LG's ultralight Gram laptop has too many compromises

What’s more important: portability or a decent screen?

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    LG's Gram is a wonder to hold. It's one of the lightest 15.6-inch notebooks we've ever seen, at just 2.4 pounds. But that extreme portability has some tradeoffs, especially when it comes to build quality. To make things worse, it doesn't even live up to LG's lofty battery claims. That leaves the Gram in a weird spot. It could be useful if you're looking for the lightest 15.6-inch laptop possible, but for most consumers, it doesn't do too much to differentiate itself from other ultraportables.

    Gallery: LG Gram | 6 Photos

    Engadget Score
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    Uninspiring
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    Key

    Pros
    • Incredibly light
    • As fast as heavier ultraportables
    • Trackpad is smooth and accurate
    Cons
    • Screen is incredibly reflective, not great outdoors
    • Keyboard isn’t comfortable for typing
    • Speakers are very tinny

    Summary

    LG’s latest 15.6-inch Gram is incredibly light, but it falls behind when it comes to itsdisplay quality. It’s ideal if you value weight above all else, but you’ll likely be better off with a slightly heavier competitor.

    Hardware

    The Gram's case is made out of magnesium alloy, but, strangely enough, it doesn't feel like metal. There's a flimsiness to it that gives off a plastic vibe. LG likely went with incredibly thin case molds to help reduce weight, but that inevitably lead to some structural issues. For example, there are air pockets galore throughout the Gram, which leads to plenty of flex, especially on the bottom of the case. There's even a noticeable amount of space between the screen and its back panel.

    Update: LG reps tell me that the Gram's case flexibility was intentional, as it allows the laptop to absorb the shock of falls better without damaging its internals. The company has also produced a few drop test videos to show off how durable it is. Based on the videos, it does look like the Gram can take a beating. "LG internally spent uncountable time to make sure the construction of laptop become more durable by dropping from 29" and 18" height with different angles on laptop," the rep notes. I'm still not a fan of the plastic feel of the Gram's case, but it's nice to see it's not as flimsy as it appears.

    It's not all doom and gloom, though. The portion of the case around the Gram's keyboard feels sturdy, so you can type without worrying about bending the case. And, honestly, it's impressive that LG could fit such a large touchscreen into the frame of a typical 14-inch laptop.

    Overall, though, the Gram doesn't seem as refined as other all-metal ultraportables, like the MacBook and Dell's XPS 13. Even the most recent Asus Zenbook, which had its own flexing issues, feels more substantial. Personally, I'd rather have a machine that's slightly heavier but could stand up better to the typical rough and tumble of laptop ownership. It'd be nice if I wasn't worried about seriously damaging the Gram if it fell a short distance, or if I tossed into a bag with a bunch of other gear.

    At least LG didn't compromise much when it came to ports. The Gram features four USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0), a USB-C connection, a micro-SD card slot, headphone jack and a full-size HDMI port. And yes, you can charge the laptop over USB-C in addition to its standard power adapter. While it's not unusual for 15-inch laptops to come with a slew of ports, it's rare to see them in one this thin and light.

    Given that it had a lot of room to work with, LG includes a large keyboard on the Gram, complete with a set of number keys on the right side. Typing on it feels like a throwback to the days of using large Thinkpads — but not in the good way. It's a bit awkward typing on the left side of the keyboard, rather than naturally centering my hands on the laptop. The Gram's Chiclet-style keys don't have much depth, either, which makes for an overall unsatisfying typing experience.

    On the bright side, the Gram's large trackpad fares better than the keyboard. It's smooth and responsive, and ranks among the best I've used on a Windows laptop. It does have a bit of trouble distinguishing left clicks from right clicks, but that's a problem most of the competition has as well.

    LG is following in Dell's footsteps by placing the Gram's HD webcam right below the screen. While that leaves room for a thin bezel at the top of the monitor, it also means you'll be stuck with very unflattering angles while video chatting. The camera itself delivers merely adequate images — you won't be mistaking it for a high-quality desktop webcam. The Gram's speakers are another story. They're positioned toward the front of the laptop and fire straight down, so it's tough to pin down where the sound is actually coming from. The speakers can get loud, but they're incredibly tinny no matter the volume.

    Display

    Aside from the weight, the most impressive aspect of the Gram is its 15.6-inch 1080p screen. Not necessarily because it's a great display -- it's adequate for movies and browsing the web — but because it's large for a laptop this size. It's ideal for just vegging with Netflix in bed. It has a very thin bezel around the sides and top, as if it were taking a few cues from Dell's XPS lineup. The larger bezel below the screen seems to exist just to show off a sizable LG logo.

