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The best stylus phones: Take note of these top picks

For the best note-taking, sketching, and stylus-supported phones, look no further than these precision picks.
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Written by June Wan, Tech Editor on

Gone are the days of swivel, slide, and kick-flip phones, but there are still options aplenty if you're eyeing one with a built-in stylus. Business professionals, students, artists, and many others often find stylus-supported handhelds invaluable due to the added precision and tactile feedback of the stylus -- features that a finger simply can't touch. Yet, you don't have to be a professional to see the use of a stylus phone. Many devices nowadays offer extensive features that utilize the stylus for more than just scribbling, like Samsung's S Pen, which can be used as a remote shutter for taking pictures.

If you're on the market for a new phone and crave the benefits of a stylus, these are the best options to consider.

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Image: Samsung
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 
  • Display: 6.8-inches, 3200x1440 pixels 
  • RAM/Storage: 12GB/(128GB-256GB-512GB-1TB) 
  • Cameras: 10MP with 10x optical, 10MP with 3x optical, 108MP, and 12MP ultra wide. 40MP front-facing camera
  • Battery: 5,000mAh
  • The Samsung Galaxy Note line has long been the perennial option for stylus fanatics, and while the company seems to have discontinued the Note moniker, its spirit lives on through the new Galaxy S22 Ultra

    Released in early February, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is arguably the best stylus-supported phone on the market, with the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, a massive 6.8-inch canvas, 5,000mAh of battery, and the unrivaled, built-in S Pen. The flagship is a follow-up to last year's Galaxy S21 Ultra, which earned spots in our best smartphone categories, and with all-around improvements to the camera and hardware, a similar tale may play out in 2022.

    Most importantly, the Galaxy S22 Ultra's S Pen carries a breadth of nifty features, aimed to improve your productivity and content creation. The stylus is housed and charged within the device and carries a latency of just 2.8 milliseconds. That means every tap and stroke across the display produces an input near instantly.

    You should note that the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a big phone, making it an excellent pairing for a stylus, at the cost of comfort and one-handed use.

    Pros

    • Large 6.8-inch display, perfect for multitasking and content creation
    • 2.8 millisecond latency on the built-in S Pen
    • An ultra-flagship smartphone in general

    Cons

    • Pricier than other stylus phones
    • Large size can be uncomfortable to wield, especially with a case
    galaxy-note-20-ultra-2-copy.jpg
    image: Samsung
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus
  • Display: 6.9-inches, 3088x1440 pixels 
  • RAM/Storage: 12GB/128GB-512GB
  • Cameras:  12MP telephoto, 108MP wide-angle, and 12MP ultra-wide camera. 40MP front-facing camera.
  • Battery: 4,500mAh
  • Though not the latest and greatest from Samsung, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is unofficially the last of its line, which gives it quite the significance. Still, it's packed to the brim with processing power and future-proof features that make it a viable stylus phone option in 2022, especially for business users. Here's why.

    The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is everything that the name says, an ultra smartphone with a feature-rich S Pen for note-taking and productivity. It sports a large 6.9-inch display, a 4,500mAh battery, triple cameras at the back, with 12GB of RAM and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus chip to power it all. That, with 5G-support, keeps the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra ever so relevant two years after launch.

    Like the Galaxy S22 Ultra, the Note is also a massive phone, making it the perfect mobile canvas for the built-in S Pen. Toss in useful business features like PDF annotation and signing, wireless DeX connection, and an updated Samsung Notes app, and you get a reliable handheld for business and non-business users alike.

    Pros

    • Massive 6.9-inch display for productivity and entertainment
    • 9-millisecond latency on the S Pen is the 2nd best on the market
    • Triple cameras at the rear, capable of 8K video

    Cons

    • Discontinued by Samsung, though available at 3rd party retailers
    • Older device means a shorter update cadence
    Moto G Stylus.jpg
    Image: Motorola
  • Processor: MediaTek Helio G88
  • Display: 6.8-inches, 2460x1080 pixels 
  • RAM/Storage: 6GB/128GB
  • Cameras: 50MP main camera, 8MP ultra-wide + macro vision, and 2MP depth sensor. 16MP front facing camera.
  • Battery: 5,000mAh
  • Motorola's Moto G Stylus proves that you don't have to spend a fortune to get the benefits of a stylus. In fact, at $299, the latest iteration of the Moto G device is one of the best budget 5G phones you can get.

    So what do you get for $299, and more importantly, what do you miss out on? To start, the Moto G Stylus comes with a 6.8-inch, 1080p display that can ramp up to 90Hz refresh rates. That's no QHD, 120Hz panel like Samsung's, but it covers the grounds for most consumers. Anything less would be a different story. The phone is powered by a MediaTek Helio G88 processor, 6GB of RAM, and a massive 5,000mAh battery, matching that of today's flagships. Motorola promises 2-day battery life with those numbers. 

