For our first hardware review, we were granted time with the G Pad 8.3 by LG Electronics. With all the many Android devices out there, can LG rise above its competitors? How does it stand up to daily use and is it the tablet for you? Read on to find out!
What Is It?
LG Electronics last made a tablet in 2011 named the Optimus. It was well built, but far too expensive for its own good. In the time since, the Korean manufacture has been watching the field carefully, seeing what people want in a device and putting it all into a single package. Giving it the almost-too-long name LG G Pad 8.3, they hope it strikes a sweet spot for consumers and helps relaunch the brand’s handheld devices back into the spotlight.
The G Pad’s design falls right in line with the rest of LG’s G-Series devices including the G2 and G Flex smartphones. Unlike the phones, however, this device does not have the single button on the back cover opting instead to use the standard button layout on the sides. The right side houses the power button and volume rocker, both plastic but with a good amount of resistance and easy to find in the dark. The bottom edge houses the microphone and USB 2.0 (SlimPort) interface. The left side is blank while on top you will find the IR Blaster, microSD slot, and headphone jack. The back has two speakers on the left hand side (that is obviously meant to be “down” when using it in landscape mode) and rear camera while the front has simply the light sensor and front camera.
The tablet is available in both white and black with plastic surrounding a glass top and aluminum back plate. While the use of plastic might be bad on some devices (notably, the cheap plastic Samsung tends to use) its use here was actually very nice, with well sculpted curves fitting my hands quite comfortably. The use of aluminum on the back panel gave it a good feel of rigidity and quality, while not cutting into my hands like some full metal tablets do.
The first thing that strikes you about the device is just how nice it looks. While design isn’t the end-all for electronics, it can sure make a difference! The use of materials and their shape make the tablet a real joy to hold and use, while its balance of screen size to bezel means that the unit isn’t so large overall as to make it a pain to carry or store. At 8.3 inches, the screen offers more usable space than the common 7 inch tablets while simultaneously being far easier to handle than the 9 or 10 inch varieties.
Also awesome, in case you missed it above, is the inclusion of a microSD card slot on top. Capable of holding up to 64GB, LG gives us what we want most; expandable storage! In addition to the extra storage for all your stuff, LG tried to lighten the load by providing many apps out of the box. Normally, bloatware (the software that comes with many devices and often times cannot be removed) is bad, but in this case it is very welcome. LG’s “Knock On/Off” feature makes an appearance, as well as their Q-Apps; LG’s own collection of tools and handy apps that can run “windowed” or separately on the screen together.
The G Pad’s battery is listed 4600 mAh which sounds nice and big. In truth, it IS nice and big. While your mileage may vary*, I found I was able to leave the tablet on for days before worrying about a charge. To stress test it, I ran a HD rip of Serenity (9GB MKV) on loop with Bluetooth and WiFi on, screen brightness at 85% and volume turned up. I feel this is a typical load for the average media consumer and the battery clocked in at 5 hours 30 minutes before needing a refill. People who read more will find they get more battery life, while gamers will chew through the battery much faster.
The down side of having such a large battery is that it takes a long time to charge. This isn’t unique to the G Pad, and should be taken into consideration when looking at any tablet with a large battery. While the screen resisted any damage, it was a fingerprint magnet which often makes it look more cheaply made than it actually is. At some points the smudges on the screen were so bad, I actually thought I had somehow damaged the screen itself. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but it is still worth noting.
Design-wise, LG did many things right with this unit (including not plastering the LG logo on every surface, I’M LOOKING AT YOU SAMSUNG AND HTC). One area that I really wish they could have done better, however, is with the speaker placement. While sound quality was decent (these are just tablet speakers, after all) much of the sound seemed wasted since the sound was just firing out the back. I realize this is a common issue with laptops and tablets alike, but there must be a better way to position speakers on these devices that allow the actual user to receive the actual sound!
