We live in uncertain times, but when it comes to laptops, we’re actually pretty spoiled these days. The low-end still has plenty of junky machines, but buying good, thoughtfully designed computers for $700 and up is also easier than ever.
That means that sweating the details is more important than ever. A thin-and-light design, a nice IPS screen, a non-terrible keyboard and trackpad, and a good (and/or forward-looking) port selection can all be expected from a high-end laptop these days. So purchasing decisions and recommendations increasingly come down to the little things.
Enter the LG Gram. We haven’t historically paid much attention to LG’s laptops, but the Gram caught my eye because of its decent starting price ($899 for a non-touchscreen model with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage) and its surprisingly light weight (2.07 pounds/0.94kg, particularly low for a 13-inch laptop). In practice, the Gram does many things well, but it falls short in just enough ways to keep it from being a universal recommendation.
Look and feel: You take the good with the bad
I handle a lot of laptops, and I was still pleasantly surprised by just how light the Gram is. It weighs 2.07 pounds, just a tiny bit more than Apple’s 12-inch MacBook, but the Gram manages to fit in a larger 13.3-inch screen. If anything, it feels too light, a bit like it’s filled with more air than components—that’s the case with larger, cheaper, plastic laptops, and it lends the Gram a hint of a cheap feeling. That’s the only real downside; otherwise, having a slightly larger screen that doesn’t also add much extra weight is great.
The Gram’s design is almost aggressively bland. It uses the same matte grey finish on the lid, palmrest, sides, and bottom, and the LG logos in the corner of the lid and in the bezel below the screen are its only identifying marks. I’m a fan of minimalist designs, but it’s possible to make a simple, unadorned computer that still retains a visual identity and a bit of personality (à la a ThinkPad or a MacBook). The Gram isn’t a bad-looking laptop; it just looks like the sort of PC you might see on a TV show or commercial where they’ve taped over all the logos to avoid product placement.
All of that aside, the Gram is well-constructed. The lid has a bit of flex just because of how slim it is, but the base doesn’t creak or flex at all—LG’s “magnesium alloy” is sturdy. A super-slim reminiscent of the Dell XPS 13’s surrounds the top and sides of the screen, though the bezel underneath is much larger. As in the XPS 13, though, the webcam is mounted below the display (in the XPS 13, it’s in the bezel; in the Gram, it’s embedded in the hinge). This means that anyone you’re chatting with is going to be looking right up your nose, and you’re going to look like you’re looking over your head to see something the entire time you’re talking. It’s a compromise we don’t like in the XPS 13, and we still don’t like it here.
One thing I can’t damn with faint praise is the screen itself. It’s a 1080p IPS panel with a nice, even backlight, and LG sells both touch and non-touch models ($100 separates the two, and not much else). Though higher-resolution screens are often options in high-end 13-inch laptops, 1080p is what I’d recommend for most people—sharp enough to give you some leeway with the scaling settings so you can balance readability with density, but not so sharp that it becomes a huge drain on the battery.
The port selection is also solid, a decent mix of forward- and backward-looking. There are two regular USB 3.0 ports, one on each side, along with a proprietary power jack, a headphone jack, a microSD card slot, and a lock slot. In addition, the single USB-C port on the left side can be used for driving a display or for data, though, unfortunately, it doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3. It can also be used to charge the laptop, a feature I really like when I encounter it—a proprietary power jack is fine, but it lets you use a standard USB-C charger for everything if you’ve got one. We’re still early enough in the transition to USB-C that this strikes me as an acceptable compromise.
The Gram’s keyboard, trackpad, and fingerprint reader, on the other hand, all bring us back to “mixed bag” territory. On the one hand, the keyboard has a good layout, key spacing, and enough travel (for a chiclet keyboard) that you’ll have no problem adjusting to it. The trackpad seems accurate and sufficiently clicky, and it supports Windows 10’s multitouch gestures without any major issues. And the trackpad-embedded, Windows Hello-enabled fingerprint sensor works. It senses fingerprints.
But all three have minor annoyances that you don’t have to deal with many of the other laptops we like. The Gram’s keyboard has a backlight, but it must be manually enabled and disabled and turned up and down (most adjust themselves based on the ambient light in the room). The trackpad isn’t one of Microsoft’s Precision Touchpads, so as Windows 10 continues to evolve and Microsoft adds more trackpad gestures and trackpad-related features, it won’t automatically pick up support for them. And the fingerprint sensor is tiny—small enough that it rejected my fingerprints something like one-third-to-one-half of the time I used it. I’d rather have some biometric authentication than none, but the larger fingerprint sensors Dell and Apple use are much more reliable.
LG ships a mostly clean version of Windows 10 on the Gram; our review unit arrived running the Anniversary Update, but I upgraded to the recent Creators Update with no issues. It includes a handful of preloaded LG support apps, an “On Screen Display” app that shows you messages as you toggle the keyboard light or the Caps and Scroll Lock keys, and a “reader mode” app that tints your screen orange à la iOS and macOS’ “Night Shift” or Windows 10’s own “Night Light.” Since Windows natively supports this feature as of the Creators Update (and because the app sends you a notification every time you turn the laptop on), it can be uninstalled without removing anything of value. This is also true of all the support apps.
Additionally, at least LG doesn’t use any of your 256GB of storage for a redundant recovery partition. The laptop relies solely on Windows 10’s pretty-good built-in system restore capabilities, so there’s no need to give up space or recover it manually just so you can reset the laptop to its default state.