LG G Pad 8.3 review: well-designed, but priced too high

LG tries. It tries for US relevance, but the company's product offerings -- usually its smartphones -- consistently lack the je ne sais quoi necessary to succeed. The G Pad, an 8.3-inch Android tablet that recently debuted at IFA 2013, could break that dry spell, becoming the first serious competitor to the iPad mini's styling and the first high-profile LG tablet. Is it filled with bleeding-edge specs? No, not really. LG opted to imbue the G Pad with a Snapdragon 600 heart -- a trade-off made in the interest of better battery life and less overheating. The tablet also arrives with a 1,920 x 1,200 IPS panel, giving it an immediate leg up: 1080p resolution in an 8-inch form factor. It's slim, attractive, well-built and it costs $350. Is that a low enough price of entry to merit a buy? And can LG start to inspire consumer confidence with its Android portfolio?

LG G Pad 8.3 review

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Hardware

When I first removed the G Pad from its packaging, I smiled. I smiled because the device is cosmetically impressive: It looks like high-end tech kit should. Its construction is solid; the bits of plastic framing mesh perfectly with the glass front and metal strip occupying the middle of its back. More so, the white model is pleasing to look at and has a relaxing effect on the senses. What I mean to say is: It's inviting. Uncomplicated.

It's not just my personal opinion that the white LG G Pad strongly resembles a white Moto X -- a realization that dawned on me as I glimpsed the two lying side by side on my couch. In fact, another Engadget editor made the same remark, unprompted. This shared face is just that, though, and doesn't actually extend to the back of the device. LG made an intelligent design move here: The G Pad's speakers are placed within the metallic back strip, but in such a way that your hands are unlikely to muffle them. Hold the G Pad in landscape position and your fingers, for the most part, won't block the speakers. In portrait, the speakers occupy the left edge. So chances are, if you're right-handed, sound will play free and clear of palm obstruction. Audio output from the dual speakers stopped just short of being too loud at max volume, so you should be able to enjoy a decent round of Netflix streaming in a moderately noisy environment without straining too much to hear.

So (speaking literally now), how does the G Pad measure up against the likes of Apple's new iPad mini with Retina display? By dint of its 8.3-inch screen, it's 17mm taller and 30 grams heavier, thanks in part to its massive 4,600mAh battery. But the G Pad does best the new iPad mini's dimensions in one area: width. Its constrained 126.5mm expanse (versus 134.7mm on the iPad) is a design decision that you'll either love or hate, since it means the G Pad has considerably less bezel to rest your thumbs on in portrait mode. I found it only mildly troublesome when using the tab in portrait, but not enough to dissuade me from continued use.

LG's placed all the necessary ports and hardware keys around the G Pad in the exact places they belong. A slot for microSD expansion, the 3.5mm headphone jack and an IR blaster all occupy the top edge in portrait mode. Power and volume keys are off on the right, while a micro-USB port is predictably down at the base. The G Pad comes outfitted with a 1.2-megapixel camera module up front and one of the 5-megapixel variety on back -- no flash included.

Display

DNP LG G Pad 83 review

A category first -- that's what LG is after with the 1,920 x 1,200 display on the G Pad. But it's only a first so far as the form factor is concerned. Other relatively smaller tablets, like the new Nexus 7, also incorporate similarly high-res displays, and with much higher pixel density. But does any of that matter? Unless you're possessed of Superman's eyesight, anything above 720p is just extra icing on the cake. Certainly, you'll be pleased with the clarity of the G Pad's screen and the crispness of text and images. The IPS panel also translates to some great viewing angles, which is essential for a product that lends itself to reading and video-watching. There's no oversaturation either, so the end result is a display that's soft and balanced in its replication of color. Outdoors, however, you'll need to bump up the brightness all the way up to make out the screen.

