When LG unveiled a 2.2 pound notebook with a 15.6 inch display a few years ago, I was intrigued. It’s been years since I paid much attention to notebooks with screens larger than 13.3 inches, but LG managed to create a large-screened laptop that’s surprisingly portable thanks to light-weight materials, slim screen bezels, and a few other unusual features.
I’ve been hoping to get my hands on one for a while, in order to see if it’s actually a good replacement for a smaller laptop.
This year’s LG gram lineup includes models with 13.3 inch, 14 inch, and 15.6 inch displays that weigh about 2.1 pounds, 2.2 pounds, and 2.4 pounds, respectively. They all feature 8th-gen Intel Core processors, carbon magnesium alloy bodies that are MIL-SD 810G tested for durability, 72 Whr batteries, and full HD displays.
Prices range from around $900 to $2000 at the moment.
While I usually gravitate toward the smaller notebooks, when LG offered to send me a 15.6 inch model to review, I jumped at the chance. And after testing it for the past week, I’m pretty impressed with the LG gram 15Z980.
There’s an awful lot to like about this laptop. It offers up to 10 hours of battery life in real-world conditions, has a 15 watt 8th-gen Intel Core processor that’s about as fast as any I’ve tested, and it has a bigger screen than I’m used to using on a laptop… while weighing less than the lightest 13.3 inch notebook I’ve ever owned (the Samsung Series 9, which I reviewed in 2012).
Despite its large display, the LG gram 15Z980 is a notebook small enough to stuff into a bag and carry with you wherever you go.
You’ll probably want to get a protective case to protect your investment though: the LG gram isn’t cheap. The configuration LG sent me to review has a list price of $2000, although I’ve seen some cheaper 15.6 inch models selling for as little as $1050.
But it just might be worth the price if portability is at the top of your must-have list. Just keep in mind that you won’t get some other premium features such as discrete graphics or a 4K display.
Let’s get some basic features out of the way here. Note that these specs are for the top-of-the-line LG gram 15Z980, but there are lower-priced configurations with Core i5 processor options and/or less memory and storage.
- 15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel IPS LCD touchscreen display
- Intel Core i7-8550U quad-core processor with Intel UHD 620 graphics
- 16GB DDR4-2400 MHz RAM (2 x 8GB SODIMMs)
- 1TB SSD storage (2 x 512GB M.2 SATA)
- 802.11ac WiFi
- Bluetooth 4.1
- Stereo speakers
- 3 x USB 3.0 ports
- 1 x Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C port
- microSD card slot
- Headset jack
- Backlit keyboard
- 720p webcam
- Fingerprint sensor
- 72 Whr battery
The LG gram 15Z980 measures 14.1″ x 9″ x 0.7″ and weighs 1095 grams, or about 2.4 pounds.
That makes this laptop so light that you might find yourself double-checking to see if you really put it in your bag before leaving the house. Thanks to reasonably long battery life, you can also probably leave the charger at home for most short outings, which will make your bag a bit lighter still.
Most of the weight is in the keyboard section, so it’s easy to open the laptop with a single finger. And once you do that you’ll get a good look at the 15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel IPS touchscreen display and the slim bezels that surround it.
The large display gives you plenty of screen real estate for viewing multiple apps or windows at once. And unlike smaller laptops with 1080p displays, I never found myself squinting or adjusting Windows 10’s DPI settings in order to make text or graphics appear larger.
And the slim bezels mean that this notebook feels more like a typical 14 inch laptop than one with a screen this large.
The screen is glossy, and the LG gram’s display doesn’t get quite as bright as some other notebook screens, which means you might see some glare if using the laptop outdoors or near a bright light source.
It also has a touch panel, but the glass is recessed a bit from the bezel, rather than going from edge to edge. That means edge-swiping gestures can feel a little funny, since your finger sort of starts at the bezel and then falls a bit to get to the screen. And the display wobbles a bit when you touch it.
Overall, it’s probably best to think of the touchscreen as a bonus feature on this clamshell laptop rather than as something you’re going to use all the time… because if you plan to use touch as a primary means of input, the wobble will probably get annoying quickly.
LG has been making gram notebooks for a few years, but one small change for the 2018 model is the webcam placement: it’s above the display instead of below it (where you’ll see an LG logo instead). That means you can snap pictures, shoot videos, or make video calls from a comfortable angle rather than with the camera pointed up your nose.