    The biggest downside of the display is that it's incredibly glossy and reflective. It was practically impossible to use outdoors in sunlight, and I even had trouble angling it away from light sources inside. This is an issue with any glossy display, but the Gram fares worse than most. The display also feels incredibly cheap, which isn't a good thing when you're using it as a touchscreen.

    For the most part, the Gram's screen feels merely adequate. It would have been nice to see a 1440p display here, even though that would have meant a battery hit; 1080p just feels too restrictive for a display this large, especially in 2017.

    Performance

    PCMark 7 PCMark 8 (Creative Accelerated) 3DMark 11 3DMark (Sky Diver) ATTO (top reads/writes)
    LG Gram 15.6-inch (2017, 2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,822 4,461 E3,116 / P875 / X247 4,062 555 MB/s / 520 MB/s
    Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (1.3GHz Core i7-7Y75, Intel HD 615) 4,401 3,823 E1,857 / P1,019 / X315 2,446 1.63 GB/s / 790 MB/s
    Lenovo Yoga 910 (2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,822 4,108

    E2,927 / P1,651 / X438

    3,869 1.59 GB/s / 313 MB/s
    HP Spectre x360 (2016, 2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,515 4,354 E2,656 / P1,720 / X444 3,743 1.76 GB/s / 579 MB/s
    ASUS ZenBook 3 (2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,448 3,911 E2,791 / P1,560 3,013 1.67 GB/s / 1.44 GB/s
    HP Spectre 13 (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,046 3,747 E2,790 / P1,630 / X375 3,810 1.61 GB/s / 307 MB/s
    Dell XPS 13 (2.3GHz Core i5-6200U, Intel Graphics 520) 4,954 3,499 E2,610 / P1,531 3,335 1.6GB/s / 307 MB/s
    Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (2.4GHz Core i5-6300U, Intel HD 520) 5,403 3,602

    E2,697/ P1,556/ X422

    3,614 1.6 GB/s / 529 MB/s

    We tested the highest-end LG Gram model, and it shows. Its seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7500U CPU bested most other ultraportables, and it was also buoyed by 16GB of RAM. The laptop handled just about everything I threw at it, be it extreme multitasking (with several browsers, dozens of tabs, Photoshop, Spotify and other apps running), or playing light games like Minecraft. But because it's relying on integrated Intel graphics, it's not a machine you'll be using for the Doom remake.

    While LG originally claimed its 14-inch Gram laptop would get 24 hours of battery life, the company quickly backtracked on that figure when it was found to be using old benchmarks. For this 15.6-inch model, LG estimates it would last around 12.5 hours. In our testing, which involves looping an HD video, it came in at 10 hours and 42 minutes. That's nothing to scoff at, but we've seen far better battery figures from Lenovo's Yoga 910 and HP's recent Spectre X360.

    Battery life

    LG Gram 2017 10:42
    Lenovo Yoga 910 16:13
    Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (13-inch, no Touch Bar) 11:42
    HP Spectre x360 (13-inch, 2015) 11:34
    Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (15-inch) 11:00
    HP Spectre x360 15t 10:17
    Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (13-inch, Touch Bar) 9:55
    ASUS ZenBook 3 9:45
    Apple MacBook (2016) 8:45
    Dell XPS 2-in-1 8:34
    Microsoft Surface Pro 4 7:15
    HP Spectre 13 7:07
    Razer Blade Stealth (Fall 2016) 5:36
    Dell XPS 15 (2016) 5:25 (7:40 with the mobile charger)

    Configuration options and the competition

    The LG Gram comes in three flavors: a 13-inch model, a 14-inch, and this 15.6 inch. They all share the same basic design and features, though you'll get a few more USB ports with the 15.6-inch version. We tested the $1,699 Gram configuration, but surprisingly enough, both the 14-inch and and 15.6-inch models start at $1,199 with Core i5 processors and 8GB of RAM. The only difference there is that the entry-level 15.6-inch doesn't have a touchscreen display. The 13-inch Gram, on the other hand, starts at $999 with those same specs.

    Of course, the Gram isn't alone in the ultraportable arena. Dell's XPS 13 and 15 were among our favorite laptops for the past few years, and HP has steadily made progress with its attractive Spectre X360 line. But, notably, those machines also come in heavier than the Gram series. The XPS 13 weighs around 2.8 pounds (depending on which model you get), while the XPS 15 weighs 4.4 pounds. While I'm not a huge fan of LG's compromises in build quality, it's definitely done a good job of beating the competition in the weight game. Hell, even the Surface Pro 4, which packs in a svelte 12-inch screen, is only slightly lighter than the Gram models.

    Wrap-up

    LG set out to make the lightest laptops possible, and it succeeded. While I'm not a fan of the flimsy design, I'm sure there are plenty of shoppers out there who would look past that just for the portability benefits. Aside from the weight, though, there's just not enough that makes the Gram series stand out. And, really, what good is a light laptop if you can't use it outside?

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