LG Gram 15 Laptop Review
Did LG make a laptop that's too light?
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If you're anything like me, the field of potential ultrabook candidates is a broad one. I value performance, sure, but I'm probably not going to find myself wanting to play games on the computer I shuffle to-and-from work, friends' houses, and coffee shops. Just give me an elegant, thoughtful design, an effortless user experience, and make it light enough for me to carry around without putting too much stress on my shoulder.
The LG Gram 15 (MSRP $999 as tested) aims to do exactly that, with an emphasis on that last part. It offers all of the benefits of a 15-inch display without the weight that often comes with laptops this big. In fact, the LG Gram is so light it's almost inherently confusing; it takes a while for your brain to accept the fact that, yes, this is a functioning laptop.
How well it functions, however, is another story. I love the portability of the LG Gram and find its design to be refreshingly minimalistic, but its trackpad is nightmarish and the Gram's battery is just as much of a lightweight as the laptop itself.
At the end of the day, I wish the LG Gram were slightly less expensive than it is. Given the type of hardware packed under its hood, it's apparent that you're paying mostly for the Gram's spectacularly light design. And while the Gram's portability is probably the best thing it has to offer, I'm not convinced that it justifies the price, especially when you factor in its shortcomings.
About the LG Gram
There are two models of the LG Gram, and the main difference to note between them is their processors. The model we received (the LG 15Z960) features an Intel Core i5 2.8GHz processor, but there's a higher-end model with a 3.0GHz i7 processor, as well.
At around $999, the lower-end LG Gram is not the priciest laptop, but given its specifications, it's not exactly a bargain, either. Here's a quick rundown of what the i5 model has to offer:
•Intel Core i5-6200U 2.8GHz processor
•8GB DDR3L RAM
•15.6-inch 1920x1080 IPS LCD
•256GB SATA SSD
•WiFi AC/Bluetooth 4.0
Other than the i7 processor, the only other upgrade you'll be seeing with the higher-end LG Gram is its 512GB hard drive. If you ask me, the less expensive LG Gram is the better deal once you take everything into consideration. An extra $300-$400 is just a little too steep for a laptop of this sort.
What We Like
It's an absolute cinch to travel with.
I've watched several people interact with the LG Gram for the first time, and the stages that usually follow are amazement, denial, and hesitation.
At just 2.2 pounds (35.2 ounces), the LG Gram might be the lightest laptop I've ever held in my life. When you first pick it up, you find yourself amazed at how little it weighs. Because it's so reminiscent of those prop laptops used to stage rooms at Ikea, you quickly transition into denial: No, it's not possible. Let me open it up and use it just to make sure. Finally, the hesitation sets in. "Do I even want a notebook that feels fake? These are expensive—they should weigh a bit more!"
It's not that the Gram feels cheap; it isn't. It's made from a magnesium alloy, no matter how much your brain might think it's high-end plastic made-up to look like metal. Unfortunately, we're kind of hardwired to expect a decent amount of heft when it comes to tech products that cost upwards of a thousand bucks.
As a result, your first instinct might be to reject the LG Gram's build altogether. Put it in a bag and take it to the park, though, and I think you'll see why a 15-inch, 2-pound laptop is one of life's more freeing sensations.
Simply put, there were times where I completely forgot I was traveling with the Gram; the muscles in the shoulder that supports the weight of my messenger bag didn't even register the added weight. If you're out and about and can't find a table to rest it on, the Gram feels like next-to-nothing on your lap.
Yes, the laptop itself feels hollow and flimsy, but this shouldn't be a reflection of its build quality. The LG Gram feels hollow because it's a marvelous feat of engineering. It should feel this way. And yes, the comfortable heft of a MacBook Air might trigger the "luxury device" synapses in my brain, but I'm sure as heck not going to forget that a MacBook Air is in my messenger bag anytime soon.
It does what it needs to do and it does it well.
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: The LG Gram ain't a hardware juggernaut. Even the higher-end model which features the Core i7 processor isn't exactly heavyweight in terms of its performance capabilities.
But 8GB of RAM and 2.3 or 2.5GHz of dual core processing power is more than enough for juggling day-to-day tasks, video streaming, and even some light gaming. The LG Gram didn't exactly blow away our hardware benchmarks, but I spent about a week using it for both work-related tasks and post-work lounging, and I never found myself wishing things would move at a faster clip.
The display is crisp, nearly bezel-less, and non-reflective.
