When we reviewed the previous version of the LG Gram 17 a few months ago, its screen, battery life, and most of all its light weight impressed us, but it had significant physical design flaws that made it hard to recommend. LG has now fixed some of those problems in the latest version (model 17Z90N), with improvements to the keyboard and touchpad especially welcome. The new laptop is pricey at $1,849, but it offers some singular talents that few other 17-inch notebooks can match. The big one? Its astonishing under-3-pound weight.
The 3-pound mark is the gold standard for ultraportable laptops from the likes of Apple, Dell, and Asus. Plenty of other models from a half-dozen or more manufacturers meet this mark, too. What makes the LG Gram 17 so remarkable is that it weighs just 2.98 pounds with a much larger chassis and as much as four additional inches of screen real estate. Nearly all other ultraportables come with 13.3- or 14-inch displays.
Measurements confirm just how successful LG's weight-reduction regimen really is. The Gram 17 measures 0.7 by 15 by 10.3 inches, compared with 0.6 by 12.6 by 8.1 inches for the Dell Inspiron 14 7000 and 0.6 by 12 by 8.3 inches for the 13.3-inch Razer Blade Stealth. These laptops weigh 2.9 and 3.1 pounds, respectively—essentially the same as the much larger Gram 17.
Thanks to the Gram 17's mismatch between size and weight, it feels featherlight when I pick it up. As superlight as the LG is, it's not particularly sleek, however. In fact, the current design is essentially the same plain, dark-silver slab of magnesium-carbon alloy as the previous model. The laptop is also rather thick—we rarely see ultraportables above 0.65 inch thick—which doesn't help the aesthetic.
There are no other color options available, or in fact any configurations other than my test unit. It comes with a 10th Generation Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, and 1TB of solid-state storage. Oddly, the last is split between two 512GB solid-state drives, a configuration that will offer little advantage for most consumers. Still, the core components are in keeping with what we expect for an ultraportable priced above $1,500.
You can find cheaper laptops with the same core components, though, and the additional sum you're paying for the Gram 17 really comes down to one thing besides its weight: the 17-inch WQXA screen. Much of LG's reputation in the US comes from its high-quality TVs, so you'd expect the Gram 17 to have above-average display quality, and it does. The WQXA resolution measures 2,560 by 1,600 pixels, which puts it in between full HD (1,920 by 1,080) and 4K (3,840 by 2,160). Colors are brilliant, text appears razor-sharp, and the picture quality remains steady even when I view the screen from an angle.
The best part of the display, of course, is its size. A 17-inch display can accommodate two windows side by side in a way that's actually useful, such as being able to display the majority of a website or enough lines of a spreadsheet to prevent excessive scrolling. Using a pair of app windows side by side is technically possible on a 13- or 14-inch screen, but in my experience it's not terribly practical.
The Gram 17's display does lack a few qualities we look for in Windows laptops at this price. Most important, there's no touch or pen support, which removes not only the ability to occasionally write or draw on the screen but also a key part of interacting with onscreen elements in Windows 10. The display also lacks support for high dynamic range (HDR) color, which is now consistently available in content from major video-streaming sites like Amazon and Netflix.
One of our main beefs with the previous Gram 17 was its poorly designed keyboard. Some of the keys were narrowed from standard widths, most notably the oft-used Enter and Backspace keys. I found myself missing Enter and Backspace with frustrating frequency, hitting the minus key or the number 4 instead. The narrowing also affected the numeric keypad keys, which were 14mm wide versus 16mm for the main letter keys.
Some of these problems have been solved in the current version—the Enter, Backspace, and Shift keys have grown, though the number keys are still 14mm wide. LG even produced a handy visualization of the changes:
I'm going to give the company the benefit of the doubt here and assume that there were extenuating design circumstances that required the previous keys to be squished, but I sure feel sorry for owners of the previous version who decided that keyboard comfort was worth sacrificing at the altars of screen size and light weight. It turns out, if they could have waited for this new model, their sacrifice was unnecessary.
The Gram 17's touchpad is also improved. It no longer feels mushy, and the pad no longer wobbles or flexes when simply tracing your finger on it, in the way that it did with the previous version. It feels much more stable a platform.
On a large laptop, especially one this thick, there's a lot of room for input/output ports, and the Gram 17 boasts its fair share. There's a full-size HDMI output, three USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, a USB Type-C port, a headphone jack, and the connector for the power adapter. There's even a microSD card slot, a once-common feature that is rapidly disappearing in the age of cloud storage. Photographers will appreciate its inclusion on the Gram 17.
