LG Gram 15 Review

Posted on March 18, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 19 Comments

LG Gram 15 Review

The LG Gram 15 is a gorgeous ultra-portable PC with a delightfully thin and light form factor and exceptional battery life.

As such, it presents a fascinating alternative to the bigger and heavier 15-inch laptops I’m currently reviewing. And it’s caused me to reassess which attributes matter most to me on the go. But then that’s the strength of the PC ecosystem in a nutshell: We have such wonderful, high-quality choices today. And they span a wide range of form factors and capabilities.

So where does the LG Gram 15 land in this spectrum of choice?

Design

LG plays it straight from a design perspective, and the Gram adopts a traditional tapered and wedge-shaped Ultrabook form factor. This lets the device utilize full-sized USB and HDMI ports towards the rear of the device, which many will find ideal. And it makes for an attractive device.

LG says that the Gram is made using a nano carbon material and magnesium, but it doesn’t feel all that premium because of its thinness. Indeed, the frame has an obvious flex to it so that when you press down anywhere on the keyboard deck—on the wrist rest, the touchpad, or the keyboard itself—the entire deck flexes.

That’s a bit disconcerting, but what this material does deliver is amazingly light weight. This PC weighs just 2.4 pounds, despite its 15.6-inch multi-touch display. I can easily pick it up with one hand, from a corner, which is a feat I’d never even consider with other 15-inch PCs.

I also like the dark silver color on the review unit. (An equally attractive white version is also available in certain markets, but I’ve not seen it here in the US.)

Display and webcam

Once you get past the LG’s astonishing lightness—it really doesn’t seem like a real computer could be in there—the next most obvious feature you’ll notice is the display.

The LG Gram 15 packs a 15.6-inch display into what is essentially a 14-inch Ultrabook form factor. That bit of magic is accomplished with some of the smallest bezels I’ve ever seen: The side bezels are just 6.7 mm—just over a quarter of an inch—while the top bezel comes in at just 9.1 mm (just over one-third of an inch). Because the entire surrounding bezel is black, the display seems to float in the air above the PC.

The actual display is a gorgeous 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) IPS panel. Some are sure to take exception with the comparatively low-resolution of this display in the age of 4K/UHD—or at least Quad HD—displays, for sure. But I feel that LG may have made the right compromise here. Text, graphics, and movies and TV shows look terrific on this display. And by utilizing a Full HD panel, LG was able to achieve the thinness and battery life that I think will drive most Gram purchases.

The display also supports 10-point multi-touch, and while customers will likely find less use for this functionality than would those with a tablet or 2-in-1, I’ve found this functionality to be a nice addition while browsing and reading.

There is one inarguable downside to the display, however: Thanks to the near-borderless bezel, LG has placed the webcam in an unfortunate position below the screen, at the middle. Similar to the webcam on Dell’s recent XPS laptops, this placement results in an unwanted and unattractive up-the-nose view on Skype calls.

Components and ports

The LG Gram 15 is a thoroughly modern ultra-portable PC, and the review unit features a 7th generation Intel Core i7-7500U processor that is clocked at 2.9 GHz and backed by integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 graphics, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of SSD storage. Each of these components targets exactly this class of PC. The U-series Intel chip is energy-efficient 15-watt part, for example, and the SSD is SATA-based, rather than PCIe.

This means those with big performance needs—developers using Visual Studio, perhaps—will want to look at beefier systems. But I’ve found the performance has been very good when using more typical productivity apps like those in Microsoft Office, or Adobe Photoshop Elements.

The LG Gram also includes DTS Headphone X circuitry, which promises to provide a virtual surround sound experience when listening with headphones. I had never used such a thing before, but you can configure one of three stereo sound effects—traditional stereo, plus wide (spacious sound) and in-front (emulating two speakers in front of you)—and choose between three content modes: Entertainment, Games, or Sports. The effect is absolutely noticeable and should be of great interest to movie fans, in particular. Configuring this for Entertainment/Wide, for example, creates a particularly immersive soundscape. It really is impressive.

LG also doesn’t let down Gram buyers from a ports and expansion perspective. The Gram 15 features full-sized USB 3, full-sized HDMI video-out and USB-C on the left, and full-sized USB 2, full-sized USB 3, microSD, and a headphone jack on the left.

Curiously, the Gram ships with a proprietary power supply with a small (and cheap-looking) power connector. But as it turns out, you can actually power the device using that USB-C port—I tried it with two USB-C cables/chargers from other recent PCs—which is a welcome touch. I’d rather see the Gram come with a USB-C cable and charger, of course, but at least it works.

That USB-C port is only USB-C, by the way. That means that it can drive an external display, connect to external storage, and the like. But it can’t take advantage of the increased performance and capabilities of Thunderbolt 3, which is often delivered through this type of port on other PCs. Would the typical Gram user ever need such a thing? Perhaps not, but it’s a strange admission on a premium PC here in early 2017.

