LG Stylus 2 review

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PROS
  • Decent stylus
  • DAB+ radio
  • Smooth performance
CONS
  • Poor display resolution
  • Boring design
  • Overpriced
KEY FEATURES
  • 5.7-inch 720p display
  • Snapdragon 410
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 13-megapixel camera
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD slot
  • Stylus Pen
  • DAB+ radio
  • 3,000mAh removable battery
  • Manufacturer: LG

WHAT IS THE LG STYLUS 2?

It’s been a curious year for LG’s smartphone department. The likes of the LG G5 and LG X Screen hint at a manufacturer that’s obsessed with finding an angle – anything different to make its offerings stand out from the crowd.

With this comes the LG Stylus 2 – a mid-range phablet with a couple of stand-out features. But is an improved stylus and a DAB+ radio enough to recommend it over other sub-£300/$450 Android phones?

Given the strength of the field, and a couple of underwhelming components, I’d suggest not.

DESIGN

LG showed it was capable of something approaching premium, forward-thinking design with the all-metal LG G5, but the LG Stylus 2 is a bit of a retrogressive step. It’s much more like the LG G3, which might sound like a ringing endorsement on the surface – after all, the LG G3 was our top smartphone pick of 2014.

But of all the LG G3’s virtues, design wasn’t really one of them. It was functional and sturdy, yes, and even interesting in places. But even two years ago, it was hardly premium or even attractive.

The LG Stylus 2 shares the LG G3’s rounded back, plastic construction, and rear-mounted buttons. That final point is likely to remain a divisive one. In my view, rear-mounted buttons were an interesting experiment that should probably have been discarded by now.

It’s something you grow accustomed to with time, but the positioning simply remains less intuitive than traditional side-mounted buttons. It demands that you hold the phone in a very specific way in order to use them, which is less conducive to practical every day usage.

Also, I’m not entirely sure what the point is here. The LG Stylus 2 is fairly slim but hardly skinny at 7.4mm, and there’s ample space on its rounded plastic sides. As such, those rear-mounted buttons come across as something of a design affectation.

Otherwise, the LG Stylus 2 is a pleasant enough phone to hold in the hand. Despite its large 5.7-inch display, it doesn’t feel ridiculously big. Part of this is down to the fact that we’ve grown accustomed to “large” phones, of course. But the phone’s relative thinness and surprising lightness at 145g also contribute.

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Of course, the LG Stylus 2’s main design feature is worn prominently in its name. On the top-right corner of the phone as you look head-on, you’ll find a Stylus Pen stashed away within the body.

The stylus itself boasts a nano-coated pen tip for a “real pen-like feel,” according to LG. In practice, I found that the stylus did indeed lend itself to more natural writing than many cheaper stylus options – although it should be noted that this is a “dumb” stylus with no degree of pressure sensitivity or control buttons.

I’ll discuss the Stylus Pen’s software implementation later, but in terms of design and feel, I’d say it’s somewhere in between the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 series and the Nintendo 3DS.

DISPLAY

If you’re talking exclusively from the perspective of Android, where 5.5-inch displays are pretty much the norm, then the LG Stylus 2’s screen can only just be termed “big”.

Indeed, as I’ve discussed above, the Stylus 2’s 5.7-inch IPS LCD panel fits comfortably in the hand – although of course, even those with long fingers will need to employ their other hand for anything short of checking the lockscreen or scrolling through a web page.

It would be silly to criticise the LG Stylus 2 screen for being “too big” then, but I’ll certainly criticise it for not being sharp enough.

Despite that larger-than-average display, LG has opted for a mere 720p resolution. That results in a pixel density of just 258ppi. Practically speaking, it means that you won’t be able to watch Full HD video content on your new phablet, which is absurd.

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You might argue that this isn’t a premium device, and at a cost of £250/$375 (£220/$330 on O2 PAYG) you’d be quite right. But let’s just look at some alternative examples here. The Moto G4 and the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 both come with 5.5-inch 1080p displays – you can argue among yourselves whether that still constitutes a “phablet” – yet both phones cost around £100/$150 less.

I’d argue that manufacturers can no longer justify opting for a 720p resolution for any display of 5 inches or above, unless they’re going for an entry-level spec and a £100/$150-or-less price tag.

Sharpness aside, the LG Stylus 2’s screen isn’t too bad. Colours seem more vibrant, whites whiter, and viewing angles better than many cheaper phones, such as Vodafone’s aforementioned 1080p bargain.

It isn’t especially bright, though, and I found myself needing to crank up the brightness slider to 75%, even when using it indoors. Outside, you’ll need to go the whole hog if you want to be able to see anything.