Software

LG G Pad 83 review

Setup on the G Pad is typical for Android (version 4.2.2, in this case). However, LG also adds in its own walkthrough for the G Pad's specific features. Most notably, users are given the option to choose from pre-selected Android soft-key arrangements (there are eight, in all). Q Pair, LG's device-bridge software, is also presented as an initial setup option, but requires the install of a separate app on your smartphone. Again, the process to enable that feature is simple and well-explained, so users won't stumble into it or avoid it out of ignorance or confusion.

LG's take on Android over the years has typically remained close to Samsung's own skin and is, in parts, just as messy. The lockscreen is a primary example of this clumsy approach to Android. Like the G2, the G Pad offers a Knock On-to-wake option, which has users tapping (hard) on the screen to wake it or put it to sleep. I dare anyone to embrace this feature as a default input option and not find themselves furiously banging on random parts of the dead screen. Oh it works, on occasion, but you need to possess a sniper's deft precision to hit the exact screen spot each time. Despite that immense frustration, I continue to use it simply because it's a great method of accessing your device. What would have made the G Pad even better is if LG found a way to ape Motorola's Active Display notifications. In fact, moving forward, it's just plain silly for any OEMs to ignore the use of notification previews on sleeping devices. Imitation in this particular area would be quite welcome.

Samsung has "S"; LG has "Q." And so it goes that both Korean manufacturers' suites of Android software add-ons ape each other in more than naming convention alone. QPair, QRemote, QSlide, Slide Aside, Smart Screen, Smart Video, Knock On, QMemo and Notebook -- that's the full LG load on the G Pad and it doesn't all need to be there. Of the bunch, Knock On (which I've already detailed), QSlide and QRemote have, arguably, the most utility, though none of these -- with the exception of QRemote -- works effortlessly. If you're not up on your LG Android functions, QSlide is the company's app multitasking function, which allows for a maximum of three apps running on your home screen. The mini-apps can then be resized and even toggled for transparency and it'd be a key feature save for the limited number of apps (eight in total) whitelisted to use it.

Other features are just redundant, like Slide Aside, which many users will probably never even know exists. The function makes use of three-fingered swipes to store up to three running apps for quick access -- just swipe to the left to store and back to relaunch. But there's no real need for it. You can easily just long-press on the home soft key to bring up a list of background apps and multitask from there. It's no more than a frivolous add-on and will consequently go ignored by users.

LG G Pad 83 review

QPair is a different curiosity that promises to impart some of your smartphone's functionality to the G Pad. As I said earlier, the setup process is fairly painless and shouldn't take you more than a minute or so to complete. After that, it's a matter of accepting the TOS (which clearly state all your typed communications will be recorded) before you can view/respond to texts from the G Pad, view dismiss calls or even see "stickers" of your last accessed app on the paired device's screen. That last part is rather silly and it affords no boost in efficiency to the end user. The same goes for viewing and dismissing calls. The only real advantage afforded by QPair is the ability to text without touching your phone.

QMemo is an annotation/screenshot tool and its offshoot, Notebook, is for... note-taking and sharing those notes. That's it. Nothing more to say or see.

The G Pad runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and with the advent of Android KitKat, the immediate question is: How long before LG issues an update? If past history is any indication, that could very well be never. Mass adoption of LG's tablet could change that, but consider this a warning: If you buy in, be content with what version of the Android OS you get. You could be living with it for a while.

All that said, LG's Android skin is light and the user experience is reasonably smooth. I say this because I do think LG would've done well to ship the G Pad with a Snapdragon 800, like Amazon did with its Kindle Fire HDX -- the performance pitfalls of the comparatively less powerful 600 are all too evident. It's not that the G Pad is slow; it's that the G Pad isn't fast. All too often, apps launch with a pregnant pause and screen rotation is delayed. Then there are times when the CPU ramps up and the experience suddenly feels responsive and immediate. It's something most users won't notice or find much fault with. Still, if you've used a Snapdragon 800 device, you'll wish it had been in use here.