The 720p webcam doesn’t have particularly good image quality, but the position is certainly an improvement… and something that helps set LG’s thin-and-light laptops apart from Dell’s XPS 13 and XPS 15 machines, which still have below-the-screen webcams.
LG also put a 3-microphone array in the top bezel, next to the camera.
Another new feature on the 2018 models is fingerprint sensor that’s built into the power button. Located in the upper right portion of the keyboard, the power button also has a status light in the corner.
Press the button once and it will turn on the computer. If you set up Windows Hello for fingerprint recognition, you can also just tap your finger against the button briefly to sign in at the Windows login screen.
I really like this implementation, which speeds up the process of turning on the PC without requiring you to look at the screen (or deal with rapidly blinking lights) the way Windows Hello facial recognition works on some screens. And by putting the fingerprint sensor in the power button, your finger is already where it needs to be once you press the button to turn on the computer.
Despite its relatively compact size, this is a 15.6 inch laptop… which means that LG had a little extra space to play with in the keyboard area. So the company squeezed in a numeric keypad. It’s… an interesting decision.
On the one hand, I find numeric keypads to be welcome additions to any full-sized keyboard. On the other hand, it seems like LG might have shrunk a few keys to fit the keypad. A few keys are a little smaller than I’m used to, including the Enter, backspace, backslash, and tilde keys.
All of the numeric keypad buttons are also a little on the narrow side, which means it can take a little while to get used to entering numerals or using the arrow key functions of the keypad. Still, it could be a nice bonus feature for folks that do a lot of data entry, gaming or other tasks that benefit from this sort of layout.
Because of the number keys on the right side of the keyboard, the QWERTY section felt a little off-center to me when I started using the LG gram. For the first day or two I found myself hitting the wrong key from time to time because I felt like my hands should be a little further to the right. But by day three, I had no problems typing at full speed on this keyboard.
The LG gram has a backlit keyboard with three different brightness levels: off, low, and high. You can toggle the different modes by hitting the Fn+F8 key combination, and LG helpfully shows an on-screen indicator to let you know what’s happening.
Other keyboard shortcuts include Fn+F2/F3 for brigthenss, Fn+F10/F11/F12 for audio, Fn+F5 to disable the touchpad, and Fn+F9 to enable “reader mode,” which is basically a blue light filter for reading at night time, before bed.
Pressing Fn+ F1 also brings up a helpful LG Control Center utility And I actually mean helpful. Unlike typical PC bloatware, this menu offers quick access to the laptop’s special features like the aforementioned Silent Mode and options to enable or disable the touchscreen, touchpad, and other features.
You can also flip the functions of the F1 – F12 keys (so that you don’t need to hold the Fn key simultaneously to trigger those special functions).
The computer’s touchpad is centered, which makes it easy to reach down and swipe, tap, or click. Like most modern laptops, the LG gram’s touchpad supports multitouch gestures and edge swiping features and it works pretty well, although I’m still a mouse guy at heart, so I spent most of my time using the laptop with a wireless mouse.
The LG gram has a metal alloy chassis which can seem a little plastic-like compared to notebooks with aluminum bodies. But LG chose a nano carbon and magnesium alloy in order to keep the laptop lightweight, but durable.
The company says the notebook meets MIL-STD 810G standards for durability and can withstand drops, shock, and in some situations, even dust or fog.
I did notice a small scratch appear on the lid of the laptop after less than a week of use though. Like I said, get a padded carrying case if you plan to throw this thing in a bag.
That said, there is a little flex in the case which can make it feel cheap. Push down on the keyboard or palm rest, and the laptop gives a bit. The same goes for the lid/display, which has a matte gray finish and the gram logo.
When the lid is closed, the LG gram is surprisingly comfortable to pick up and hold in one hand, thanks to its light weight.
It also looks a little slimmer than it really is, thanks to a sort of curved design that makes the front edges of the laptop thinner than the back edges… but which leaves the laptop almost as thick at the front as it is at the back.
On the right side of the notebook you’ll find two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, a headset jack, and a microSD card slot. A full-sized SD card reader would have been nice: I can’t just pop out the card from my digital camera and insert it in this laptop.
