Review: LG Cosmos Touch
Jan 3, 2011, 9:35 PM by Philip Berne
The LG Cosmos Touch offers an assortment of messaging and social features in a compact phone. With a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a touchable interface, does it aim for the stars, or fall back to earth?
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The LG Cosmos Touch is a very compact device with a side-sliding QWERTY keyboard and a touchscreen up front. It's got obvious appeal for messaging fans, and it offers a strange blend of advanced features and basic simplicity. Was this phone as fun to use as it looks?
The LG Cosmos Touch is an adorable little phone. It's fairly nondescript on the surface, but it's remarkably small and fits nicely in the hand. It's a bit thick, and a little heavy, but that doesn't make the phone any less appealing. It's a bit larger than the LG Neon II on AT&T, for instance, but it also features a larger display and a much more attractive look.
The Cosmos Touch is clad in all black, mostly a very appealing soft touch finish, except for a glossy face. It feels great holding this phone. The keyboard is clad in a dull, metallic paint with a light bronze tint, and this gives the phone a metal band around the middle. The 4-row keyboard snapped out with a reassuring clack sound. If I tried hard, I could wobble the top and bottom half of the slides, but this phone feels solid and very well built.
Up front, beneath the 2.8-inch touchscreen you'll find three hardware keys: Send, Back and End. That back button also doubles as a voice recorder button, so holding it will start the phone recording a voice memo. That's an odd choice, but not without some merit. All around the edges of the phone, the buttons are far too small and flush with the surface. They all need to be larger and raised higher, especially the volume rocker. On the right side you have a screen lock key, a camera button, and a microSD port with a port cover that felt solid. On the left you have the volume rocker, which does have a slight curve to it, but it's difficult to find without looking hard. There's also a microUSB port with another solid port cover. Up top you have a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The keyboard was a mixed bag. The keys are nicely rounded, but also very slick and small, so I made plenty of typos during my messaging sessions. The slightly tinted metal looks nice, but the light blue keys, and especially the lighter orange symbols, are very difficult to see under certain lighting conditions. It's actually easier to use in the dark, as the keys are well-lit from behind. The keyboard is somewhat generous, with a full row for numbers, but I would have made some different choices. Instead of a number row, I would devote more keys to symbols useful for messaging and email fans; give a key each to the @ symbol, the .com shortcut, and the smiley menu. All of those are present, but require the Fn key to activate.
The keyboard has shortcuts for voice dialing, silent mode, starting a new text message and jumping to the favorite contacts list, but these are not intuitive. The shortcut symbols are placed like punctuation marks, but they don't work with the Fn key. In fact, pressing the function key once, when you are not on a text field, takes you to the favorite contacts list. To activate the voice dialing, vibrate or new message shortcuts, you have to hold down those keys. That's too confusing.
The screen on the LG Cosmos Touch is pretty nice. It's 2.8-inches diagonally, and packs 240 by 400 pixels. That's an average resolution for a phone in this class. The phone did a nice job with the two available themes. Menu icons were detailed, colorful, and text was easy to read, with few jagged edges on rounded letters. Outside, the screen lost considerable brightness, but it didn't disappear entirely, and I was still able to make calls using the onscreen dialer or take pictures with the viewfinder on a bright, sunny day.
Sound quality on the LG Cosmos Touch left something to be desired. My calls had a noticeable digital effect on them, making my callers sound somewhat robotic. On their end, callers said I sounded fine, but they did hear a slight hiss and occasional static. The phone produced a loud ring, but it wasn't very clear, and the muffled sound was difficult to hear across the house with the television on a low volume; best to stick with the vibrate function. The phone could shake fruit from a tree with its intense vibration. The speakerphone, like the ringer, could be loud, but wasn't clear enough to hold a long conversation.
The LG Cosmos Touch uses Verizon Wireless' older 1xRTT network for calls and data, instead of the faster, 3G EV-DO network. The phone reported a low signal in my area, usually only a bar or two, but this never affected data or calls. All of my calls came through just fine, and data, while slow, was consistent and reliable. I do wonder if middling call quality wasn't a symptom of poor signal, however.
