LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition Review: Android's iPad Mini

Your pure-Android tablet options at present are a decidedly mixed bag; you've got the terrific seven-inch Nexus 7 2013 edition on one hand, and the aging 10-inch Nexus 10 from late 2012, just crying for an update. There's a lot of room in between for something Goldilocks might like.

So, Google did the same thing it did when it wanted to add more pure-Android phones to its arsenal. It bought some solid hardware that was already being produced, replaced the manufacturers software with pure Android goodness, and whammo, you've got yourself a pretty terrific tablet. The LG G Pad 8.3 is that device.

What Is It?

It's an 8.3-inch tablet built by LG, with software straight from Google. It runs the latest version of Android (KitKat 4.4.2), and it's mighty fast.

Note: There's also a previously-released version that runs an older version of Android with LG's custom skin on top. The Google Play Edition (i.e. pure Android) is better.

Why Does It Matter?

This is the first tablet you can buy running stock Android direct from Google that doesn't have Nexus printed on the back. And it matters because it may be that "just right" size for someone. Also, Google Play Editions tend to be better than the original devices.

LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition Review: Android's iPad Mini

Design

It's a cold, clean piece of hardware. When the screen is off, there's almost nothing up front to catch your eye, save for an LG logo at the top of the device with the front-facing camera at its side. No capacitive buttons wasting space. The bezels on the sides (when in portrait mode) are pretty thin compared to those at the top and bottom, which looks a bit odd, but they give you a nice place to hold it in landscape mode.

The back of the G Pad is taken up almost entirely by an aluminum panel with a smooth, matte finish. It's almost always cool to the touch, and while it doesn't feel slippery per se, it's definitely not as grippy as the current Nexus 7. It does feel just as solidly built, though. It has dual speakers which have a stereo orientation when you hold the tablet landscape, which you'll be doing for most videos and games.

LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition Review: Android's iPad Mini

[LG G Pad left, Google Nexus 7 right]

The 8.3-inch, 1920 x 1200 pixel, IPS display really catches the eye. At 273 pixels per inch (PPI) isn't quite as densely packed as the Nexus 7 or retina iPad Mini (323 and 326 PPI, respectively), and it is indeed a difference you can see, but only if you were doing a side-by-side comparison very close up. Colors aren't as sweet as the Nexus 7's (which along with the Kindle Fire HDX has the best color accuracy of any tablet out there), with whites looking a bit orangey-brown, but again, you'd only see it if they were side-by-side.

Under the hood is Qualcomm's quad-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 processor. It's a definite step from the Snapdragon S4 Pro in the Nexus 7. It comes with 16GB of built-in storage and it has a micro SD card slot, though stock Android can't really write to it (you can side-load music and video content onto it, though).

LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition Review: Android's iPad Mini

Using It

It's terrifically fast. Racing against the Nexus 7, it boots up almost five seconds faster, big apps open a second to two quicker, and even smaller apps pop open with more speed. If you're a hardcore gamer, this is good news. It's definitely not the beast that is the 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800, but combined with KitKat (Android 4.4.2) and the 2GB RAM, it's still the fastest Android tablet yet.

The screen size is excellent for reading and for gaming. It's certainly a lot better for watching video than the iPad mini's funky aspect ratio allows. That said, it could definitely stand to be brighter—the Nexus 7 blows it out of the water on this front. In fact, while the extra 1.3-inches of screen real estate is nice, the Nexus 7's screen is better by every other metric.

LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition Review: Android's iPad Mini

[G Pad on bottom, Nexus 7 on top]

The G Pad feels very light and thin for its size. LG did an excellent job with the hardware build quality, and it feels very strong. It's definitely not as comfortable to hold with one hand as the Nexus 7, but I do prefer it to the considerable width of the iPad Mini. It's basically a third of an inch narrower, which definitely requires less hand-yoga.

Battery life is very solid. It should get you through a long weekend with moderate use on a single charge, which is slightly better than the N7, and slightly worse than the iPad Mini. The speakers are loud enough but the sound quality is unfortunately very muddy.

Lastly, Android KitKat is just really nice to use on this thing. Everything is clean and fluid, though perhaps not quite as quick as it is on the Nexus 5, which uses the current world's best mobile processor, the Snapdragon 800.

Like

It's the fastest Android tablet out there to date. It runs pure Android straight from Google and will likely be among the first to get future OS updates. The creen size is a nice compromise between portability and luxurious viewing space. The hardware is very solidly built. And in a refreshing change of pace, the speaker placement means they don't easily get blocked by your hands. Battery life is very good.

No Like

The screen definitely isn't as sharp, vivid, or accurate as it could be. The back is a bit more slippery than the Nexus 7's. While the speakers are placed well, the audio quality coming out of the speakers is awful. You really wouldn't want to listen to music through them. It's a bit more awkward to use than the Nexus, physically, which makes it feel less portable.

LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition Review: Android's iPad Mini

Should You Buy It?

It's a very good tablet, but when you factor in costs, it gets a bit murky. At $350, it's $120 more expensive than the $230 Nexus 7. While it's faster than the Nexus 7 and has a larger screen, the less-accurate/sharp screen, poor audio quality, and slightly more awkward form-factor put it on roughly even footing. That's not to say that $350 is expensive for a tablet of this caliber, it's just that $230 for the Nexus 7 is an insanely good deal for a tablet that awesome.

If you definitely need a bigger display, the G Pad will be a better buy than the iPad mini for most people. It's more real estate for 50 bucks cheaper. This especially holds true if you already have an Android phone; it's generally easiest to stick within the same ecosystem so you don't have to re-buy your favorite apps.

That said, most people should still probably just get the Nexus 7 anyway. [Google Play Store]

LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition Specs

Network: Wi-Fi
• OS: Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)
• CPU: 1.6 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600
• Screen: 8.3-inch 1920x1200 IPS display (273 PPI)
• RAM: 2GB
• Storage: 16GB (with SD card)
• Camera: 5MP rear / 1.3MP front
• Battery: 4600 mAh Li-Po
• Dimensions: 8.54 x 4.98 x 0.33 inches
• Weight: 11.92 ounces
• Price: $350