LG entered the US laptop market with its 14-inch gram in early 2016, which was followed closely by the 15.6-inch version. The claim to fame for both was their ultra-lightweight designs, a trend that happily continues with the latest gram models. At just 2.41 pounds, the LG gram 15 (15Z980) ($ 1,999) is the lightest 15.6-inch notebook we know of—lighter than, and thanks to a nearly borderless screen not much larger than, most 14-inch laptops. It’s also a capable desktop-replacement with serious CPU (if not graphics) power, ample memory and storage, a handsome display, and remarkable battery life. We’re sufficiently impressed to award the LG an Editors’ Choice, joining such category favorites as the Dell XPS 15 Touch and the Microsoft Surface Book 2.
The gram 15 is a premium machine and occupies a price point to match. It is sold in one configuration (model 15Z980-R.AAS9U1) in the US that includes a full HD (1,920-by-1,080) touch display, an Intel Core i7-8550U quad-core processor, 16GB of memory, and 1TB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage. The system has a large 72-watt-hour battery, which paid dividends in our unplugged rundown test. Perhaps the only disappointment at this price is the skimpy one-year warranty.
You’ll Forget You’re Carrying It
The all-silver exterior of the gram 15 may look like plastic at first blush, but it’s actually nano-carbon magnesium. LG says it meets MIL-STD-810G standards for durability. We didn’t exactly put our gram through the same battery of tests, but we will say it felt plenty stiff and durable.
It’s hard to appreciate this notebook until you pick it up. You can do that with just two fingers, as the gram 15 is amazingly light at 2.41 pounds. It’s actually a bit heavier than the first-generation gram 15Z960, which was 2.2 pounds; we suspect most of that difference comes from the larger battery on this model. Don’t take that as a complaint; despite the extra weight, the gram 15 is still scary light for a 15.6-inch notebook.The 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro is 4.02 pounds, and the Dell XPS 15 Touch is 4.44 pounds. The LG manages to be a bit trimmer than either of those notebooks, too, at 0.7 by 14.1 by 9 inches (HWD). Its thin bezels help it fit a 15.6-inch screen into a chassis that’s just a tad larger than what we’re used to seeing from 14-inch laptops. This looks to be the most portable 15.6-incher you can buy.
Our only complaint about the LG’s design is one of preference: Its conventionally dull lines don’t quite look the part of its $ 1,999 price tag. The MacBook Pro and the XPS 15 Touch manage classier looks. Different color schemes would have gone a long way.
The keyboard backlighting has two levels of brightness. The island-style keys felt good under our fingertips. The non-standard three-column number pad layout is the only awkward part of the experience. We also wished for dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys, as opposed to having them piggybacked on the cursor arrow keys. The power button is at the top right of the keyboard. It’s not obvious, but it doubles as a fingerprint reader.
Below the keyboard is the buttonless touchpad. Its smooth surface makes it easy to use, and it’s appropriately sized for the LG’s 15.6-inch display.
Looking and Sounding Good
The 1080p screen of the gram 15 is a winner. Thanks to its IPS (In-Plane Switching) panel technology, you can look at it from any angle and see a consistent picture. Well-saturated colors plus excellent contrast and brightness translate to beautiful picture quality. If you want to reach out and touch it, go right ahead, as this panel has full 10-point touch support. The only penalty you’ll pay for that is potential smudges on its glossy surface.
The screen resolution is standard fare for a 15.6-inch panel. The competing Dell XPS 15 Touch offers 4K resolution at the LG’s price point, but we don’t necessarily miss the extra pixels. For one, you won’t need to bump the text size as much (if at all) at 1080p, where you will with 4K.
The webcam above the display is a 720p/30fps model. The picture quality looked sharp and had minimal grain in our Skype testing.
The gram 15’s port selection is respectable. The left edge holds the AC power jack, a USB 3.0 Type-A port, HDMI video-out, and a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3. The latter can be used to hook up docking stations, external monitors, or fast storage. LG includes a USB-C-to-Ethernet adapter in the box.
The right edge holds the remaining connectivity, including a microSD card reader, the audio combo jack, two more USB 3.0 ports, and a Kensington-style cable lock. For wireless, the gram packs Intel’s 8265AC 802.11ac card and Bluetooth 4.1.
The stereo speakers face downward from under either side of the palm rest. They projected surprisingly well when we had the LG sitting on a solid surface. There is little bass, but the relatively impressive volume helps make up for that.
A ‘Kaby Lake R’ Contender
Two of the LG 15’s closest competitors are the XPS 15 Touch and the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The Dell offers a slightly faster CPU and a dedicated Nvidia graphics card at the LG’s price point, but includes just half the storage (512GB). The $ 1,999 Apple also packs a faster processor and dedicated AMD graphics, but just 256GB of storage. Neither machine is an entirely (no pun intended) apples-to-apples comparison, but they do show the LG’s pricing as competitive.
Intel’s eighth-generation Core i7-8550U processor is at the heart of the gram 15. This chip fits four processing cores into its 15-watt thermal envelope, whereas previous-generation Intel chips packed just two cores. Our benchmarks show the gram has a significant performance advantage over notebooks with the older CPUs. Coupled with a generous 16GB of memory, the gram 15 is ready for just about anything. You can all but exclude modern AAA-level gaming from that list, however; the Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics in this notebook aren’t capable of much more than entry-level 3D work.
There’s a generous 1TB of storage packed inside that is comprised of two 512GB SSDs. The drives had excellent performance in our non-scientific testing; we timed a Windows 10 cold start at less than 15 seconds.
The gram 15 was a strong performer in our PCMark 8 office productivity benchmark; any score higher than 3,000 indicates a very fast machine. The XPS 15 Touch lagged behind largely because of its 4K screen resolution, which requires pushing four times as many pixels.
The Cinebench R15 and Handbrake tests are almost entirely CPU-dependent. The Core i7-8550U in our LG was ultimately limited by its 15-watt thermal envelope, as opposed to the more substantial 45-watt envelopes of the Core i7 chips in the Dell and Apple competition. The LG handily outperformed the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro and its previous-generation Core i7-7500U, however.
The gram 15 more than doubled the battery life of its predecessor. Its epic 16 hour, 14 minute showing is outstanding for a desktop-replacement. The XPS 15 Touch didn’t even come close to the LG’s stamina. The times from the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch and the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro (15-inch) were impressive, but the gram 15 wasn’t to be outlasted.
The Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics in the gram 15 were totally outperformed by the dedicated Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU in the Dell XPS 15 Touch, but that was expected. As we noted, this LG isn’t cut out for modern gaming.
In terms of heat and noise, the gram 15 was quiet even during our benchmark runs. The fans remained off most of the time for silent running. The center-rear of the chassis tended to heat up under heavy usage, but cooled down just as quickly.
The LG gram 15 is a notebook of many extremes, all of them good. At the forefront of these are its phenomenal light weight and 16-plus-hour battery life. Those stats are—or were—practically unknown among laptops sporting 15.6-inch displays. The gram also offers a great-looking touch screen, excellent system performance, and a comfortable keyboard. Its odd three-column numeric keypad layout and plain, generic looks are all we could come up with as downsides. If you’re in the market for a premium 15.6-incher, the gram 15 is an easy pickup. We mean that in more ways than one.