The LG Cosmos Touch had no problem holding a charge for a couple days' use. I was mostly making calls, but the I also set the social networking and email apps to notify me when new messages and content arrived, so there was some work going on in the background. Even so, the phone held a charge nicely, and if I forgot to charge overnight, it easily lasted through the next day. You could probably go on a 3-day holiday without your charger if you stuck to calling and messaging, and turned off background notifications.
Here's where things really started to fall apart on the LG Cosmos Touch. The touch response on this phone is deplorable. I've never used a phone that was worse than this for touch sensitivity. Everything went wrong. The screen is the resistive type, so it requires some pressure to tap, and that's fine, except that many taps simply didn't register at all. Neither did swipes, the gesture required to move from one panel to the next on the homescreen. I often had to jab at buttons numerous times to get them to register. Lists were impossible to navigate, as the phone usually thought I was tapping when I was simply starting my swipe gesture. Almost every feature on the phone is made worse due to the problematic touch response. The keyboard did help some, especially the direction arrows that let me skip swiping through menus and lists. But it was not enough to save this phone.
The poor touch response is compounded by the fact that this phone seems to think it is a smartphone with a highly responsive capacitive screen. There are so many ways the menu requires precise tapping, swiping and advanced finger gestures that I wonder if the interface designers knew they were working on a resistive screen device.
The main menu screen, for instance, is a near-copy of Samsung's older TouchWIZ designs. It uses a pullout drawer for widgets, though it's tough to tap the tiny drawer button that hangs off the side of the screen. Once you've placed a widget, you could drag it around the screen and place it where you like, if the phone was able to register the difference between a tap and a hold-and-drag gesture. It's not able, and widgets quickly piled up on top of each other as I was unable to move them to a better position.
There are only 8 widget options for the homescreen, and 2 of them are clocks. You can also place widgets for a calendar, a finger drawing pad or a sticky note, or you can drop shortcuts to start a text message or jump to the games menu or the photo gallery. That's all. There are no options to download more widgets, and the selection was only a small step above useless.
From the main homescreen, you can swipe left-to-right to see a message pane, which I'll discuss in more detail in the messaging section. Swiping right-to-left takes you to the Favorites screen, where you can place 11 contacts in a photo grid for fast access. At the bottom of the main homescreen, you'll find shortcuts for text messaging, the phone functions, the contact list and the main menu. Just above those shortcuts, near the bottom of the screen, there is also a tiny notification bar. When you miss a call or get a new incoming message, you'll see an icon there. If your aim is sharp, you can tap that icon to jump directly to whatever you missed.
The main menu is a basic 4 by 3 icon grid. The grid cannot be changed or rearranged in any way, which is probably fine since this phone isn't packed with too many features. At the top level, you get messaging, music, Web browsing, navigation and search, so that covers all of the basics.
One thing that bugs me on this phone is that none of the shortcut buttons work if you're not looking at the main homescreen. If you're looking at the main menu and you press the camera button, nothing happens. If you press the Send key, nothing happens, even though Send takes you to the call log when you press it while looking at the home screen. Even the volume keys don't work from the main menu. That seems silly and unnecessarily confusing.
Making calls with the LG Cosmos Touch is nice and easy. To dial a number, hit the phone shortcut at the bottom of the main homescreen. To jump to the call log, just hit Send. Or, you can set up to 11 people as calling Favorites from the dedicated Favorites screen. Tap a person's picture and you get a tiny window with four tabs, one each for phone, SMS, email and address book. Unfortunately, you can't tell the Cosmos Touch which number to dial by default for each contact. It always dials the first number in the contact entry, and the first phone field in the address book is for a mobile number. You could just insert any number you like into the mobile field, but this will screw up the SMS shortcut, which also relies on the first number. This feature needs to be much smarter to be useful. At least you can still hit that address book shortcut to see a full list of phone numbers, then just tap the one you want to call if it isn't the default.
When a call comes in, you have a number of options. Of course you can answer or hit the Ignore button, but the Cosmos Touch also gives you a button to simply quiet the ringer, and a shortcut to send a text message. There is a long list of preset messages, or you can make up a fresh message on the spot.
