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LG G Pad 10.1 review: A budget buy with style

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MSRP: $279.99

The Good The affordable LG G Pads have slim designs, IR blasters for universal remote control, and microSD card slots. The revamped interface features a bevy of customization options and dual-window capabilities.

The Bad Screen resolution is pixelated on the 10-inch model, touchscreen response is prone to lag, and performance is sluggish when running large apps and graphics-heavy games.

The Bottom Line Run-of-the-mill specs paired with sleek, minimalist designs make the LG G Pads attractive budget buys, but there's little to distinguish them from similarly performing slates in the same price range.

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6.8 Overall
  • Design 7.5
  • Features 6.5
  • Performance 6.5

The LG G Pads deliver the rare combination of useful software features and a sleek, simple package at an affordable starting price ($150 and $250). Familiar, yet slightly different, the 7- and 10-inch tablets have an easy-to-navigate overlay on them that features a ton of customization options to make the tablet uniquely yours. In addition, the dual-window function for multitasking, universal remote capabilities, and preloaded smartphone-syncing app make the G Pads easy to integrate into your everyday life.

To be sure, performance abilities are limited due to its average internal specs -- large apps sometimes lag and touchscreen response is slow when downloading many files -- but the customization-friendly interface, sleek design, and affordable pricing can make its inevitable shortcomings as a budget tablet easier to stomach.

Without sacrificing streamlined design and useful software goodies, the simple 7- and 10-inch LG G Pads will appease casual users who want a tablet for everyday, basic use. Sure, other budget tablets can also fit this bill, but the G Pads do it with an extra oomph, stylewise, that will attract the aesthetically inclined bargain shopper.

Editors' note: LG also makes the G Pad in an 8-inch model, but at the time of the review only the 7- and 10-inch models were made available.


Design

The two tablets are essentially twins, except the 7-inch model's native orientation is portrait, while the 10-incher's is landscape. They're lightweight and slim for their sizes, without any of the bulk that usually indicates a budget tablet.

The cool, minimalist designs have a classy edge and make the tablets look more expensive than they are. The back panels are smooth, with a matte finish. Each model comes in a variety of colors -- depending on your region -- and our 7-inch review unit was a traditional black, while the 10-inch G Pad was decked out in a sultry red hue.

I liked the feel of the back panel against my fingertips and found it, as well as the rounded corners, to be extremely comfortable -- though grip is lacking.

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For an inexpensive 10-inch tablet, the G Pad 10.1 is lightweight. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

For a large tablet, the G Pad 10.1 looks much like the Nexus 10 , and its thick side bezels make the resemblance to the Google slate even more pronounced. The 7-inch G Pad is also reminiscent of the 7-inch Google Nexus slate, with similar thick top and bottom bezels and rounded corners that somehow remain comfortable and sharp-looking.

Buttons on the tablet are limited to a power button and volume rocker, which meekly peek over the tablet edges just enough to be found without looking. Even the microSD card slot and IR blaster slyly blend into the build of the G Pads.

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The IR blasters look like tiny moles on the edges of the LG Pads. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Features

The LG G Pads run on Android 4.4.2 with a recently revamped LG overlay. For a pair of budget tablets, I was impressed by the variety of customization options the user interface offers. It's a different experience from last year's G Pad 8.3 , but similar in the extent of its customizability and pretty menus and icons.

Most budget tablets don't allow you to change more than the home and lock screen backgrounds, but the G Pads give you the ability to heavily tweak the interface to your liking. You can choose from a variety of lock screen security options, change how the navigation bar on the bottom looks, or select a fun screen swiping effect. These are just some of the options and, though they seem trivial, those looking for a device for everyday use will appreciate the freedom to adjust how they experience their tablet.

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The G Pads offer customization options to tweak the interface to your liking. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The LG G Pads come preloaded with QPair, which syncs most smartphones to the tablet for easy access to text messages, incoming phone calls, and social network notifications. QPair is useful when you're at home spending time on your slate and don't want to additionally juggle your phone. Pairing works seamlessly and I rarely had an issue with the G Pads staying synced.

The recent app function sports a different look, with a tile-based approach that slightly resembles the Windows 8 interface. I didn't find it any more or less useful than the standard filmstrip look of most recent apps menu functions, but it is another distinct touch to the interface of the LG G Pads -- nothing extraordinary, just done differently.

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Text messages appear on your screen when you sync your smartphone using QPair. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The Knock Code function acts as a security substitute to having a password on your wake screen. It's not a fingerprint-scanner level of security, but it's a nice alternative. If updates are downloading or RAM-hogging apps are running in the background, the response to the knock can lag and lead you to unintentionally tap into opening another app or widget.