Performance

LG G Pad 8.3 Galaxy Note 8.0 Nexus 7 (2013)
Quadrant 10,504 6,830 6,133
Vellamo 2,218 1,766 1,597
AnTuTu 21,277 17,687 19,755
SunSpider 1.0 (ms) 1,226 1,281 602
CF-Bench 22,926 15,128 15,366
SunSpider: lower scores are better

Benchmarks: You might love them, hate them or allegedly game them (hello, Samsung!). Above, you'll find scores for various tests we ran on the G Pad, the Galaxy Note 8.0 and the refreshed Nexus 7 -- all Android competitors that more or less have the same mid-sized form factor. Unsurprisingly, the G Pad blew past its competition due to its Snapdragon 600 chip and 2GB RAM, in all areas but SunSpider performance. There, the G Pad was considerably slower than the new Nexus 7, which relies on a Snapdragon S4 Pro to render web pages with speed. Does any of this matter in the long run? Not one lick, but it's here so you can rage on in the comments below (if that's your thing).

Battery life


Tablet Battery Life
LG G Pad 8.3 7:19
Microsoft Surface 2 14:22
Apple iPad mini 12:43 (WiFi)
Apple iPad (late 2012) 11:08 (WiFi)
Apple iPad 2 10:26
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17
Apple iPad (2012) 9:52 (HSPA) / 9:37 (LTE)
Nexus 7 (2012) 9:49
Microsoft Surface for Windows RT 9:36
Apple iPad 9:33
ASUS Transformer Prime Infinity TF700 9:25
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 8:56
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 8:40
Hisense Sero 7 Pro 8:28
Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 7:38
HP Slate 7 7:36
Nexus 10 7:26
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 7:18
Nexus 7 (2013) 7:15
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01

The G Pad's battery life ranks toward the bottom of our list in standardized testing. Engadget's rundown test, which entails looping a video at half-brightness with the normal amount of background actions running (i.e., push email, Twitter syncing, WiFi/GPS enabled), places the G Pad at seven hours and 19 minutes. Still, that's pretty much on par with the run time we got from Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 and the new Nexus 7. In actual usage, too, the G Pad lasted through a weekend with moderate use. So, unless you plan to sit and stream movie after movie, you should be satisfied with its longevity.

Camera

LG G Pad 83 review

No shocker here: the G Pad's 1.3MP (front)/5MP (rear) camera setup is decent. Not great, not bad. LG's imaging software offers more advanced users plenty of toggles to adjust brightness, focus, ISO, white balance and effects. But I tested it mainly using Auto, as that's how most people are likely to use it. LG doesn't allow tap-to-capture, so managing the 8.3-inch tablet while attempting to hit the onscreen soft capture key can be tricky. You'll almost definitely have difficulty maintaining your framing, though there is an option to use the volume keys as a shutter key. (You can also use them to zoom.)

LG G Pad 8.3 sample shots

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The G Pad doesn't capture shots in 16:9, instead giving users two 4:3 aspect options: 5MP at 2,560 x 1,920 resolution, and 1MP at 1,280 x 960. Additionally, you can go with W4MP at 2,560 x 1,600 for 8:5 shots. For the purposes of the review, I stuck to the 4MP setting, which is what the G Pad is set to by default. Images taken in this mode are of serviceable quality and color reproduction is, for the most part, balanced. Yet, there's an overarching softness to every shot; nothing appears in clear detail and there's a noticeable fuzziness to most objects in the frame. The G Pad was, however, far more successful with macro shots.

Video recorded at 1080p with the G Pad fared far better than still shots. Despite the high level of ambient noise at the time of recording, the device managed to capture the sound of my voice quite clearly, while reducing the background sounds of construction and traffic. Frame rate holds up well (it's set to 30 fps max); though you'll want to enable image stabilization from within the camera settings (a feature we've become accustomed to in newer smartphones) to reduce shakiness in playback.

