Between the screen that bounces with each touch and a housing that feels hollow, the price tag doesn’t match the build quality of the LG gram 13 despite its incredible battery life.
- Fantastic battery life
- Fast fingerprint sensor
- Thin screen bezels
- Weird fingerprint sensor placement
- Awkward camera placement
- Build quality doesn’t match price
With portable and powerful laptops priced below the psychological barrier of $1,000 now somewhat of a commodity, the premium segment is one where a device has to live up to its price tag. Typically, manufacturers set themselves apart from the pack with design, and unique features (fingerprint unlock, excellent battery life, etc.).
The LG gram 13 we reviewed costs much less than Apple’s 12-inch MacBook and comparably to Dell’s XPS 13. On the spec sheet, the gram 13 is more similar to Dell’s offering than Apple’s MacBook, having far fewer ports and a different class of processor (Intel Core i5 for LG vs. Intel Core m5 for Apple).
That said, we find that the LG gram 13 struggles to live up to that four-digit price point, especially when stacked against comparably-priced Ultrabooks.
Price, availability and value
LG currently sells two variations of the LG gram 13. One version – the version we received – has a touchscreen, while the other variant comes in white and lacks a touchscreen and fingerprint sensor.
The touchscreen version costs $1,099 (about £885, AU$1,465), with the touch-free model discounted to $999 (about £804, AU$1331).
We were unable to find any models with improved specs or the option to personalize the LG gram 13’s internals.
Furthermore, out of the US, UK, and AU LG web stores, the LG gram 13 was only listed in the US store. The good news is that LG uses third-party sites, such as Amazon or B&H Photo to fulfill orders of the gram 13. In other words, if you live in a country where LG doesn’t expressly offer the gram 13, you can try to order through another seller.
As for whether you should, well, we’ve found comparably-priced laptops with far stronger build quality (but not better battery life) than what’s on display here – we’ll just say that for now.
LG touts that the exterior of the gram 13 as made of a “nano carbon magnesium alloy;” a metal compound that feels more like plastic than the aluminum shell competing higher-end laptops typically use, but also tends to be lighter.
With the lid closed, the gram 13 measures a mere 0.6 inches (15.24 mm) tall at its thickest point. On the right side of the laptop is where you find a microSD card reader, headphone/mic jack, and a USB 3.0 port.
The left side of the laptop is home to the charging port, another USB 3.0 port, a full HDMI port, and a USB 3.0 Type-C port. Additionally, this is where you can find two indicator lights – one a charging indicator, the other a hard drive activity light.
With the lid open, the first thing you’ll notice is a black rectangle in the upper-left corner of the trackpad. Admittedly, at first we thought the rectangle was yet another sticker – such as the “Powered by Intel” decal or Energy Star assurances – we would have to remove.
After a few seconds, however, we quickly realized it was the fingerprint sensor. It’s an odd place for one, considering you’re not likely to scan your finger as often as you’ll use the tracking surface for everything else. It doesn’t get in the way, per se, but we found ourselves ignoring the upper left portion of the trackpad altogether.
Just above the keyboard, lodged into the laptop hinge, is a 1.3-megapixel webcam, relocated from the more traditional location of above the display. By moving the camera down, LG was able to use smaller bezels to on the sides and top of the screen. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said about the bezel below the screen.
In total, the gram 13 weighs 2.07 pounds – or 939 grams, if you were curious. It’s incredibly light and doesn’t bog down a backpack as you trek from meeting to meeting or class to class.
In comparison, Apple’s MacBook weighs 2.03 pounds (921 grams), while Dell’s XPS 13 weighs 2.7 pounds (1,225 grams).
Fingerprint ID is a fine bonus
Setup and use of the gram 13’s fingerprint sensor is similar to that of any modern smartphone with a similar feature – in fact, it closely resembles the process LG uses on its flagship smartphones.
After touching, lifting, and replacing your finger on the sensor, the gram 13 learns your fingerprint and uses Windows Hello to unlock your computer with a touch, instead of a password.
Windows Hello is a convenient way to streamline the login experience, either when switching user accounts or signing in after the gram 13 has been turned off.
We didn’t have any issues with the scanner recognizing a finger, with very little time elapsed between a touch of the fingerprint sensor and the computer unlocking.
Muffled speaker placement
One design choice we have to question is the location of the stereo speakers on the gram 13. Each speaker is located on either side of the device, with two nondescript ports barely noticeable.
During our testing, the speakers were often muffled or inadvertently covered up when using the gram 13 on a lap, or even by placing an arm next to the side of the unit.
