Lightweight design; Strong overall performance; Highly accurate display
Battery life too short; Keyboard has a hollow feel; Lid shakes
The Gram packs plenty of power in a thin, light body, but its short battery life and hollow keyboard take away from its beauty.
Ever since Apple launched its first MacBook Air, we’ve seen PC vendors try to out-thin its ultraportable with their own premium laptops. Now LG, which has never released a notebook in the U.S. before, is making an aggressive entry in this category. Only 0.5 inches at its thickest point, the LG Gram is likely the thinnest 14-inch notebook on the market and one of the lightest ultraportables you can buy at just 2.1 pounds. Starting at $1,000 ($1,367 as reviewed), the Gram packs a colorful full HD display, powerful Core i5 / i7 CPU and speedy SSD. However, weak battery life and mediocre build quality hold this machine back.
If the Gram looks familiar, that’s because this Windows 10 laptop looks a lot like Apple’s MacBook Air. From the curves of its tapered edges to the layout of its keyboard and its Champagne Gold shell, the Gram is more than similar to both the 12-inch MacBook and the Air, it’s a downright copycat.
Opening the lid, you’ll find the 1.3 megapixel webcam in the middle of the top bezel, and a rather thick bottom bezel that bears LG’s logo.
It’s nice that you can lift the lid easily with one hand, but the notebook’s hinge is extremely loose. It’s also not tight enough to stop the lid from constantly wobbling, especially if you use the Gram on your lap. While the laptop’s exterior is made of carbon magnesium (lid) and lithium magnesium (deck), the Gram doesn’t feel as sturdy or as durable as the aluminum MacBook Air or many other laptops we’ve tested.
Measuring 12.8 x 8.9 x 0.5 inches, the Gram is thinner than the Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (early 2015) ( 0.68 inches), the Dell XPS 13 (early 2015, non-touch) (0.6 inches), and the Lenovo LaVie Z ( 0.7 inches).
Weighing 2.11 pounds, the Gram is lighter than the MacBook Air (2.96 pounds) and the XPS (2.8 pounds). While Dell has released a lighter version (2.6 pounds) of the XPS 13, the only competitor that’s lighter in your bag is the LaVie Z (1.8 pounds).
On the left side of the Gram, LG has placed a proprietary power port, a USB 3.0 port and an HDMI port. On the right side of the notebook, HP’s placed a lock slot, a second USB 3.0 port, a microSD card slot, a headphone port and a micro USB port that works with an included Ethernet adapter.
As befits a premium notebook, LG equipped the Gram with a vibrant, full-HD (1920 x 1080) IPS display. As I watched the 1080p music video for Kendrick Lamar’s “These Walls,” the rich, saturated blue-lit hallways were vibrant and strong on the screen; I appreciated the details of the threads on the narrator’s velour jumpsuit. The Gram also has wide viewing angles that make it great for gatherings, as I was still able to see these strong hues and pick up small details even when I moved 75 degrees to the left or right.
The Gram was able to illuminate small details like the beads of sweat on a dancing Terry Crews and the cracks in a decaying wall, thanks to the 294 nits of brightness. That’s close to the XPS 13 (298 nits) and the average ultraportable (294.6 nits), and brighter than the Lenovo LaVie Z (213 nits). The MacBook Air (334 nits), though, can get noticeably brighter.
According to our colorimeter, the Gram’s 14-inch display is able to reproduce a decently wide 84 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is more than the 79 percent average and the MacBook Air (66 percent). The LaVie (106 percent) and the XPS 13 (92 percent) can produce a larger amount of the spectrum.
In terms of accuracy, the Gram flattens the competition with a Delta-E score (where lower is better) of 0.53. That beats the MacBook Air, the XPS 13 and the LaVie Z.
I appreciated the Gram’s Reader Mode, which allows you to quickly reduce the amount of blue light coming out of the Gram’s display, making some websites easier to read. Taking the blue light out of your screen is also supposed to make reading the display for long periods of time easier, so it’s nice that LG made activating this hardware feature as easy as hitting the Fn + F9 key.
Keyboard and Touchpad
When placed side-by-side, the Gram’s keyboard is an almost mirror image of the keyboard on the MacBook Air. From its inverted T directional buttons with gaps above the left and right keys to a power button that’s in the upper right corner of the keyboard, the resemblance is uncanny. LG improves on Apple’s layout by recessing the power key, which makes it much more difficult to accidentally click.
While we like that the Gram’s keys require 60 grams of force to actuate, they have an unfortunately shallow 1.4 millimeters of travel, and offer very little feedback. This creates a hollow, unenjoyable feel to each click. On the 10fastfingers typing test, I managed an average score of 66 words per minute on the Gram, with 96 percent accuracy, which is slightly below my 69 word/98 percent average.
The Gram’s 4.05 x 2.7-inch touchpad is adequate, yet far from perfect. The system recognized my gestures instantly, and its responses to my left and right clicks were highly accurate. While it has enough tactile feedback, it does not sit tightly in the deck, and its clicks can be rather loud.