Once you've connected with a caller, another set of buttons pops up on screen. You can mute the call, send the call to a Bluetooth headset, take notes with a notepad or start a text message. The speakerphone option is there, but hidden in a menu. You can make a third call by dialing the number and hitting send, and the Cosmos Touch gives you an easy, onscreen button to merge those calls. That's an unfortunate rarity on Verizon Wireless feature phones. Once you've connected a 3-way call, there's no way to separate the calls or just drop one person from the conversation.
In the address book, there are 5 phone number slots, including a fax field. There are also 2 email fields, as well as a space for a postal address. Once you've entered an address, you can look up a contact in your list and start a navigation session with VZ Navigator simply by tapping on their listing. Entering new contacts into the address book is a hassle, mostly because of the scrolling problems this phone has. When I tried to scroll lower in the list, the phone almost always thought I was tapping on the first field I touched. Better to open the keyboard and use the arrow keys to scroll.
One of the homescreen panels on the LG Cosmos Touch is entirely devoted to messaging. Here you'll see all of the messages you've received, organized by date. Of course, I set the messaging app to group messages by contact, but this homescreen ignores that setting. You can tap the message to read the entire text, or tap an icon beside each message bubble to respond to the sender. Beware, though, as trying to slide the list up or down invariably results in a tap.
There are also buttons for Facebook, Twitter and MySpace on this pane, and, confusingly, one button with icons for all three services. The first three buttons are a red herring. They don't actually open apps or take you to the respective service, they are really shortcuts for SMS messages. You can send status updates or photos to Facebook and MySpace by messaging a special number, and the phone has those preset. The fourth button is for the Social Beat app, which is a bit more useful.
When you open the full messaging menu, you can see text conversations grouped by contact. The messages are threaded, kind of, which lists them in a more conversational format. But you don't get to read the full message unless you tap on the message text, and pictures don't show up in line with the rest of the messages, you have to tap through to see them. So, it's a nice feature, but I'll only give Verizon and LG half credit.
The phone gets Verizon Wireless' newest Mobile Email app. It is an improvement over the last generation, with a better interface and much more responsive notifications. The Cosmos Touch was buzzing for new emails at about the same time my personal smartphones were buzzing, and it never missed a message. That's pretty impressive, especially for a phone on the 1xRTT data network. Mobile Email costs an extra $5 per month if you don't already subscribe to a data plan. If you do, it's a free service.
On the other hand, there were significant problems. The interface could be sluggish and hard to use. The notifications that popped up for new messages were unresponsive and difficult to dismiss. Both of these problems are touch response issues. I also tried using the official Google Exchange service with this phone, hoping it would offer contact and calendar sync as well. Unfortunately, the phone refused to recognize Google's simple Exchange server address, and offered no advanced fields for me to try to dig deeper and tweak settings. I was simply out of luck.
Verizon may have updated its email client, but the IM app is stuck in the old west, waiting for Marty McFly and the DeLorean to show up. In other words, it's the same app Verizon has been using forever. It works fine for AIM, Windows Live and Yahoo messaging, but the interface leaves something to be desired, and there are no advanced features beyond simple chatting.
I also think the notifications on this phone might get confusing. There are notices for new text messages, new picture messages, new emails, and new activity in you social network. All of these pop up with a different style window, and with a different selection of options. The text messaging lets you jump to your message. The picture messaging doesn't seem to do anything but tell you a picture has arrived. The social notification tells you there is new content, but takes you to the front page of the app, with no indication of what's new. It feels very slapdash. Combined with the tiny notification bar on the homescreen, it makes for a disjointed feel, and I wish these notifications were more unified.
Like I said, there are text messaging shortcuts to send pictures and updates to Facebook and MySpace, as well as a shortcut to send tweets to Twitter, all via SMS. These will do in a hurry, but only for outgoing updates. If you want to read what your friends wrote, you'll have to logon to the Social Beat app, which gives you updates from those three services, plus email from Gmail and chat via Gtalk. The app is very basic, it's really best for simply checking up on updates. You won't be able to upload pics through Social Beat, or check posted links or have long wall conversations. Also, as I mentioned, the notification system for Social Beat is either annoying or inaccurate, I couldn't figure out which. So I simply turned it off. Is it really telling me every time I have a new tweet or Facebook status to read? That must be why it was constantly bothering me.