This isn’t entirely unusual for a low-end phone, but I’d feel more comfortable excusing it here if the LG Stylus 2 came in at or under the £200/$300 mark. It’s in a bit of a no-mans-land, as if you can stretch to £300/$450 then you can start considering the likes of the OnePlus 3 and the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 – both of which offer significantly better displays (and everything else for that matter).

PERFORMANCE

There are no great surprises, pleasant or otherwise, concerning the LG Stylus 2’s level of performance. If anything, it’s a sense of mild disappointment.

It comes packing a Snapdragon 410 CPU, which was Qualcomm’s first ever 64-bit CPU. This was an entry-level chip at the time of its unveiling back at the end of 2013, so it’s far from cutting-edge.

That’s not to say that the LG Stylus 2 is found wanting for performance. General homescreen navigation is smooth, as is web browsing in Chrome.

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It remains poised under the heavier load of gaming, too. It isn’t possible to push the graphical settings past Medium on Dead Trigger 2, but performance was smooth at that level nonetheless. Meanwhile, the detailed 2D platforming of Rayman Adventures ran similarly well.

Of course, one of the contributing factors to this decent performance has to be that 720p resolution that I criticised earlier. The lack of pixels really takes the pressure off a relatively limited GPU.

As if to illustrate that point, benchmarking tests reveal some fairly underwhelming figures. An average Geekbench 3 multi-core score of 1,411 represents less than half the score of the Moto G4 (3,190) and the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 (3,094).

Even the OnePlus X, a now defunct handset with a relatively ancient 32-bit Snapdragon 801 CPU, managed 2,542 in this test.

Audio performance isn’t great either, thanks to the employment of a single, small, rear-mounted speaker. Get those earphones out. Actually, you really should get those earphones out, in order to take advantage of one of the LG Stylus’s key software features, which we’ll discuss next.

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SOFTWARE

If you’ve used an LG phone before, you’ll know that it likes to layer one of the more heavily customised UIs over Google’s Android OS.

In the case of the LG Stylus 2, this seems to be pretty much the same LG UX 5.0 on top of Android 6.0.1 that we saw on the LG G5.

As before, it’s far from the best Android UI. LG’s approach lacks restraint, polish, and just plain good taste compared to its rivals. It’s all bloopy audio cues and cheap animations, and Android’s fine notification menus have been needlessly restyled.

Both Samsung and HTC are similarly heavy-handed with their own custom UIs, but their efforts seem a little more cohesive and well-judged than LG’s.

The biggest difference with LG’s latest attempt is the complete removal of the app drawer. This means that all of your downloaded apps live on the homescreen rather than tucked inside a separate menu, making it more like iOS than Android – in this way at least.

LG isn’t the only manufacturer to do this; many Chinese manufacturers do the same. And frankly, I’m okay with it. There’s still a perfectly functional folder system in play if you find yourself with a surplus of apps.

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For other Android fans, of course, tinkering with such a fundamental part of the Android experience is tantamount to heresy. They’ve been catered for here – you’ll find the option to download a “Home & app drawer” layout in the homescreen Settings menu.

It’s a shame there isn’t such a simple “De-bloat” option in there too. Yes, the LG Stylus 2 suffers more than most with bloatware.

On the main homescreen alone you have LG SmartWorld, which is an online hub for new themes and wallpapers. Did it really need a stand-alone app? You also get a Management folder filler with various system tools such as Memory, Battery Saver, and Storage. Again, why dedicated apps were needed for these settings I’m not so sure.

The bloat continues onto a second homescreen, where there’s a Tools folder, a Recently Uninstalled app, and LG’s own take on several core apps (Music, Calendar, Clock and so on). You also get Evernote pre-installed.

It’s all just very messy and in-your-face, and none of the common LG apps is a particularly good example of the format. You’ll be downloading fresh examples or using Google’s own pre-installed versions (for photos and messages, say) in no time.

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There is one custom LG app that warrants special mention here, and that’s DAB+. As already mentioned, the LG Stylus 2 can operate as a DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) radio. You’ll need to plug in a set of headphones for it to act as an antenna, but it also works with a 3.5mm jack plugged into an aux port.

Once you do, you can access the many channels that transmit on the DAB frequencies, such as BBC 6 Music.

Of course, you can access such channels online from your phone these days, which offers a much broader experience that’s easier to search and navigate. LG’s bundled DAB+ app is a bare-bones effort that requires you to scroll or flick through each station in alphabetical order. You can star your favourite channels, but it’s a little laborious initially.

A certain type of person who prefers “live” radio to podcasts, and who is on a limited data allowance will doubtless find this feature to be a major plus. To most people, however, I suspect it will feel interesting but somewhat antiquated.

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The final LG Stylus 2 software element worth discussing relates to its unique stylus. LG operates things a little differently to Samsung with its Galaxy Note 5 and its predecessors.

