LG G Pad is the best LG tablet yet (March 9th, 2014)
Product Manufacturer: LG
- Classy design, solid construction - High-quality 1080p IPS display - Display size hits a sweet spot - Runs stock Android - microSD card slot
- Processor starting to date - Battery life just average - Premium pricing - Loses some software features over regular model
LG has taken some time to gain traction in the mobile devices segment, watching on as its arch-rival Samsung has taken the spotlight with its Android-powered Galaxy S smartphones, Galaxy Tab tablets and Galaxy Note devices. Consumer acceptance of its devices, however, has started to grow as a result of its strategic partnership with Google on the popular Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 smartphones. The rumor mill also points to Google tapping LG to develop the successor to the Samsung made Nexus 10 tablet, or possibly an 8-inch variant of the LG G Pad 8.3 being reviewed here. Although not a Nexus device, the LG G Pad 8.3 is a special Google Play Edition version of LG's tablet that runs a stock version of Google's Android.
Design and construction
The LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition is a compact mid-sized tablet making ideal for those looking for something larger than a device like the Nexus 7, which is not much bigger than some smartphones, but smaller and less cumbersome than a 10-inch tablet like the Nexus 10. Its dimensions are 8.54-inches (216.8mm) tall, 4.98-inches (126.5mm) wide and just 0.33-inches (8.3mm) thick, meaning that it is very comfortable to hold in either portrait or landscape view. Packed within its frame is an LG 8.3-inch 1080p display.
The LG G Pad 8.3 is one of the more nicely designed and assembled Android tablets that we have yet to come across. Unlike many Android tablets which are designed primarily from plastic, LG has added a brushed aluminum panel to the rear of the device that is punctuated only by two narrow openings for its stereo speakers. This has the effect of giving the G Pad a more refined appearance and feel, while also helping to give the tablet a much sturdier and rigid construction. There are absolutely no creaks to be heard and at just 0.745 pounds (338 grams), it feels great to hold in either one hand or two. In fact, it is only very slightly heavier than an iPad mini with Retina display.
The LG G Pad 8.3 has high quality 16x9 IPS LCD display. It sports a full 1080p resolution of 1920x1080 at a pixel density of 273ppi, which compares favorably to the iPad Air's pixel density of 264ppi. Like the iPad Air, the LG panel with IPS helps to ensure that its has wide viewing angles of up to 178-degrees. However, in terms of overall quality, the LG G Pad 8.3 display is closer in terms of color reproduction and brightness to the iPad mini with Retina display. As a point of comparison, the iPad Air display is certainly higher quality overall, with a much wider color gamut and thus remains the gold standard for tablet displays. Nonetheless, taken on its own, G Pad 8.3 users will be very happy with the viewing experience it offers.
As mentioned earlier, the LG G Pad 8.3 sits between 7-inch and 10-inch tablets, hitting what LG clearly believes is a sweet spot. In general use we have to agree with LG's choice of display size from the perspective of content consumption. Reading magazines and books from the Play Store is quite legible, thanks to the sharp rendering of text, while playing games, watching movies and surfing the net are also a pleasure. With smartphones getting bigger, 7-inch tablets don't offer quite as much differentiation as the G Pad with its 8.3-inch display. When it comes to productivity though, like the iPad mini at 7.9-inches, display sizes at around 10-inches are a better proposition. That said, it has the Nexus 7 comfortably beaten for overall usability.
Another area where the LG G Pad 8.3 has the Nexus 7 beaten is with its performance, although only just. It runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor that we have previously seen running in the HTC One. Although both processors are now getting a little old in the rapidly evolving mobile chip space, the Snapdragon 600 is in effect a slightly faster clocked versions of the Snapdragon S4 Pro found in the Nexus 7. The four Krait 300 cores in the Snapdragon 600 found in the G Pad are clocked at 1.7GHz, while the Nexus 7 Krait 300 cores are clocked at 1.5GHz. Both, however feature the same Adreno 320 GPU clocked at 400MHz. Compared to the iPad mini, however, which runs the next-generation Apple A7 processor with 64-bit architecture and customer PowerVR graphics, both the LG G Pad and the Nexus 7 are left trailing in the iPad mini's wake.
The Snapdragon 600 powering the LG G Pad 8.3 pushes it just past the Snapdragon S4 Pro-powered Nexus 7, as expected. The higher clock speed results in around a 10 to 12 percent uplift in performance in both the single-core and multi-core benchmarks. However, neither the G Pad or the Nexus 7 can hold a candle to the iPad mini with Retina display. Showing the advantage of picking up 2014 chip technology in 2013, and despite being clocked much slower at 1.3GHz and using dual-cores, its next-generation 64-bit 'Cyclone' cores and revised ARM v8 instruction set pushes it well past its competition. Its single-core of 1391 also blows past the newer quad-core Snapdragon 800 chipset clocked at 2.3GHz with its Krait 400 cores.
