Why I settled on LG’s Stylo 2 Plus as my Galaxy Note 7 replacement

As a Galaxy Note user who finds a stylus invaluable, I’ve been short of alternatives to Samsung’s productivity-oriented phablet since the Note 7 was recalled. Going back to an earlier generation of Galaxy Note wasn’t appealing because the Note 5 lacks expandable storage and even a used Note 4 retails at around $450 CAD on eBay.

Thankfully, a contributor to MobileSyrup‘s forums put me on to LG’s Stylo 2 Plus, which seems to have been overlooked in press coverage as an option for Note 7 owners looking to replace their defunct device with something similar. That’s a surprising oversight because the Stylo 2 Plus is a lot like the Note 7, albeit at a price that suggests its specs don’t match up to those of Samsung’s failed flagship.

Sure enough, the Stylo 2 Plus is not a premium phone. Yet, no-one should expect it to be. At around $300 in Canada, it costs a third of the price of the Note 7 if bought outright. Since it was only released this summer and still has some decent specs, however, it’s not to be ignored. In the month that I’ve been using a Stylo 2 Plus after returning my Note 7, it has done enough to satisfy my note-taking habitat and be an impressive mid-range phablet to boot.

It has a stylus

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This feature isn’t as elegantly implemented as Samsung’s S-Pen because the stylus itself feels more fragile and LG’s palm rejection technology isn’t perfect. Still, the stylus sits in a slot in the top of the phone so it is unlikely to fall out.

Also, LG’s QuickMemo+ software works well enough and its Pen Pop feature is a good match for the screen overlay the S-Pen produced on the Note 7. The Stylo 2 Plus, like the Note 7, also offers Screen-Off Memo note-taking, which allows you to write notes on a black screen without unlocking the phone.

It has a removable battery

The Stylo 2 Plus isn’t waterproof but I’ve dropped a phone in water before so I’m extra careful. Having a removable battery means its plastic back feels cheap but it’s reassuring to know that my phone won’t run out of juice at a crucial time if I have a spare battery to hand.

Although LG doesn’t advertise fast charging, the included battery does collect a charge surprisingly quickly when using a fast charging mains adapter. Moreover, the battery’s part number matches those sold for LG’s V10 handset so spares are readily available on eBay.

The Stylo 2 Plus doesn’t come with wireless charging but I was told by LG Customer Support in an online chat that this feature can be added using a wireless charging sticker. I ordered one designed for the V10 on Amazon but it hadn’t arrived in time for this review. I’ll add an update here when I’ve tested it.

The phone does, however only come equipped with 16GB of internal storage, which is below the latest premium smartphone standards and way below the Note 7’s 64GB. Still, it does have a microSD card slot and LG’s specs say this can accept cards with a capacity of up to 2TB, just like the Note 7.

The screen is big, but…

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At 5.7-inches, the display on the Stylo 2 Plus is the same size as the Note 7’s. Less impressive on paper is its full HD resolution, which is a step down from the 1440 x 2560 pixel display of the Note 7. It’s also IPS LCD rather than Super AMOLED and has Gorilla Glass 3 rather than Gorilla Glass 5 scratch resistance.

My view on screen resolution is that the pixel counts on the newest premium phones aren’t worth the drain on the battery. It’s debatable whether you notice a difference even on a phablet because the tiny details that can be rendered at higher resolutions are too small to see on a 6-inch screen. Even though the Stylo 2 Plus only has a full HD resolution, the graphics in Freeblade and Asphalt 8 looked bright and sharp so 1080p is good enough for me.

None of the major carriers in British Columbia offer the LG Stylo 2 Plus so I bought it unlocked on Amazon.ca. All I had to do was insert my Telus SIM card and enter the correct APN settings to get it working on Telus voice and data networks, including 4G LTE.

It does multitasking

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LG’s proprietary QSLIDE feature, which allows you to run windowed apps on top of full-screen apps, is poorly implemented. The QSLIDE apps that LG has included can be accessed easily from the customizable navigation buttons along the bottom of the screen but they only include stock apps such as E-mail, Calendar, Calculator and Messaging.

What’s more, you can’t add apps to the QSLIDE feature to make them run in windowed mode. The feature doesn’t appear to have caught on with developers, either, so third-party QSLIDE apps are practically non-existent in the app store. What does work well is Dual Window mode, which allows you to run two apps on screen side-by-side in portrait or landscape orientation.

LG’s Quick Cover is a wraparound case like Samsung’s S-View except that it shows notifications such as the time, date and battery level in a narrow window that runs from the top to the bottom.

As with many things LG, the implementation could be more polished — the notifications don’t stay on screen long enough to read and you can only reactivate them by opening the case, which defeats the point. Having said that, this case does add class to the Stylo 2’s uninspired appearance and lets you answer calls and control music playback when it’s closed.

Buttons are on the back

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Okay, this is not so great. Having the power and volume rocker on the back of the phone takes some getting used to because you have to feel for where they are. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve turned off the screen when trying to adjust the volume.

It’s relatively cheap

At only $305 CAD plus tax on Amazon, the Stylo 2 Plus cost me less than I received with my Note 7 refund and left no outstanding device balance to pay off. Admittedly, what I’ve got for this is an inferior front camera that has a slow response time and poor low light performance; an average processor in the octa-core 1.4 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 and only 2GB of RAM (the last two of these might explain why the Stylo 2 Plus hangs at times and seems to be slow at opening some apps).

These are flaws I can live with, though.

Ultimately, the LG Stylo 2 Plus is a compromise I wouldn’t accept if the Galaxy Note 7 was still in circulation. Having said that, it has proven to be good enough for everyday use and even mobile gaming that places high demands on graphics performance. In fact, considering the price tag, it’s terrific value. Instead of getting a $100 bill credit by switching over to a Galaxy S7 Edge that doesn’t have a stylus, I can still write on my screen and I’ve got $700 CAD left to spend on something else.