LG G-Pad 8.3 Australian Review: Curiously Promising

While not exceptional in any way, one piece of software might just make the LG G-Pad 8.3 the most talked about piece of hardware in 2014.

What Is It?

Like we said, it’s mostly unremarkable, despite being exceptionally well filled out in the specs department.

The screen is full HD 1920×1080 resolution with 265 ppi, and packs a blitzing quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 1.7GHz processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal memory. That’s all powered by a giant 4600mAh battery to keep you keeping on.

As far as design is concerned, it’s very pretty. The back takes design cues from the iPhone 5 with a burnished aluminium finish on the rear panel interrupted by the two edges of different material (plastic in this case). The screen is bright and beautiful and it’s straddling that perfect middle ground between small tablets and larger devices at 8.3-inches. Super-portable but still very effective for displaying your content.

The GPad 8.3 is being sold exclusively through JB Hi-Fi stores for the fairly reasonable price of $399.

What’s Good?

Here’s a question. When was the last time — before 2013 — you saw an LG smartphone device you’d actually spend money on? I have to strain my memory, but I think it was the LG Chocolate, or to use its factory name, the KG800.

It was a slider phone with an interesting touch-panel on the front in lieu of hardware menu keys. It packed just enough storage, battery power and pixels to get it over the line as a decent consumer proposition.

It sold like hot cakes when it was on contract, and doubly so when it was dropped into Telstra’s exclusive pre-paid offering. It retailed at $299 and teenage girls were begging their parents for the Chocolate for Christmas of 2006. That was back when I actually worked at Telstra, and we rarely had enough devices in stock to meet demand each Saturday in December. Those were the days.

Sadly, those days were seven years ago, and since then it feels like LG has been treading water with a limited degree of success. Sure, it became the leading manufacturer of pre-paid smartphones in Australia up until last year (dethroned by Samsung), but what has it done for us lately?

In 2013, however, rather than just building devices and throwing them at the wall to see if they stuck, LG has really started to think about its offering and how customers approach them. LG wants to be perceived as a smarter, more intelligent brand than it has been before, and when you talk to the company about the recent swathe of products released in 2013, you really get that impression.

The Optimus G was built with a “best of LG” strategy in mind, bringing decent battery, screen and camera tech to the fore to make a good LG phone for a change. The G2 built on that success, and used clever screen technology to make the screen bezel virtually non-existent, while throwing in enough power to reboot the Death Star. The aforementioned G2 eventually became the Google Nexus 5 and as such, won award after award from Gizmodo Readers and Editors alike.

Now LG is wading back into the tablet arena, with the LG G-Pad 8.3 being its first re-attempt as it were. In essence, the G-Pad 8.3 is an 8.3-inch tablet very similar to the G and G2 smartphones, only super-sized and even more supercharged.

It’s designed as a tablet companion to the LG G2: the tablet you bookend the day with after using your smartphone 9-to-5. Rather than make the G-Pad 8.3 more expensive by sticking in a SIM slot and an array of antennas, LG has just built a little companion app called QPair which works with any Android phone that shares everything from screenshots through to the data connection. Seems odd to fold that in seeing as how your Android device will almost 100 per cent of the time come out of the box with the ability to do these things, but LG is trying to make using this thing easier than falling out of bed after a bad dream.

LG is pitching this one squarely in the court of media consumers. If you’ve ever watched a TV show or movie on your tablet, played some music or just sat in a comfy chair to browse the web, then the G-Pad 8.3 is for you, provided you want it in its current form.

Everything about it screams “watch stuff on me”. The stereo speakers are mounted horizontally on the back so that they pump out great sound when you’re actually holding the thing sideways (i.e.: playing content); the screen is eye-popping with a panel that’s above 1080p, packing around 273 pixels per inch; it has expandable memory for you to bring over all your movies and music from external sources; it has a remote app so it can fit into your lounge room as a replacement for your 6000 remote controls. It has it all.

The G-Pad is even specifically engineered to give you the best video watching experience: while a 7.9-inch device can letterbox your video with black bars, the LG G-Pad 8.3 is configured for the perfect 16:9 viewing experience.

There’s no input or animation lag on the device, and the internal specs ensure that you’ll always have a fast, smooth (yet somewhat warm) experience.

There’s so much to like about this thing, and yet…

What’s Bad?

…when you look at the little things that are meant to make the LG G-Pad 8.3 so compelling, you should be impressed. You should have your socks blown off that they took this much care and attention to build something very clever, and not just another small tablet. So why am I so bored by this thing?

There’s nothing to make the G-Pad interesting beyond being well-built, and to be honest, that’s something which shouldn’t impress you that much either. If you’re going to drop 400 of your hard-earned dollars on a device, you expect it to be well-built.

LG has taken another device that should have been perfect and ruined it with boring, wet, sloppy software. We saw it on the Optimus G, the G2 and now the G-Pad 8.3. A crying shame.

The Saving Grace

We don’t normally put a sub-heading like this in reviews, but the LG G-Pad 8.3 is a special circumstance.

We’re hearing that LG is the new manufacturer of the Nexus 10, alongside leaks that an 8-inch Nexus tablet is on the way to compete with the likes of the Retina iPad mini. Is it possible that LG is that manufacturer, and the device we’ve been playing with is a first draft for the new Nexus 8? It’s not right to speculate in a review, but that would be nice.

Speculation aside, last week, Google released Explorer Edition versions of the G-Pad 8.3, meaning that it’s as close to a Nexus 8 as you can buy right now. Google takes the hardware from other manufacturers (like the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One) and releases them as Nexus versions, complete with the latest vanilla Android builds.

If you look about, you can find a ROM of the Explorer Edition software for the G-Pad somewhere, and installing that would vastly improve the experience with this device.

Should You Buy It?

The G-Pad 8.3 is one of the better Android tablets kicking about the market now, with a reasonable price and stellar specs, it’s something you should be paying attention to.

Keep in mind the wet slop of software it comes pre-loaded with, however. If you’re really keen on something like this, see if you can find a good copy of the Google Explorer Edition software recently released for the G-Pad, and install that on it before you even start customising it.

You’ll have a much better time.