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LG Gram 17 (2020) review: A big-screen desktop replacement that’s also shockingly portable

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,549
inc VAT

It’s not the fastest performer on the block, but this plus-sized laptop has a fantastic screen and is astonishingly light

Pros 
Terrifically portable for its size
Big, high-quality display
Excellent battery life
Cons 
Screen isn’t Retina-sharp
Not touch-enabled
Construction feels a tad flimsy
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It’s an immutable law of nature that you can’t fit a big screen into a small chassis – but the LG Gram 17 (2020) has an impressive go. It’s about as compact as a 17in laptop could conceivably be, and far lighter than you’d expect, weighing just 1.35kg. That’s a mere 120g more than a Dell XPS 13, and a fraction less than a 13.3in Apple MacBook Pro.

Is there a catch? Well, in keeping the size and weight down to a minimum, LG has made a few specific design trade-offs. Let’s take a closer look and find out where the Gram’s strengths and weaknesses lie.

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LG Gram 17 (2020) review: What you need to know

The new Gram 17 is LG’s second laptop to bear the name, and from the outside it’s absolutely identical to last year’s model. We’re not unhappy about that, as it’s a highly practical design with all the connections you could ask for, including three USB 3.1 connectors and a Thunderbolt 3-enabled Type-C connector.

Inside, though, the new model enjoys several enhancements. One is a new processor: the old eighth-generation Core i7 has been replaced by a whizzy 10th-generation Intel Core i7-1065G7, built on the latest 10nm process and featuring Iris Plus graphics.

RAM and SSD capacity have both been doubled too, to 16GB and 1TB respectively, while the internal wireless adaptor now supports ultra-fast Wi-Fi 6 connections as well as older 802.11ac networks.

Add to all of this that generously sized screen and the LG Gram 17 looks like a very credible replacement for a desktop PC. Don’t forget, though, that thanks to its very low weight it’s also a lot more portable than that phrase normally implies.

LG Gram 17 (2020) review: Price and competition

UK pricing for the new LG Gram 17 took a while to arrive but it's along the lines of what we originally predicted, costing £1,549, only £20 more than the 2019 model. In the face of such numerous hardware upgrades, that's an impressive feat.

As for competition, we’d have to say that the Gram 17 is somewhat sui generis. The few 17in laptops we’ve reviewed over the years have primarily been gaming-oriented designs, focusing on performance at the expense of portability – which clearly isn’t what we’re dealing with here.

If anything, the LG Gram 17 makes most sense as an alternative to conventionally sized laptops in the £1,000-plus price range, such as the Dell XPS 13 or the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15in). Of course, those systems are inherently more portable, and as we’ll see below, they can deliver stronger performance too. Broadly speaking, though, it’s shoppers who are in the market for a laptop in that style – but who think they might appreciate a bigger screen – that ought to take a look at the Gram 17.

LG Gram 17 (2020) review: Design and features

LG advertises the Gram 17 as a 17in laptop with a “15.6in-class body size”. That’s optimistic, but its dimensions are relatively trim, with a not-too-cumbersome overall footprint of 381 x 267mm and a thickness of just 18mm. I was perfectly comfortable using the Gram 17 on my lap while sitting on the sofa, and didn’t feel at all self-conscious whipping it out at my local café for a spot of remote working.

More impressive than the Gram 17’s size is its weight. We’ve mentioned that it weighs only 1.35kg, but until you hold it in your hand it’s hard to properly appreciate what that means. In absolute terms, it weighs about as much as a typical 13in laptop, but because the Gram 17’s chassis is so much larger it’s far less dense, which makes it feel almost supernaturally light. Even the power supply adds just 274g, including the UK plug, so the whole kit and caboodle weighs less than some much smaller laptops.

That lightness comes at the expense of some sturdiness. The Gram 17’s casing is made of magnesium alloy, like Microsoft’s Surface devices, but it feels thinner and flimsier, with some noticeable flex in the lower half of the shell, and more around the display. LG reassures us that the Gram 17 is MIL-STD-810G-certified against shock, pressure, temperature, dust and more, but even so it feels like it’ll quickly pick up scratches and scuffs, and I wouldn’t like to swear that it’ll survive if you accidentally step on it.

As well as being thin, the casing is also very plain, with almost nothing in the way of ornamentation. The word “gram” is embossed in silver on the outside of the lid, but that’s hardly a thing of beauty; aside from that, a flat, silver-grey finish is the order of the day, with the only touch of colour provided by the orange icons that adorn certain keytops.