There are no buttons to press on the stylus itself – when you pull it out of its housing, Pen Pop will automatically provide an overlay of related shortcuts. Pop Memo gives you a little sketchpad widget on which you can scrawl quick notes. Once activated, this will remain in the foreground even when you start up apps, which can be handy for scribbling down notes while browsing the web.

Capture takes a screenshot and lets you annotate the result, while Pop Scanner lets you take pictures, crudely cut them, and paste them into memos; QuickMemo+ gives you a full-page canvas for scrawling on.

You can also add an additional app of your choosing to this shortcut bar, so Bamboo or AutoDesk SketchBook users can make their favourite sketch app feel a little more integrated. The Pen Keeper function, meanwhile, will notify you when you attempt to walk off without the stylus – a nice touch.

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Ultimately, LG has covered all of the core bases with its stylus integration, but it feels like it could do with some fleshing out.

Curiously, the Screen-off Memo function that LG mentions quite prominently on the LG Stylus 2 web page isn’t activated by default. I thought the feature was missing or non-functioning until I delved into the Settings menu and flicked the toggle on.

This is a shame, because it’s a cool feature, allowing you to quickly write on the screen as soon as you withdraw the stylus, without having to unlock your phone.

It’s kind of typical of LG’s approach to software – often promising but somewhat scattershot, and occasionally half-baked.

CAMERA

You’ve probably detected by now that I found the LG Stylus 2 to be a rather underwhelming experience in many ways. Perhaps that explains why I was quite impressed by its camera.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing outstanding about the Stylus 2’s camera specs or photographic performance. It’s the kind of 13-megapixel unit we’ve come to expect of most smartphones in 2016.

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However, it managed to turn out some genuinely decent results. At its best, such as a when the auto-HDR mode kicked in effectively for a mid-evening landscape shot, or for a nicely bokeh-ed flower close-up, LG’s considerable camera expertise shines through. Such examples are a clear step above the many low-end pretenders.

It’s frustrating, then, when that auto-HDR inexplicably fails to kick in, leaving over-exposed skies or gloomy foregrounds.

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Detail is nice from the 13MP camera

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HDR helps a great deal

pics

But you’ll struggle when the HDR doesn’t kick in properly

Overall, though, I was quite happy with the LG Stylus 2’s main camera. Its 8-megapixel front camera isn’t so hot, though.

This seems to be the same 8-megapixel camera that I’d previously experienced in the LG X Screen – another recent mid-ranger from the Korean manufacturer. For some reason, selfies with this unit turn out blurry and lacking in detail, despite the apparent megapixel bump.

You also have to contend with a tacky “beauty” slider that serves to remove your facial blemishes at the expense of your humanity. If you want to see what your eventual Android replacement will look like when the AI goes rogue, take a selfie with this hideous setting pushed up anywhere past the half-way mark.

Video extends only to 1080p Full HD – which, of course, you won’t be able to watch back in its native resolution on that 720p display. Nevertheless, t’s smooth and balanced enough.

BATTERY LIFE

As it turns out, I’ve saved the best part of the LG Stylus 2 for last. It seems to go on forever in between charges.

We’re looking at a 3,000mAh removable battery here, which is the kind of unit you expect to see in flagship phones with QHD displays and super-fast processors. With the Stylus 2’s 720p display and its modestly clocked Snapdragon 410 CPU, there evidently isn’t anything like the same power draw.

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The result is that I found I could get through three full days of moderate usage before the battery warning kicked in at 15%. This involved employing my typical habit of putting the phone in Airplane mode overnight. During my waking hours I took several calls, indulged in several bouts of web browsing, did a spot of gaming, and took a dozen or so photos.

Heavy users will doubtless find that they’re able to clear two days before needing to recharge. It’s a sterling performance, and the fact that the LG Stylus 2’s battery is replaceable will be the icing on the cake for frequent travellers.

SHOULD YOU BUY THE LG STYLUS 2?

With its underwhelming screen resolution, mediocre performance, and bland design, the LG Stylus 2 doesn’t make a strong case for consideration above current affordable champs such as the Moto G4. Indeed, with a launch price of around £250/$375, it seems grossly overpriced.

The Stylus 2’s prospects aren’t massively enhanced by a competent if inessential digital pen system and curiously archaic DAB+ support. On the plus side, its main camera is capable of some decent (if far from spectacular) results, and its battery life is truly stellar.

Overall, the Stylus 2 needs to drop in price by a good £75/$107 to £100/$150 – and even then there are better options.

VERDICT

The LG Stylus 2 is an under-equipped, overpriced phablet that suffers in comparison to some much cheaper and only slightly smaller-screened devices.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/6rF1Fv)

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