Saturday, 14 May 2016 16:31

LG’s DAB+ Stylus smartphone (review)

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Product differentiation in a ‘red ocean’ of Android devices is what sells one over another. LG’s new ‘blue ocean’ device perhaps verges a little to purple.

For those who are not familiar with the red/blue ocean marketing and product strategy, blue – differentiated or unique - is good, and red – highly substitutable - is bad as the sharks rip you to pieces. Purple is made of red and blue!

LG’s new Stylus DAB+ smartphone (LG-K520K) is different. It is unique in that is has 5.7” screen, capacitive (passive) stylus, and a DAB+ and FM radio. But these inclusions in ordinary mid-range hardware take a little of the shine off what should be a top seller.

That is not to say it will not be popular – I think it will sell like hot cakes. To put it in perspective at A$449 it is a mid-range smartphone with obvious advantages – a kind mid-spec Samsung Galaxy Note 5 alternative. But the mid-range is littered with some excellent phablet choices from OPPO, Coolpad, Xiamoi, Huawei, Lenovo and more sans DAB+ and stylus.

Take care in reading reviews and buying overseas to look for the exact model ‘K’ version of the LG-K520’K’ as there are variations overseas marketed as Stylus 2, Stylo 2 and others that don’t have DAB+ or the same memory, or camera specs.

Let’s start with the good:

  • LG quality is always a bonus
  • 5.7” screen
  • DAB+ is different
  • Stylus for quick notes
  • Great price

Out of the box

You get the phone, a 1.2A USB charger, micro-USB cable, and a set of LG buds that act as an antenna for the DAB radio.

The back looks like brushed metal – Titan - but it is a removable plastic cover over a 3000 mAh removable battery and SIM card and micro USB slot. It has a 2-year warranty card and a quick start ‘slip’ that is very basic. A full manual is here.

On the top right corner is a removable, stylus that is just that – a 107mm long ‘stick’ with a blunt nylon point and a head moulding to ensure it is inserted correctly. It will tell you if you have forgotten to insert it.

There is the LG characteristic power button between a volume rocker on the back under the camera and single LED flash. I like this setup.

The Android keys are ‘soft’ and have a back (left), home (centre) and recent apps draw (right) which is the reverse of some brands.

It comes with Android 6.x.

Hardware

  • Screen: 5.7”, 1280 x 720, 72.71% screen to body ratio, 258 ppi, IPS LCD
  • Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, 8916, quad core, 1.2GHz. Adreno 306, 310MHz GPU
  • Camera: Rear 13MP, HD/30fps record / Front 8MP HD record
  • Memory: 2GB RAM / 16GB ROM / MicroSD up to 128GB
  • Battery: 3,000mAh (removable) 29-hour claim
  • Operating System: Android 6.x Marshmallow
  • Size/Weight: 155 x 79.6 x 7.4mm/145g
  • Network: LTE Cat 4, 700, 850, 900, 1800, 2100, 2300, 2600
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi N single 2.4Ghz, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC USB 2.0
  • Speaker: Single back
  • Microphone: top and bottom
  • Colours: Titan

These are mid-range specifications. Purists will bemoan the lack of an HD screen and Wi-Fi AC but get real – it’s a $449 phone and you need to spend about triple that for a Note 5 or 6!

Overseas tests reveal that the Qualcomm 410 chipset is at the low performance end of the current market. In every Basemark OS test, it came last against current mid-market phones. It is not a gamers device. But tests are academic – in all uses I found it responsive and in no way ‘laggy’ even with 2GB RAM.

Screen

It has a perfectly adequate 1280 x 720, 258ppi display that shows a good range of colour and clarity. It has a 71.6% colour gamut (good) and a contrast ratio of 1259:1. Its black level of 0.28cd/m2 is good as is brightness of 362.59cd/m2. In all a good performer indoors and out.

However, in typical use, I found set the brightness set to 100% whereas I leave the S7 Edge on about 50%. Again there is no point comparing an IPS LCD to an AMOLED.

It is covered in Gorilla Glass – no version mentioned so assume 3rd generation.

Stylus

When the 107mm stylus is removed it activates a menu – Pop Memo, Quick Memo, Capture+ (write on a screenshot), and Pop Scanner (that will help straighten up an image). It’s not pressure sensitive and doesn’t offer much more than a quick way to jot a note on-screen as it has no advanced functions like the Samsung Note.

It also has a screen-off memo mode that works when the pen is removed.You can use any suitable capacitive material – a finger (not a nail), most pens (not recommended) or the plethora of stylus you can buy. Overall its fine for notes and has different point sizes for writing.

Battery

LG claim 26 hours of use. In early tests it lasted two full days of average use but once you use GPS, Bluetooth, and DAB+ (for an hour or so daily) it needs a charge at the end of a long day.