Happily, while the design may lack visual inspiration, it’s not short on practicality. On the left-hand side a full-sized HDMI port rubs shoulders with a USB 3.1 socket and a USB Type-C connector with Thunderbolt 3 support; on the opposing edge sit two more SuperSpeed USB ports, plus a microSD slot, a 3.5mm headset jack and a Kensington lock slot.

LG also includes a USB to Ethernet adapter in the box, but this is only rated for 100Mbits/sec, and using it ties up the laptop’s sole USB Type-C connector: we suggest you ditch it and invest a tenner in a third-party Gigabit version with a Type-A plug instead.

There’s just a few final conveniences to mention: the obligatory webcam is set into the top bezel, and while it only has a resolution of 720p it produces nice, noise-free video and copes well with bright or dim lighting conditions. It’s a pity that it doesn’t support Windows Hello for hands-free login, but there’s a fingerprint reader embedded into the power button at the top-right of the keyboard, allowing quick and secure authentication for Windows, websites and so forth.

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LG Gram 17 (2020) review: Keyboard and touchpad

I’ve noted that the Gram 17’s casing has some flex to it, and that carries over to the keyboard. If you’re a key-thumper, you’ll notice that the whole central area of the keyboard caves inward slightly as you type; even in normal use I found it almost impossible to hit the spacebar without experiencing a bit of spring in the backplate.

Despite this, I found the LG Gram 17 rather pleasant to type on. The inclusion of a numeric keypad means you need to get used to positioning your hands a bit left of centre, but the keys themselves have a positive (if rather lightweight) action, with two levels of backlighting to help you find the right key in dark environments.

It also helps that almost all of the keys are of a decent size. Some are more diminutive than others, including the Ctrl, Fn and Windows keys to the left of the space bar, and the entire numeric pad at the right of the main keyboard, but they haven’t been shrunk far enough to trip you up. The only real irritation is the half-height navigation keys, but those are par for the course on laptop keyboards these days.

The touchpad, meanwhile, is really quite large indeed. Measuring 12cm across, it’s spacious enough that you can drag the mouse pointer from one edge of the screen to the other without continually running off the edges. I found it perfectly responsive to drags, taps and multi-finger gestures too. My only criticism is once again to do with sturdiness: when you physically press down to click in the lower left or right corner, the plastic continues to bend well past the clicking point, which feels rather disconcerting. Overall, though, I can see myself happily typing out long essays on the Gram 17’s keyboard, and using its touchpad to work with icon-driven apps.

LG Gram 17 (2020) review: Display and audio

The Gram 17’s big selling point is, of course, its screen, an IPS panel measuring a full 17in across the diagonal, with a 16:10 aspect ratio that translates to dimensions of 367mm x 229mm. It feels like a good natural shape for a display of this size, neither too wide nor too tall, with unobtrusive bezels at the top and sides measuring 10mm and 6mm respectively.

Geometry isn’t the only thing this display has going for it, either: as soon as you lift up the lid you’re struck by how bright and lively the picture looks. We measured a maximum brightness of 372cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 1,522:1, and while those might not quite be world-beating figures, they hold up perfectly well next to other laptops in the £1,000-plus market.

Nor is this one of those screens that emphasises “pop” at the expense of colour accuracy. The Gram 17’s display covers a very creditable 95.1% of the sRGB gamut, with an excellent average Delta E of 1.35. That means that the colours you see on screen will look very, very close to how they’re “supposed to”, according to industry standards, so you can use the Gram 17 for professional photo or video editing without having to worry about unwanted colour casts or wayward contrast curves.

We do have a few reservations about the Gram 17’s display. First, its glossy coating adds vibrancy, but it also makes the screen susceptible to distracting reflections. This isn’t a disaster, though, as the backlight is bright enough to keep things legible under all but the harshest glare.

Then there’s the question of native resolution. For a machine of this size you might reasonably have expected a 4K panel, but LG has gone with a lower 2,560 x 1,600 resolution. This still gives you a lot more workspace than a regular Full HD screen, but it feels ungenerous. It also translates to a mediocre pixel density of 178 PPI: it wouldn’t be fair to say it looks blocky, but it doesn’t quite have the impeccable smoothness of a “Retina”-class display, which would have a density of around 220 PPI.

A final thing to be aware of is that the screen has no touch support. That may not be a particular problem for the intended market, but it can be nice to physically prod at a web page now and then, and that’s something that the Gram 17 simply doesn’t permit.

Audio is a mixed bag too. LG proudly advertises that the Gram 17 supports DTS:X Ultra audio processing, but the built-in speakers are far too weedy to take proper advantage of it: they go loud enough for you to watch YouTube from across the room, but there’s no low-end whatsoever. Plug in a pair of headphones (or hook up an external audio system), however, and the technology comes into its own, providing a lovely smooth, rich sound. There’s even a handy wizard that you can use to generate custom EQ settings that are tailored to your headphones and ears.

