In the last couple of years we’ve seen reams of budget 7-inch tablets. And the last year saw a load of great 8-inch ones outed, including the LG G Pad 8.3.
But whatever happened to the good old 10-inch tablet? The LG G Pad 10.1 is out to offer people a decent-but-cheap 10.1-inch experience. It’s a low-cost alternative to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1, costing just under £200.
You've got to expect a certain number of compromises to hit a price like that, but has LG made the cuts in the right places? We're not so convinced...
READ MORE: LG G Pad 8.3 review
Back to basics
Tablets don’t get much more simple looking than the LG G Pad 10.1. Dressed entirely in black, it’s the sort of low-key garb people use to hide a bit of extra weight in the tummy region. There’s no such thing here, though.
The LG G Pad 10.1 is just 8.9mm thick and weighs 523g. That’s not too heavy for a 10.1-inch tablet.
However, aside from being quite thin, there’s little to show this is a 2014 tablet. Where more expensive new models such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 have slimmed down the expanse of bezel around the display for a more modern, streamlined look, the LG G Pad 10.1 still has a beefy handgrip on each side.
If you’re going to keep the tablet at home, you don’t need to worry. But it cuts into the portability a bit.
For a clearer look at what we mean, let’s have a little specs comparison with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5. Even though that tablet has a bigger screen, it’s still a centimetre less wide, and 50g lighter. If you’re looking for something to use on the train on the way to work, you’d probably be better off with the smaller LG G Pad 8.3 or Google Nexus 7 at the price.
This is really a tablet to use at home, while vegging out on the sofa. Forgetting the fairly big footprint for a minute, the LG G Pad 10.1 is actually pretty comfy to handle too.
It’s big, black and basic, with no real design frills, but the back of the tablet has a lovely soft touch finish that’s about as stroke-able as a puppy. It adds the little bit of design class the LG G Pad 10.1 really needs.
There’s another little hardware extra, and it’s something that once again tells us the LG G Pad 10.1 is more of a coach potato than Jim Royle. It has an IR blaster on the top edge. With the help of the QRemote app, this lets you make the tablet function as a universal remote.
As long as your TV or Blu-ray player isn’t old enough to earn a bus pass, you should have no trouble getting it hooked up with the LG G Pad 10.1. It doesn’t work with game consoles, though, which is a shame. The tablet also has NFC, which is a bit of a surprise in a tablet of this price. It’s basic in some respects, but there are a few extras.
READ MORE: Google Nexus 7 review
That’s really your lot in terms of flashiness, though. The LG Pad 10.1 is otherwise a pretty simple tablet, and where this shows up most significantly is in the screen.
We’ll admit, we did get a bit of a sinking feeling on first turning it on. It’s just not sharp, at all.
The LG G Pad 10.1 has a 1,280 x 800 pixel screen, the same sort of resolution we saw back in 2011 when tablets first started getting popular. 7-inch tablets can just about get away with 1,280 x 800 screens today, but 10.1-inch ones really can’t anymore.
We tested games, web browsing and videos with the LG G Pad 10.1 to see exactly how badly the low-res display will affect you. 720p videos can still look pretty great on this tablet – it’s more-or-less the screen’s native resolution, but most other things have the feel of being blown up to an uncomfortable size: stretched that bit too far.
For the techies out there, the LG Pad 10.1 has a 149ppi display. LG’s own G Pad 8.3, which sells for slightly less cash, offers a far better 273ppi, and the iPad Air 264ppi. There just aren’t enough pixels going around here.
There are a few other screen problems, too. The colours are not perfect, with reds looking a bit anaemic, and it’s not great at handling motion, meaning you get noticeable trails when flicking quickly through the interface.
We have seen screens much, much worse than the LG G Pad 10.1’s, though. It uses an IPS panel, meaning you can share it with several people and they’ll get more-or-less the same experience. Earlier budget tablet screens often looked a shadowy mess from the wrong angle.
So the question is – are you a screen connoisseur or are the bad bits things you can live with? We find it tricky to accept when cheaper tablets such as the Nexus 7 already use far more pixel-packed screens despite being a lot smaller.
10.1-inch tablets need to play catch-up.
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The Duracell bunny of tablets
However, there is a benefit to using a screen that only has a few more pixels than a 4.5-inch phone such as the Motorola Moto G: battery life is great.
When left to play a 720p MP4 video at mid-level brightness – the sort of setting you might use when watching a movie indoors – the LG G Pad 10.1 lasts for a staggering 16 hours. That’s enough to watch the entire extended The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and you’ll still have enough juice left for a few handfuls of Spongebob Squarepants episodes. Winner.
The LG G Pad 10.1 uses an 8000mAh battery, which is much bigger than the 6800mAh unit of its most obvious rival, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1.
With 16GB of internal memory, you have enough room for only a few movies, but there’s thankfully a microSD card slot to let you add to that. After all, Frodo’s not going to look too sharp if you try and compress the 12 hours of The Lord of the Rings trilogy into the 10GB or so you actually have to play with in the G Pad 10.1.
