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The LG Gram 14 makes a good first impression as a powerful, slim, midsize laptop. The biggest selling point is that it's very light, especially considering this is a 14-inch laptop with a powerful Intel Core i7 processor. But after a closer look, you'll notice that it has some head-scratching omissions. For example, it lacks a touchscreen and backlit keyboard, and its display resolution tops out at 1,920x1,080 pixels -- all surprising for a current Windows laptop with a decidedly premium price.
Of course, the most surprising thing for many laptop shoppers may be that LG is selling laptops at all. The electronics maker is known for everything from televisions to appliances, but yes, it's also a computer manufacturer. But that fact might not be generally well-known to American shoppers, because the brand has previously only sold its laptops in other territories.
Now the company is wading into a very crowded computer market by releasing a series of high-end ultrabook-style laptops in the US for the first time. The LG Gram line (stylized with a lower-case "g") includes three fixed-configuration models, one 13-inch and two 14-inch, each with slim, lightweight bodies, Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors, and 1,920x1,080-pixel displays. The LG Gram 13 and LG Gram 14 models sell for $899 to $1,399 in the US. LG already sells similar, though not exactly alike, configurations in Australia (starting at AU$1,399) and other regions, but not in the UK.
We tested the highest-end $1,399 configuration of the LG Gram 14 (so named because its weighs only 980 grams, or 2.16 pounds). It's lighter than a 13-inch MacBook Air, which hits 2.9 pounds and even the new Lenovo Yoga 900 (2.84 pounds), but it's still not the lightest laptop we've tested (that would be the amazingly light 1.9-pound Lenovo LaVie Z ). This high-end configuration of the LG Gram 14 includes a fifth-generation Intel Core i7 processor (LG says newer sixth-gen chips are coming at some point, but for now it's a generation behind), a big 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM.
That makes it expensive, but not outrageously so. Dell's excellent slim XPS 13, where the closest comparable configuration has the same 1,920x1,080 non-touch display with a 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM (but with newer Intel sixth-generation Core i5 CPU instead of a fifth-generation Core i7), costs $1,150.
A 13-inch MacBook Air with a Core i7 and same storage and RAM hits $1,449 in the US. The MacBook makes for an especially apt comparison, as the LG Gram series has a very Apple-like look and feel, from the minimalist exterior to the familiar-looking island-style keyboard. It's a style others have aped before, and one colleague who saw the LG gram suggested that it looked like LG's interpretation of Samsung's interpretation of Apple's iconic MacBooks. Perhaps it's laptop design by way of inception.
Despite the relatively high price and missing features (the same could be said of our hypothetical high-end MacBook Air configuration), I found myself liking the LG Gram better the more I used it. It turns out that having a slightly larger screen without the extra weight usually associated with that is pretty valuable, and I ended up casually grabbing the system for on-the-go meetings over other laptops that might have more of the bells and whistles I'd want, but were heavier and harder to cart around.
Like Microsoft's experimental new Surface Book , it still feels like an early draft. Iron out some design and build quality quirks, add higher screen resolutions, touch options, a backlit keyboard and current-gen CPUs, and this could be a real competitor in the premium laptop race.
|Price as reviewed||$1,399|
|Display size/resolution||14-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 display|
|PC CPU||2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U|
|PC Memory||8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz|
|Graphics||128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 5500|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
With so many premium 13-inch and 14-inch laptops to choose from, the LG Gram's biggest selling point is how light it feels. Especially considering the Core i7 processor inside, it's extremely portable at 2.16 pounds (980 grams).
But it also feels insubstantial and indifferently machined. The chassis, made of carbon magnesium and lithium magnesium alloys, offers little heft and leaves the body with a lot of flex. The bottom panel of our test unit was decidedly creaky at one joint where two panels didn't fit perfectly together, and the four rubber feet on the bottom didn't all sit flush on the table. These may be an early review sample quirks, but it isn't what you'd expect from a $1,400 laptop. The screen hinge also wobbled with every move or even with heavy typing, adding to a sub-premium feel.
Inside, the minimalist interior tray houses only a large island-style keyboard and a glass-topped touch pad. Typing is smooth, although the center of the keyboard tray has a lot of flex under the fingers. We occasionally had a missed keystroke or two, which may be because of the shallow keys. Also missing is a backlight for the keyboard, a feature that used to be rare, but is now found in many laptops, including less-expensive models. The generous touch pad, however, was a high point and excelled at multi-touch gestures such as two-finger scrolling.
The display on each of the three LG Gram models is a 1,920x1,080 IPS screen, without touch. Eliminating touch can save on weight, thickness and cost, but it's also an expected feature in higher-end non-Mac laptops today. Fortunately, Windows 10 works better than Windows 8 ever did when it comes to systems without touchscreens.
The display on our test unit was very bright and looked great from off-axis angles, but is also very glossy and reflected a good amount of screen glare. Note that while 1,920x1,080 is still the HD standard for video, better-than-HD resolutions, even up to 4K, are becoming much more common in laptops over the $1,000 mark.
|Audio||Combo headphone/microphone jack|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, 1 Micro-USB, SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
With such a slim body, there is not a lot of room for ports and connections. Still, the basic assortment here should suffice for most needs, with a pair of USB 3.0 ports, HDMI output, an SD card slot and a Micro-USB port intended for use with an external Ethernet dongle. Differences among the three fixed configurations come down to processor (Core i5 vs. Core i7) screen size (13-inch vs. 14-inch) and SSD storage (128GB vs. 256GB).
We tested the highest-end configuration of the LG Gram, and single-app performance was very strong, although other premium laptops with Core i5 processors were as fast or faster in multitasking tests. For the type of mainstream tasks -- Web browsing, HD video playback, spreadsheets and office docs or basic photo and video editing, any of these will work great, and the Core i7 used here offers plenty of performance headroom. In anecdotal hands-on use, the only speedbumps we ran into were the occasional ergonomic ones, not anything performance-related.
Being so light and portable, it would be great if the LG Gram had excellent battery life to compliment it. Unfortunately, in our video playback battery drain test, the system ran for just 5:48. That's not a terrible score, and a few years ago it would have been considered excellent, but the Dell XPS 13 beats it by more than an hour and the MacBook Air nearly triples it.
It's always exciting to see a new player enter the competitive US laptop market. Samsung pulled a similar move in 2008, and has gone on to become one of our favorite brands.
Despite some omitted features I'd like to see in this price range, and battery life on the low end of acceptable, the LG Gram 14 slowly worked its way into my regular rotation of laptops, mostly because it offered a bigger screen in a very totable package. The LG Gram feels like a sketchpad for the next generation of LG laptops, and if the company can take those strengths and fill in some of the blanks, it could become a popular alternative to some of the more familiar ultra-light laptop families.
|LG Gram 14||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 5500; 256GB SSD|
|Microsoft Surface Book||Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM ; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 512GB SSD|
|Dell XPS 13 (2015)||Microsoft Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.2GHZ Intel Core i5-5200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 3839MB (shared) Intel HD 5500 Graphics; 256GB SSD|
|Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015)||Apple OSX 10.10.2 Yosemite; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-5250U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz; 1536MB Intel Iris Graphics 6000; 128GB SSD|