At $349, LG's first major foray into the Android tablet market (we'll forgive them for that 3D thing in 2011) is truly something to behold
In the years since its relatively quiet into the world of Android, LG has stuck to a strategy that’s relatively familiar in the mobile market: throw products against the wall and see which ones stick. Sound familiar? It’s an approach popularized by LG’s main competitor, Samsung, which has been churning out Galaxies of countless sizes over the past few years in the hope that it finally hits consumers’ sweet spots.
But where LG differs from Samsung is in its execution. Rather than flood the market with Optimii of various sizes and shapes, LG appears to have studied which products work, and which ones don't.
The most recent result of all this is the LG G Pad 8.3, a thrilling, near-perfect device that stands out even in an Android tablet market that has finally grown into its own skin. It’s a product of time, effort, and attention to detail that proves just how well LG’s strategy is paying off. This is the Galaxy Tab Samsung hasn't quite noticed consumers want.
Hardware: What's on the outside
Without a doubt (in my mind, at least), this is the most gorgeous Android tablet on the market today. Its body is an amalgam of black-or-silver plastic and metal that’s both lightweight and durable — this is a tablet that both looks and feels far more expensive than its $349 price tag reveals.
The top of the G Pad houses the tablet’s power button, headphone jack, IR blaster, and microSD slot, expandable to up to 64 gigabytes. The right side houses the pronounced power button and volume rocker, while the microUSB charging port lives on the bottom. The tablet’s rear is stunning brushed metal, accented with stereo speakers that are capable of full, rich and detailed sound even at high volumes, making videos and music a pleasure to ingest. Due to the speakers’ placement along the tablet’s right side, in portrait mode, you’ll want to be holding the G Pad with your left hand.
The G Pad’s 8.3-inch display is a wonder in both its quality and its portability — its 1920 x 1200 resolution IPS panel is as good as anything we’ve ever seen come out of LG’s labs, while its 8.3-inch size keeps the G Pad’s 126.5 mm-wide footprint relatively modest. The display packs vivid, crisp, and realistic colors, super-sharp detail, and superb viewing angles. In a word, it's stunning.
One interesting and potentially troubling note: I found the G Pad’s display to be less-than-responsive in cold temperatures. This is nothing new for mobile displays, but the G Pad’s issues appeared to be more pronounced than I’ve ever seen. I can’t give LG a free pass here, but it is likely that this was an isolated issue with my review unit. Otherwise, it’s very difficult to find much fault in this display.
What's on the inside
The G Pad 8.3's beauty is more than skin deep: its Snapdragon 600 processor, coupled with two full gigabytes of RAM, is an agile performer. You can spend a day sifting through benchmarks, which tend to place the G Pad’s performance slightly higher than the Nexus 7’s and the Galaxy Note 8’s, or you can simply spend a few hours using the device. It’s fast, it’s capable, and it’s powerful. This is one of smoothest experiences I have ever had on an Android tablet, period.
This is one of smoothest experiences I have ever had on an Android tablet, period.
Most important, and equally as impressive, is the G Pad’s battery life. What good is a tablet that can’t get you through an entire day? Luckily, the G Pad 4,600 mAh battery is a strong performer, juicing the G Pad through at least two full days of light-to-moderate usage. During my time with the G Pad it often accompanied me throughout the day: I read magazines on the subway, listened to music while at work, and even watched TV before bed, and I rarely, if ever, had to plug in before the 36-hour mark. You’ll want to tweak some settings, as I found that the display at full brightness seemed to be a power hog, but overall I was pleased with fantastic usage and standby times.
Love it or hate it, LG’s custom UI is now an integral part of the company’s identity. Layered atop Android 4.2.2 on the G Pad, it screams what LG has become at every turn. You can trace its evolution back to the Optimus G – it’s there where we first met the vivid colors, over-the-top animations, and nitty-gritty customization that have come to define it. You can also trace its evolution back through the various iterations of TouchWiz, but we won’t go there (right now.)
Most of what we loved (or hated) on LG’s flagship G2 has carried over here, including the incredibly useful QSlide multitasking capability, the trusty Quick Memo notepad, and Knock Knock, one of my all-time favorite Android features. For an in-depth look at LG's custom UI, check out our review of the G2 in both Verizon and AT&T flavors.
Despite what you may think of the UI overall, it’s hard to ignore how useful and refined LG’s custom apps can be.
