LG's G series has undergone quite an evolution since its humble beginnings in 2012 with the Optimus G. Since then we've seen the buttons move to the back, laser auto focus taking a front-seat to the features list and bezels shrink like nobody's business. This general design language has creeped over to LG's more budget-friendly phones too, replacing the ugly rectangular phones LG used to make with far more attractive designs and bigger screens. The LG G Stylo marks a bit of a change on LG's part and actually offers a stylus to go with the 5.7-inch screen on the front, an obvious nod to the Galaxy Note series that's become so popular since its launch 4 years ago. Coming in at a budget $199 certainly heats things up in a market where phones with branding from companies like LG and Samsung often retail for well over $500 too, so what sorts of concessions has LG made to get it to this price range? Let's take a look.
$199 buys quite a bit in 2015, a far reaching point in time from the early days of smartphones where such a price range would only net you a simple feature phone. Many points here look like they'd belong with far more expensive phones and that's sort of the goal LG is going for here with the G Stylo.
- 5.7 inch 720p IPS display
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 1.2GHz Quad-core Procesor
- Adreno 306 GPU
- 1GB of RAM
- 16GB internal storage, microSD card support up to 128GB
- 3,000 mAh Li-Ion battery (removable)
- Android 5.0 Lollipop
- 8MP rear-facing camera, LED flash
- 5MP front-facing camera
- 79.3mm wide x 154.4mm tall x 9.4mm thick
As can generally be expected from this price range the display is a 720p IPS display. That's not to say it's a bad display by any means, just that the pixels-per-inch aren't nearly as dense as the one you'll find on any of LG's higher-end phones. Even so at 5.7 inches and only 720p resolution this display looks great, often times fooling people I was showing the phone to making them think it's a 1080p screen. That said there are a few issues here but nothing game breaking, notably the faint light bleed from most of the edges of the phone no matter what angle it's held at. These aren't always visible and largely depend on the color being displayed on the screen. LG's infamous sharpening filter from the G3 seems to be present here, although not nearly as offensive since it's a lower resolution screen and can actually benefit from this so long as it's not tuned too high.
Colors are excellent, delivering an accurate scale that's not oversaturated like many displays tend to be nowadays. Black levels are alright at best, as the darkest black you're going to see here is always just a really dark grey. Still there's not much dark UI in LG's Android skin, which is white with lots of pastel colors much like you'll find on the G2, G3 and G4. Viewing angles are pretty good as the color on the screen never changes or warps, rather the brightness dims a bit when viewing from extreme angles instead. Outdoor visibility was great as well and I had zero issues whatsoever seeing the screen even in the brightest Florida sun.
Hardware and Build
At $200 there's not a lot of phones that will try and tout a premium build, and in fact there's not a large list of phones from LG that can say the same either. This falls right in line with all of LG's other phones, sporting a fully plastic housing and opting for a unique grid pattern on the back for extra grip. Thankfully the days of slippery plastic on LG devices seems to be gone, as there's none of that here and I never found myself feeling like I was going to drop the phone. It is summer time here in Florida though which means high humidity; plastic sticks well to skin in high humidity, and a cooler or less humid climate may find the plastic slipping a little bit more. Those worried about this should just get a case, as in any circumstance like this.
The design itself is unique and very LG looking, with the volume and power buttons placed on the back of the phone right under the camera lens. These buttons are patterned with a great grid pattern that's different from the one found on the back material of the phone, although they certainly feel a little on the cheap side. On the right side of the lens sits a large single-LED flash, while the left houses the now famous laser autofocus module. Still on the back we find the single speaker sitting near the bottom right, nearing the curved edge of the back that better fits in a human palm than a flat phone would. The back itself is completely removable and features a 3,000mAh removable battery as well as a microSD card slot located near the battery behind the back. The bottom of the phone houses the micro USB port while the top features the 3.5mm headset jack. There are no buttons on either side of the phone, although the sides aren't any thinner regardless of this fact.
On the top left of the back we find the stylus, which is a main selling point of the phone. The stylus is long and slender, feels quality made and is actually just a "regular" capacitive stylus that can be purchased with any phone. The advantage here is that it's built into the phone and has a smaller surface area for the capacitive touch, making this far more accurate than most capacitive stylus' out there.
Performance and Memory
Note: We originally thought we had the 2GB version of the phone. The CDMA version for Boost and Sprint only has 1GB of RAM while the T-Mobile and other variants of the LG G Stylo have the full 2GB.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 400 series of processors isn't exactly known for being incredible performers, but they get the job done where it really counts. The LG G Stylo features the Snapdragon 410 which is a 1.2GHz quad-core 2014 model of the series and was actually Qualcomm's first 64-bit chipset to the market. While the Snapdragon 415 is ready to replace it with a faster octa-core model, the 410 is still the ruler of the roost for budget models and performs pretty well in most situations. I found it struggling most when using it for heavy multi-tasking, which was slow no matter what I did. Ditching the stock LG launcher for the lighter Google Now Launcher did wonders for overall speed of the phone though, and I would recommend getting rid of this first thing regardless of what features it may bring. It's just a little too heavy for a phone with this sort of horsepower.