Even when the speaker ports are left unblocked, the sound quality and volume is rather weak and quiet. Listening to music often required a volume setting of 70 or higher just to hear at a comfortable level.
The Intel Core i5 processor inside the gram 13 isn’t the fastest available, especially at this price point. And, with Intel’s HD Graphics 620 chip, the gram 13 isn’t built for gaming.
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy the occasional gaming session, though you may have to lower resolution and detail settings or deal with lower frame rates.
The Full HD (1080p) display is commonplace and does its job. It’s appreciated to see LG offer a 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM as a starting point for the gram 13, with additional upgrades available.
Starting $300 less than this gram 13, the Dell XPS 13 can be configured with comparable specs to offer nearly identical performance for about the same price. That said, the LG gram 13 lasted far longer in our battery tests.
Looking at the gram 13’s benchmark scores, it’s clear this laptop isn’t the fastest device. That said, in real world use, overall performance wasn’t noticeably slow.
There were times when opening an application after a restart took longer than it should have, or so it seemed. But, once applications were up and running, any sluggishness was negligible.
Gaming or video editing will push the gram 13 to its limits, but there’s enough computer under the hood to at least tinker with video editing and gaming.
If you are someone who frequently works with video or wants to get more serious with gaming, the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming is a budget gaming device done right.
During our time testing the LG gram 13, the touchscreen was commonly used for scrolling and selecting items on the display. The screen itself was responsive, and accurately recognized touches without issue.
It’s the amount of give in the hinge, which sees the screen wobbling and shaking with every touch, that eventually becomes a distraction.
Often, we would hold one side of the screen with one hand while simultaneously touching the screen with the other. That shouldn’t be something any user has to do on a touchscreen device, ever.
Flexible in a not-so-good way
It may sound weird, but trust us: When you squeeze the gram 13’s housing, it feels empty. The gram 13 fails to invoke any feeling of a premium device, in terms of build quality. In other words, the frame gives a lot – perhaps too much – flex.
Grabbing the HP Spectre 13 in a similar fashion has a bit of flex, but it’s nothing like what we’ve experienced with the gram 13.
Obviously, the inside of the gram 13 isn’t empty, but one has to wonder how well a housing that bends when barely squeezed will hold up to being banged around in a backpack or an accidental tumble off of a desk.
LG’s marketing material claims 15 hours of use on battery due to optimizations made by the company, along with a power-saving mode when the battery gets low. While our results are far under that promise, they’re still far better than most Ultrabooks we’ve tested.
TechRadar’s movie benchmark test resulted in 9 hours and 11 minutes of continuous playback with screen brightness and audio set to 50% as well as all radios but Wi-Fi disabled. The PCMark 8 Battery Test clocked in at 5 hours and 52 minutes under the same conditions.
Neither result is horrible, with the likes of the XPS 13 giving out nearly two hours before the gram 13 did.
Using the gram 13 during regular work hours, we were able to get through nearly a full, 8-hour day of mixed use consisting of the occasional YouTube video, Microsoft’s Mail app open and always running, as was Slack and Facebook and Google Play Music streaming sweet tunes.
Again, this longevity is mighty impressive, but it is a far cry from the 15 hours LG is promising customers. And, before you ask, yes, we left the power saving mode enabled during our regular use.
The LG gram 13’s fingerprint sensor is an indispensable feature that makes the switch back to PIN codes or passwords ever so difficult. It’s far from a workhorse, but more than powerful enough – and portable enough – for students. The thin screen bezels are also welcome, and, of course, the battery life is longer than most Ultrabooks we’ve tested thus far.
But, calling a spade a spade, our battery tests fall well short of the expectations LG sets in marketing guides – the same materials customers rely on when making a purchase decision. Using alternative materials to evoke a premium feel or go lighter than the competition only gets you so far; in this case, all one needs to do is pick up the LG gram 13 to realize that.
The LG gram 13 looks like a premium device on the price tag and from afar. Unfortunately, the mirage falls apart once you unbox it. Sure, it’s light and easy to tote around, but the build quality leaves us wanting something much better.
The Intel Core i5 processor offers enough power, when combined with the 8GB of RAM, to have multiple tabs open in Chrome while researching a topic. But, it’s not going to cut it for the most demanding of users.
If portability, strong battery life, and a fingerprint sensor are three key items on your laptop checklist, then the LG gram 13 is worth checking out. On the flip side, if buying a device that feels like it’s built to last is anywhere on your list of required features, we would look elsewhere.