The LG G Pads are a rare pair with IR blasters, which means they can double as universal remote controls. The QRemote apps comes preloaded on the tablets and makes setup nice and easy. After about 15 minutes, I had the tablet controlling my TV, Blu-ray player, and DVD player.

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The recent apps feature is fullscreen and tile-based. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Dual windows for doing more

Basic multiwindow functionality is trickling down to budget tablets, and the LG G Pads 7.0 and 10.1 offer their own useful, yet, simple dual-window capability. There's a dual-window button located on the navigation bar on the bottom of the screen -- it's located to the right of the recent apps button -- and its quick access makes using the function a regular habit.

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Dual-window-capable apps are limited. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

When you touch the dual-window button, a menu pops up with a limited selection of apps you can run at the same time. If you like to stream YouTube videos while browsing the Web or responding to emails, this will suit your needs, but don't expect full-fledged multiwindow capabilities like you'd find on a laptop. This function is basic at best, but useful for casual multitaskers.

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You can simultaneously surf the Web and browse your files. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Hardware

The LG G Pads house a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU and Adreno 305 GPU, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage. They also offer a microSD card expansion slot, IR blaster, and microphone pinhole.

Other features on the G Pad include NFC capabilities, Bluetooth 4.0, and GPS.

Performance

The 1,280x800-pixel resolution is the standard for budget tablets, so it's no surprise that both the 7 and 10-inch G Pads maintain the status quo. Understandably, the resolution on the larger model looks more pixelated, at 149 pixels per inch, in comparison to the 7-inch G Pad, which sports a more pixel-dense 215ppi screen.

The color range on the tablets didn't blow me away. The IPS screens look reasonably sharp when displaying HD content, but color saturation is low, resulting in slightly dull images. It's more noticeable in side-by-side comparisons with other budget models like the Asus Memo Pad 8 and FHD 10 .

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Text can look pixelated on the G Pad 10.1. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Performance slows down noticeably if downloading or updating apps; open apps are sluggish, screens stutter while navigating, and touchscreen response is delayed. I found it best to set the tablet down if any heavy-duty downloading was going on in order to avoid any frustrating lag. I also noted that the 10-inch G Pad got a little too warm when overwhelmed by running many apps in the background and engaging in heavy-duty gaming.

Gaming performance was typical for a pair of budget tablets, meaning simple mobile games ran smoothly and swiftly, while large games encountered longer load times and occasionally choppy graphics. Though large apps and games take a while to load, the wait times weren't as long as on other budget tablets; most opened in a minute or less.

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You can say "cheese" out loud to take the photo. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The G Pads house a 5-megapixel rear camera and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing one. Both are underwhelming, with grainy, washed out photos that have a low-res soft focus to them. There aren't many camera modes or settings to tweak, but there's a fun voice-activated function that takes a photo when you say whiskey, kimchee, cheese, and a few other words. It's a fun party trick, but I wouldn't recommend taking party photos with it.

Dual rear speakers are found on the back of each G Pad. They're not very loud, but audio is clear at mid-volume levels, with some distortion at maximum volume. The volume rocker function also doesn't change when you switch orientation.

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The G Pads are better for casual use than movie-watching or gaming. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Anecdotally, the G Pads 7.0 and 10.1's battery life lasted long with heavy to casual use. The 7-inch houses a 4,000mAh battery, while the 10.1-inch packs a whopping 8,000mAh battery. Here are the results from testing the tablets by looping a local video in airplane mode:

Battery test result
LG G Pad 7.0 (Wi-Fi only) 8.7
Battery test result
LG G Pad 10.1 12.2

Conclusion

The LG G Pads are some of the coolest-looking budget tablets available, but their performance isn't as hot. The slick, customization-happy user interface and useful dual-window and universal-remote capabilities slightly help make up for the occasionally sluggish apps and delayed touchscreen response. There are similarly priced alternatives out there, however.

If the LG G Pad 7.0's $150 price is in your wheelhouse, the similarly specced and feature-filled Asus Memo Pad 7 is also worth a close look. If you can afford to spend more, the Google Nexus 7 offers faster performance and a better screen for only $70 more.

The 10-inch LG G Pad offers a slightly better deal, starting at only $250. That's $50 less than the average $300 price of a large tablet; if you don't mind the pixelated screen, it's a nice, portable option. There's another Asus model that features a sharper, more colorful screen and equally comfortable build, but you'll be sacrificing the good looks dual-window capabilities of the G Pad 10.1.

Still, even though the budget tablet scene is packed to the brim with options, the LG G Pads are welcome additions to the crowd. Ultimately, they will satisfy the casual user who doesn't need a slate for consuming media as much as casual Web browsing or simple gaming, and their comfortable designs and affordable pricing make a compelling case for bargain shoppers.

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