The competition

LG G Pad 83 review

If you're in the market for the best Android tablet money can buy on a budget, the G Pad is not going to satisfy your demands. At $350, it's priced higher than Google's new Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX (7-inch) -- both of which sport 1,920 x 1,200 displays, come with 16GB of built-in storage and are priced at $230. Where Amazon's slate leaps ahead of the competition is with its Snapdragon 800 SoC, a vast leap in raw power over the Snapdragon 600 in the G Pad and S4 Pro in Google's 7-inch tab. Only the Galaxy Note 8 outstrips the G Pad, with a $399 sticker that nets users a comparatively lower 1,280 x 800 resolution and Exynos 4 Quad processor.

There's also a higher-end, 8.9-inch version of the Kindle Fire HDX that has a 2,560 x 1,600 display, Snapdragon 800 processor and an 8-megapixel rear 8MP camera. That's not available yet (it's just up for pre-order right now), but it will sell for $380. So, it's more expensive than the LG G Pad 8.3, but potentially offers better performance for just $30 more (we'll have more to say about that in our full review). Barring that, the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX is the clear choice for a low-price, high-quality tablet. But its OS is a fork on Android, so if you want to live in Google's world, you'll have to stick with other OEMs.

Outside of Android, there's always iOS. If you're on something of a budget, Apple's last-gen 7.9-inch iPad mini (16GB WiFi only) can be had for $299. Its display, at 1,024 x 768, doesn't pack the same amount of pixels as the G Pad and it runs on Apple's dual-core A5 chip, but for the price, you're gaining access to the company's highly curated App Store. Of course, users looking for the latest and greatest from Apple can now opt for the recently announced iPad mini with Retina display. At $399 for the base 16GB WiFi model, users are getting the same 7.9-inch form factor with a 2,048 x 1,536 display and Apple's new A7 chip (the same as in the iPhone 5s), making it a strong rival to the G Pad.

Wrap-up

DNP LG G Pad 83 review

LG's G Pad is a nice surprise. For a company that's only ever tried to make its mark in the US with smartphones, this 8.3-inch tablet is a welcome change of pace and a solid Android option, to boot. Yes, it has its shortcomings: There's the herky-jerky responsiveness and LG's overbearing software add-ons. But those dings don't conspire to make the G Pad a bad purchase. Its battery life is up to snuff with its main competition and its full HD display should serve users well with high-quality video streaming, crisp photos and sharp text. The G Pad's also excellently designed, so it's not only pleasing to look at, but also pleasing to hold.

If only LG had knocked the G Pad's price down by $100 so it could better compete with other smaller-screened tablets. Amazon's lower-end Kindle Fire HDX is just $230, for instance, and it manages to offer bleeding-edge specs even at that low price. Meanwhile, the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX costs $30 more, but offers a faster processor and sharper display. But that's assuming Amazon's forked version of Android (known as Fire OS) is something you want in the first place. If it's regular Android you're after, the LG Pad 8.3 is a solid pick. Even then, the the new Nexus 7 is a better deal as far as smaller Android tablets go. And again, had LG made the G Pad with a Snapdragon 800, perhaps allowing for smoother performance, I'd have less of an issue with its price. In fact, this would be a top pick. But when you can get more for less from other tablets, the G Pad is merely a good buy for the 7- to 8-inch tablet category, not the best one.

Edgar Alvarez contributed to this review.

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LG

G Pad 8.3

Pros

  • Comfortable and stylish design
  • Gorgeous high-res display
  • Battery life on par with similar Android tablets

Cons

  • Uneven performance
  • Glut of non-essential LG 'Q' apps
  • Slightly expensive compared to rival tablets
Conclusion

LG's G Pad is a beautifully designed 8.3-inch tablet with an equally beautiful display. But its uneven performance combined with its relatively steep $350 price make rival Android tablets look like a steal.

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LG G Pad 8.3 review: well-designed, but priced too high