If there’s one brand we’ve wanted to see a return from in the computer space, it’s LG. The brand has had some pretty neat tablets and laptops announced overseas for some time, but now we’re finally getting the goods, starting with the Windows 8-based LG Tab-book.
Sitting in the hybrid space, the Tab-book is the first of two models LG plans to bring to Australia this year that we know about.
While the other is an Ultrabook, this model sits firmly in the hybrid tablet space, blending the innards of a thin and light computer with the style and usability of a tablet, and in some ways, this is a design that feels familiar to what we saw in Sony’s VAIO Duo 11.
Both are designed around a tablet screen that sits above a keyboard, and when needed, can be pulled up and used like a regular laptop, albeit one with a touchscreen.
In the Tab-book Z160, LG is using an Intel Core i5 from the third-generation, also known as Ivy Bridge. The chip in this is clocked at 1.8GHz, though there is a lower version of the Tab-book that comes equipped with the hybrid tablet favourite of Intel’s Atom Z2760, though we’re not reviewing that model today.
While 2GB RAM is the general expected requirement for Windows 8, LG is going with 4GB in this model, while sticking you with a slightly unorthodox 120GB solid-state drive, which we’re told still works with the high-speed SATA3 connection, but may not be as fast as the 128GB SSD sitting in LG’s Ultrabook, announced at the same time.
All of this sits underneath an 11.6 inch IPS screen designed to be viewed at any angle, with several points of touch working with it, and showing off the HD capable 1366×768 resolution, which is just slightly higher than high definition (HD).
The display can sit flat against the bottom of the computer, but when a button on the side is press, a hinge on the back will push the display up into resting at a forty degree angle against where the keyboard sits. LG tells us the hinge has been tested for roughly 20,000 uses, and still works, so it’s betting this part will last the life of the unit.
Ports and connection options are pretty basic, with one USB 3.0 port, a microSD slot, headset, network plug coming from an accessory, full-size HDMI, and power. A first for us, there’s also a microUSB port, though we’re not quite sure why, or where one goes to get a microUSB to another microUSB cable, if they want to plug into another device.
A volume switch sits on the left side next to the display release button, while power, rotation lock, and the microSD slot sit on the right. All other ports are on the back.
There is a 1.3 megapixel web camera in this model, but only on the front.
It was almost love at first sight when we saw LG’s range of laptops and tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier in the year. We got up close and personal, but our LG representative was keeping mum on if the products would ever see the light of day in Australia.
Finally, he’s opened his lips, and has told us that mid-this year, they will arrive. Even better, we have one to review straight off the back of the announcement, and while that was barely a few days ago, we’ve spent our time and have come to our conclusions.
So let’s get straight into it, shall we?
Built around the concept of a tablet with a screen that springs to life and in position, LG’s Tab-book Z160 only had one real competitor with a similar design, and we’ve already mentioned it in the review: the Sony VAIO Duo 11.
Both of these machines are built around the idea that the screen can lie flat and be pulled up sit at an angle against the keyboard, essentially making the hybrid tablet easier to use, and not requiring the extra keyboard section to be left somewhere, a problem inherent in the transforming design used by competitors.
In the LG machine, the screen has been designed to automatically slide itself into position when you press a button on the side, the tablet screen being released from some catches and sliding to reach an angle that make it more like a laptop, and yet not quite.
This forty degree angle might not be to everyone’s liking, but overall, it provides a bright screen with a good viewing angle for anything you need to do, and even makes it possible to write in cramped spaces, as you don’t need the full view needed with a clamshell laptop.
Close it and the LG Tab-book is all tablet, albeit a slightly thicker one, likely due to the hardware inside.
From a design point of view, it’s clear LG is going with the whole “less is more” philosophy, with a simple white back, a screen on top, and what appears to be a magnesium shell on the inside, giving a sturdy feeling at least in the overall heft this machine has.
Outside of the inside design, LG has gone with plastic, which can lessen the experience, though not enough to put you off upon first glance.
In the performance area, some applications might not feel as super-spesh as they would on other machines, what with only 4GB of RAM here, but most of what you throw at it should be okay.
Intel’s third-generation Core processor is here, and is probably among the last of the new machines that will sport them, but it should suffice for most of what you need it for.
Our tests mainly sat around the typically Ultrabook test scenario of writing, surfing, and checking out material online, while we did our regular thing of working both on buses around the city, at home, and at work.
For the most part, we had no problems with performance here, and while the system could take a second or two to jump between programs, it was otherwise acceptable.