If you do live your digital life online, you'll appreciate that the Gram 17 offers the latest wireless connectivity options, including 802.11ax Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 6) as well as Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connections to peripherals.
The Gram 17's 1.5-watt stereo speakers and its HD webcam are adequate for quick Skype sessions. With the complete absence of bass, though, I wouldn't want to watch an action movie or listen to music on these speakers for prolonged periods. While the camera can't log you into Windows by recognizing your face, the power button has an integrated fingerprint reader that can enable one-touch logins.
To evaluate the Gram 17's performance, I compared its results on our benchmark tests with those of a few other large-screen laptops that are priced comparably. They include the Dell XPS 15, the HP Spectre x360 15, the 15-inch Lenovo Yoga C940, and the Intel-powered version of the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 3. You can see their specs in the table below.
Because many larger laptops—even those not intended for gaming—have discrete graphics chips, the Gram 17's Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics are at a disadvantage when it comes to graphics performance. However, the laptop's latest-generation Core i7-1065G7 should give it plenty of oomph for general computing tasks. Indeed, I experienced no slowdowns or sluggishness while installing and uninstalling apps, and web browsing was silky smooth even with lots of browser tabs open. I did notice the cooling fan spooling up in a quiet room while browsing the web, but when I took the Gram 17 into a busy office, the fan was inaudible.
The results of our PCMark productivity and storage benchmarks confirm my anecdotal experience, with the Gram 17 placing competitively amongst its peers. Anything above 4,000 on the PCMark 10 test is considered excellent performance, and nearly all PCs with SSDs perform roughly the same on the PCMark 8 storage test, which isolates the boot drive's contribution.
The Gram 17 did score at the lower end of the PCMark 10 results spread, however, a result that portends an even greater deficiency in demanding multimedia tasks like our Cinebench test, which stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image.
The Cinebench results clearly indicate that not all Intel Core i7 CPUs are created equal—the H-series chips in the Dell, HP, and Lenovo machines are far more capable and it's unsurprising that they delivered higher numbers in this multimedia benchmark. The difference between the Gram 17 and the Surface Laptop 3 (which have identical CPUs) was smaller, but still noticeable. It's likely that the heavier Microsoft notebook has more robust cooling equipment than the Gram 17 does, which could explain some of the difference here.
Cinebench is usually a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that's highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video to 1080p.
When it comes to editing photos, a task we approximate with our Adobe Photoshop benchmark, the Gram 17 was still the slowest, but by a smaller margin. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total.
The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
Our 3DMark and Superposition 3D graphics simulations made clear the superiority of the discrete graphics chips in the Spectre x360, XPS 13, and Yoga C940. Unlike these chips, with their own dedicated memory, the Iris Plus shares resources with the CPU. It's an efficient, modern chip that can easily handle simple games like Minecraft or Fortnite, but it can't compare to the Nvidia GeForce GTX-class graphics in competing large laptops.
It's therefore unsuprising that the Gram 17 finished significantly behind the HP, Dell, and Lenovo in both of our 3DMark tests, which render sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. The same pattern applies to the results of the Superposition benchmark, a test similar to 3DMark but rendered in the Unigine engine to offer a second opinion on the machine's graphical prowess.
That the Gram 17 also finished behind the Iris Plus-equipped Surface Laptop 3 is more surprising. As with Cinebench, I suspect that differing cooling abilities come into play here, since the graphics tests control for other variables like differences in screen resolution.
At 15 hours, the LG's battery life in our video rundown test was excellent. In this test, we loop a locally stored 720p video with screen brightness set at 50 percent, volume at 100 percent, and Wi-Fi turned off until the system quits. Ultraportable laptops should last a long time away from a power outlet, of course, and the Gram 17 isn't markedly longer-lived than its competitors. It's nevertheless impressive that it manages to eke out this showing.
The significantly improved LG Gram 17 offers the most compelling combination of screen size and light weight that we've seen from any laptop in recent memory. It does so with fewer compromises than its predecessor required—I especially appreciate the improved keyboard.
Still, the Gram 17 is really only appropriate for buyers who need to frequently travel with a big-screen laptop. There are many other, heavier laptops in its price range, such as the Spectre x360 15 and the XPS 15, that offer slightly smaller 15.6-inch displays but also a better mix of performance and features. They keep the Gram 17 from earning an Editors' Choice award, but they can't match LG's screen-size-to-weight ratio. If you know you need to go big and light, the Gram 17 is your best bet.
A few design improvements to the LG Gram 17 make the world's lightest 17-inch laptop an excellent choice for frequent travelers who need all the screen real estate they can get.
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