In a 720p video loop test, it got about 11 hours.

The 1.2A charger takes at least three hours from zero to 100%, but the good news is that it will also charge from standard old 500mA USB chargers in about 6 hours (overnight). I tried a 2A charger, but the difference was perhaps 10 minutes less – it does not support fast charging.

Android M 6.x

The LG user interface is reasonably light and clean – the icons are mostly its design. It has Marshmallow's new individual permission settings and doze mode. In short it handled Android 6 and all that entails very well.

It has shortcuts like double tap to wake the screen, and double tap to turn it off. I kind of miss a glance screen but then these are on much more expensive phones. It also supports knock codes, pin and password unlock.

It has optional data encryption for the internal storage and SD. Its smart enough to be able to exclude music, audio and video files.

The LG smart keyboard is precise and supports left/right movement by rubbing a finger on the space bar. There is also one-handed mode that can be useful for the large screen. Voice recognition/input to text worked as well as expected.

Phone

It has LTE Cat 4, 700, 850, 900, 1800, 2100, 2300, and 2600 which cover all Australian bands and many international ones - well within mid-range specs. It has all the usual functions - contacts, logs, groups and group calls.

Data download speeds of 40Mbps were achieved. I suspect this will go higher but it is not a 4GX or VoLTE phone.

Voice quality was fine, but hands free speaker loudness was a little below average volume.

Camera

Remember this is a mid-range device. It has a rear 13MP, HD/30fps record, single LED, HDR, camera – it performed adequately. As much as I have searched I cannot find the sensor size/type (I think its 4416 x 2944 CMOS), f/stop rating, and more so I have to assume it has average specifications.

It has a reasonable camera app covering autofocus, continuous shooting, digital zoom, Geotagging, Panorama, HDR, touch focus, face detection, white balance, ISO, exposure compensation, self-timer, and scenery mode. It can use voice command to take a shot and gestures for selfies.

In daylight the shots tended to be a little on the warm side – bright yellow for example was more of an ochre. The detail was good.

In low light, the shots tended to be blurry indicating a higher f/stop.

The front 8MP camera (3264 x 2448) is fine for selfies and Skype. It did 720p recording well and struggled on 1080p (HD) recording.

My assessment – a good average camera that takes good average shots.

DAB+

The DAB+ network is currently available in 5 metropolitan capital cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth). Headphones (included) are required to enable DAB+ feature.

I live in the inner west of Sydney. After a quick scan, it found 58 stations. Selecting any of the stations reveals the digital content like title and graphics. It also shows website links, competitions, top stories and social media links.

The supplied buds have ‘poor’ fidelity regarding clarity, bass, and high notes – in other words, their frequency response is very limited.

But you can use Bluetooth headsets and speakers as long as you have the headphone plugged in and the sound is great. I tried a better set of buds but could only get mono sound. If this is critical to you try this out before you buy.

Some esteemed commentators from other publications have questioned how necessary DAB+ is. After all, they can stream from Pandora, Spotify, etc., and have much more choice especially when out of DAB range. The response is in two parts. First, the cost of the streaming service subscription per month and second, the cost of the mobile data.

Streaming uses from 64-320 kbps (kilobits per second). That is from .48-2.4 Megabytes per minute or 28.8-144MB per hour. Use it an hour a day, over a five-day week, over a four-week month and that is 576MB-2.88GB – it blows the average mobile data plan out of the water.

DAB+ makes sense if you can receive it and if it has the stations and content you want. It is also more energy efficient. It also has FM radio if you need it.

Joan Warner, CEO, Commercial Radio Australia commented: “This is an exciting development for Australian consumers as listening and viewing entertainment, news, music and pictures broadcast via digital radio will use no data, compared to music streaming services which can use more than 2MB of data per minute, depending on the quality settings.”

“We are taking a proactive approach towards the fast-paced technological shift to digital broadcasting with DAB+ to deliver a new paradigm of experiences through the smartphone,” said Juno Cho, president and CEO of LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company. “With its large 5.7-inch screen, 1-watt speaker, and 3,000mAh removable battery, the LG Stylus 2 is the perfect

Conclusion

It is a good value, budget, phablet. I like it. A lot of its appeal depends on whether you really want, and can use, the stylus. DAB+ is interesting but perhaps not quite the differentiator LG hopes.

In reality, it is a large screen, 5.7”, LTE smartphone that at A$449 may be hard to beat.

As all the specifications are not published yet I will not complete iTWire’s smartphone paradigm table – let’s just say that there are some more powerful, mid-range priced phablets for similar prices but none with all these features.

Being LG quality, it gets iTWire’s recommendation for a mid-range class device.

The LG Stylus DAB+ will be available from May 2 from Optus stores, All Phones, Big W and selected Harvey Norman and Good Guys stores, and from May 5 in Virgin Mobile stores.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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