Despite what you may think of the UI overall, it’s hard to ignore how useful and refined LG’s custom apps can be. Akin to that difference in development strategy between Samsung and LG, the company’s software is similar yet very different: while Samsung has jam packed its Galaxies with experimental, and often useless software, LG has included some truly useful goodies on its devices while leaving some room to breathe.
What’s great about this software is that it doesn’t feel unnaturally stuffed onto a larger device like the G Pad— rather, it’s taken on a whole new purpose and meaning. Things like Q Slide, Slide Aside, and Quick Memo benefit immensely from the expanded screen real estate, and LG’s take on Samsung’s Smart Stay, dubbed Smart Screen and Smart Video, are extremely handy while reading and watching movies, two things that the G Pad excels in. Even LG’s Quick Remote avoids turning the G Pad into a comically-oversized remote by seamlessly integrating the tablet into your home entertainment experience.
Most exciting, though, is LG’s QPair, an overdue piece of functionality that single handedly changes how an Android tablet integrates into your life. It uses Bluetooth to pair with your Android smartphone and syncs phone and message notifications, Quick Memos, and recently-used apps across both of your devices. This is something that app developers have been trying to do for ages, yet never could get quite as right as LG has.
It’s not perfect, though. Unfortunately, whereas the international G Pad can receive phone calls through QPair, here in the states it can only alert you of incoming calls. And though QPair supports Internet via phone, you’ll still need a mobile hotspot plan from your carrier. Despite QPair’s few shortcomings, I applaud LG for at least attempting to make this a standard feature on Android tablets — it’s about time tablets and smartphones act in sync.
LG has said it intends to release Q Pair as a standalone application so that it'll work with more smartphones — not just its own.
Also carried over from the G2 is LG’s superb camera software, offering dozens of shooting modes, manual settings and added functionalities. LG’s camera UI is reliably fun and easy to use, and on the G Pad it’s no different.
Unfortunately, the G Pad’s 5MP sensor can’t match the G2’s top-of-the-line optics, and therefore is unable to produce photos that match the G2’s quality. Whereas the G2 is capable of producing large, deep, richly-detailed photos, the G Pad’s shots are significantly less impressive. They’re often washed out, faded, and blurry due to the lack of OIS, though with the right manual setting applied, and in the right conditions you can still capture decent shots.
I’m all for ignoring a tablet’s camera, as after all, it’s probably the device’s least-functional component. But here, I expected more from LG: given the G Pad’s compact size and stunning viewfinder display, its optics could have benefited greatly from some TLC. That’s one of the disadvantages of creating a near-perfect device: the shortcomings, no matter how small and insignificant, tend to stand out more obviously.
LG quite simply has one of the best Android tablets available, with a price to match.
The G Pad represents not only how far LG has come over the past few years, but also how much Android tablets have grown. Two years ago LG was futzing with 3D cameras and displays; today, they’ve released the best Android tablet on the market. And that’s saying a lot in November 2013— the dark days of oversized, bogged down Android tablets are behind us, and we finally have a market filled with capable, gorgeous tablets. Android tablets are finally useful, supplementing your smartphone with a device large for books, magazines, movies and games, yet small enough to through in your bag, and the G Pad is the cream of the crop.
I’ve never met an Android tablet that’s more capable, more gorgeous, or more easy to use. Its lightweight and premium design is the ideal balance of size and portability, and that 8.3-inch display is as stunning as LG has spoiled us with in the past. The G Pad’s custom UI avoids feeling overwhelming, while its bevy of useful custom features make the G Pad more than just a toy.
I would have liked to see better optics make their way to the G Pad, as well as QPair’s most useful feature: the ability to receive calls. And I do feel that the device’s $349 is a bit steep, though it’s not necessarily unwarranted. Those few quibbles aside, I’m in love with LG’s G Pad 8.3.
A lot of Android manufacturers can call 2013 a good year, but for LG, 2013 was great. It finally found its stride, after years of stumbling and trying to find its way into the public eye. Today, the company is producing two of the best Android devices on the market. Will it become as financially successful as Samsung? Maybe not. But the biggest isn’t always the best., and cheers to LG for fighting the good fight.
- Beautiful design and build quality
- Lightweight and durable
- Perfect size and footprint
- Top-of-the-line display quality
- QPair adds a whole new purpose to the Android tablet
- The camera is still very much a tablet camera
- Some might be turned off by LG's custom UI, which is far from stock Android
- Lacks the ability to receive calls like the international model