When LG announced the G Pad 8.3, I was really excited. Finally, another entry into the eight-inch tablet market! Couldn't wait to get my hands on it and really dig in. Sadly, throughout my use of the tablet, my excitement slowly dwindled – when I opened the box and saw the device itself, I was more eager than ever to turn it on, but as time went on, the user interface just killed the experience for me. If ever a device existed that just had too much "stuff," this might be the one.
What drives me crazy is that it has so much potential. The hardware is beautiful, and the internals are extremely capable of producing an outstanding experience. Still, LG feels the need to try and be Samsung at every turn – I'll just go ahead and say it: Optimus UI is nothing more than a ripoff of Touchwiz with a slightly more appealing interface. And that makes me sad. This device could be stellar if LG would just take a few steps back and cut the fluff. Just be yourself, LG.
But don't get me wrong, I don't hate this tablet. I don't even dislike it. I'm just indifferent about it, which is the main problem. In a world with dozens of good Android-powered tablets to choose from (and more coming out all the time), a device needs to leave a good impression, not a "take it or leave it" impression.
- Display: 8.3-inch 1920x1200 IPS
- Processor: 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600
- RAM: 2GB
- Storage: 16GB
- Cameras: 5MP Rear shooter, 1.3MP front-facing camera
- Ports: MicroSD, headphone jack, microUSB
- Wireless: 802.11 b/g/n
- Battery: 4,600mAh
- OS: Android 4.2.2
- Dimensions/Weight: 216.8 x 126.5 x 8.3mm; 338g
- Price: Retail – $350
- Buy: Best Buy – White, Black
- It's super light. For an eight-incher, it feels fantastically light. It's roughly 50 grams heavier than the 2013 Nexus 7, but the increased surface area makes it feel lighter.
- Great display. For an IPS panel, it looks really good. Everything is sharp and crisp.
- Feels solid and looks sleek. I really like the overall look of the G Pad 8.3, though the back is a fingerprint magnet. Sadface.
- It's the "perfect" size. Eight inches is where it's at when it comes to tablets.
- Dat UI. LG's Optimus UI is really kind of a mess. It takes Samsung's "kitchen sink" approach and runs with it, which can have some pretty ghastly consequences.
- Too much "eye candy." Look, not everything needs to flash, flutter, spin, twist, sparkle, flip, fade, or slide. Some things can just be simple and still be pretty – stock Android does a great job of showcasing this.
- The speakers are in a funky place. I, like most people, dislike rear-facing speakers. Not only are these facing the back, but they're also nudged off to one side when using in portrait, which is just annoying.
- Price – At $350, the G Pad is simply overpriced. I could see it doing much better at $300, but even then it's difficult to compete with the smaller, yet snappier Nexus 7.
Build Quality and Design
This is my first dance with an LG tablet. I've used LG phones (the Nexus 4 has been my main phone since release, though I'm not sure that can be considered a "true" LG phone), so I was interested to see how well the company can put out a large-screened device.
The build quality is outstanding – it's very well put together and feels extremely solid. The back of the unit is comprised of a thin piece of aluminum, which not only gives it a premium feel, but also looks great. The top and bottom pieces are plastic, though they don't feel necessarily out of place or look bad butted up against the aluminum backing – it all has a nice flow to it. The speakers are in an awkward place: up against the right side (when in portrait mode). This kind of makes sense when you use the device in landscape, but they're still on the back which is always a stupid place for speakers to be. I'm ready for this trend to die already – if they can't be on the front, then at least find a way to put them on the sides.
Speaking of the sides, the G Pad 8.3 is pretty much standard fare here: the microUSB port is on the bottom, volume rocker and power button are on the right side, and microSD card slot and 3.5mm headphone jack are found on the top. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary or remarkable here, though the SD card slot does have a nice little cover on it, allowing the hole to be flush with the rest of the edge. Overall the G Pad feels really nice and is a pleasure to hold.
The overall design of the G Pad is pretty basic – it's just a sleek slab of tablet. The edges are slightly rounded – much like the Nexus 7 – so it fits very comfortably in the palm of you hand. And while it's barely thinner than the 2013 N7, it feels substantially thinner when holding it. It also feels a tinge lighter, but that's probably because the weight is distributed across a larger surface – it's actually 48 grams heavier than the new Nexus 7.
