A great tablet struggling to find a value proposition
It's hard to say we weren't surprised when Google seemingly randomly put two new Google Play edition devices up for sale on December 10th. The LG G Pad 8.3 (along with the Sony Z Ultra) is a new device in Google's quasi-Nexus line that takes proven hardware from major manufacturers and loads it up with new software the way Google intends it.
Now of course the LG G Pad 8.3 isn't the first Google Play edition device, it is simply the first tablet to adorn the title. But in many respects, the story is much the same. The LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play edition is to the Nexus 7 what the HTC One and Galaxy S4 GPe's are to the Nexus 5 — a more expensive device option with a few unique hardware differences and software features to differentiate it.
The question really stands then, is the LG G Pad 8.3 GPe worth the extra dough over a formidable competitor, the Nexus 7? Read along with us after the break and see what the first Google Play edition tablet has going for it.
A refreshing metal build that looks and feels great.
Adding the Google Play edition naming to this tablet hasn't changed the hardware in the slightest. And that isn't a bad thing — we really enjoy the plastic and metal exterior of the G Pad 8.3 as a refreshing differentiator from the plastic-only builds of other tablets. The only difference you can notice with the GPe version is that (at the time of writing) it is only available in black, not white.
You're getting a solid brushed metal back plate that bleeds over onto the sides, rounded out at the top, bottom and edges near the screen in a hard matte plastic material. Just to clear up any potential confusion, LG is clearly positioning the G Pad 8.3 as a portrait device, with power and volume rockers at the top of the right edge, Micro USB on the bottom and a headphone jack up top.
More: LG G Pad 8.3 review
The hardware isn't flashy, but simple and effective.
There's no denying that the G Pad 8.3 feels great in your hands. LG made a huge deal about it being designed specifically to fit the range of an average hand for touch targets, and while we're not so sure about all of that, there's clearly some great ergonomics at play here. It's curved just the right amount on the edges to make it easy on the hand, while also providing enough texture to grip in one hand for reading.
It's the combination of materials, build quality and ergonomic design that make the G Pad 8.3's hardware both simple and effective. It isn't flashy, but rather classy, with just a few bits of flair that make it feel a cut above other tablets.
LG is known for making some killer LCD's, and it has packed a nicely dense 1200 x 1920 (273 ppi) panel in the G Pad 8.3 Google Play edition, just the same as you'd find in the original model. While the display is crisp, gapless and has solid viewing angles, the color temperature is throwing us off just a bit. If there's one thing LCD's are known for it's accurate colors and bright whites, but the G Pad 8.3 GPe's are feeling a little too warm and washed out to our eyes.
LG is known for great displays, but the color temperature here is a bit off.
Putting the display side-by-side with leading phones and tablets you notice whites that are a bit too yellowish grey, and while we prefer "missing" color temperature to the warm side rather than the cool, we'd of course prefer simply accurate colors. We're not sure if it's just some display tuning gone sour, but thankfully this is more on the level of annoyance than a real issue with the display quality.
Although LG has placed all of the buttons and logos on the G Pad 8.3 for portrait use, the speakers line up on the back more suited for landscape. It may seem odd at first, but it's a clever move considering that media and games are likely to be more landscape-oriented tasks on a tablet.
The speakers themselves are small slits in the metal back plate about two inches long and a quarter inch high, which certainly aren't very big openings to provide an immersive experience. And that seems to be the end result — even with capable volume levels, the speakers here come up short in terms of sound quality. We found them to be more on level with what you can get out of your average smartphone rather than a big tablet with stereo speakers.
An unfortunate middle ground between large and small tablets.
In the world of stock Android tablets, the G Pad 8.3 lands in a weird spot. You're faced with a screen size 1.3-inches larger than a Nexus 7, and 1.7-inches smaller than a Nexus 10 ... which software experience do you choose? Given the portrait-oriented nature of the G Pad 8.3 it seems fitting that the software went the "medium tablet" route, meaning you're getting the Nexus 7's software, just scaled up a bit.
You'll notice a couple of subtle changes in sizing such as an extra column of icons on the home screen, but beyond that there's no real attempt to manage the larger screen. You're still getting the single-column view for system settings and the like, which simply leaves this device in a grey area. Not big enough to be a "large tablet," but too big to gracefully use the smaller tablet-style UI. Don't get us wrong, this is simply a fault with Android's inability to scale to these screen sizes gracefully, but it doesn't change the end result.
But these differences are known — what's it like to use Google Play edition software on LG's great hardware platform? As you would expect with a Snapdragon 600 and 2GB of RAM on board, this thing flies. We couldn't find a set of tasks or apps that could slow it down — from quick app switching to heavy games, the G Pad 8.3 GPe took it all in stride.
A Nexus-level software experience, with great internals to back it up.
In terms of battery life, our time with the G Pad 8.3 GPe left us with no issues to speak of. Though we haven't found a tablet recently that completely fails in the battery department, you really have nothing to worry about with the 4600mAh battery in this one. You can use this tablet for a couple solid days before needing a charger — sadly because of the metal back you don't have Qi wireless charging available, though.
And how about cameras? Yes, there's a 5MP shooter on the back of the G Pad 8.3. And yes, it takes pictures — it even supports HDR. We found the image processing and shutter speed to be generally lacking for taking any pictures worth meaning. Better stick to the phone — or better yet, camera — in your pocket for those duties. As for the front-facing camera, it falls right in line with all others: generally poor.
When using a G Pad 8.3 Google Play edition, you're instantly going to draw comparisons to the Nexus 7. In many respects that's apt — the software is nearly identical, as are the screen sizes, buttons and basic proportions. And at some point, you have to ask the question, "what does the G Pad 8.3 GPe have that the Nexus 7 doesn't?" A larger display, metal back, SDcard slot and slightly better camera.
Alright then, does that justify a $120 premium for the same storage over a Nexus 7? That's a tough sell.
If you're okay with a physically smaller display, we'd venture to say that the Nexus 7 has a higher quality viewing experience, along with better speakers and simpler one-handed use. Stick to 16GB of storage and save $120, or bump up to 32GB of storage and add LTE and you'll hit the exact same price point, $349, as the G Pad 8.3 GPe.
In short, you're going to have to really want that LG hardware to justify spending the extra money on this tablet. But just because the Nexus 7 is a better value doesn't mean that the G Pad 8.3 GPe isn't a good value in itself. It's simply succumbing to the fate of a Google Play edition in the land of Nexuses.