LG Gram 17 (2020) review: A portable and long-lasting 17-inch laptop, but performance disappoints

LG’s Gram laptops major on sleek and minimalist design, great battery life and light weight. Achieving the latter is particularly challenging for the largest device in the range, reviewed here, which sports a 17-inch screen. We were impressed two years ago by the LG Gram 14, so this large-screen model has a lot to live up to.

17-inch laptops need to balance the advantages of working on a large screen with issues of bulk and weight. A 17-inch screen is great for working on multiple documents side by side and viewing video for presentations or after-hours entertainment, but nobody wants to lug a big, heavy machine around on a regular basis.

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The 17-inch LG Gram 17 (2020) weighs just 1.3kg — lighter than many a smaller-screen laptop.

Images: LG

There’s little any laptop maker can do about the size of a 17-inch laptop — the screen size is immutable, after all. But LG has done what it can in that respect, giving the Gram 17 relatively narrow bezels, leaving very little ‘dead space’ around the screen, while still housing the webcam in the prime above-screen location. The overall dimensions are 38.1cm wide by 26.6cm deep by 1.74cm thick, so there’s plenty of depth for a good range of ports and connectors (see below).

When it comes to weight, LG has surpassed all expectations. With its magnesium alloy chassis, the LG Gram 17 (2020) weighs just 1.3kg. I’ve reviewed 14-inch laptops that are close to this weight, and picking up this large laptop is a somewhat uncanny experience.

This light weight raises questions about build quality, and indeed this could be an issue. With the laptop open, holding the upper edge of the screen in both left and right hands, I was able to bow the screen to an alarming degree, and there’s a lot of flex in the lid when the chassis is closed, to the point where I would not want to put anything even remotely weighty on top of this laptop. The wrist rest, too is pretty flexible. If you do carry this laptop around, a protective sleeve is advisable.

That said, it’s important to note that LG has achieved a MIL-STD-810G rating for the LG Gram 17, which means it should withstand significant levels of shock, temperature (low and high), dust, salt fog, pressure and vibration.

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The industrial design is minimalist: the livery is a uniform silver-grey outside and inside, with a relatively small lower-case ‘gram’ branding in the centre of the lid section and the LG logo tucked beneath the screen.

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The backlit keyboard is a comfortable touch-typing platform, and the large glass touchpad works well.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

Open up the lid and the keyboard seems to have acres of space around it. The wrist rest is huge, as is the touchpad, whose glass surface is smooth and efficient in use. The screen isn’t touch-responsive, so it’s vital that the touchpad works well — which it does. It’s easily disabled, if necessary, via a Fn key, which has a small status light (lit when the touchpad is on, unlit when it’s off).
 
The QWERTY keys are large and well-spaced, while the Fn row keys are slightly smaller but still large enough to hit accurately. The number pad keys are a little narrower than those of the main array. I’d prefer a bit more separation between the main and number keys, but that’s a pretty minor issue.

The keys depress with a slight ‘thunk’, and are very comfortable for touch-typing. There’s a little flex in the keyboard, but not as much as you’d expect given the degree of flex elsewhere in the chassis. There is a two-level backlight for the keyboard, managed via a Fn key.

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The power button (top right) doubles up as a fingerprint reader.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The power button, which sits in the top right of the number pad, has a fingerprint reader embedded in it. This is an ideal location for a biometric scanner, and in this case it fits in neatly with the overall no-frills design.

The 17-inch IPS LCD screen has a very reflective finish that can be problematic when you’re trying to work next to a window on a bright day. Still, the resolution of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels (178ppi) makes for sharp images — I was quite happy watching catch-up TV on this laptop, for example. The speakers are of average quality, but they deliver plenty of volume, which is good news for video calls and presentations.

You can flick the screen into ‘reader mode’, which alters the colour intensity, via a Fn key. I found ‘reader’ a bit of a misnomer, as this mode was often my preferred setting for video watching. Still, it’s an interesting option, and I’d like to see more laptops offer the ability to easily flick between colour settings. An on-screen alert lets you know when you’ve changed modes, and there’s a light on the Fn key to let you know reader mode is on. But, as with the touchpad Fn key, this LED is pretty difficult to discern in everyday lighting and slightly distracting in darker conditions.

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My review unit ran on a 10th-generation Intel Core i7-1065G7 processor with integrated Iris Plus Graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. This is the top specification of three models, and it costs £1,599.99 (inc. VAT; £1,332.50 ex. VAT). It felt a little sluggish in use, taking its time to render web pages with lots of websites open, for example (as you’re likely to have on a large-screen device). It’s not a serious issue, but I certainly didn’t feel that this laptop flew through my test workloads and I’d expect better performance for the price. Perhaps a variant with discrete graphics would be a good idea?

There are two other configurations, one of which shares the CPU and RAM of my review unit but dropping the SSD to 256GB. This costs £1,549.99 (inc. VAT; £1,290.83 ex. VAT). The third configuration runs on a Core i5-1035G7 with 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD and costs £1,449.99 (inc. VAT: £1,208.32 ex. VAT).  All three run Windows 10 Home. 

In the US, a Core i7 model with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage (2x 512GB) costs $1,899.

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There are plenty of connections on the LG Gram 17, including a MicroSD card slot and a full-size HDMI port.

Images: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

There’s a good array of ports and slots: the right edge has two USB 3.1 ports, a 3.5mm headset jack and a MicroSD card slot, while the left edge houses another USB 3.1 port, a full-size HDMI port, a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port and a round-pin power connector.

Battery life testing involved using the LG Gram 17 as my everyday working machine, which meant I was writing into web apps, browsing the web and streaming some video. I left a YouTube stream running in the background throughout one four-hour working session, and this saw the 80Wh battery fall from 100% to 65%. The default screen brightness setting, at just over 50%, was fine for this exercise. Battery life is quoted by LG as up to 17 hours, which seems rather hopeful given my experience. Still, I’d expect to get a full working day on battery power.

Conclusions

LG has set a challenging benchmark for other manufacturers in terms of portability, with the LG Gram 17 weighing less than some 14-inch laptops. But there are questions around design strength, despite the MIL-STD-810G rating, and performance, which even on my top-of-the-range review sample was a little sluggish. The battery should comfortably deliver a full day’s work, and the screen’s easily selectable reading mode is a nice touch. There are plenty of ports and connectors too. 

If you’re attracted by the 17-inch screen and lightweight chassis, and your workloads aren’t too demanding, the LG Gram 17 (2020) should fit the bill nicely.

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