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LG Gram 17 review: as ultra-portable as 17 inches can get

It performs like an Ultrabook, but this much screen is a dream

Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales

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Best Laptops 2020: LG Gram 17.

The LG Gram 17, like the company’s other super-lightweight Gram laptops, messes with your mind. It’s got a 17-inch screen, yet at 2.95 pounds weighs less than many 15-inch laptops and nearly the same as some 13-inch models. Having recently reviewed the airy Acer Swift 5, I find the Gram’s efficiency even more impressive — but it’s also far more expensive. The only configuration that LG offers is $1,699.99, which nets you an 8th Gen Core i7 chip, 512GB of storage, and 16GB of RAM. Instead of offering multiple SKUs, LG apparently decided on one size that should fit most (who can afford it). Right now, the laptop is discounted a bit to $1,549.99. 

The main question to answer for yourself is whether you can settle with a smaller laptop screen. If you can, there are better options for the same money. But if not, there’s nothing else quite like the Gram 17 on the market. 

As with LG’s other Gram machines, the 17-inch version has a nanocarbon magnesium exterior that, to anyone holding it, might as well be plastic. That’s due to the texture, but also to the amount of flex you’ll sense when hammering away on the keyboard deck. Even the top display casing will easily bow if you put pressure on it. But if you believe LG, you needn’t worry about how pliable the Gram 17 feels: it’s rated for MIL-STD 810G durability and designed to endure a tumble here and there. So yes, a laptop can be tough even if it’s not sturdy and doesn’t inspire confidence.

There’s no other laptop quite like this one

But what the Gram lacks in rigidity, it makes up for in sheer screen size. There will be no competing with you at the coffee shop or at office meetings. And the Gram 17 might even be workable on some trains and flights since the 17-inch screen is housed in a laptop not much bigger than most 15-inch portables. The one trade-off in the Gram’s ultra-slim bezels is that there’s no Windows Hello face recognition since LG only had room for a tiny camera above the display. Instead, the power button doubles as a fingerprint reader, and its accuracy is on point. I only had one or two failed scans in several weeks of using the Gram 17. One very tiny thing I love about the Gram is how easy it is to open one-handed; it stays firmly put when you pull up on the lid, which I didn’t expect for its barely there weight.  

LG also packs in a great assortment of ports, including one Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C, two USB 3.0 Type-A, a full-size HDMI output, a microSD card slot, and the usual headphone jack, Kensington lock, and barrel charger options. The Gram 17 can charge over USB-C, but you’ll want to be careful if you rely on that alone and ditch the stock 48-watt charger. At one point the battery on my review unit was so depleted that it wouldn’t respond to power from USB-C, and I actually thought the laptop had completely died somehow. I opened up the bottom (good news: the RAM and SSD are user-upgradeable) and looked around for any loose cables. Nope. Eventually I plugged in LG’s charger and the charging LED came back to life. Crisis averted. 

Combine a screen this big with Windows 10’s multiple desktops, and you’ll become a productivity maestro in no time. You’re able to see so much in split screen and can focus on two things without having to squint or hunch over to get work done. Hopping between your desktops — I set up different ones for general, work, and entertainment — with a four-finger swipe is simple. The Gram 17 is not going to compete with top-tier laptops from Dell or Razer in terms of overall performance, but its U-series processor and generous amount of RAM pack all the power you need for everyday tasks. I piled on the browser tabs, documents, and video streams and the laptop didn’t exhibit any slowdown. 

However, the Gram 17’s lack of a dedicated GPU inherently means you won’t be doing any serious video editing (beyond 1080p) or extensive photo editing on it, so LG isn’t exactly using that expansive screen to its full potential. Gaming is going to be ruled out unless you run an external GPU into that Thunderbolt 3 port, but you can do photo editing in Lightroom without one. The Gram 17 is a mainstream lifestyle PC, which is why I said there are better options if you prioritize power over screen real estate. Similarly, the Gram’s SATA SSD is slower than the NVMe flash drives in other machines — another thing many people won’t notice that power users might. 

The Gram’s IPS display is beautiful and very sharp on account of its WQXGA (2560 x 1600) resolution. And the slightly taller-than-average 16:10 aspect ratio gives you a little extra space to work with in Word documents or when editing photos. This screen isn’t capable of showing as wide of a color range as pro-tier laptops, but everything is vibrant and eye-pleasing regardless. The screen is awfully reflective, enough that you’ll certainly notice it and will want to avoid bright lights if they’re behind you and will bounce off the screen. Still, there’s something very absorbing about the picture from this display. I think it comes down to the excellent contrast and black levels; 1440p YouTube videos look very lifelike, and animated content like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse pops off the screen. However, it’s not a touchscreen, and I find Windows 10 can feel a little imprecise and less refined when you don’t have that option for interacting with it. On the plus side, LG’s added software isn’t as annoying as what other PC makers throw at you and can be easily uninstalled. 

What the Gram lacks in rigidity, it makes up for in screen size

But back to the screen’s benefits. Even when you’re just watching YouTube inside a regular Chrome window — forget full-screen mode — the video looks positively huge. You can shrink Chrome to fill only half the display and you’ll still be able to fit an entire iPhone XS Max (or other large honking phone of your choice) inside the resulting YouTube video player. 

I feel truly spoiled when using this laptop for media consumption — well, for video anyway. The Gram 17’s speakers are a wretched disappointment. They sound lifeless, lack bass, and have the worst possible placement at the bottom of the laptop. It’s a real shame, because you can comfortably rest the Gram 17 on your lap for hours of TV or movie viewing, but the sound just doesn’t measure up to what you see. 

The Gram 17’s keyboard has a number pad at its far right, which I appreciate, but the main keys are off-center and pushed to the left as a result. As someone who’s not accustomed to this, there was definitely a learning curve to typing comfortably and quickly. The trackpad deserves partial blame for that, as it’s still right in the middle of the chassis despite the keyboard’s layout. If it were also a bit more to the left, I don’t think I’d be dealing with nearly as many typos. Alignment critiques aside, both the keyboard and trackpad (which uses Microsoft’s Windows Precision drivers) work wonderfully. 

Battery life is satisfactory for the screen size. The 72Wh capacity should power you through an entire workday. For me, it hovered between six to eight hours, depending on how hard you push it and how conservative you are on Windows’ performance / battery slider. But you’ll be teetering near empty if you don’t plug in at some point. 

The Gram 17 is wholly unique on the laptop market, but that also means it’s for a very specific person. A giant screen — even if it can’t be used for super intensive PC tasks — in this unbelievably light package will justify the $1,700 price for some. If you can go smaller, you’ve got no shortage of more powerful (and less flexible) laptops from Microsoft, HP, Dell, Asus, and others to choose from. But the 17-inch Gram is the sort of computer that’s hard to forget after you’ve used it for a bit. If your brain doesn’t remind you of what could’ve been, your back will. 

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