Computing

ThinkPad X1 Carbon vs. ThinkPad T490

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is sleeker and more modern alternative to the ThinkPad T490

Lenovo has a few classes of ThinkPad laptops, each aimed at different types of people. The X1 Carbon is an example of a ThinkPad aimed at jet setters who appreciate thin and light laptops, while the T490 is for those who see ThinkPads as solid, trustworthy, and — let’s face it — slightly more pedestrian laptops.

We pitted the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 against the ThinkPad T490 to see whether the higher price of the former is justified over the solid reliability of the latter.

Design

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon enjoyed a bit of a refreshed design in this generation. Specifically, it’s smaller, thinner, and lighter than its Gen 6 predecessor, while maintaining its mix of magnesium alloy and carbon fiber making up the chassis. If you buy the version with the 4K display, then you’ll love the woven carbon fiber patter adorning the lid. Otherwise, the X1 Carbon looks a lot like the T490, both of which highlight the usual iconic black chassis with red accents as adorns the majority of ThinkPads. The T490, though, is constructed of plastic with glass fiber backing, and both ThinkPads feel sturdy in hand. Both also enjoy the soft-touch feel that makes carrying and using the typical ThinkPad so comfortable.

In terms of their keyboards, you might imagine both laptops to enjoy identical ThinkPad goodness. That’s not the case, though, as the X1 Carbon Gen 7 has a slightly shallower keyboard thanks to its thinner chassis. It still feels great, but if you want the traditional ThinkPad keyboard then the T490 is the better choice.

Both laptops sport the typical red TrackPoint nubbin in the middle of the display with an extra set of buttons above the touchpad. And the touchpad on both is large and supports Microsoft’s Precision touchpad drivers for excellent Windows 10 multitouch gesture support.

Note that while both laptops support Windows 10 Hello password-less login via fast and accurate fingerprint scanners, only the X1 Carbon has the ThinkShutter privacy panel that slides over the webcam for some extra privacy. That makes the X1 Carbon the more secure laptop.

Display options is one area where the two laptops serious diverge. The X1 Carbon offers a host of display options, from Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) panels with low-power, PrivacyGuard, or anti-glare touch support, a WQHD (2,560 x 1,440) anti-glare panel, and a 4K (3,840 x 2,160) display with 500 nits of brightness and Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) support.

We can attest to how excellent is the latter display, with great colors, brightness, and some of the best Netflix HDR support you’ll find on a laptop. The T490 is more limited, with low-power, PrivacyGuard, and touch-enabled Full HD displays to go with a WQHD option. The T490 doesn’t have a 4K display, however, leaving out anyone who hates staring at pixels.

Finally, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has better connectivity, with two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 support, an Ethernet/docking station connector (that unfortunately requires an optional adapter), two USB-A Gen 1 ports, and a full-size HDMI port. The T490 is no slouch, however, two USB 3.1 ports, a USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port, and a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port with Thunderbolt three. It, too, has a full-size HDMI port and an RJ45 gigabit ethernet port.

Both laptops use Intel’s Wi-Fi 6 card with Bluetooth 5.0, at least on those versions with Intel’s 10th-gen CPUs. You can also configure optional WWAN SIM slots.

Performance

The X1 Carbon can be configured with up to Intel’s 10th-gen Comet Lake Core i7-10710U, a six-core CPU that we’ve found is the fastest 15-watt processor around. The T490 maxes out at the quad-core Core i5-10210U, making the X1 Carbon a much faster laptop when it comes to sheer processing power. The T490, though, can be configured with the Nvidia GeForce MX150 discrete GPU, meaning it will be a better gamer (though limited to casual games and modern titles at low resolutions and graphical detail) while also speeding up creative applications that can use the GPU.

We haven’t tested these laptops with the 10th-gen CPUs, and so we’re not sure exactly how much of a difference there will be with each laptop in its highest configuration. But clearly, the X1 Carbon Gen 7 has made a significant jump over its Intel 8th-gen predecessor.

Portability

The X1 Carbon is a much lighter, smaller, and thinner laptop than the T490. It’s easier to toss into a backpack and carry around. The X1 Carbon is significantly smaller than the T490 despite both laptops using 14-inch displays.

The T490 is wider (12.95 inches vs 12.71 inches and deeper (8.94 inches vs 8.54 inches) than the X1 Carbon, thanks mainly to thicker display bezels, and it’s thicker at 0.70 inches versus 0.58 inches. Finally, the X1 Carbon weighs 2.4 pounds, almost a full pound lighter than the T490 that comes in at a starting weight of 3.23 pounds (up to 3.56 pounds with the PrivacyGuard display). That makes the X1 Carbon a more modern and attractive design.

The T490 comes with just a 50 watt-hour battery, while the X1 Carbon boasts a much larger 80 watt-hour battery.  We don’t know yet how Comet Lake CPUs will perform in terms of battery life. But you’ll want to pay attention to which processor you configure and which display — choose a Core i5 and a low-power Full HD display and you’ll likely get excellent battery life. But up the processor and display resolution and you’ll find yourself hankering for your charger.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the more modern ThinkPad iteration

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 is an expansive laptop. It starts at $2,149 (on sale for $899) for a Core i5-8265U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD, and a non-touch Full HD display. You can spend as much as $3695 ($2,561 on sale) for a Core i7-8665U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB PCIe SSD, and a non-touch 4K display.

The ThinkPad T490 is more economical, starting at $1,889 (on sale for $674) for an equivalent configuration. It maxes out at $2,589 ($1,812 on sale) for a Core i5-10210U, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and 14-inch WQHD display.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 is the best X1 Carbon ever, and that makes it a more attractive option than the somewhat stodgy ThinkPad T490.

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