As I said multi-tasking in general was a bit on the slow side but it's at least done right. A dedicated Overview button means all your apps are a single button press away, and the vertical scrolling list found in Android Lollipop is present here. This makes one-hand multi-tasking a breeze, and identifying apps via their colored status bar in this list is about as quick as it gets. It sometimes takes a few seconds to open the app you switch to, even if it was the last app used, telling me there's serious memory management issues going on in LG's software. As this is only the 1GB RAM version there's some significant reloading of apps on a constant basis, making multi-tasking slower than it should be.
Battery life on a phone powered by a Snapdragon 400 series processor and a 720p screen is almost always legendary, and having a 3,000mAh battery only helps things here. It's nearly impossible to kill this phone no matter what you're doing throughout the day, from streaming videos and music to playing games, there's almost no way you'll not get through a full day with this phone. Standby time is admirable but ultimately could be better, as I've seen other phones in this class have better standby time. That means this isn't going to last days and days when not being used, but it also means that your battery won't just drain when it's in your pocket.
Phone Calls and Network
We've seen many reports lately talking about how Sprint is coming back from the brink, and all the signs point to that being the case in my usage of this phone. Yes this is a Boost Mobile phone, but Boost's network is Sprint's network since it's an MVNO is Sprint. The LG G Stylo has full Sprint Spark support which means tri-band LTE, ensuring greater coverage even in a brick building. Comparing Sprint and T-Mobile in the same areas I found that T-Mobile usually had a faster data connection both up and down when the LTE signal was good, but more often than not the Sprint signal was better than the T-Mobile one. This resulted in plenty of times where I would have little to no signal with T-Mobile and still LTE with Boost/Sprint on the G Stylo.
Sprint has been working feverishly to improve their network speeds and coverage as a whole and it's definitely starting to show in the metro Orlando area at least. Call quality was great and again I had no coverage issues whatsoever with Boost/Sprint, something I can't always say about T-Mobile's coverage even if it is faster when the signal is good.
It's always impressive to see a budget phone pushing all the features of its more expensive brethren, and that's what we have here in the G Stylo. Every feature I could find from the G3 was present here, including some of the more unique ones like the laser auto focus in the camera. LG has done a bang-up job of designing the UI experience for one-handed use even though this is a 5.7-inch screen, a feat no matter what size hands you have. This means plenty of swiping, lots of paginated settings menus and a user experience that can be grabbed from the corner with your thumb and swiped between no matter where you are on the screen. LG's unique style is here in the software just as it is in the hardware, so love it or hate it the LG UX is here to stay for now. Thankfully there's some heavier Lollipop styling going on, especially in the Overview screen and the notification panel which helps to beautify the experience overall. Google's trademark blue-grey color goes well with LG's interesting turquoise blueish green and creates an overall pleasant visual experience. LG provides the ability to customize the navigation buttons and toggle between black or white ones. Full lockscreen notification support is here and behaves as it should on Lollipop.
One area that can be improved, much like on Samsung's phones, is the horizontal scrolling quick toggles found in the notification tray. Pulling down twice on the tray doesn't reveal more quick toggles as it would on stock Android or other Android skins, rather there's a row of around a dozen scrollable icons with only 5 present at any given time. In addition to these a dedicated volume slider and brightness slider can be added or removed below the quick toggles, adding a handy function over stock Android. Otherwise the notification shade is untouched from stock Android and features proper one-finger expandable notifications with actions, something wholly unique to Android that makes things easier for the user. There's no flashlight quick toggle, which was frustrating when I needed it and needlessly taken away from stock Android Lollipop too. Lollipop's volume controls have changed for the worse here too, featuring the same three volume toggles upon pressing the volume buttons but no way to toggle between interruption modes, forcing users to peruse through system settings to find that.
One area that can always be reached from the quick toggles panel is Quick Memo+, which is LG's note taking app. This is, well, noteworthy on the G Stylo since it comes with a dedicated stylus intended to be used for writing notes or drawing, both of which are easily accessible from this panel. Clicking on the Quick Memo+ button takes an instant screenshot and brings up an overlay of what was on your screen for quick editing. You can change the background to look more like a sticky note if you'd rather just write a message too, and saving is a single button click away too. There are a small set of different writing utensils such as a pen, brush and chalk, as well as about two dozen different colors to pick from and a resizable eraser. Writing and drawing with the stylus is an incredibly pleasant experience that has a nice tactile feel to it without being too "sticky" as many capacitive stylus's out there are. If you've ever used a Galaxy Note 3 or 4 you'll know just how good this feels, although it's not nearly as feature rich as it doesn't have a button on the pen to perform additional actions. I wish this sort of stylus was included on every phone, as it takes up almost no room and adds a significant value even if you only use it every so often.
