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LG Stylus 2 review: A smartphone to take note of

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LG’s G4 Stylus never made it to the UK, and its successor, simply called the Stylus 2, will be the first stylus-equipped phone to make an appearance in UK shops in years. It’s particularly good news for those after a bit of a big phone bargain, as at £250 SIM-free it’s almost half the price of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – the only other phone with a stylus you can officially buy right in the UK today. The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is only available as a grey import.

Part of the reason why the Stylus 2 doesn’t cost the earth is due to the decidedly entry-level tech inside it. Powered by a quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor, it’s no faster than your typical budget handset, and its 5.7in, 1,280 x 720 resolution display pales in comparison to the 2,560 x 1,440 screens of its Note rivals.

Display

Having said that, when the Stylus 2 still has a respectable pixel density of 258ppi, you begin to wonder whether sky-high resolutions are all that necessary. The Stylus 2, for instance, still looks perfectly sharp at a normal viewing distance, and it’s only when you really get up close that you can make out a few jagged edges around text and app icons. Even that takes a bit of squinting.

The quality of the screen is reasonably good, too. While its sRGB colour gamut coverage of 71.6% could be better, its contrast ratio of 1,259:1 was much more respectable and a black level of 0.28cd/m2 (with the screen set to maximum brightness) is also highly impressive. This means black looks deep and inky even on high brightness levels, and images have plenty of detail on show.

Colours look flat, thanks no doubt to the rather poor red and blue reproduction, but it’s far from the worst phone screen I’ve ever seen, and its maximum brightness of 363cd/m2 means it’s readable in most outdoor conditions as well. There’s even a blue light filter to reduce the levels of such light, which may help you sleep if using your device late at night.

Stylus

Then, of course, there’s the Stylus 2’s titular pen. This 107mm-long wand is incredibly slim, but its semi-soft rounded nib is great for jotting stuff down quickly. It doesn’t have any kind of spring-loaded docking mechanism, sadly, forcing you instead to pry it out of its slot with your nail, but this isn’t too much of a chore and the fact it’s located on top of the phone means it shouldn’t fall out accidentally if you forget to push it back in correctly.

Once the stylus has been removed, the phone automatically launches LG’s Pen Pop overlay to give you quick access to apps like Pop Memo, QuickMemo+, Capture+ and Pop Scanner. The first two are basic note-taking apps, allowing you to scribble down quick reminders while Capture+ captures an image of what’s currently onscreen and lets you annotate it.

LG Stylus 2 with stylus popping out of top

Pop Scanner, on the other hand, doesn’t really require the stylus at all, as this has been primarily been designed to straighten images of things like presentations you’ve taken at an angle. Opening the app will automatically launch the camera, for example, and it will then detect what needs to be straightened once you’ve taken a photo.

Admittedly, using the stylus to alter the cropped image is a lot easier than using your fingers, but otherwise, there’s not much call the use the stylus. You can also add another app to the Pen Pop shortcut list, but it’s a shame you can’t customise it with more apps, or switch out LG’s pre-defined lineup for stylus-friendly apps you use more regularly.

Performance

So far, so Note-like, but the main difference between the LG Stylus 2 and the Note 4 and 5 is its speed. With just a quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor and 1.5GB of RAM at its disposal, the Stylus 2 can feel slow and jerky at times. I didn’t notice it too much when using the stylus, but web browsing could be quite stop- start.

It showed in our Peacekeeper browsing benchmark, too, as the Stylus 2 achieved a score of only 503, one of the lowest web browsing scores I’ve seen from this type of processor. Thankfully its general performance scores were a lot more promising.

In Geekbench 3, for example, the Stylus 2 scored 469 in the single-core test and 1,403 in the multi-core test, putting it only a smidge behind the third generation Moto G. It still has some way to go before it reaches the same kind of performance as the Galaxy Note 5, which finished the tests with results of 1,469 and 5,096 respectively, but then the Note 5 does cost considerably more.

The Stylus 2 isn’t bad for playing games on, either. It may struggle with complex 3D titles since it produced a pitiful 1.8fps in the offscreen Manhattan 3.0 test in the GFX Bench benchmarking app, but I was able to play a game of Hearthstone without too much trouble. Animations were a little juddery here and there, but it wasn’t bad enough to put me off playing.

Simpler games like Threes! worked perfectly fine, too, and sliding its number cards around the screen felt smooth and responsive.

If you’re planning on installing a lot of apps, you’ll probably need to make use of the Stylus 2’s microSD card slot, as only 10.3GB of its default 16GB storage is available to the user. This is found underneath the rear back panel next to its removable battery.

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