Overall, I really like how the G Pad looks – it's sleek and sophisticated without "trying too hard." And that goes without saying that the 8.3-inch form factor is among my absolute favorites. 7.7-8.3 is just a sweet spot if you ask me. It's big enough to be held in one hand or fit it a pocket, but large enough to make consuming content and very enjoyable experience. Whereas seven inches feels a bit small and awkward in landscape but great in portrait, and 10+ inches is funky in portrait but works well in landscape, this form factor works well in both. It's the best of both worlds.
LG is super proud of the fact that the G Pad's display is the first FHD panel in an 8-inch device. That basically puts it at the top of the class for this size... or at least it did up until Apple announced the iPad Mini with Retina Display. That's irrelevant for anyone looking at Android tablets specifically though.
I'm not going to say that the G Pad's screen is the best I've ever seen, but it's pretty damn good. Colors are bright, viewing angles are excellent, and the 1920x1200 resolution looks great on an 8.3-inch display. Text is super sharp and crisp, so reading on the G Pad is a fantastic experience.
Of course, it also "suffers" from the usual IPS problems: blacks aren't true and colors aren't as vibrant as they could be. Basically, don't expect an AMOLED display and you'll like what the G Pad has to offer.
The primary downside of the G Pad's IPS panel is brightness – specifically, automatic brightness. It just doesn't work. It doesn't matter how much light is in the room (or how much is lacking), automatic brightness basically drops the panel down to about 10%, making it far too dim to be usable. Along those same lines, I found that even 30% (which is what I generally use on the 2013 Nexus 7) to be too dim in most situations. 50% was the sweet spot for me most of the time, but that was still too bright to use in bed at night. Basically, if you decide this is the tablet for you, be prepared to fiddle with the brightness slider fairly often, because "set it and forget it" really isn't an option here.
The G Pad's speakers aren't great, but they're not really "bad," either. The biggest issue with them is the absolutely stupid placement. They're on the back of the tablet, but are basically in landscape position. This means all the sound comes from one side when the device is used in portrait, which is what I would consider the primary mode of use for most people. But even when used in landscape, they're on the back, at the bottom, which is just an annoying place for speakers to be. I guess it's not all bad, because at least they're in a location where your hands shouldn't cover them when holding the tablet.
The G Pad's camera is pretty... not good. In low light (read: indoors) it's grainy and washed out, and outdoors isn't much better. The images aren't grainy, but it's basically underexposed across the board – washed out just sort of dull. It's been raining here for the last several days so the test images are sopping wet, but I think they still do a good job of showing what the G Pad's cam is capable of. But as always, this is a tablet camera so you probably won't be taking pictures with it that often anyway.
The G Pad comes with 16GB of built-in storage for apps and the like, but LG's massive interface takes up a decent-sized chunk of that. Right out of the box, only 11.04GB are available to the user, which I feel is below the threshold of what's really acceptable when it comes to tablet storage. Of course, it has a microSD card slot, but that only helps in the case of consumable files, like music, movies, books, etc. and does nothing for apps. Of course, if you use Google services for your entertainment – Play Movies, Music, Books, Magazines, etc. – then having an SD card still doesn't do any good, as all these apps default to internal storage with no way of specifying that downloaded content should be moved to the SD Card. That, paired with the fact that a movie can easily pass the 2GB mark (and just a few downloaded magazines can take up equally as much space) means the G Pad will reach its limit very easily. And if you like playing games like Asphalt 7/8 or Modern Combat 4, you can kiss another 2-5+GB goodbye, depending on how many high-quality games you install.
In a nutshell, 16GB is just not enough storage on a tablet if you plan on using it for many of the things it's designed for. I can't for the life of me figure out why manufacturers – especially those that use a heavily-optimized UI – don't seem to understand this.
I found the G Pad's battery life to basically be on par with the 2013 Nexus 7. It had to hit the charger about once every couple of days of "moderate" usage, which consisted of a couple hours of web browsing/reading/email/social networking, a few hours of streaming music over Bluetooth, and about an hour or so of gaming (Total Conquest, Dead Trigger 2). I had email sync on for one account, along with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram sync, as well. As long as you don't expect to leave the display on throughout your entire work/school day, then you should be able to get a full day from the G Pad's battery at the very least.