LG has tried to give the tablet even more movie cred by using stereo speakers, one on each side of the G Pad 10.1’s back. However, sound quality isn’t too hot. It’s not flat-out ugly, but doesn’t have the extra injection of mid-range warmth and the tiny little kick of bass that the best mobile device speakers can now kick out. That little sound quality improvement is not a lot, but it means a lot to us and you don’t get it here.
Optimus – good, if not optimal
But aside from lasting for ages and having a slightly rubbish screen, what is the LG G Pad 10.1 like to use? This comes down to the Optimus UI, the custom interface that sits on top of Android 4.4. It’s a very similar interface to the LG G3’s.
While OptimusUI doesn’t exactly have bags of style, it is quite simple these days, and offers a couple of features that are useful in a tablet. First, you can run two apps at once, a feature accessible using one of the software soft keys at the bottom of the screen.
It’s not quite as slick as Samsung’s take on the same idea, and you can’t run nearly all your apps in this way, but it is handy. And, for once, if offers an excuse for having two different browser apps (you need to use the stock browser and Chrome to get two web pages on screen at once).
QPair is also worth a mention. It’s an app that hooks up with your mobile phone using Bluetooth 4.0, relaying your text messages so you can more-or-less forget your phone while using the LG G Pad 10.1. Bonus sofa lounger points.
The execution of extra features such as QPair and QRemote could be a little bit slicker, but they certainly do work.
Android still struggles a bit with justifying a 10-inch screen – the extra space doesn’t add all that much to most apps – and the UI is once again let down a bit by the screen resolution. The smallish text of app icons makes the lower pixel density a bit too obvious, and as a result OptimusUI looks quite a bit scrappier on the LG G Pad 10.1 than it would on, say, the LG G3 or even the LG G Pad 8.3.
It’s a confirmation that the LG G Pad 10.1 spends a bit too much of the budget on extras such as NFC and an IR transmitter, and not quite enough on the real basics such as screen quality. We’d trade away the extras just for the bump up to a 1080p screen.
Chasing the Snapdragon
The power on tap is reasonable, though. The LG G Pad 10.1 uses a quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU and 1GB RAM. The CPU has proved extremely popular, particularly in phones.
It’s enough to play top 3D games pretty well, although not always with quite the visual flashiness of the top CPUs. And as well as missing out on some graphical effects, the low screen resolution spoils the party again. It can spoil the immersion a bit, making it look as though you’re looking at a game rather than being part of it.
The Geekbench 3 benchmark results tell you the full story on the Snapdragon 400’s CPU power. It scores around 1148 points, which is a fair bit less than the Nexus 7’s 1800-odd and the LG G Pad 8.3’s 1700-ish points.
Despite being slightly cheaper, these tablets both have better CPUs. The Nexus 7 has a Snapdragon S4 Pro, the LG G Pad 8.3 a Snapdragon 600. The big difference is that they use Krait cores while the LG G Pad 10.1 uses lower-power Cortex-A7 ones.
The Snapdragon 400 gets by in most situations but it doesn’t cut through challenging tasks like butter.
Operating System - Android KitKat 4.4
Screen - 10.1-inch IPS with 1280 x 800 resolution
Processor - Quad-core Snapdragon 400 @ 1.2GHz
Graphics - Adreno 305
RAM - 1GB
Storage - 16GB (microSD card expandable by up to 32GB)
Connectivity - 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, microSD
Cameras - 1MP front, 5MP rear
Dimensions - 261 x 166 x 9mm
Weight - 523g
Don’t trade in your DSLR just yet
You also get two cameras with the LG G Pad 10.1. There’s a 5-megapixel camera on the back and a 1-megapixel camera on the front.
Using a 10.1-inch tablet to take photos will do nothing for your street creed, and if you have a half-decent phone its camera will almost certainly be better. The main camera does have autofocus, though, which is something.
Strangely, it has quite an extended or ‘zoomed in’ focal length for a tablet, which makes fitting a bunch of people in a shot tricky at times. And shots with indoor lighting are pretty awful – both noisy and milky-looking.
The LG G Pad 10.1’s camera app is also extremely simple, in a not-entirely-good way. There are no real extra modes, just standard shooting and panorama. Judging by some of our shots, it could really do with an extra lower-light mode. Because indoors shots really aren’t pretty at times.
READ MORE: Stuff's Guide to Photography
LG G Pad 10.1 verdict
10-inch Android tablets have gone quite quiet of late, and it’s good to see a new, affordable model like the LG G Pad 10.1 arrive. However, we’re not sure it has its priorities in the right place.
Extras such as NFC, IR transmitters and dual cameras should come below screen quality in the pecking order. And while every other tablet class seems to be obsessed with pixel density, the LG 10.1 display is very low-res.
Battery life is cracking, and there are a few neat home-enhancing features. But in the end we find it very hard to live with such a low-res display in 2014.
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