The final gripe would have to be with LG’s bundled “Quick Remote” app that makes use of the included IR Blaster to turn your tablet into the world’s largest remote control. While an excellent idea, the app is simply too lacking to be of any use. As of this writing, you can only set up televisions and cable boxes and nothing else. Media Centers, Roku’s, game consoles, and everything else are left entirely off the list. As if that weren’t enough, the list of available manufactures is downright anemic. With the right level of support and features this could have been a highlight of the device.
For reasons that I can only assume revolve around the cost of manufacturing, LG decided not to put a newer CPU into the G Pad and instead gave it the older Snapdragon 600. The quad-core CPU is clocked at 1.7GHz and does its very best to make things work, but there are things in LG’s own firmware that just seem to be intended for faster hardware. Even the usually enjoyable “Knock On/Off” feature seems to miss the mark most the time and you can’t help but feel that you’re moving faster than the tablet. This is most noticeable with the screen rotation as the home and lock screens seem to always be a few seconds behind you.
That being said, when it came down to actually using the tablet itself things were much better. Games ran very smoothly on it and apps worked without issues. I was even able to stream recorded TV shows from my Windows Media Center to it perfectly. That means it was accessing, streaming, and transcoding the WTV file on the fly and scrubbing forwards and backwards through commercials with no problems whatsoever.
To test the system, we ran it and a handful of others through Basemark’s OS II Free benchmark utility. While this may not be the most popular out there, we find it useful as it gives us a consistent result across Androids, iOS, and Windows Phone. Tests are run multiple times on each device and an average is taken of the results.
It should be noted that while three smartphones beat the G Pad, this is due to each of them sporting the newer Snapdragon 800 CPU. The 2013 Nexus 7, the direct competitor to the G Pad, was slower.
While it was a pain for me, I hesitate to blame an issue with the WiFi on the G Pad. As previously mentioned, this device was granted to us for some time by LG and was a reviewer’s unit that has been sent around to other site’s and publications before getting to us. There are a couple scuffs where it seems other reviewers may have had a rough time with it, and the packaging isn’t pristine. During my three weeks using this device, day in and day out, I was repeatedly having to enter passcodes for wireless networks. These would be networks I had been on the day before or even earlier in the same day, but it had seemingly forgotten the password. This happened on four separate networks, each with a different router or access point. I don’t believe LG would make a device with this sort of flaw, and indeed my wife’s own G2 has no issues with WiFi at all, so this should not happen to you.
Next to CPU performance, people always want to know about the screen on a tablet and that’s where things become less clear (no pun intended). The G Pad features an IPS display with a 1920 x 1200 resolution, clocking in at around 273 ppi. Brightness seemed very good to me and the contrast really made colors look gorgeous when watching videos or looking at photos. However, when compared to a Nexus 7 you’d think that LG had installed a display from the last decade.
It should be noted that in this photo, both tablets have the same app open (Kindle) with the same settings and brightness turned all the way up. I don’t know what is done differently on the Nexus 7’s screen to make it so bright and easy to read in the sun, but it’s noticeable even when you’re in normal lighting.
You may notice I didn’t mention the cameras on the G Pad and that’s because while they were quite usable (I was able to both take pictures and have video calls), I am still of the opinion that if you are looking at tablets for their camera quality then you are looking at the wrong devices.
When all is said and done, is the G Pad a good device? You bet, and I’m really going to miss it now that I have to send it back. Is it the best device for you? Well, that’s a harder question. Priced at $349.99 (a whole $100 more than the Nexus 7), it might seem like you should save your money and go for the more affordable option. However, the G Pad does have the larger screen and the expandable memory that no other tablet in its class can boast.
It is worth noting that there are current rumors of an LTE version of the G Pad about to hit Verizon. When I asked my LG rep about this and if it would have a larger battery or newer CPU, he simply responded “We do not respond to rumor or speculation”.
For me, the LG G Pad 8.3 is the right size with the right features. Perhaps a new refresh will come along and bring the CPU up to spec and brighten up the screen some more. If you happen to see one on sale or are looking for a go-to tablet for general use, the G Pad comes highly recommended!