LG G Pad 8.3: Stuck or Thriving in the Middle?

While the first few years of the tablet’s life as a new consumer product category were rife with various screen sizes as the market was still being established and our demands and habits weren’t as well understood and stable as they are now, manufacturers have currently gravitated toward two different sizes or segments of tablets: the 7″-7.9″ small and compact one, and the 9″-10″ bigger and more couch-oriented one.

That left the whole 8″ bracket of the spectrum almost untapped, which is exactly where LG decided to focus their first tangible effort at the tablet market. At 8.3″, the G Pad sits comfortably in the middle between the two segments, but does that make it an ideal one-size-fits-all tablet or a neither-this-nor-that tablet? I’ve had the G Pad for review for a few days, and I tried to answer that question.

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I’ll admit that I haven’t had a lot of experience with the 9″-10″ tablet segment. I have been a proponent of the 7″ size long before Google released their Nexus 7, my first tablet was the 7″ Acer Iconia A100, and I currently have the second generation Nexus 7. This last device is what I’ll take as the basis of my comparison for the LG G Pad 8.3.

Granted, looking at the relevance of the “middle” tablet segment while only comparing it to one end of the spectrum isn’t a smart approach, but you’d understand my quandary if you saw the G Pad 8.3 in real life. The size and form factor are much more comparable to a 7″ tablet than a 10″ one, and it would be incorrect to assume that it has the potential to cater to the 10″ tablet crowd and compare it to that segment. This is more of an attempt at a borderline-portable tablet that still squeezes as much screen estate as possible thanks to a lot of engineering prowess — for reference, the Galaxy Note 8.0 is almost 1cm wider while still packing a smaller screen — and as such, the G Pad 8.3 sits in the middle but closer to the 7″ cluster of tablets than the 10″ one.

Proportional size comparison: Nexus 7, LG G Pad 8.3, Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and Nexus 10.

Proportional size comparison: Nexus 7, LG G Pad 8.3, Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and Nexus 10.

Testing Portability, Comfort, One-Handed Use

My main reasoning behind always wanting a small tablet is that I need something compact enough to fit in a purse, be usable one-handed and remain comfortable when being held for long periods of time to read a book, watch a movie or play a game. 8″ tablets have long intrigued me. They offer a bigger screen while still seeming to fit with my criteria, but I couldn’t know for sure unless I actually used one. So when I got the G Pad, I subjected it to the 3 tests.

The Purse Test

Whether it’s a purse for women or large pockets for men, a tablet’s portability is part of its appeal. I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to carry another pouch with me, I’d rather just throw it in whatever I am already bringing along. The G Pad 8.3 passed this test with flying colors, fitting well in my middle-sized — but really small-sized by this year’s trends — purse. After all, it is only 1.68cm taller and 1.25cm wider than the Nexus 7, with 39 additional grams in weight: a difference that isn’t all that significant when you are merely putting the tablet in an already large and heavy bag.

The One-Hand Test

That 1.25cm difference in width and 39grams in weight, while less important in the purse test, is a lot more noteworthy when it comes to holding the tablet. I have average-sized female hands and the Nexus 7 sits on the cusp of comfort for me. The G Pad 8.3 was awkward to fully grab one-handed, and balancing it in the middle on my fingers while operating it with my thumb — mostly for scrolling — was a frustrating exercise in gravity and control. You might have more luck if your hands are fairly large and you don’t have wrist pains when holding objects for prolonged times.

The Bed Test

I am definitely not the only person who brings her tablet to the bed. It is my ebook and news reader, my mobile movie and TV series player, my gaming console, and as such, it is essential that I can lie in bed and use it for prolonged periods of time without being worn out by it.

The G Pad particularly excelled at video and game playing as well as comic book reading — activities that are usually two-handed for me and hence didn’t put a lot of strain on any of my wrists. The larger screen came into play here, bringing videos and games to life more than my Nexus 7, and making comic book pages easily readable in portrait whereas the Nexus 7’s screen is usually too small for that. Ebooks, news and other forms of text-based content consumption were a different story however, as I tend to read one-handed which became uncomfortable pretty quickly.

Verdict

Out of three tests, the G Pad 8.3 won one, failed one, and came halfway through in the third. But it all boils down to my/your hand size. If you can find a G Pad 8.3 display unit in stores, I’d advise you to try and hold it one-handed. If you can do that comfortably, then the G Pad 8.3 should be worth your consideration for a small and handy tablet. It is only slightly larger and heavier than the average 7″ tablet, but it offers significantly more screen estate.