On the plus side, LG bundles a nice USB-C-based Ethernet adapter in the box for anyone who needs to connect to wired networking.

It’s worth noting, too, that the LG Gram has two small lights on the left side, next to the USB-C port, for power and SSD activity, respectively. I’ve not seen a drive light—which, yes, blinks as it is accessed—in quite some time.

Keyboard and touchpad

The LG Gram features a decent but not exceptional backlit keyboard. It’s not quite full-sized thanks to the unfortunate addition of a numeric keypad—which is absent on the Gram 13 and 14—that squishes the keyboard over to the left.

As deleterious to the typing experience, the keyboard has a general squishiness in use. As noted earlier, the entire deck area flexes a bit when you press down on the keys. And if you’re a heavy typist, as I am, the resulting key feel seems a bit off.

That said, the keyboard is certainly workable and, to be fair, the issues I have may not impact the typical user. But I required a bit of training, and more concentration on key placement than I’m used to. Like any device, you get used to the equipment you have.

The Gram 15’s keyboard sports dual-purpose function keys like other PCs, but some of them are fairly unique. There’s a dedicated key for the LG Control Center utility, for example, and one key can be used to toggle the touchpad. Another function cycles through the three keyboard backlighting options.

Speaking of the touchpad, it’s an Elan smartpad, meaning that it doesn’t take advantage of the Microsoft precision touchpad software I prefer. But it’s serviceable, with good palm tracking, and I had no issues in use.

Battery

I was a bit concerned that the Gram’s thin and light form factor would result in some compromises with battery life. But that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, the LG Gram 15 delivered an incredible uptime of over 9.5 hours on average in my testing.

A big part of this success is no doubt tied to the energy efficient components and the 1080p display. Other 15-inch PCs that I’m testing—like the HP Spectre x360 15 and the Dell XPS 15—have much higher resolution 4K displays, but they pay the price in battery: The Dell can barely hit 5.5 hours on a charge and the HP settles in at 7.5 to 8.5 hours, depending on the situation. These machines are, of course, much bulkier and heavier than the Gram as well.

Software

The LG Gram 15 ships with a very clean Windows 10 Home image, excusing the crapware that Microsoft now bundles with the product. LG conveniently locates its own utilities in an LG Software folder in the Start menu, and while some arguably duplicate some Windows functionality, each does offer unique features related to this specific hardware.

Among these utilities is the LG Control Center, which lets you enable a few useful features, including Instant Booting, which speeds resume times, and a way to increase battery life by lowering its charging capacity. Most of the other utilities are obvious enough: LG Update Center is used to download LG-specific drivers, LG Troubleshooting helps fix issues with the device, and LG Power Center is a mostly superfluous way to configure power management settings. But nothing obnoxious.

Pricing

LG offers two Gram 15 configurations.

The review unit, as noted, provides the Intel Core i7-7500U processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of SSD storage, plus a touchscreen display. You will pay for this privilege: As tested, the LG Gram 15 costs $1699.99.

But if you head on over to Amazon.com, you’ll see a second configuration, with a 7th generation Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD and a non-touch Full HD display. That version apparently offers even better battery life, but it also costs a lot less, coming it a far more reasonable $1200.

Recommendations and conclusions

While LG is a well-known electronics brand here in the United States, they are a bit of an unknown when it comes to PCs. As such, I approached this review with some curiosity. But the LG Gram won me over despite a few niggling issues, some of which, like the numeric keyboard, are not present on the smaller and even lighter LG Gram 13 and Gram 14. I had, of course, asked to review the Gram 15 specifically because of my preference for larger screens.

What I keep coming back to is the Gram’s amazing mobility. Compared to bulky behemoths like the Dell XPS 15 and HP Spectre x360, the Gram weighs so little that I almost laugh out loud every time I pick it up. You could throw this in a bag and never even notice that it’s there.

And that, I think, is the central premise here: The LG Gram provides a thin, light, and attractive portable PC experience with the right performance for productivity tasks in particular and amazing battery life. Other PCs I’m currently testing provide better performance, or better battery, but they all do so at great cost from a size and weight perspective.

I’ve pointed out some issues with this device, but the only one that really gives me pause is the price of the review unit. So my recommendation here—the way I would spend my own money—would be to choose the Core i5 version at $1200. But either way, the LG Gram 15 is a thin and light beauty with great battery life. It is highly recommended for those who value mobility and style above all else.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Thin and light form factor
  • Excellent battery life
  • Attractive design
  • DTS Headphone X delivers immersive sound

Cons

  • Can be expensive
  • Body flex
  • Numeric keypad
  • Proprietary power adapter

 

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