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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Laptop for the New WFH Worker

The portable and powerful LG gram 15.6 Ultra-Slim is the right package for the right time

Clamshell-style laptops haven’t exactly been the hottest, high-growth category within enterprise hardware sales during the past five or so years. Indeed, the explosion of smartphones and tablets kept overall laptop annual growth rates at or below 1 percent. Yet heading into the COVID-19 crisis, business laptop sales growth started showing some signs of life, or at least an upward trajectory. In a February 2020 reports, IDC estimated that sales of ultra-slim notebooks could grow at a compound annual rate of up to 5%, calling the thin and light models a “bright spot in a challenged market.” As organizations re-consider their business continuity plans for keeping new levels of at-home workers connected, momentum behind business-supplied laptops could continue post-recovery.

Into that scenario steps the latest breed of ultra-portable, full-screen business laptops including the 2020 editions of LG’s gram series (14”, 15”, 15.6”, 17”). We tested a gram 15.6” model and found that LG has produced a truly ultra-light computer – one that is barely noticeable in a backpack – without sacrificing any of the power and functionality a typical officer worker might need.

Ideal for those who feel a bit confined by a 13.3-inch screen, the 15.6” gram weighs in at an ultra-light 2.5 pounds and measures just 0.7 inches high when closed. This may not make it the lightest and thinnest portable PC on the market, but what LG has packed into that slim form factor is quite impressive.


One of the thinnest 15.6″ laptops at 0.7″

Upon first look, users will see along each side the full complement of I/O ports and jacks capable of handling just about any array of devices and network hook-ups a worker might need. The model we tested (N.APS9U1) included one HDMI port; three USB 3.1 ports; a USB 3.1 Type-C, which supports both Thunderbolt 3 for four-time faster down speeds and LAN connectivity via 10/100Mbit RJ45 Ethernet; a UFS/Micro-SD slot; headphone jack; DC-in; and a Kensington security slot. The power button, meanwhile, supports fingerprint recognition security.

The top of this clamshell laptop is easily lifted with one finger, and, despite the lightweight, the base of the PC stays firmly on the table when pushing or pulling the top to adjust screen view. The exterior of the gram 15 is made with a magnesium/nano-carbon fiber alloy that contributes to the low weight but did allow from some bending and flexing in the lid. This could be a downside for those who tend to be rather rough on their devices. On the flip side, the dark silver exterior didn’t show any fingerprints and skin oils, allowing it to maintain its clean, sleek appearance.

Under the lid, the ultra-light form factor of the gram 15.6 also does not compromise the keyboard. The backlit keys are well spaced. Keystroking was natural, responsive and decisive. Much the same could be said for interactions with the ample touchpad below the keyboard, measuring at about 10 cm wide by 7 cm high. Yet even with the ample spacing, the keyboard also included the sometimes overlooked but all-important one-hand number pad.


Well spaced, full keyboard and large touchpad

Inside, the laptop we tested came with 16GB DDR4 RAM and 1TB SSD, running on an Intel Core i7 – 1065G7 processor (1.3HGz/3.9Ghz). The operating system is Window 10 Pro (64 bit). We encountered no hiccups running everyday office functions and applications ranging from Office, Zoom conferencing or Word Press to a rather beefy cloud-based video storage and sharing platform, even over an average-at-best Wi-Fi connection. The gram 15.6 also had no problem running 4K video, providing a near flawless experience with the IPS LCD screen (at 1920 x 1080, supported by Intel Iris Plus Graphics driver) more than adequately supporting the ultra-high definition visuals. One potential downside, the display on our model was not a touchscreen, and although a touchscreen tends not to be a business requirement for the typical office worker, it can be missed after one grows accustomed to having it. It should be noted, however, that several models across the gram series do offer a touchscreen.

The spirit of no compromise continues with the gram’s DTS Headphone X technology, designed to enhance headphone listening to simulate a 3D listening environment surrounded by high quality speakers, as well as a built in high-definition webcam.

Looking to push the limits, our testers also used the laptop for some gaming, via Steam. Despite not being a gaming device with no gaming-specific hardware and software, the gram 15.6 Ultra-Slim laptop pleasantly surprised us with its overall performance. Download times were much better than expected and the gaming was smooth, with little to no noticeable lag or drop in frame rate (FPS). Throughout the tests, the device remained cool and the fan largely silent or unnoticed. (Testers predominantly played Rocket League and Portal 2.)

Ultra-Portable PCs Compared

Model Memory/Capac. Screen Size Weight Height Closed
LG gram 15 (APS9U1) 16GB/1TB SSD 15.6” 2.5 lbs. 0.7 in.
Dell Precision 5540 16GB/512GB SSD 15.6” 3.93 lbs. 0.66 in.
Acer Swift 5 Pro 8GB/256GB SSD 14” 2.2 lbs. 0.59 in.
HP Elite Dragonfly 16GB/256GB SSD 13.3” 2.3 lbs. 0.63 in.
Apple MacBook Pro 16GB/2TB SSD 13” 3.1 Ilbs 0.61 in.

Getting back to the more day-to-day office functionality, our test model impressed in several ways. The quickness of boot up and shutdown, for instance, was refreshing. The machine went from the clicking of “shut down” to lights out on the keyboard in four to five seconds. Likewise, it also took less than five seconds to go from pressing the fingerprint-protected “on” button to typing in your password. Awakening from sleep mode was quick and easy, as well.

Of course, for the mobile employee, few things are more important that battery life, or more specifically, a laptop may have to last for a long 9-to-5 day without an outlet. LG lists the life of the 80Wh, two-cell lithium ion battery as up to 18.5 hours. Our test showed little to undermine this claim. After a few full nine-hour workdays, made up of equal parts of general office work (Word processing, webmail, surfing and Zoom), high-definition video consumption and sharing and Steam gaming, there was still 20 to 30 percent battery life remaining for that last office visit or after hours catch-up. One three-hour sitting consisting exclusively of high-definition video consumption burned up less than 20 percent of the battery. All this was done with the display screen set at 50 percent and no other battery-saving settings employed.

Out of the box, there was the usual amount of terms and conditions and settings to verify, but the amount of times we had to click “agree” upon setup was far from excessive or annoying. Likewise, bloatware is kept to a minimum.

All told, the gram 15.6 Ultra-Slim laptop showed itself to be an excellent choice for the mobile or teleworking employee who values portability but requires the power, battery life and performance of a full-sized machine.

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