LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play edition review – the best of two worlds

December 20, 2013
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The LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play edition launched as an unexpected, but totally welcome surprise, offering supporters of pure Android an interesting new option in the small tablet space.

With its crisp display, stealthy  black color scheme, and the reassuring hardness of aluminum, the G Pad 8.3 GPe is certainly a good looking device. And its innards are nothing to scoff at. But at $350, the tablet is no impulse buy for most of us, especially considering the competitors out there going for the same or a smaller price. Is it worth it?

We’ve already covered the G Pad 8.3 extensively in our review of the regular version, so we’re going to be briefer in our look at the Google Play edition. We’ll focus on how Google’s version of Android performs in the hardware environment of the G Pad, and how it compares, functionally and visually, to LG’s implementation of Android. We’ll save most of the comparisons between the G Pad GPe and the Nexus 7 for an upcoming full versus. Let’s dive in.

Design, build quality, and display

Like all Google Play edition devices, the GPe G Pad is identical in terms of build and hardware with its branded counterpart. You get the same aluminum and plastic build that we appreciated when the device first came out, in the same sleek package. The tablet’s width is close to the span of the average human hand, but it doesn’t push that limit, a purposeful choice of LG’s that we appreciate. That means you get the biggest possible display area, but you can still grip the tablet with just one hand.

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When we reviewed the Optimus UI-running model, we had a white/silver version, but the Google Play edition comes in black, and it looks gorgeous. The subtle contrast between the black brushed aluminum and the matte black plastic is appealing, giving the device a stealthy look without becoming too utilitarian.

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The Full HD IPS LCD display is beautiful, even if it’s not as sharp as the 7-inch panel of the same resolution of the Nexus 7. Most users won’t even notice the difference, never mind find it jarring, but it’s there. Viewing angles and colors are great, but the G Pad is less bright than the Nexus.

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Overall, there’s little to quibble over at the outside of the G Pad 8.3 GPe. Check out our review of the standard G Pad 8.3 for a more in-depth look at its build and display.

Hardware and performance

The Google Play edition of the LG G Pad 8.3 is packing a Snapdragon 600 SoC, matching a quad-core processor clocked at 1.7 GHz with a capable Adreno 320 GPU. There’s 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and something we will probably never see on a Nexus device, a microSD card slot. For media junkies, that means a potential extra 64GB of storage just waiting to be filled with movies and tunes.

With the notable exception of NFC, the usual bevy of connectivity and sensors is present and accounted for. This is a WiFi only device, so if you want always on net access, the Nexus 7 LTE may be the better choice. Speakers are nice and loud, and there’s an infrared blaster that we couldn’t get to work with any app that we tried, though a future update may change that in the future.

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Even if it’s just a Snapdragon 600, the processor inside the G Pad GPe does its job admirably, helped in part by the streamlined nature of stock Android. You’ll have to look hard to find anything better in this class.

There’s not much to say about the 5MP camera on the G Pad 8.3 Google Play edition, other than it does a decent enough job, for a tablet camera. There isn’t even the slew of features that LG put into the app of the original version, so there aren’t any bells and whistles for you to play with. All in all, it’s a good camera to have as a (second ) backup or just for some casual shooting.

Software

There’s a stark difference between the over the top Optimus UI and the minimalist pure Android, both in terms of feature set and design. The latter is a matter of personal taste, but many dislike the cluttered, somehow heavy handed – the best example is the notification dropdown – look of Optimus UI. Others see its merits, and LG’s overlay also has a few interesting software features to its name.

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Because, more or less, we all know stock Android, let’s just briefly go through the features that you may miss from Optimus UI. First, you lose QSlide apps, which are small overlay apps that float on the homescreen, similar to Samsung’s or Sony’s implementation, useful for multitasking. Also gone is the Slide Aside feature that lets you “slide” three apps to the side to keep them in memory and recall them with a swipe from the left gesture. This is not a big deal, as the recent apps button in the stock nav bar does the same job just fine.

Probably the only software feature that we would really have liked to see on the G Pad GPe is Knock On, which lets you wake up the tablet with a simple double tap on the screen. Especially for tablets, it’s a great little functionality that really helps with handling.

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Stock Android on the Google Play edition of the G Pad 8.3 is as fast and clean as you know it, and we’re glad to report that we didn’t encounter any major bugs, like owners of the Z Ultra GPe experienced prior the Android 4.4.2 update. Speaking of which, any GPe device gets fast (though not Nexus-fast) updates, so if having the latest version of Android is high on your priority list, you’re in luck.

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Pricing and final thoughts

The GPe edition of the LG G Pad 8.3 goes for $350 in the Play Store, just like the version running Optimus UI. Buying it means giving up the software features that LG built into its implementation of Android, in exchange of the cleaner, faster, and arguably nicer user interface of Google’s Android.

If you already made up your mind to go stock, the big question is what does the $120 extra you’d have to pay for the G Pad GPe compared to the Nexus 7 bring you? Objectively, it’s a larger screen, a microSD card slot, nicer speakers, and a more premium look and feel. Subjectively, these benefits may not mean that much to you, and, at the end of the day, both devices accomplish the same tasks in about the same way.

Taken on its own, the LG G Pad 8.3 GPe is definitely a great tablet that delivers a lot of bang for the buck. There’s no real issue stopping us from recommending it for anyone looking for a good Android tablet.

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