Social Beat doesn't come with a monthly plan, you have to either pay for a data plan or pay exorbitant per/MB data fees. If you won't be doing too much Web browsing (which is likely on this phone), you could spring for the 150MB plan, which costs $15 per month and gives you Mobile Email for free, and you'd probably be safe. But keep an eye on those MegaBytes, because data gets very expensive when you run over. If you're considering the $30 monthly plan, find a better phone with real social networking apps (and a real browser, better email, etc).
For music playback, the LG Cosmos Touch isn't bad. Since this isn't a 3G phone, it doesn't get bogged down with Verizon's horrible V Cast software. The music player is basic and effective. The controls are a bit small, but still finger friendly. The phone had trouble finding my tunes at first. I sideloaded music from my laptop, but music files must be in Verizon's my_music folder or the phone can't find them. Simple enough. The phone doesn't come with a microSD card, which seems cheap, but it handled my 16GB card with no trouble. I also appreciate the standard, 3.5mm headphone port up top. Too bad LG didn't include a music widget. You can only play your tunes with the music player open. There's a music player mode that shuts off all other features (phone, messaging and data), but there's no way to leave the music player and type a text message while rocking out. At the least, I would have liked music controls from the lock screen. You can see your album art and track listing, but you can't control the music while the phone is locked.
The camera app is very simple, with some unfortunate redundancies and few shooting features. The 1.3-megapixel camera does not have auto focus capabilities. You open the camera by pressing the camera button on the right side, and within about 3 seconds you're ready to start shooting. The camera settings are controlled by touch using onscreen buttons. You can adjust brightness or white balance, or add color effects to photos, like black and white or sepia tones. There is a night mode with noise reduction, but this did not seem to make any noticeable difference in my shots.
There is a Back button on screen that quits the camera app. This seemed silly, since the phone already has a hardware Back button, and an End button, both of which also quit the camera app. There is also a button on screen to take the picture. Again, there is a dedicated button for this. I would have rather added more controls to the touch interface for the camera, or offered more room for the live viewfinder instead.
Once you've taken a shot, you can save the picture, delete it or send it along. You only get the option to send photos as picture messages. There are no shortcuts here to upload pics to any social network or photo sharing service. Considering the slow networking on this phone, and the fact that most buyers will probably skip the more expensive monthly data plans, the lack of upload options is probably for the best.
The photo gallery app on the LG Cosmos Touch works fairly well, and offers more options for sending photos. In the image gallery, you can view pics as thumbnails, or see them individually, full screen. You can zoom in on photos, and there are even a few editing tools on board. You can crop and rotate photos, or you can even draw on pictures and add little cartoon stamps. The editor is very odd, though. There are no text instructions, and all of the tools are represented by little icons. So if you aren't familiar with Photoshop, you might not recognize the crop tool, for instance, and even experienced photo pros would have trouble recognizing the eraser tool or the stamp. There is a fairly wide range of editing tools available, but more onscreen instruction is necessary to understand the options.
You can choose to send photos as MMS picture messages to Facebook or MySpace directly from the gallery, and you can even send multiple photos in one batch. You can also send image files to a computer over Bluetooth, or upload your pics to Verizon Wireless' online picture album site. There is also the requisite slide show option to show off your pics.
Photos taken with the 1.3-megapixel camera on the LG Cosmos Touch looked lousy. All of my pictures looked blurry. Indoor shots were also too dark, with a grey palor. A flash might have helped here, but there is no flash on this camera. Photos also had a fuzzy look up close, with over-sharpening that made images look like still frames from a VHS tape. Outside, under bright light, pictures were still bad, but not so awful as my indoor shots. Colors looked fine, and the camera handled darker shaded areas well. But images were still blurry overall, and fuzzy around the edges of objects. Plus, bright white spots could completely explode and spill into their surroundings.
The LG Cosmos Touch does not have any video recording capability. That's an unfortunate omission, even on a phone this basic, though many of Verizon's 1xRTT phones lack video recording.
The Myriad Web browser on the LG Cosmos Touch is sluggish and poorly designed. To enter a Web address, you have to navigate to a special mobile Web page, you cannot simply enter a URL directly. Then, even when I did enter my destination, sometimes the phone would ignore my request and simply go back to the Verizon Wireless homepage. That meant I had to load the separate address page again, and on such a sluggish browser, this could be a tedious process.