On the left side there’s an HDMI port, another USB 3.0 Type-A port, a power jack, and a Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C port, along with a charging indicator light.
While there’s no dedicated Ethernet jack, LG does include a USB Type-C to Ethernet adapter in the box.
Turn the laptop over and you’ll see the stereo 1.5 watt speakers on the left and right sides, near the front. They’re reasonably loud, but lacking in bass.
There are no other visible vents on the bottom of the LG gram, but there’s a vent in the back that blows out air in order to keep the notebook cool.
The laptop may not be fanless, but it is surprisingly quiet during normal operation, and there’s an option to run in “silent” mode if you want to sacrifice some performance by keeping the fan off. You can find more details about silent operation in the Performance section below.
While there are no visible screws on the bottom of the laptop, you should be able to open up the chassis by removing the rubber feet to reveal the screws that need to be taken out to open up the case.
Unlike most thin-and-light laptops, the LG gram Z980 series has dual M.2 SATA SSD slots. The model featured in this review already has 1TB of storage thanks to dual 512GB SSDs, but if you buy a model with just one SSD it’s nice to know that it’s easy to upgrade your storage without removing the drive that comes with your PC.
OK, so the LG Gram 15Z980 has a compact and ridiculously lightweight design, but surely LG had to make sacrifices in performance and battery life to get there, right?
Yes and no.
On the one hand, this is a laptop that sells for up to $2000. In that price range you can find plenty of other notebooks that have Intel’s higher-power Kaby Lake-H quad-core or Coffee Lake-H hexa-core processors, and/or discrete graphics from AMD or NVIDIA. But good luck finding a notebook with any of those things that weighs as little as 2.4 pounds.
But if you’re not looking for a gaming laptop or a high-performance mobile workstation, the LG gram is plenty fast. In terms of benchmarks, it’s pretty competitive with the Razer Blade Stealth (2018) and Dell XPS 13 (2018), two other laptops I’ve reviewed recently that have 15 watt, quad-core, 8th-gen Intel Core processors.
It transcoded videos just about as quickly using Handbrake or Virtualdub, created a ZIP archive containing 2,186 files faster than almost every other computer I’ve tested to date (the Razer Blade Stealth was 2 seconds faster though), and achieved one of the best PCMark scores of any laptop I’ve tested.
As I mentioned above, LG also offers a Silent Mode that slows down the system a bit in order to silence the computer’s fan. The PC does take a small performance hit in this mode, but the PCMark score only dropped from 3506 to 3334, which wasn’t as big a decline as I would have expected.
Even in silent mode, the computer was relatively competitive with its peers.
And if you don’t want to sacrifice the performance, you might want to try leaving Silent Mode off. The LG gram is one of the quietest laptops I’ve used in a while, even without taking any special steps to silence the fan.
In terms of graphics performance, this isn’t a gaming machine, but it should be able to handle 4K video without any problems. In fact, you can hook up dual 4K displays with a Thunderbolt 3 dock or adapter, or a single 5K display.
The laptop also achieved respectable scores in 3DMark, suggesting that while it won’t be suitable for hardcore gaming, you should have no problems playing older games, or some newer titles with graphics options set to low or medium.
One area where the Dell and Razer laptops come out way ahead is in tests involving disk read/write speeds, because both of those laptops have PCIe NVMe storage. The LG Gram does not.
While its SSD offers faster read and write speeds than you’d get with a traditional hard drive, the Dell and Razer laptops offer sequential read speeds up to 6 times higher than you get with the LG gram, and sequential write speeds that are more than 3 times higher.
One key difference is that both of those laptops have PCIe NVMe storage, while the LG gram does not. So the Dell and Razer laptops score much higher in tests involving disk read/write speeds
Every member of the LG gram 2018 lineup comes with a 72 Whr battery, regardless of screen size. That’s up from the 60 Whr battery that shipped with last year’s models.
LG says the upgrade brings 25 percent longer battery life for up to 16.5 hours of battery life for a model like the one featured in this review, (or longer for some other configurations). But that’s a best-case scenario.
In my tests, I was able to get between 7 and 10 hours of run time from the LG Gram 15 when using the laptop for work. That involves connecting to the internet over WiFi and using the Chrome web browser to research and write articles all day, often with a dozen or more browser tabs open at once.
During that 7-10 hour span, I also watched a few online videos, editing some images using GIMP or Irfanview, and occasionally streamed music.
