Sunday, April 14, 2024

LG Gram Style review: a beautiful mess

At this point, I feel like people who want to buy an LG Gram know exactly what they’re getting. Grams are made to travel. They’re unbelievably light (they used to weigh a kilogram, or about 2.2 pounds, hence the moniker) and they have great battery life — and that’s most of what they are.

The LG Gram Style adds a new factor to that equation, and it’s right there in the name. When I first got eyes on the Gram Style at CES earlier this year, I predicted that it might be the prettiest laptop of 2023. Of the selection I’ve tested so far this year, that has held up. With the possible exception of the HP Spectre (which, to be fair, is a completely different vibe), there’s not a PC on the market that looks this cool. And while it’s not a cheap laptop, with a current list price of $1,699, it is affordable, as larger Grams go.

That doesn’t mean you should buy it — there is at least one unfortunate reason that you probably shouldn’t, which I’ll get into — but I am still slightly jealous of anyone who gets to carry it around.

The centerpiece of the Style’s unique aesthetic is one you don’t actually see when you’re using it: the lid. It’s coated in an iridescent finish that’s white when seen head-on but can appear anywhere from blue to orange to pink depending on the lighting and viewing angle. The effect isn’t flashy or obnoxious, though; a passerby wouldn’t necessarily know that they weren’t just looking at a pink-ish or orange-ish (sorry, I’m not great with colors) laptop.

It’s not just the lid that has this unique look — the palm rest does as well. In fact, the Gram Style takes after last year’s Dell XPS 13 Plus in that the bottom section of the keyboard deck is one continuous piece of glass with no delineated touchpad. There is a touchpad, of course, but you just kind of have to know where it is. Once you click it (or accidentally brush it with your palm, which I did approximately 3,000 times), some LEDs pop up for a couple of seconds to outline its left and right boundaries. If LG can put a backlit keyboard on the Gram, I’m not sure why it can’t have these pretty light strips be a permanent thing, but anyway.

Don’t see the touchpad? Look closer.

In true Gram fashion, the Style is also quite light. At 2.76 pounds (so, technically, more than a kilogram), it’s lighter than quite a few 13-inch ultrabooks and noticeably lighter than the 15-inch MacBook Air. It’s downright impressive for a 16-inch laptop. You will find some thinner and lighter options out there (many of which will be other Gram models), but this is close to as light as you can get for the category. Needless to say, I loved carrying it around and had no problem doing so with one arm and other things piled on top.

Audio is surprisingly decent

The build, in turn, is a bit flimsier than you typically get at this price. There’s a bit of flex in the keyboard deck and screen. The bezels are also quite visibly plastic, which I really don’t love to see in the year 2023. This is another standard LG Gram thing; these chassis often aren’t the sturdiest, and that’s a big way they shave weight.

The webcam is 1080p, and it’s fine.

Other things I like about the Gram’s chassis:

  • Audio is surprisingly good for such a thin laptop, with a nice surround quality. I have been obsessed with Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” recently, and these speakers convey the breathy qualities of her voice very well.
  • The display is a 16:10 3200 x 2000 pixel 120Hz OLED, and it’s stupendous. The details it presents are quite sharp. Brightness is more than adequate. There’s some glare, but nothing concerning. I love the deep blacks, as is always the case with OLEDs.
  • Port selection includes two USB-C (one is used for charging), one headphone jack, one USB-A, and one microSD. This is a bit sparse for a 16-inch laptop, but beggars can’t be choosers in today’s thin-and-light space.
  • I love Gram keyboards, this one included. There’s so much travel and such a firm click that typing on it feels more like typing on my mechanical keyboard than it does on other laptops.

Even when I was just using a few Chrome tabs, the keyboard was consistently toasty

There is one thing we need to have a serious discussion about. It’s the touchpad.

I know that it is possible to do a haptic touchpad well because Apple’s been doing it for literal years now. But I keep coming across these truly terrible ones being attempted in the Windows space, and unfortunately, the Style’s invisible one is no exception. It’s just not good. It doesn’t reject palms well and lights up if my hand so much as brushes it while I’m typing. The click requires a lot of force. Even when I was hitting pretty hard, I would estimate that my attempts to click didn’t go through roughly 40 percent of the time. This is especially true if you’re using the device on a non-flat surface; the thing went haywire when I tried to use it on my lap, registering false clicks and missing real ones. The invisible touchpad on Dell’s XPS 13 Plus was bad, but not this bad.

This is something I hope LG can improve in the future, but for the moment, it’s a nonstarter for this computer.

The USB-A port has one of those little trapdoors on the bottom.

The Style is powered by a 12-core Core i7-1360P. (Our model also had 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage.) That should theoretically be quite fast, but it’s clear that it’s facing some cooling issues in this thin body. Even when I was just using a few Chrome tabs, the keyboard was consistently toasty. During heavier work in Premiere Pro, the CPU was often venturing into the mid-90s (Celsius).

The Style’s performance when used on its own for office work was completely fine. But when I hooked it up to an external monitor and was running around 10 Chrome tabs, I could tell the thing was chugging. I heard on-and-off fans and coil whine. Performance lagged a bit as well to a degree that wasn’t disruptive but was noticeable.

The Style scored a 184 on PugetBench for Premiere Pro and completed our export test in seven minutes, 29 seconds. While this isn’t a video editing-focused laptop, those aren’t phenomenal scores even among the ultraportable category.

For game results, I saw 26fps from Shadow of the Tomb Raider, 11fps from Horizon Zero Dawn, and 12fps from Red Dead Redemption 2 (all at their highest graphic preset and 1920 x 1200 resolution). Those are basically the same scores that we saw from the Gram 17 with the 12th Gen version of this processor. Needless to say, this isn’t your ideal purchase for AAA gaming or really any kind of processor-intensive work.

Our photographer, Amelia, said this device was a lot of fun to shoot.

Here’s the other side of the coin: battery life was great. I know other reviewers have complained about the Style’s battery life, but my unit did a commendable job. I consistently got over eight hours out of one charge (with the screen at half brightness and the Battery Saver setting on). This is one of the best battery lifespans I’ve seen from a P-series machine (when it comes to my workload, specifically), and I’d love to see more Windows ultraportables hit this eight-hour mark.

Nevertheless, I must mention that the Gram has a large 80Wh battery inside, which makes that figure a bit less impressive. I have been banging this drum for ages now, but I will repeat it for those in the back: putting a P-series chip in a laptop and cutting back its performance to a ridiculous degree in order to eke out usable battery life makes no sense, and I don’t know why companies won’t just use U-series processors for these low-wattage / long battery life situations.

The LG Gram Style is both an interesting experiment and a hilariously impractical buy. I have to commend LG for the creativity that’s gone into designing this device, and it has a combination of truly phenomenal features. The screen, the audio, the keyboard, and the overall chassis (unfortunate bezels aside) are all among the best I’ve tested this year.

The touchpad, unfortunately, keeps me from being able to enthusiastically recommend it, even to those who don’t mind the lower-powered processor. It’s one factor, but it’s the primary way that many people will access the rest of this laptop’s capabilities, and while it looks really neat, it’s just not fun to use right now. As much as it pains me to say, I think most people will have a better experience with a regular old Gram.


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