Switching the system on yielded the typical slew of great speeds, with being switched on from cold off taking between six and eight seconds, while on from standby was Windows 8’s typical one to two seconds. Not bad at all, and that should satisfy most out there.
There are certainly enough ports here for most, and we’re fans of a USB 3.0 port, we’re just confused as to what the microUSB port is supposed to do, since there are so few microUSB to microUSB cables out there, at least none that came with any of our review products.
The screen will be another thing that most will like, with superb viewing angles, excellent colour, and solid responsiveness.
Windows 8 gestures all work well here, and whether you’re pinching and pulling, or flicking up and down, the screen can pick up on it without any problems. Even typing directly on the screen worked a treat, as did the Windows 8 button at the bottom of the display, which will take you back to the home screen in a jiffy.
The keyboard on the Tab-book can take quite a bit of getting used to, though, and not for the right reasons. Somewhere between being a little too short and slightly compressed, you’ll find that the places your fingers normally go – such as above the “q” for a “1” – aren’t quite hitting what they should be.
Typists familiar with either home row or hunting and pecking will suffer the same problems, as everything just feels condensed, which is a shame, because otherwise, the keyboard is quite comfy. While there’s not a lot of travel, each key has a satisfying click, and if it weren’t for the slight redesign this set of keys has had, we’d have enjoyed ourselves with less typos.
And we had a lot of typos.
There’s also no mouse, which you’d think isn’t a big deal on a tablet because, well, it’s a tablet.
But it’s when you look at the fact that yes, this is still a Windows machine, that you realise you need one. Windows 8 includes a desktop mode, and while Windows 8 native apps are designed with touch in mind, apps made for Windows 7 and below which run on the desktop usually need one.
Sony worked that out in the VAIO Duo 11 and included both a stylus and a tiny optical trackpad in the same form-factor as the Tab-book, but both of these features are missing here.
LG does have a solution, though, with a virtual on-screen trackpad that can be switched on and off in the desktop mode. Run this and the bottom centre square becomes a trackpad, allowing you to run your finger inside of it and emulate a mouse.
Overall, it’s a neat idea, though flawed because it’s not insanely accurate, and it stays running when Windows 8 touch apps are running too, apps that aren’t designed with the mouse in mind.
At least you can switch it on and off, and ultimately, it might have been a good idea for LG to include a small Intellipoint nib or a stylus, as sadly, Windows 8 isn’t the be-all-end-all touch experience, at least not yet.
Battery is another area we’d like to see an improvement, with a runtime of roughly four to five hours max. That’s not bad, outperforming the similarly designed Sony Duo 11, but it could also be a little better.
If you only use the tablet to and from work, and then at home, you’ll be able to leave the brick at home. Otherwise, keeping it with you might be an idea, though it would have been nice to see a redesign of the bare basic power brick here.
We’re also probably not supposed to notice the soldered SIM card slot on the left side of the unit, which we’re told provides an option for 4G LTE in Korea, but not in Australia, where the area isn’t being used.
But our main issue with the Tab-book isn’t any of this, but rather the build, which can be a little shaky.
Press that nifty button on the side and the screen will come up from its hinge and rest at a forty degree angle. That’s cool, and we like that, but it won’t hold if you’re in a moving vehicle.
Too many times during a bus ride, we found the inertia would cause the screen to jerk forward, away from the clips that should be keeping the screen steady and not moving at all.
In fact, it’s only if you go beyond what the tablet is supposed to do and push the screen behind the clips that the screen stays steady.
We’re not sure if this is good for the health of the unit, but this was the only way to keep the tablet’s touchscreen section steady.
Closing the screen can show a different problem altogether, with a very firm close required.
As such, we found the best way to do it was to lay your hand flat on the screen and push it closed, leaving fingerprint marks all over it. Closing it from the side, however, didn’t guarantee it would lock into place, and occasionally meant accidentally clamping your fingers in the middle.
You usually won’t, but we do need to stress that a good firm push on the screen is needed to latch it closed, otherwise it will spring back up again.
LG’s first local entrant in the tablet and notebook game is an interesting one.
A little late to a market about to be inundated with devices sporting the new fourth-generation Intel processors, LG still has a machine that’s not without its qualities. The screen is one of the nicest we’ve seen on a hybrid, with great colours and performance, even if it’s not Full HD. The form factor is easily packed in a backpack and taken out whenever you need it, and you can use it in small spaces.
We just wish the keyboard hadn’t been redesigned from what most people use (a similar PC example is in the gallery) and the screen could hold its position a little better. Regardless, if you fancy the angle hybrid design, the LG Tab-book is worth a look.