    As for the built-in stylus, it's capable of all the essentials: Jotting down notes, drawing, editing images, and more. Though not the most intricate stylus phone, this Moto G pick is worth its $299 price tag and your consideration.

    Pros

    • A dependable display configuration for what you're paying
    • One of the only phones in general with a built-in stylus
    • Affordable 5G phone

    Cons

    • Comes with Android 11 when Android 12 is already out
    • The plastic build may come off as cheap for some
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    Image: Samsung
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • Main display: 7.6-inches, 2208x1768 pixels
  • Cover display: 6.2-inches, 832x2268 pixels
  • RAM/Storage: 12GB/256GB-512GB
  • Cameras: Three rear 12MP, 10MP cover screen, 4MP under display front-facing camera.
  • Battery: 4,400mAh
  • The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is unique enough of a device thanks to its folding form factor, but Samsung made a key improvement to the latest flagship that couldn't set it further apart: S Pen support. Sold separately, Galaxy Z Fold 3 owners can take advantage of previously-exclusive Note features with an optional S Pen.

    While the S Pen isn't built-in like the aforementioned picks, the expansive 7.6-inch main display and S Pen pairing may be enough to entice your penmanship endeavors. Like the Galaxy Note and S22 Ultra, having the S Pen gives you the power to use Air Commands, gesture controls, and up to 4,096 pressure levels for precise inputs. Samsung also sells a Galaxy Z Fold 3 case that can store the S Pen.

    Still, the optional stylus shouldn't be the only reason you buy the Galaxy Z Fold 3, it's a dual-screen phone that can fold after all. With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, 12GB of RAM, and a new IP-rated design, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the best foldable on the market to date.

    Pros

    • Foldable display is second to none in terms of functionality
    • IPX8 rating means the Z Fold 3 is now waterproof
    • Big 7.6-inch display is perfect for S Pen users

    Cons

    • More expensive than the typical flagship phone
    • S Pen and cover are sold separately
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    Jason Cipriani/ZDNet
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • Two displays: 5.8-inches, 1892x1344 pixels 
  • RAM/Storage: 8GB/128GB-256GB-512GB
  • Cameras: 12MP wide, 12MP telephoto with 2x optical, and 16MP ultra-wide. 12MP front-facing camera.
  • Battery: 4,449mAh
  • Microsoft made waves when it first announced a return to smartphones, in the form of a dual-screen foldable under the Surface line. The Surface Duo was promised to be a productivity champion, with all the Microsoft quirks to convince potential buyers. Instead, we got a device that, as good as it looked, didn't have the software chaps to put it beside the best of the rest.

    Fast forward to 2021 and Microsoft's Surface Duo 2 offers a much more robust package, including a refined Microsoft Pen experience. While the stylus is sold separately, once equipped, the sleek accessory provides enhanced accuracy and greater control of your handwritten needs. It can even be propped onto the front side of the Surface Duo 2 by magnets, saving you the cost of a companion case.

    Looking at the phone itself, the Surface Duo 2 has a spec sheet that fares well against other flagships of 2021, which is already better than the original. It's powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 4,449mAh battery. There's now a camera module at the back of the device and a new hinge that Microsoft calls "Glance Bar". When the dual screens are folded together, the Glance Bar acts as an always-on display for the time, notifications, and other alarms.

    Pros

    • Dual-screen design means greater surface to write on
    • Glance Bar feature is innovative and actually useful
    • Superb battery life for all the screens it powers

    Cons

    • More expensive than the typical flagship phone
    • Microsoft Pen sold separately

    How did we choose these phones?

    There are numerous phones on the market with styluses, but only the best utilize the accessory to its fullest. Samsung is a front-runner in this aspect, with an S Pen experience that has gone through more than 10 years of refinements. Likewise, Motorola has seen great success with its Moto G Stylus line thanks to the accessibility it brings to the budget market. Not everyone is willing to spend $1,000 or more for a stylus phone, so trailblazers deserve some recognition as well. 

    Lastly, while the end goal is to get the best stylus experience, we recommend phones that play just as well on their own. Every selection on this list carries specs, processors, and features that can go head-to-head with its non-stylus counterparts.

    Which stylus phone is right for you?

    The biggest question you should ask yourself is: How much money am I willing to spend? The best picks from the list, including the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, Note 20 Ultra, and Z Fold 3, cost upwards of $1,799. With the average ownership times of phones ranging from three to five years, the investment may be worth it.

    If you're on the low- to mid-range budget spectrum, then the $299 Motorola Moto G Stylus (2022) is a great pickup. It's also worth checking with your carrier for any deals and promotions. More often than not, carriers will offer you flagship phones for free, as long as you trade in an older device and stick with the service for two or three years.

    What if the stylus breaks?

    Whether your stylus breaks or is nowhere to be found, most manufacturers offer replacements at an additional cost or free with a qualified insurance plan. Samsung's S Pen, for example, can be purchased from its online store or at retailers like Amazon.

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