The $179.99 (full retail price) LG Stylo 2 is an affordable phablet for Boost Mobile users. It's surprisingly slim and light considering its 5.7-inch screen, and it makes good use of an embedded stylus with a number of specialized built-in apps. In addition, the phone offers solid battery life, and comes running the latest version of Android out of the box. It's a solid choice for anyone looking for note-taking functionality in the under-$200 price range, but you'll need to spend more if you want a phone with a sharper display or faster performance.
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Design, Display, and Features
The Stylo 2 measures 6.1 by 3.1 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.1 ounces, making it nearly a full ounce lighter than the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (6.0 by 3.0 by 0.3 inches; 6.0 ounces). It's not an easy phone to use one-handed, but it won't weigh your pocket down.
Made entirely of gray polycarbonate, the Stylo 2 won't turn any heads. There's a metallic-looking plastic border along the sides, and a micro USB charging port and 3.5mm audio jack on the bottom. The included soft-tipped stylus tucks in securely to the top right corner and is easy to pull out. The phone recognizes when the stylus has been removed, and automatically offers a menu with stylus-enhanced apps at the top right of the screen (I'll discuss these more in the Software section).
The back of the phone is home to a power button and volume controls below the camera sensor and single LED flash. There's also a tinny back-facing speaker on the bottom left. The plastic back has a faux-metal look, and peels off to give you access to a removable battery, a SIM card slot, and a microSD cards slot that worked with a 200GB SanDisk card.
On the front you'll find a 5.7-inch 1,280-by-720 IPS LCD. Given its size, that 720p resolution is definitely on the low side, working out to 258 pixels per inch. There's some noticeable grain, though for the most part things look clear and bright. The lower resolution is mainly noticeable when playing games or watching video.
Network Performance and Connectivity
The Stylo 2 operates on Boost Mobile, which is one of Sprint's low-cost carrier arms. The phone supports CDMA (800/1900Mhz), HSDPA (850/1700(AWS)/1900/2100Mhz), and LTE (25/26/41) bands. General network performance in our midtown Manhattan test area was average, with highs of 6.22Mbps down and 3.71Mbps up.
Call quality is decent. Calls made from quiet areas have a clear, natural tone, and earpiece volume is loud enough to hear in most circumstances. Calls made from noisier places tend to sound more robotic, and distort a bit when there are loud background noises, like car horns.
Processor, Battery, and Camera
The Stylo 2 is powered by a midrange Snapdragon 410 processor clocked at 1.2GHz. Benchmark scores are average, at 26,822 on AnTuTu, which tests overall system performance. There's 2GB of RAM under the hood, so you won't encounter major slowdowns, and you should be able to handle most apps and multitasking without hitting the RAM usage limit.
That said, the Stylo 2 fares poorly for gaming. GTA: San Andreas has such a low frame rate it's practically stop motion. Asphalt 8 is playable, but the controls aren't very responsive. Less graphics-intensive games run better, but this is certainly not a phone for gamers.
Battery life is stronger. Despite the large, bright 5.7-inch display, the Stylo 2 clocked a solid 6 hours and 6 minutes of runtime when streaming full-screen video at maximum brightness over LTE. Using the phone all day shouldn't be a problem for most users. The battery is also removable, so you can swap it out if you have a spare.
The 13-megapixel rear-facing camera on the Stylo 2 is a standard budget shooter. It performs well enough, but it's nothing special. If you give it time to focus (or manually focus yourself), shots in well-lit settings are clear enough, but not particularly crisp. Color reproduction is largely accurate. But imperfect shooting conditions, such as low light, will cause noise. The camera also records decent 1080p video at 30fps. The 5-megapixel front-facing camera is solid, capturing quality images with accurate color reproduction.
Rare for a midrange phone, the Stylo 2 comes running Android 6.0 Marshmallow. That said, you'd hardly know it given LG's heavy UI layer. Everything from apps icons to the settings menu and notification shade have been altered, and the app drawer has been removed, so all your apps are splashed across the home screens in an iPhone-style arrangement. Fans of stock Android won't be pleased.
On the plus side, LG includes a nifty set of features that set the Stylo 2 apart from other budget phones. As mentioned earlier, there is automatic pen detection when you remove the stylus, which launches a Pop menu in the left corner of your screen. The menu includes Pop Memo, which lets you take notes; Capture+, to write on the screen; Pop Scanner, which lets you edit pictures you've taken; and Quick Memo+, to scribble fast notes. There's also room for one additional app of your choice—I pinned Gmail. Dual Window is another useful feature that allows you to use two apps simultaneously in a split-screen configuration. And Reader Mode reduces the screen's blue light to make it easier on your eyes.
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Unfortunately, there's also a fair amount of bloatware from both Boost and LG. LG adds a Management apps folder to the home screen with Battery Saver, Memory, Battery Usage, Storage & USB, and LG Backup apps. Some of these, like Battery Saver (which turns off mobile data and Wi-Fi and tamps down screen brightness), are already integrated in the Settings menu, making them redundant. You'll also find an App Spotlight in the form of both a widget and an app, advertising various games you can download. That's in addition to another 20 or so pre-installed apps, none of which can be removed. You're left with 8.49GB out of 16GB available. Thankfully, you can move apps to the SD card.
The LG Stylo 2 certainly isn't a replacement for the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, but it isn't meant to be. It's an affordable phablet with some useful stylus-optimized features for Boost Mobile users, and in that regard, it largely succeeds. If you're willing to sacrifice the stylus and go for something a bit smaller, the 5-inch Moto G dials down the bloatware considerably. And if you can spend more to go unlocked, the Google Nexus 6P offers carrier freedom along with a more powerful, bloat-free experience with a gorgeous Quad HD display.