The G Pad's UI is basically a large version of the G2's. Like Samsung, LG feels the need to touch every part of the OS. There is very little stock about the G Pad, but of course it feels familiar enough to be intuitive for anyone who's used to using Android. Still, some of the modifications made here are borderline absurd (again, like Samsung); at the same time, there are others that I not only find useful, and actually kind of like.
Homescreen, Launcher, and Navigation
This is, of course, the meat and potatoes of the experience, as these are the first things you'll see when firing up the G Pad, and the tools you'll use to navigate throughout the OS. I actually want to start with the navigation bar, as it's customizable and something you'll set up during the initial boot. It also drives me insane.
LG decided that Google's stock navigation layout – back, home, recent apps – just wasn't good enough. The G Pad has eight different options for the home buttons, none of which include the stock layout. And all of which include a menu button. You know, the one that was basically made obsolete when on-screen buttons became a thing? Yeah, that one. Every single option forgoes the recent apps button for the menu. And it bothers the hell out of me. I hate it. But hey, you can customize it to not only include crap you'll likely never use (like the option to pull down the notification bar – really?), and change the color! Because that's really important.
Anyway, I'm getting overly cynical here. It just drives me batty that manufacturers feel the need to "improve" something that doesn't need to be improved. Google's stock method makes the most sense, is the most intuitive, and just works. That said, here's a list of all the options you have for on-screen keys:
- Back, home, menu
- Menu, home, back
- Back, home, menu, notification panel
- Notification panel, menu, home, back
- Back, home, menu, QuickMemo
- QuickMemo, menu, home, back
- Back, notification panel, home, QuickMemo, menu
- Menu, QuickMemo, home, notification panel, back
What a mess.
It also has four theme options: white, white gradation, black, and black gradation.
LG's launchermajig reminds me quite a bit of Samsung's (surprise!), in that it has basically the same look and feel. Of course, it's not difficult to draw the similarities between Optimus UI (are they still calling it that?) and TouchWiz (pretty sure Samsung isn't calling it that any more, but whatever) in the first place. It's intuitive enough and does the job without deviating too far from the "norm," and it actually has some nice touches inside the app tray, like the ability to re-sort or hide applications. There's also an option to show "large" icons, presumably for those with less-than-perfect eyesight.
The rightmost homescreen (shown in the third image above) is also a bit of an oddity – it's basically a help page that shows off some of the G Pad's features, like QPair, KnockON, QSlide, Slide Aside, QuickMemo (more on those shortly), and a couple of others. It's probably a good feature for those who just bought the tablet, so thankfully you can disable it after you've learned the ins and outs of the device. I couldn't seem to find a way to re-enable it once I deactivated it, however, so that's something to be aware of.
The lockscreen is basically a familiar place: just swipe anywhere on the screen, watch the pretty animation, and go on about your business. This can of course be changed to something more traditional or secure, like PIN lock, pattern, face unlock, or a password lock.
And then there's the notification area. It's a cluttered mess and things just aren't where they should be – like the link to the settings menu; no matter how much I use this tablet, I can't get used to the settings button being nested directly against the date instead of in the upper right corner, or (at the very least) at the end of the row. Of course, that's not all that's wrong with it. There's so much junk thrown into the menu here that it takes up nearly half of the display: quick settings, QSlide Apps, brightness slider, and sound slider. There's an option to disable QSlide, but that's about the extent of what you can turn off here. I guess that's a bit of saving grace, as QSlide arguably takes up the most space. Still, I want to be able to turn all of this crap off (or at least be able to move it to a dedicated Quick Settings screen, like in stock Android).
Another thing that's just annoying is the app picker: in Jelly Bean and above, you can double tap on an app in the picker to launch it "once" – for some reason, LG disabled this feature. It goes back to the old way where you have to select "just once" each time you only want to launch an app one time. The double tap action is so much easier... I have no idea why they took that out.
LG Apps and Tweaks
Naturally, LG added in a bunch of its own apps and tweaks to the system, so let's take a look at those, starting with the Q Apps and KnockON.
- KnockON – Just like on the G2, you can tap the display twice to turn it on or off, though the latter only works from the homescreen. It's just one of those gimmicky things that most people won't even use.
- QPair – This syncs with your phone over Wi-Fi and notifies you of calls and texts on the tablet. It works well, just make sure you update to the latest version using LG's Update Center utility to ensure it'll work with your phone.
