Average
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N40009GE
3840x2160
12.4 Watt * ∼149%
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N4002VGE
1920x1080
8.3 Watt * ∼100%
Idle Maximum
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N40009GE
3840x2160
16.2 Watt * ∼137%
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N4002VGE
1920x1080
11.8 Watt * ∼100%
Load Average
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N40009GE
3840x2160
65.6 Watt * ∼106%
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N4002VGE
1920x1080
61.6 Watt * ∼100%
Load Maximum
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N40009GE
3840x2160
69.5 Watt * ∼100%
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N4002VGE
1920x1080
69.4 Watt * ∼100%
Witcher 3 ultra
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N4002VGE
1920x1080
54.4 Watt * ∼100%

* ... smaller is better

Battery life

An identical battery capacity (57 Wh) together with an increased power usage can only lead to shorter battery life. While the ThinkPad T590 was still able to last around 10.5 hours with the Full HD panel set to a brightness of 150 nits in our Wi-Fi test, the T590 with the 4K display only made it to 6 hours. If you then use the full brightness, which will happen more often, especially outdoors, this even goes down to only 3:40 hours. 

Battery Runtime - WiFi Websurfing 1.3
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N4002VGE
8565U, GeForce MX250, 57 Wh, 1920x1080
628 min ∼24% +73%
Average of class Office
  (105 - 1104, n=355)
417 min ∼16% +15%
Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N40009GE
8565U, GeForce MX250, 57 Wh, 3840x2160
363 min ∼14%
Battery Runtime
NBC WiFi Websurfing Battery Test 1.3 (44.17763.1.0)
6h 03min
NBC WiFi Websurfing Battery Test 1.3 max Brightness (44.17763.1.0)
3h 40min
Load (maximum brightness)
1h 41min

Pros

+ robust case
+ more compact and lighter than the previous model
+ matte 4K display with great image quality
+ versatile connectivity options
+ very comfortable input devices, keyboard with numeric keypad
+ 25-watt version of the MX250 built in
+ fan is idle most of the time
+ generous warranty package

Cons

- 4K panel with significantly more power demand
- considerably reduced battery life
- no color profile for sRGB
- no longer has a full-size SD card slot
- Thunderbolt 3 only has access to two PCIe lanes
- case is hard to open
- high case temperatures
- less flexible without PowerBridge

Verdict - The T590 only offers two extremes

In review: Lenovo ThinkPad T590. Review device provided by
In review: Lenovo ThinkPad T590. Review device provided by

With the optional 4K display, Lenovo is able to eliminate a major point of criticism for the ThinkPad T590, because the image quality is significantly superior to the standard 1080p display. If you're not working mainly with an external screen and would like to enjoy the best possible image quality, you should definitely resort to the upgrade. Apart from the minimally grainy image on white surfaces, we can hardly criticize anything about the screen. However, why Lenovo doesn't provide a profile for working in the smaller sRGB color space still remains a mystery.

Naturally, the power consumption of the display is a negative aspect and leads to significantly reduced battery life. Depending on the type of usage, this point should be taken into account in any case. We lack an intermediate solution, as is currently available with the 14-inch ThinkPads. Why doesn't Lenovo offer a better Full HD panel for the T590? We know from the Dell XPS 15for example, that such panels exist on the market. A good compromise between image quality and power consumption would be made here. The remaining pros and cons are, of course, identical to our first review device with the FHD panel. 

With the optional 4K display, the ThinkPad T590 finally gets a high-quality display, which is also matte. However, the increased energy demand has a massive impact on battery life.

Lenovo ThinkPad T590-20N40009GE - 09/27/2019 v7
Andreas Osthoff

Chassis
84 / 98 → 86%
Keyboard
91%
Pointing Device
91%
Connectivity
75 / 80 → 93%
Weight
65 / 20-75 → 82%
Battery
69%
Display
93%
Games Performance
63 / 78 → 81%
Application Performance
87 / 95 → 91%
Temperature
86%
Noise
95%
Audio
40%
Camera
37 / 85 → 44%
Average
75%
87%
Office - Weighted Average

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Lenovo ThinkPad T590 laptop review: The 4K display offers excellent image quality but requires a lot of energy
Andreas Osthoff, 2019-09-27 (Update: 2019-09-30)