Your results may vary depending on your choice of tools for work and play. Microsoft claims you’ll get longer battery life if you use the Edge web browser instead of Chrome, for example, but I can’t quite bring myself to do that full-time.
Overall, the LG gram was a pretty reliable workhorse when I used it for hours at a time around the house or in coffee shops, helping me feel productive even when I was away from the 22 inch monitor I typically use when working from home. There’s something nice about having a full HD display that you don’t have to squint to see, and battery life that’s long enough so that you don’t have to worry the laptop is going to die halfway through a work session.
The LG gram ships with Windows 10 software, but it’s easy to get a different operating system up and running.
When you turn on the computer, you can hit the F10 button when you see the splash screen with the LG logo to bring up a boot menu that will allow you to boot from a USB flash drive, DVD drive, or other external media.
Or you can hit the F2 button to go into the UEFI/BIOS setup to adjust system settings. The computer supports enabling or disabling secure boot and legacy USB features, among other things.
I decided to take an Ubuntu 18.04 liveUSB for a test drive, and everything seemed to work perfectly out of the box.
I loaded the operating system on a USB flash drive using Rufus, plugged it into the computer, and then chose the flash drive from the boot menu upon startup.
It took just a moment to load the Ubuntu desktop so I could start kicking the tires. I had no problem connecting to a WiFi network, and Bluetooth connections were also recognized.
Audio and video playback seemed fine. The touchscreen was recognized, and tapping text input boxes on the screen brought up an on-screen virtual keyboard.
Keyboard shortcuts worked as expected, allowing me to adjust the screen brightness, volume, and even keyboard backlight levels.
Since I didn’t install Ubuntu to the laptop’s SSD, I can’t say anything about its impact on battery life. But as far as I can tell, sleep and resume are at least partially supported. Closing the laptop lid put the system to sleep. And when I lifted the lid again it took a moment for the screen to turn back on and for the computer to reconnect to WiFi.
The LG gram 15Z980 is a thin, light, and relatively speedy laptop that offers reasonably long battery life. It’s a great option for anyone who craves the portability of small ultrabook, but wants a bigger screen than you typically get on laptops that weigh less than 3 pounds.
But it’s also an expensive notebook, so you have to acknowledge that you’re paying a premium for portability rather than performance. LG doesn’t offer discrete graphics, a super-bright display, or 3K or 4K display options. What the company does offer is a laptop that’s very good at what it does… but which may not do quite as much as some other machines in the same price range.
I’m not as worried as some reviewers about the fact that the carbon magnesium alloy chassis has a bit of give to it. In fact, I didn’t even notice until I read some other reviews and decided to try flexing the chassis myself. Just because it has a little give to it doesn’t mean it’s prone to breaking. In fact, that opposite may be true. But if you’re the sort of person who prefers a laptop feel solid, this may not be the best option.
Overall, if I were in the market for a new laptop today, I’d definitely put the LG gram near the top of my list… but probably not the configuration featured in this review.
$2000 is a bit out of my price range, but LG offers several configurations, some of which are more affordable than others:
- Core i5-8250U/8GB/256GB for $1250
- Core i7-8550U/8GB/256GB for $1550
- Core i7/8550U/16GB/1TB for $2000
I should note that only the most expensive model has a Thunderbolt 3 port, and the cheapest configuration has no touchscreen or fingerprint sensor. For the right price, I could probably live without all of those features. I mean, I’d certainly miss them… but on the bright side, LG says the non-touchscreen model gets up to 2.5 hours more battery life than the more expensive configurations.
And then there are the smaller, cheaper LG gram laptops.
The 13.3 inch LG gram 13Z980 weighs 2.1 pounds and measures 0.6 inches thick, while the 14 inch LG gram 14Z980 is 0.6 inches thick and 2.2 pounds.
List prices start at around $1100 for the smallest model and $1150 for the 14 inch model, although they are also missing some features such as options for up to 1TB of storage or Thunderbolt 3 ports.
There’s something kind of magical about a 15.6 inch laptop that weighs just 2.4 pounds. But the other models feature similar design and specs at lower prices, which might make them worth considering if you’re looking for an ultraportable computer and don’t need a large display.
LG 15Z980 Configuration featured in this review
Entry-level LG gram 15Z980