- QSlide – This is LG's take on floating apps. There are a handful of options, including videos, web browser, calendar, email, memo, voice mate, file manager, and calculator. All the windows can be resized and the transparency is adjustable. They work well and are actually quite useful, though only two can be run at the same time.
- Slide Aside – A new take on multitasking. Let's say you need to cycle between several apps – you can use Slide Aside to move a few of them off the screen, then quickly bring them back with a three-finger sliding gesture. I guess it's cool, but I can't seem to figure out why this is better, more useful, or quicker than Google's stock option. Mostly because it's not. It's a gimmick.
- QuickMemo – This is basically a screenshot annotation tool. It takes a shot and lets you write or draw on it. I could see some value in this type of utility, but I found QuickMemo to be very underpowered compared to something like Evernote's Skitch, which essentially does the same thing. Only better.
- Voice Mate – LG's version of Google Now's voice controls. You can verbally give it commands and it will execute them. So, yes, another redundant feature.
Again, most of these are changes for the sake of making changes. A lot of this is either just gimmicky stuff or a less-good version of something that already exists. Save for the QSlide apps (which are actually useful), it's really hard to justify using any of these.
The G Pad is fast. For the most part, the Snapdragon 600 under the hood purred along nicely, but there were definitely some glitches here and there. For example, there's a slight stutter in Play Magazines when swiping through pages. It doesn't happen on every page, but every few swipes there's a visible sort of stutter that I haven't seen on other devices, like the 2013 Nexus 7.
Overall, the G Pad should be able to handle anything you throw at it, and handle it pretty well. Gaming is pretty great on the 8.3 inch screen, because it's large enough to easily see everything on the screen but small enough to deal with touch controls without things being awkward. I didn't notice much choppiness on the G Pad when playing things like Dead Trigger 2, but the default graphical setting is "low." Changing the setting to "high" definitely made the tablet work a little harder, and it showed. The framerate took a fairly significant hit when there were a lot of zombies and/or textures on the screen, which left the game in a barely-playable state. As long as the "low" setting was enabled, though, everything seemed fine.
For average, everyday tasks like web browsing, watching videos, reading, etc. the G Pad is fine, and navigating through the interface is snappy and fluid. I feel like that's more important than spectacular gameplay, because it's something that affects everyone. Dropped framerates in Dead Trigger 2 doesn't, because not everyone plays games.
If you are looking for a tablet to play games on, however, I'm not sure I'd readily recommend the G Pad – if it's already struggling to keep up with modern games, it's only going to get worse as newer, higher-quality games hit the scene.
Next to the N7
To me, the G Pad is an odd sort of device – it's a great size, looks good, and has decent performance, but yet it's still so hard to give it a full thumbs up. If you buy this tablet, you'll probably like it. If you're on the fence however, I'd recommend waiting to see what else is on the horizon in the eight-inch form factor (because, let's face it – if you're considering this device, the form factor is probably a huge part of the reason). HP's upcoming Tegra 4-powered Slate 8 Pro may be one of interest, though its 4:3 aspect ratio is definitely going to be a turn-off for many. And let's not forget all the rumors surrounding a potential Nexus 8, which will likely be the way to go if it turns out to be a real thing.
Here's the real issue with the LG G Pad: it's a good tablet, but it's not an original tablet. HTC has Sense, which has a very different look and feel than other custom UIs. Samsung has TouchWiz, which offers its own subset of unique features (and fair share of gimmicks, too). LG has... well, it kind of has TouchWiz, too. That's the thing – if you want TouchWiz, buy a Samsung device. Optimus UI is nothing more than a copy of what Samsung is already doing, albeit in a slightly more attractive package. And while the G Pad has some things going for it over the Note 8.0 (faster processor, higher resolution display), it's missing a lot of what makes the Note 8.0 good, like the S Pen and its suite of apps. And of course, if Samsung is working on a refresh of the 8.0, it'll pack the punch that many users who skipped the first gen (or those who are looking to upgrade) are looking for, so that may be something to hold out for. One thing that can be said for the G Pad over any Samsung tablet is the build quality, though – LG actually uses real materials, not some faux bullcrap made to look like something else.
All things considered, I can think of many, many other tablets that I'd take the G Pad over for a variety of reasons. But at the same time, I can think of almost as many that I'd choose instead – at $350, I'm not so sure that's a gamble anyone should take.