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Hands-On: LG's ultra portable gram laptop line

Although Intel’s 8th generation desktop Core CPUs get most of the attention for powering the high end gaming machines we’re so fond of around here, their power-draw-optimized laptop processors also deserve a mention. Most of the major players in the laptop/notebook market have either launched or at least announced 8th generation offerings, and the LG gram (purposely stylized with all lowercase letters by LG) is a great example of the direction in which these ultra portable notebooks are moving. 

LG has an entire lineup of laptops under the gram label, so you’ve got plenty of customization options. We received is the 13Z980-U.AAW5U1, which is a bit of a mouthful, but LG’s marketing materials shorthand the model to Z980, so we will do the same here.

Gram Specs

The Z980 is one of the entry-level notebooks in the gram lineup, though it still sports adequate specs for day-to-day tasks. Let’s take a peek under the hood:

  • Intel Core i5-8250U @1.60 GHz
  • HYNIX 8GB DDR4-3200
  • Intel UHD 620 Graphics
  • Hitachi 256GB M.2 SSD via SATA III
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265
  • 13.3” FHD IPS Display
  • 72Wh Lithium Battery (Rated at 22.5 Hours)
  • Bluetooth 4.1

All in all, this is a fairly standard package for a lightweight notebook with budget pricing. The item of note here is the 8th generation Intel CPU, which delivers some real power in a compact system. The 7th generation equivalent is the 7200U, which the 8250U beats out with a higher clock speed double the cache size. Also, as is standard practice for Intel nomenclature, a “U” suffix designates the processor as an Ultra-Low Power model, meaning that the chip is designed for an optimal power consumption-to-performance ratio. This is ideal for laptops, as energy-efficient hardware translates into a longer battery life. LG seems to have capitalized on this, as the gram is rated to last 22 and a half hours from a single charge of its 72 Watt-hours battery.

The Z980 also offers a standard compliment of I/O connectivity options:

  • USB 3.0 Ports x2
  • HDMI Port
  • USB Type-C Port
  • Micro SD Slot
  • 3.5mm Audio-Out Jack

As mentioned, the Z980 is among the entry level options in the gram lineup. LG offers the gram in several different configurations, which vary within a very specific pool of features. The one model at a lower price-point than the Z980 is the Z970, the critical difference being the lack of a 72Wh battery (it instead has a 60Wh) and an i5-7200U.

The 8th Gen CPU provides some real power in a compact system, and the high performance battery and customizable component options make the LG Gram an easy recommendation in the ultra-portable space.

At the other end of the spectrum is the 15Z980-R.AAS9U1, with all the bells and whistles the gram lineup has to offer. It has an 15.5” screen, a Core i7-8550U CPU, 1TB of storage, 16GB RAM, an additional USB port, full-metal construction, a fingerprint reader in the power button, and the standard USB-C port has been upgraded to a Thunderbolt 3 port.

There are a number of laptops in the gram lineup, which typically have some combination of the features above, though storage capacities also vary between models.

Almost a gram

LG is marketing the gram lineup to mobile users interested in an ultra-lightweight daily solution., and they’ve certainly delivered here. We clocked our Z980 in at 2.1lbs (and LG’s site lists it at 2.13lbs.) The bigger 15 inch models still all weigh in at less than 2.5lbs. Every gram is also less than ¾ of an inch in height. It might not weigh a gram, but it’s very portable.

According to LG, all of its gram notebooks meet MIL-STD 810G standards for portability and reliability, and the plastic build does end up being among the lightest laptops we’ve ever encountered. Personally, I’d still take precautions to carry this notebook in a separate container, away from anything significantly larger and heavier than it, though that’s to be expected from something this light.

Using the gram

When it comes to real world usage of the gram, there’s a lot to like.

As with most laptops, it has an Fn key and a full range of buttons with alternate functions on it’s 10-keyless keyboard. Most noticeably, Fn+F1 brings up the LG Control Panel application, which is like a Control Panel-lite. I found it full of shortcuts to very commonly-accessed settings, and it can also control many of the same functions as the other F-keys. Other F-key alternate functions include standard fare like volume and brightness controls, airplane mode, remote screen projections, airplane mode, Home, End, Scroll Lock, Ins, etc. Fn+F8 activates one of two levels of keyboard backlighting. (1 press for dim light, 2 presses for brighter lighting.) It’s a soft white light, which makes it just right for typing at night or under other low-light conditions.

The keys themselves are standard short-travel membrane laptop keys, though they’re snappy and responsive with little errant travel. The actual keycaps have slight depressions for the fingers to sit in. For mouse control, the gram has a standard rectangular touchpad, which is, again, responsive. My issue with the touchpad isn’t limited specifically to the gram, but rather, is a growing industry trend that I wish would cease. There is no tactile delineation between the left and right mouse buttons, which means I quite frequently right clicked when trying to left click, and vice versa. Clicking with the very outside corners of the touchpad somewhat alleviates the problem. Again, LG isn’t the only one that does this, but maybe we could all stop trying to copy Apple and instead focus on designs that are more practical.  

Gram Performance

While we didn’t do extensive graphical benchmarking on the gram, (as Intel 620 Graphics perform similarly across the board) we did do a little practical testing. I spent a few hours playing Sid Meier’s Civilization VI on low settings. The gram delivered a consistent (and playable, considering the title at hand) 25-40 FPS, however the CPU got up to about 78F. Cooling is provided by a set of long, extremely narrow vents directly under the hinge. It’s pretty easy to tell where the CPU lives in this notebook, as the area became extremely warm to the touch above on both side of the casing. To be fair, pretty much any device would struggle with effective cooling at these proportions, and any kind of 3D gaming can be fairly taxing on integrated graphics sets.

This gram is not a gaming computer by any means, nor is it claiming to be, but if you’re hoping to play simple, older titles, the gram should do just fine.

For audio output, this gram model has two 1.5W speakers situated on the underside of the housing, near the front feet. As mentioned, there’s also a 3.5mm audio jack on the right side. Both devices are powered by a Conexant DAC. The speakers themselves are standard lightweight notebook fare, and once again, the gram does the best it can with the space it has.

Gram-Slam 

If you’re looking for an ultra-light notebook with incredible battery life, don’t ignore the LG gram 13Z980. The 8th Gen CPU provides some real power in a compact system, and the high performance battery and customizable component options make the LG gram an easy recommendation in the ultra-portable space.

I see the target user for this laptop as someone who has to get a lot of work done away from an outlet, but still wants a full featured Windows experience, and maybe doesn’t want to carry too much additional weight. Jet-setters, or folks who use any form of public transportation, will probably appreciate what the gram lineup has to offer.

You can check out the exact LG gram model we’ve been talking about here, or take a look at the entire gram lineup.