Our LG Gram test model was powered by a 5th-generation Intel Core i7-5500U processor with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. As Windows Defender performed a full system scan on the Gram, I moved effortlessly between a dozen tabs in Chrome — including streaming music and TweetDeck — while Groove Music, the Camera app and Notepad were also open in the background.
We measured the Gram’s overall performance with the Geekbench 3 synthetic test, where the notebook earned a score of 5,861. That beats the Core i5-5250U-powered MacBook Air (5,783), the Core i5-5200U-powered XPS (5,530) and the average ultraportable notebook (4,340). Only Core i7-5500U-powered LaVie Z (6,378) outperformed the LG in this test.
The Gram’s 256GB SSD needed 32 seconds to complete the File Transfer Test (duplicating 4.97GB of mixed-media files), a rate of 149 MBps. That’s faster than the LaVie Z (131 MBps) and the XPS 13 (87.7 MBps).
When we ran our OpenOffice Spreadsheet Test, the Gram matched 20,000 names to their addresses in 4 minutes and 45 seconds. That’s faster than both the XPS (5:02) and the average ultraportable (8:32), but the LaVie Z (4:38) and the MacBook Air (4:03) finished this productivity test faster.
The Gram’s integrated Intel HD Graphics 5500 GPU is good enough for casual gaming and video viewing, but nothing more. The Gram hit 45 frames per second in World of Warcraft, but only with the display resolution set to 1336 x 768 pixels at autodetect settings. That’s equal to the MacBook Air (45 fps), and faster than the XPS 13 (41 fps) and the LaVie Z (40 fps).
We hit speed bumps when we tried to push the Gram to play WoW at 1080p at automatic settings (26 fps), with performance dropping below the 30 fps playability threshold. While most ultraportables are also unable to reach a playable frame rate at these settings, the XPS (33 fps) was acceptable at 1080p.
When we tested the Gram with the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark test, it managed a score of 42,945. That’s better than the average ultraportable (36,780), but the XPS 13 and the LaVie Z earned higher marks.
With speakers that can pump enough volume to fill a small room, the Gram is also a solid jukebox when it’s time to kick out the jams. Listening to the Battles song “Yabba,” I could clearly make out a wide range of instruments, from the bells and drums to the harmonious mix of keyboards and guitars.
When listening to music, I recommend you enable the DTS Sound app’s options for Surround, Volume Max and Bass Boost. Without these settings, audio sounded congested, and the bass fell flat on Hot Chip’s “Love is the Future.” Dialogue in trailers came through clearer with Bass Boost off, so for watching video I recommend only having Surround and Volume Max enabled. When you’re listening to podcasts, though, turn all three settings off to get a more natural sound. LG has also built in a Digital-to-Analog converter (DAC) to reduce the amount of distortion from its speakers.
While our review unit has a blazing Intel Core i7 processor, it stayed cool to the touch in our usage. After streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the Gram’s touchpad measured 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the space between the G and H keys hit 87 degrees and the underside reached 89 degrees. All are well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The LG Gram’s 1.3-MP HD Web camera shot dull, noisy photos of me around our office. Most Windows laptops have poor webcams, but we expect better at this price.
The Gram may be light, but its short battery life takes away from its portability. LG’s ultrathin notebook lasted just 5 hours and 38 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi at 100 nits of screen brightness). That’s much less juice than you’ll get with the average ultraportable laptop (8:02), and nowhere near the runtime of the MacBook Air (14 hours) and the Dell XPS 13 (11:42).
Software and Warranty
Even though the Gram is a Microsoft Signature Edition device — which is supposed to signify it is free of the annoying bloatware that manufacturers pre-load — LG has installed Candy Crush Saga on the hard drive and placed spammy links to download Flipboard and the iHeart Radio app in the Start menu. The Gram also has pre-loaded LG-branded programs for system maintenance, updates and help, which are actually useful.
The $1,400, top-of-the-line LG Gram we reviewed has a 14-inch FHD (1920 x 1080), a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-5500U processor, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD drive.
For $1,000, you can get the Gram with the same a 14-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) display, but a 2.2-GHz Core i5-5200U CPU, 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD drive. That’s the same price as the MacBook Air, which comes with a 1.6-GHz Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of flash storage and a lower-res 1440 x 900 screen.
If you want a slightly smaller display, LG offers a 13.3-inch version of the Gram. It has a FHD (1920 x 1080) display, a 2.2-GHz Core i5-5200U CPU, 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD drive for $900.
On paper, the LG Gram should be an excellent laptop. The $1,400 model we reviewed is extremely light, offers a fast Core i7 CPU and a beautiful display you’ll never get tired of looking at. However, the woefully short battery life is a deal-breaker and the construction doesn’t feel as solid as that of competing ultraportables. This is an admirable first stab at the U.S. laptop market, but the MacBook Air (starting at $1,000) and the Dell XPS 13 (starting at $799) offer double the battery life and much better build quality for the money.