Once I managed to load a page, the browser would only load pages in their mobile version. There are no settings to load full HTML Web pages. Navigating pages could also be a chore. Though the touch screen wasn't so much of a hindrance here, the browser was still difficult to manage. As I moved slowly down a page, the browser would keep scrolling even after I stopped and lifted my finger. If I used the arrow keys for navigation, it was usually difficult to see the faint outline telling me which link I had selected, and this meant I either had to tap very carefully or hope for some good luck clicking on the right link.
If you buy this phone with Verizon Wireless' less expensive, limited MB data plan, it might be useful in a pinch if you need some very basic browsing. But if you are a heavier Web user, this is not the right phone for you.
There are a few limited customization options, but not nearly as many as I've seen on other simple Verizon Wireless feature phones. You can add widgets to the homescreen, but the selection is very limited. You can customize your favorite contacts on that homescreen panel, but you can't choose which number to dial first for each contact. There are two themes preloaded, neither of which are very appealing, and there is no way to download more themes. You cannot customize the main menu at all, like you can on other recent Verizon Wireless devices.
Bluetooth reception wasn't bad, pairing the LG Cosmos Touch with my Bluetooth headset. Call quality was on par with the quality I heard through the phone's earpiece. The signal did cut out often, always when I was jostling the phone or moving it from one pocket to the other. Music playback over Bluetooth faired better. My music sounded fine coming through my stereo Bluetooth speakers. I was also able to pair the phone with my Macbook and send image files over the Bluetooth connection with no trouble.
There is a clock on the lock screen for the phone, and it was large enough to read easily in a hurry. You can add clock widgets to the homescreen, including a dual time clock that shows the time in a city you choose, as well as the local time. The dual clock was very low resolution and small, making it more difficult to read. There is also a small digital clock in the notification bar up top. This persists through all the homescreen panels and the main menu screen, but not while other apps are loaded.
The GPS sensor on the LG Cosmos Touch worked just fine, and the version of VZ Navigator that ships on this phone isn't the most advanced, but it looks good and does a fine job with navigation. Some of the onscreen buttons are tiny, or pushed so far to the bottom of the screen that they can be difficult to tap, but once I had my destination plotted, the navigation app did a fine job tracking me on my journey. It could be very slow to load directions, and this also meant it was slow to give advice when I found myself off course. But with some patience, the navigation software always came through.
Still, I wonder if the service is worth the trouble. VZ Navigator costs $10 extra per month, or $3 for a one-day pass. The app doesn't come free with a data plan, like Verizon's Mobile Email app. VZ Navigator is worth using if you need it for the occasional day trip, but if you'll be doing a lot of navigating with your phone, you might want a smarter device.
The LG Cosmos Touch is a very cute, compact messaging phone. It is simple and tiny, easy in the hand or the pocket, with a generous keyboard that slides out from beneath. It's too bad that such a fine design is wasted. The touchscreen is horrendous. This makes the phone very frustrating to use for basic tasks, and while the keyboard helps, it doesn't make up for the problems.
Besides the slick design, there is little to recommend this phone. Battery life is pretty good, but call quality was not. The camera and the Web browser are horrible, and even though the social networking and GPS features worked just fine, they wouldn't justify the extra cost of a data plan or monthly fee for navigation.
If you really feel the need for a touchscreen on your full QWERTY phone, you might be better off with the Pantech Crux, which isn't much better but at least gets the touch part right. Or, you could snatch up one of the remaining Microsoft Kin Two phones, which still offers a unique interface and a better capacitive touch screen, but no data plan requirement. If you're just going to stick to basic text messaging, the LG Cosmos Touch might be a fine choice, but for $80 at launch, with so many features that come up short, if you're only interested in basic you might be better off looking at a phone that doesn't fail at trying to be advanced.
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Can't understand the touch issue
I can't imagine why the review of this part of the phone is so damning, or why it sinks the whole thing.
great phone for a kid
activated and played with it for a day.
just a basic phone. good for a kid who doesn't : do a whole lot on his/her phone but text.