Feature wise this is as packed as any LG handset to date has been. The lockscreen can be customized with up to 5 shortcuts for quickly launching apps, changing the unlock animation between several unique styles, and it's easy to change out the font style or size right from display options too. LG provides users with shortcut keys via the volume up and down buttons to quick memo and the camera, which are activated by holding down either key when the phone is locked. Even dual window mode is here from the higher-end G series although it borders on useless because again, like feature-heavy LG launcher something like dual window requires more horsepower than this phone can give. You use case scenario may be different but I shied away from it because I ended up sitting at a black or a white screen for dozens of seconds at a time using common apps like Chrome and Hangouts. Boost Mobile includes a number of apps as well such as Boost 411, Music, Wallet and Zone. Additional apps include Gadget Guardian, Lookout Antivirus, Messaging+, NextRadio and a handful of other bits of bloatware. You can disable pretty much all of these and it's likely you'll want to just to free up some space and memory.
Many phones in the sub $300 price range don't normally boast anything worth writing home about in the sound category, but thankfully the LG G Stylo is different from those other phones. There's no built in equalizer, and not even Google Play Music's stock equalizer was available in the menu, but I found the phone actually didn't need it at all. Most sound systems will have some kind of equalizer built in to fine-tune settings you may want, but the sound coming from the G Stylo was phenomenal all by itself. Deep low, pitch-perfect highs and subtle mids are all present here, creating a crisp and pleasant sound that delivers no matter the style. Many phones out there in this price range often deliver dull, empty sound that just feels as if it's missing something, but that's simply not the case here through either Bluetooth or the 3.5mm headset jack.
The speaker on the body of the phone is very good for a rear-facing speaker, but the problems with rear-facing speakers in general are all here. Having the audio facing away from the viewer's face with no real way of routing it back is awkward at best, and having only one speaker means it can only get so loud. Still with these limitations in mind this is a great single, small speaker with quality sound that doesn't distort even with the volume maxed. I could hear the loudspeaker just fine in a moving vehicle on the highway and those that like to use this while on phonecalls won't be disappointed.
In general the camera on the LG G Stylo is excellent, eclipsing many at this price range quite handily. The photo quality itself will be familiar to those who have owned a G series phone in the past, with super accurate colors, excellent low light performance and generally low amounts of noise. LG's denoise filter does a fairly good job of cleaning up noise while still keeping details sharp, but as the light sources dim it tends to get a little crazy. Low light shots, especially extreme ones, turned out incredibly bright and picked up light that I didn't even think was around at the time of taking the shot. This was impressive even through the heavy denoise filter as the light levels dropped, as the photos not in broad daylight generally showed a slight bit of smudge or haze thanks to the pixel blurring caused by denoise. Regardless of this though you'll be hard pressed to find better quality photos at this price range, and often times the color accuracy eclipsed even more expensive phones' cameras, especially in low lighting.
The software is a bit simple for my liking but there are likely quite a few users out there that will like it. HDR is done automatically and without notifying the user, which is certainly the preferable way to do things. Users should be able to get the best quality photo they can without having to worry too much about the intricacies of the software they're using, even if that means a common mode like HDR. In general I found the HDR to work incredibly well, taking the photo nearly instantly and processing most of it in the background. There's definitely a pause when HDR mode is used versus when it isn't, and while it's not significant enough to be irritating it could cause you to miss a shot if there's fast action. Regardless though the processing done with HDR photos is nothing short of phenomenal, brightening up dark scenes and toning down scenes that are over-bright, this HDR mode just plain works!
The interface is a simple touch-to-focus with instant shutter by default, while clicking the overflow icons in the top right hides or reveals the rest of the functions. Picture shutter and record buttons are present on the bottom at all times and both work instantly, so no pausing to switch between modes when that moment catches you by surprise. The only additional mode is panorama, which is pretty basic but functions well. There's not even a resolution selection to be seen, just 16:9, 4:3 or 1:1 aspect ratios. This is an 8MP sensor and definitely feels like one, so while there's plenty of detail when zooming in you're not going to find as much as you would on a G2, G3 or G4. Launching the camera itself tends to be a little slow, sometimes taking 5 or more seconds to start up fully. This extends to the focus time which isn't nearly as fast as having laser auto focus would have you believe. Focusing time was average at best and didn't do a better job of focusing on the "right" subject than any other camera I've used on a phone. Video quality is excellent at 1080p, which seems to be the only selectable mode anyway. Check out all the full resolution sample shots at Flickr below.
Most people would spend $200 on a new phone on contract, which means paying exorbitant fees over the normal two-year time span of having the phone. This also means that you're stuck with the phone you've got for that time period unless you want to buy another one off contract. Boost Mobile gives customers a better price category for their service, utilizing Sprint's excellent coverage and their decent data network for your mobile needs. On top of that you get a phone from LG, a company known for making great hardware and software, for a fraction of the price of other on-contract phones with nearly all the same features. You'll be playing the latest games with no problem and generally using the phone with little waiting time or loading, but it's not going to win any performance or speed records at launching apps or multi-tasking.
Still for this price it's hard to ask for more, and the camera will certainly help seal the deal for those every day moments that you can't help but want to capture. Audio enthusiasts will enjoy the sound from the G Stylo too, which often produced better sound that I'm used to hearing out of this price range and beyond. Most importantly this phone is provided by the carrier and with 4G LTE, a feat that almost no Chinese phone in this price range can match.