The LG G Pad 8.3 and the Nexus 7 chipsets both incorporate Qualcomm's older Adreno 320 GPUs. The G Pad scores 10543 in the 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark, which is about on par with the score of 10624 returned from the Nexus 7. There is still enough power to run the latest mobile 3D games on both of these devices, although they won't run at the higher framerates that is possible with the newer Adreno 330 GPU. Nor do the G Pad or Nexus 7 come close to matching the performance of the custom PowerVR G6430 GPU in the iPad mini with Retina display either, which scored 13002. Although it is underpowered compared to the iPad mini, the LG G Pad 8.3 remains reasonably competitive in the Android tablet market, and it certainly has a slight overall performance edge over the Nexus 7 (2013).
The LG G Pad 8.3 uses a 5-megapixel camera module with auto-focus and back side illumination as its main camera on the rear of the device. As with most tablet cameras, it is good enough for taking some decent casual snaps, but it won't replace a good point and shoot camera, or even a decent smartphone camera. Photos are reasonably detailed, although they tend to be slightly overexposed using automatic settings. Likewise, video footage shot on the LG G Pad 8.3 are adequate, but you won't be wanting to use it for special occasions if you want to avoid graininess. The standard 1.3-megapixel front camera supports VGA quality visual calls, but is also nothing particularly special. Having high-quality cameras on a tablet is not essential, but nice to have.
The LG G Pad 8.3 has dual stereo speakers, although they are less than optimally placed on the rear of the device. At best, the sound can only be described as adequate and it is perhaps the weakest aspect of the device overall. As can be expected with the positioning, the volume and clarity is lost when watching movies as the sound is being projected to the rear. If you turn the device around the sound is much better and more like what you'd expect in terms of sonic performance, but unless you're prepared to watch your movie in a mirror, speaker performance is below par. On the plus side, listening to music and watching movies with headphones on is excellent, with sound quality comparable with Apple's mobile devices, which remain the benchmark in this regard.
Storage, connectivity and battery life
The LG G Pad 8.3 come with 16GB of onboard storage only. However, unlike Nexus devices that are similarly running stock Android, the G Pad also offers limited support for microSD card expansion. This means that you can add up to 64GB of additional storage, but you won't be able to use the device itself to write any data to the microSD card as you can with the standard model. This means that you will need to connect your G Pad to your PC to add and remove content to your microSD card, which may or may not be an issue depending on how you typically use your device. Still, the ability to add content is welcome, and gives the G Pad an edge over the Nexus 7.
The regular LG G Pad 8.3 comes in an LTE variant, but Google Play Edition is only available in Wi-Fi. It comes with support for dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11n, while it also includes support for Bluetooth 4.0 LE and DLNA. The built-in battery has a capacity of 4,600mAh, which we found to be good for up to 8 hours of use under general, but heavy use. While good, and again about on par with what you can expect from the Nexus 7, it won't go anywhere near to matching the battery life of the iPad mini with Retina display. The iPad is can comfortably achieve between 10 and 12 hours of life between charges.
Google Play Edition experience versus the regular LG G Pad
We have long preferred the stock Android experience to most manufacturer versions of Android for several reasons, although there are some downsides that are worth considering. If you want to have fast updates to the latest version of Android, the only options you have are to buy a Nexus device, or a GPE variant. Of course, if you are technically competent, you can also root a device and flash it with a stock Android install, but that is not an option for most people. GPE devices get the latest version of Android typically within two to three weeks of its availability, which means that new features and/or critical updates will get to these users first. The stock Android 'KitKat' 4.4.2 interface is also much more simple and less cluttered than many other manufacturer skins, while it is always smooth and responsive. The LG G Pad 8.3 GPE is no exception.
By comparison, the regular LG 'Optimus' UI has some similarities with Samsung's TouchWiz from a UI perspective. Similarly, it also seeks to differentiate the LG G Pad 8.3 from its Android competition with a range of additional features that you won't find in any stock version of Android at this time. This includes additions such as Quickremote, Guest Mode, Q Slide (multitasking, windowed apps) and LG's Knock On function. The problem with it is, that they UI can get cluttered and can lag every now and then as a result. You will also have to wait much longer for factory updates to roll out, while at least some of the lost functionality can be regained with Android app replacements.
What the comparison does highlight though, is just how integral an operating system is to the overall user experience. Although both versions of the LG G Pad 8.3 run Android, the user experience is markedly different, even though the hardware is exactly the same. For our money, we'd opt for the Google Play Edition every time.
The LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition is an excellent Android tablet. The hardware helps to set it apart from the saturated field of Android contenders, which are by and large, plastic and can often look cheap. The G Pad uses a combination of plastic with brushed aluminum, along with a rigid chassis coupled with tasteful design restraint to lift it above the competition. It has all the advantages of a Nexus device from a software perspective, but unlike Nexus devices, also incorporates a microSD card slot for storage expansion. Although it is significantly more expensive than a Nexus 7, it is definitely worth considering as it offers a distinctly differentiated tablet experience with the larger, high quality IPS display offering more screen real estate on which to enjoy your content.