Although the Gram's 15.5-inch, 1080p screen doesn't get searingly bright, it manages to block reflections better than most glossy displays. There's only about a quarter of an inch of real estate making up the bezel, too, which means it's narrow enough that it almost disappears from view. Initially I was worried about the display's lack of luminance, but it manages to get dark enough that the superb contrast goes a long way in making up for it.
What We Don't Like
The keyboard and trackpad are a real drag.
While it’s nice to see enough keyboard real estate to afford a number pad, the keys themselves suffer from a lack of posh and far too much squish. Worse, the keys aren’t backlit, which isn’t something you think you’ll miss until you suddenly find yourself in a room without lights. Experienced typists might shrug this one off, but everyone goes through a period of adjustment when they get their hands on a new keyboard, and trying to do that in the dark is never fun.
But the real kicker here—the one thing that got me bent out of shape more than anything else—is the Gram’s trackpad. At around 4.5 by 2.5 inches, there’s plenty of room to comfortably scroll, pinch, and gesture, but the combination of poor ergonomics and Elan’s lackluster driver leaves me wanting to hurl the Gram across the room like the neat, gold frisbee it resembles.
Aside from the trackpad’s iffy palm rejection and stifling limitations (heaven forbid you rest your thumb on the thing), the act of clicking requires a forceful, pronounced press that I’m often not ready for. In fact, even after a week, my batting average for actually accomplishing basic point-and-click tasks was embarrassingly low. The clicks themselves are also loud and hollow, which adds an extra dimension to the trackpad's poor functionality.
Looking for a laptop with a decent set of internal speakers? Keep on moving.
File this one under “probably not that big of a deal to most people,” but it’s worth noting just how tinny and cloistered audio sounds coming from the LG Gram’s internal speakers. Sure, this is mostly a function of the speakers being enclosed in a magnesium alloy, but be prepared for a truly dreadful experience if you don’t already own a Bluetooth speaker.
It’s hard to even tell where the audio is coming from. At times I thought nesting the Gram on my lap was covering the speakers, but upon flipping it over, things sounded just as muffled. I suppose it’s fitting that a laptop of such little weight pipes out music that’s airy enough to evaporate just as it reaches the outside world.
Less-than-stellar battery life
The effort to craft a laptop that weighs exactly oh-no-I-think-I-might-break-it pounds is an effort that’s claimed a couple of casualties. Most notably is the loss of battery life; the LG Gram’s battery just isn’t as reliable as some might have come to expect from a thin-and-light ultrabook in 2016.
To put this in better context, you can reasonably expect three to four hours of regular use and significantly less than that if you plan on doing more punishing work. Given the nature of the Gram, there’s not going to be a whole lot of gaming going on, but what light gaming you can accomplish will certainly chew away at the battery much faster.
Should You Buy It?
I’m a bit torn on this one, to be perfectly honest. I can see myself learning to love the LG Gram somewhere down the line—after all, the specs are adequate enough for basic home and office use, the look is sleek and attractive, and it’s maybe the most effortless laptop I’ve ever used in terms of sheer portability.
But some of the more clunky elements—the keyboard, trackpad, and internal speakers—are a substantial disappointment. For every bit as effortless as it is to commute with the Gram in a messenger bag, it’s equally as strenuous to use its trackpad. And while it’s insanely cool to use an ultrabook that feels like nothing on your lap, the constant anxiety about battery life isn’t really worth it.
These shortcomings would be a heck of a lot easier to deal with if the LG Gram didn’t start at around $1,000. This is, to me, a laptop that’s yearning to come in at a slightly more affordable price. It is by no means a beast in terms of its hardware, so what gives? When I run through the spec list, and reflect on my time with the LG Gram, I find myself mentally hunting for a perspective that justifies its price tag. And it’s not an easy task.
So here’s what I’ll say: If you’re going to buy the LG Gram, do it because of its freakishly light weight. After all, that’s what LG is selling, right? Buy into the hype if you’re absolutely dead-set on owning a laptop that handles and travels like a breeze.
If you’re a stickler for superb functionality, you might want to keep shopping around. There are plenty of ultraportable options that give you more bang for your buck, even if they don’t weigh two pounds. The 15-inch version of the Samsung Notebook 9, for example, offers similar performance and portability with a much better trackpad, though it's priced just a bit higher than the Gram.
The Dell XPS 13 features a smaller, 13-inch display, but its hardware is comparable to the LG Gram, and if you're worried about the Gram's shaky battery life, the XPS is much more reliable. And if you're willing to go for a smaller screen, last year's MacBook Air is starting to come down in price, and it's still a premium performer, especially when it comes to battery life.