Beyond Size and Weight, Differences that Matter

Were I to dissect the LG G Pad 8.3’s spec sheet versus the Nexus 7, I’d tell you that it has a slightly lower PPI, slightly better processor and camera, slightly larger battery, and so on. But you are not here for the minute details, you are here to know which differences actually matter in the real world.

In the G Pad 8.3’s plus column, we have a microSD slot which makes the tablet easily expandable to 80GB (16GB internal + 64GB microSDXC), double tap to lock/unlock which is such a great feature that you only miss when you use a device that doesn’t have it, and software-supported OTG in the microUSB port which will make it easier to hook USB drives or something like the Meenova without third-party apps or custom ROMs. The G Pad is also, subjectively, more physically appealing with smaller bezels on the front (by my calculations, the screen constitutes 73% of the front of the G Pad but only 62% of the Nexus 7) and a nice metallic back.

The G Pad also exists in a white version, offers a lot less bezel than other tablets, and a beautiful and tough metallic back.

The G Pad also exists in a white version, offers a lot less bezel than other tablets, and a beautiful and tough metallic back.

In the G Pad 8.3’s minus column, we have a lack of an LTE version and LG’s horrible track record of bringing software updates to their devices. The G Pad ships with Android 4.2 and although there aren’t any crucial new features that would completely alter the way you use a tablet between 4.2 and 4.4, it still remains on paper two versions behind the Nexus 7. That’s not to say that it might receive updates in the future year, or might remain on this version while the Nexus 7 moves one or two other steps forward with each Android update. With LG’s update policy, or lack thereof, the only thing you can know for sure is that you never know if an update is coming or not.

LG’s Software Additions

I’ve long been of the opinion that while OEM skins might bring some needed improvements to phones and their usage, they don’t really offer any added value on tablets. After all, your tablet use will be mostly geared towards content consumption and creation apps and in that aspect, a skin is like slapping a coat of paint on the wall behind a cinema theatre’s screen. It’s there, but no one really sees or needs it.

The G Pad 8.3 slightly changed my opinion. It comes with almost the same improvements that I love in my LG G2, and while I could easily do without most of them on a tablet, I was very happy to see some:

  • Adding a notification drop-down shortcut to the software buttons is infinitely practical on a large tablet screen.
  • My beloved Clip Tray and QuickMemo — here called QMemo — are even more useful on a device that you use more than your phone for work and content consumption respectively.
  • QSlide, which I almost never use on my phone, makes more sense on a tablet where you can open two floating windows other than the background app.
Some of LG's skin additions are quite useful.

Some of LG’s skin additions are quite useful.

QPair

The winning feature of LG’s G Pad 8.3 is the introduction of QPair, a pairing app that works in tandem with your phone to provide you with call, message and social network notifications when you are using your tablet while your phone is a few feet away or in the other room. QPair also simplifies tethering between the phone and tablet, automatically shares your QMemos, and lets you quickly open the app you were just using if you hop between both devices frequently.

QPair's six features help you  switch as seamlessly as possible between phone and tablet.

QPair’s six features help you switch as seamlessly as possible between phone and tablet.

QPair was by far the best phone-tablet combo tool I have seen so far, from any manufacturer on any OS, and it impressed me enough that I wrote a full run-down of it saying it sets the benchmark for phone and tablet integration.

To Answer my First Question

Stuck or thriving? That is the LG G Pad 8.3’s predicament when it comes to the middle tablet segment. But each time you look at a factor of the decision, the scales tip in a different direction, making it quite difficult to answer that question.

If we compare it to Android’s poster child, the new Nexus 7, LG’s software additions are very useful but not essential, and the company’s propensity to provide software updates is unreliable but there aren’t exceptional new features that you’d need from the newer versions of Android. On the hardware front, you gain a microSD slot and lose the LTE option. And on the portability aspect, your hand size will either make it the best large-screened yet compact tablet or the most uncomfortable to hold small tablet.

In my opinion, the LG G Pad 8.3 is neither stuck nor thriving in the middle tablet segment. It is a valiant first attempt at breaking the established division between small and large tablets, and at challenging the misconception that 8+” tablets should be considerably larger than 7″ ones. The smaller bezels succeed in pitting it against the Nexus 7 for targeting consumers who want smaller tablets, while still offering a significantly larger screen and hence a better experience for content consumption and creation. If anything, this is proof that the 8+” tablet market is in dire need of more competition and has the potential, as components get smaller and bezels less prominent, of becoming the de-facto small tablet segment.

In fewer words, I think LG has found the sweet spot for tablet screen size with the G Pad 8.3, but the device’s size remains a little too big for now. When the company finds a way to fit that same screen in a smaller device, they will reach the true “thriving” status of their endeavor.