Despite staging a remarkable comeback in recent years, chipmaker AMD has not quite managed to crack the notebook segment, where rival Intel remains dominant.
Intel's grip, though, is showing signs of loosening. Earlier this year, AMD's second-generation Ryzen Pro mobile processors were chosen by HP and Lenovo for their business laptops.
Some of these AMD-powered notebooks are now available, like the ThinkPad T495s, a 14-inch workhorse designed for mobile workers. Except for its AMD processor and the lack of a Thunderbolt 3 port, the T495s is identical to its Intel-based T490s counterpart in design and features.
You can tell it is a ThinkPad straightaway. It is almost entirely black with dashes of red from its iconic Track Point pointing stick and the accompanying buttons.
This chassis has actually been reworked to be slimmer than previous models. The T495s reminds me of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon which has a similarly tapered front lip. At 1.35kg, it is not as light as the 1.08kg premium X1 Carbon, which has a carbon-fibre and magnesium body. But the T495s' weight is not shabby for a 14-inch model.
My review set comes with an in-plane switching display that offers a middling 250 nits of brightness. While viewing angles are decent, the screen is too dim for me, especially in a well-lit office environment. I have to set the screen brightness at 100 per cent all the time in my testing.
If you can, I suggest upgrading to the 300 nits multi-touch screen for $70. Lenovo also offers a 400 nits anti-glare screen option for $130. However, the Intel-powered T490s offers more display options, including a 2,560 x 1440-pixel, 500 nit screen and a display with a built-in privacy filter. The T490 also has a Thunderbolt 3 port, unlike the T495s.
Lenovo has a well-deserved excellent reputation for its ThinkPad keyboards, which the T495s thoroughly lived up to. Its keyboard feels tactile with plenty of key travel, unlike other thin-and-light laptops. Essential keys like Backspace, Enter and Esc are longer than the rest of the keys, making them easier to hit.
As a business laptop, the T495s comes with a couple of useful security and privacy features. For one, its Ryzen Pro chip comes with a dedicated co-processor that encrypts the system memory to prevent hackers from extracting data from the memory. The notebook also has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) to encrypt data and passwords.
Slim and light for its size
Good battery life
Keyboard lives up to ThinkPad standards
Cheaper than Intel version
Screen too dim
Intel version offers more screen options and Thunderbolt 3
Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 Pro 3500U (2.1GHz)
Graphics: AMD Radeon Vega 8 Graphics
RAM: 8GB DDR4
Screen size: 14 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
Connectivity: 2 x USB Type-C, USB 3.1 Type-A Gen 1, USB 3.1 Type-A Gen 2, HDMI, smart card reader, audio jack
Battery: 57 watt-hour
Value for money:4/5
Battery life: 5/5
Other security features include the ThinkShutter cover that physically blocks the Web camera when it is not needed. The T495s also has a fast and accurate fingerprint reader that worked despite my best attempts to foil it, like tapping with a corner of my finger or brushing the sensor lightly.
My review set comes with an AMD Ryzen 5 Pro 3500U chip that is roughly the equivalent of an Intel Core i5 processor. Hence, I compared it against the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 with an Intel Core i5-8250U chip. In the PCMark 10 benchmark, which tests the performance in common office and work applications, the T495s scored 3,876 compared to 3,253 for the Microsoft Surface. In particular, the T495s had a distinct advantage over the Surface in the digital content creation section.
More importantly, the T495s ran quietly during the benchmark. The fan was barely audible while the bottom of the laptop was only slightly warm.
Since last year, Lenovo has switched to a USB-C port to charge its ThinkPad models. The included charger supports fast-charging and can replenish 80 per cent of the battery in an hour. Its battery life is very good, probably because of its relatively dim screen. In our usual video-loop test, the T495s lasted around 8 hours at maximum screen brightness.
My review set has a retail price of $1,879, though it can be found at around $1,500 at Lenovo's online store after discounts. An equivalent configuration of the Intel-powered T490s would come out to around $1,900 after discounts at the online store.