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LG Gram 17 (2020) review: Performance and battery life

The original LG Gram 17 was driven by an eighth-generation Core i7-8565U processor, whereas the new one features a 10th-generation i7-1065G7. That certainly sounds like a step up, right?

Alas, while the technology may be more advanced, clock speeds have actually gone down. The old CPU’s four cores had a base speed of 1.8GHz and a maximum Turbo frequency of 4.6GHz, whereas the new silicon is limited to 1.3GHz and 3.9GHz respectively.

What’s more, the Gram 17 appears to have very little in the way of active cooling, presumably to keep the assembly as thin and light as possible. This does mean you won’t be bothered by fan noise – I had to hold the laptop up to my ear to detect any sound at all – but tax the CPU with a big multi-threaded task and it quickly has to throttle down to sub-2GHz speeds.

As a result, the Gram 17 delivers desktop performance that’s a step behind most other laptops built on similar internals. Here’s how it stacks up against last year’s model, and a selection of recent laptops equipped with the same Core i7-1065G7 processor:

As you can see, performance-wise, the Gram 17’s closest kin is the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 – and that makes sense, since that system is also designed with portability as a priority. Laptops that take a more balanced approach easily pull ahead.

That shouldn’t necessarily lead you to write off the Gram 17, though. An overall score of 70 still represents ample power for desktop tasks: even video editing is perfectly feasible, although a chunkier mobile workstation will give you faster render times. The provision of 16GB of RAM should ensure that the system continues to run smoothly when the going gets tough. And the Gram 17 does particularly well when it comes to short, sharp bursts of activity, which can be completed before the CPU starts to overheat: in the photo-editing section of our benchmark, it scored an impressive 130.

What about graphical performance? The CPU’s G7 suffix indicates that it has a comparatively powerful integrated GPU, so it was no surprise that here the 2020 Gram 17 outshone last year’s model. Once again, though, it lagged behind other systems based on the same hardware:

With numbers like this we’d say this laptop is suitable for casual gaming only: even in our Dirt: Showdown test, now getting on for eight years old, the Gram 17 managed only a just-about-playable 36.5fps at 720p.

Elsewhere, our Gram 17 review model came with 1TB of solid-state storage as standard but the UK model will only be supplied with a 512GB SSD. That’s the same as capacity as year's laptop; what's new is that LG has switched from slowish SATA 3 media to modern NVMe technology, which provides a huge boost in storage performance. Indeed, the Gram 17 has one of the fastest SSDs around, especially when it comes to write speeds, which should make the system feel pleasingly responsive when you’re working with large data sets.

As if that weren’t enough of an upgrade, the new Gram 17 also introduces a Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless adapter. You might not get any benefit from this right now, but as Wi-Fi 6 routers and hotspots become more common, you’ll be ready to enjoy improved speeds and better coverage – we’ve often seen the new technology deliver twice the performance of older 802.11ac connections.

Finally, there’s one aspect of the old Gram 17 which we’re pleased to say hasn’t changed, and that’s its phenomenal battery life. With a screen this big, and a chassis this light, we would have understood if longevity had been somewhat sacrificed, but in fact the opposite is the case. In our video playback test the Gram 17 put several smaller-screened rivals to shame:

Admittedly the new Gram 17 fell slightly behind the Lenovo Yoga C940, and indeed its own predecessor, but when you’re nudging eleven hours of battery life we’re not going to gripe over 20 minutes.

LG Gram 17 (2020) review: Verdict

I’ve tested plenty of 17in laptops over the years, but the LG Gram 17 is the first one I’d be happy to have as my regular carry-around companion. If you’re an on-the-go internet user with an interest in graphic design or photo editing, it makes an astonishingly persuasive replacement for both a desktop and a laptop.

There are compromises. Other laptops are smaller, faster and cheaper. They have sharper screens too, and better speakers. But LG hasn’t skimped on the key things that define the Gram 17, namely its excellent screen, very low weight and excellent battery life. The result is a hugely likeable laptop that upends the established wisdom about large-format portables.

If you’ve the slightest interest in a big-screen laptop, therefore, we strongly recommend you give the Gram 17 a serious look before investing in one of the usual 13in suspects. It won’t be right for everyone but what we can say with confidence is that you’ll be amazed at how breezy it feels to chuck this 17in laptop in a satchel and head out the door. The only real catch is that you might need to budget for a bigger satchel.

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