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ThinkPad X1 Carbon vs. 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 8 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 CarbonGen 8 looks and feels very similar to the slim Gen 7 model, 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. Besides the thinner design, 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. Both also enjoy the soft-touch feel that makes carrying and using the typical ThinkPad so comfortable. The T490, however, is constructed of plastic with glass fiber backing.

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 8 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 offer backlit and non-backlit versions.

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. Both laptops also support Windows 10 Hello password-less login via fast and accurate fingerprint scanners, with ThinkShutter privacy panel that slides over the webcam for some extra privacy.

Display options is one area where the two laptops serious diverge. The X1 Carbon offers a host of display options, from Full HD (1920 x 1080) panels with low-power, or anti-glare touch support, up to a 4K (3840 x 2160) display with 500 nits of brightness and Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) support.

We can attest to how excellent the latter display is, 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, Perovskite, and touch-enabled Full HD displays up through a WQHD display with a 2560 x 1440 resolution. The T490 doesn’t have a 4K display — it’s not the most important consideration for a 14-inch screen where the extra pixels won’t be missed as much, but it’s noteworthy for those who want full 4K.

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 HDMI 1.4. 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 1.4 port and an RJ45 gigabit ethernet port.

Both laptops can be upgraded to Intel’s Wi-Fi 6 card with Bluetooth 5.0, at least on those versions with Intel’s 10th-gen CPUs (more on this below). You can also configure optional WWAN SIM slots.

Performance

The X1 Carbon Gen 8 line has only 10th-gen Intel Comet Lake processors, ranging from the four-core i5-10210U to the four-core i7-10610U. These 10th-gen processors are some of the fastest around according to our tests and an excellent choice for a performance upgrade if you haven’t bought a new laptop in a few years (there’s also a model with built-in Linux compatibility if you prefer that operating system).

The T490, on the other hand, offers primarily eighth-gen Intel processors, starting with the four-core i7-8665U. The most advanced T490 version does come with a 10th-gen i7-10510U chip, but its currently out of stock and that requires the maximum upgrade for the T490. This is a compromise that the T490 makes to remain the more affordable laptop, but it is a notable decrease in power.

But what about GPUs? Both models offer integrated Intel UHD graphics, and at this time neither laptop allows you to move beyond this option. At one point, the T490 could be upgraded to a more advanced discrete GeForce card, but this does not appear to be an option at this time.

Both models also offer options for up to 1TB PCIe solid-state drive storage and up to 16GB of RAM.

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 versus 12.71 inches) and deeper (8.94 inches versus 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 a 50Whr battery rated up to 16.11 hours, while the X1 Carbon comes with a 51Wh battery with two configurations, one rated up to 13.5 hours and the other rated up to 19.5 hours. However, the processor and displays decisions you make will also have a big impact on battery life, so take these specs into account alongside other decisions.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the more modern ThinkPad iteration

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8 is certainly the pricier laptop. The base model starts at $2,279, with upgrades going up to $3,679. However, current automatic deals do lower these prices to $949.99 and $2,023.45, some significant savings that make a purchase much easier to recommend.

The ThinkPad T490’s current pricing puts it within a very similar price range despite the slower performance. The base model begins at $2,649 ($849.99 with deals) going up to $3,139 ($1,726.45 with deals), plus a few additional options for unique models (like the 10th-gen CPU option we mentioned above) with separate pricing for those.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8’s improvements to the processor and 4K options cannot be disregarded, while the T490 is traditionally a nice option if you’d like to save a little more. However, if you can afford the upgrade, then the X1 Carbon is certainly the superior machine, and current deals mean that there is very little price differentiation between the two options, so we highly suggest the Gen 8 Carbon model.

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