LAS VEGAS—No matter how much I want it to be, the LG Stylus 3 isn't going to be a Galaxy Note 7 replacement. LG showed off its new lineup of midrange phones here at CES—the 2017 models of the K3, K4, K8, K10 and the Stylus 3. There isn't all that much to say about the K series, but the Stylus phone is freighted with a bit of hope.
Let me be clear: the Ks will sell like hotcakes. LG's relatively dull workhorse phones fill up the middle of carrier product lines, are frequently given away in buy-one-get-one-free offers, and in general provide people who don't much care for high-end smartphones with reliable connectivity.
The four Ks range in size from 4.5- to 5.3-inch screens. The two higher-end models now have 13-megapixel cameras, and the little, cheap one now has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera as opposed to the pathetic VGA camera on last year's unit. The K10 and K8 run Android 7.0 Nougat, while the lower-end models run Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, but thanks to LG's user interface skin, the UIs all look alike.
LG laid out a whole bunch of them (above) and they're really hard to tell apart; a long march of black slabs heading off into the distance. They all have removable memory and removable batteries, if that matters to you.
People who are choosy about their phones will wait for the G6, which LG hinted is coming at Mobile World Congress in February, or the midrange X Series, which at least has unusual features like a very big battery. "The X Power did very well, and you'll see a refresh of that," LG Mobile communications director Frank Lee said.
And then there's the Stylus 3, also known as the LG Stylo 3, which is important in part because with the Galaxy Note series currently in hibernation, it's one of the only Android phones with a stylus.
The Stylus 3's stylus tucks neatly into a built-in slot on the top of the phone. Pull it out—you need to use a fingernail, but I like that because the stylus isn't loose in any way—and you get a pop-up menu letting you scribble quick memos or write on screen shots, which is what a lot of people want to do with their stylus. A "pen keeper" feature alerts you when you leave your pen behind, which is really helpful.
But as with previous LG Stylus/G Stylo phones, the stylus here isn't as high-tech as Samsung's. It's really a simple capacitive stylus, which lacks palm rejection, isn't pressure sensitive, and just doesn't feel as precise as the Galaxy Note 7's stylus did. Even when I reduced the ink size in LG's app, scribbling felt like I was using a felt-tip pen, where the Galaxy Note 7 felt like I was using a fine pencil. That may be because of the Stylus 3's relatively low-res screen, as well as the stylus itself. Of course, the Stylus 3 will also cost a fraction of what the Galaxy Note 7 did; its predecessor, the Stylo 2, costs only $129.99 at Virgin Mobile.
Otherwise, the Stylus 3 is a solid midrange phone with a removable battery, removable memory, and reliable specs. It runs Android 7.0 Nougat on a Mediatek octo-core processor and has a big 5.7-inch, 720p screen. The main camera is 13 megapixels, and the front camera is 8 megapixels. The stylus has a finer tip than on last year's phone, and the phone now has a fingerprint scanner and a bigger 3200mAh battery.
The point of the Stylus 3 is to be an affordable, large-screen phone where the stylus is "a nice complement," not the core of the experience, Lee said. But given that there's a hole in the market, "we're always considering, do we maybe bring forth a premium variation of that?"
We'll see the Stylus 3 and the new K series on US shelves soon. Expect the LG G6 to show up at the end of February. LG didn't specify any prices.