LG Cookie Fresh £129.99
7th Jul 2010 | 11:20
Can a low cost touchscreen handset deliver the goods?
LG Cookie Fresh GS290: Overview, design and feel
The LG Cookie Fresh updates the original Cookie, which we reviewed over a year ago. If you want a touchscreened handset and are strapped for cash, then it might entice at £129.99 (though as ever, shop around. We found it for £109 at Play.com).
But at this price you're looking at some compromises both in terms of features, design and build materials, and in the end we think you might do better looking elsewhere.
On the features front, this has the odd distinction of not being 3G-capable. It's quad-band GSM with GPRS and EDGE, and that has an obvious impact on data download speeds over the network.
If you think you can shift to Wi-Fi, think again – it's absent. Mobile internet fans steer clear. There's no GPS either, and the camera shoots at just 2MP.
The Cookie Fresh GS290 is a mostly black handset. It has some silver highlights including the front 'multitasking' button beneath the screen and, on some models, the bottom edge is sliver too.
You've got six colour options for the rest of the edging – black, red, blue, pink, light green and silver. Our review sample was the rather dull black, but the others all add a strip of brightness to what is otherwise a bog-standard design.
The Cookie Fresh GS290 is small and light at 108mm tall, 52.9mm wide and 12.5mm thick and it weighs, according to our scales, a mere 92g. So it is very light for the bag, small for the pocket, and neat in the hand.
The obviously plastic build materials are fairly solid. The Cookie Fresh GS290 might not survive a drop from a few stories up, but it ought to manage a tumble or two down stairs at home, or even onto the pavement.
The side-mounted ports, connectors and buttons are pretty much as you would expect. While the bottom is clear of any connectors, there is a welcome 3.5mm headset connector on the top.
On the right edges there is the mains power connector which is a nicely modern micro-USB format as well as screen lock and camera buttons.
On the left are a volume rocker and microSD card slot. Both this and the mains power connector are protected by hinged covers.
The screen is a 3-inch resistive option and it delivers 240 x 400 pixels. These are minimal requirements for a touchscreened smartphone, and do limit how well you can do things like browsing the web.
Beneath the screen are Call and End buttons and a very clever little multitasking button. Press this and it opens up an area listing your favourite apps on one tab and opened apps between which you can easily switch to on another tab.
LG Cookie Fresh GS290: Interface
The LG Cookie Fresh GS290 sports a touchscreen, of course, and has the usual offering of a multiple Home screen system with customisable widgets to keep users happy on the personalisation front.
You can choose a black or white background for the apps menu as well as opting for one of three application arrangements on it depending on how you like the main apps menu items grouped and how you like to scroll through them. So that's six choices right there.
You've got three main screens, each one dedicated to something different. You move between the three with a horizontal finger sweep.
There's a widgets Home screen, onto which you can slap one of several backgrounds and up to four widgets. These are drawn from a pop-up menu along the bottom of the screen that offers plenty of choice from a Facebook widget to controls for the built in radio, from weather data drawn down over the air to a little miniature calendar.
Then there's the speed dial Home screen, onto which you can pop shortcuts to your favourite people, again drawing them up from a menu along the bottom of the screen.
And finally we have the Livesquare Home screen. You can choose yet another different background for this, as well as opting for one of six human or six cutesey animal avatars for your favourite people. Yes, they all animate.
Squint at these (they are pretty small) and they'll tell you how many incoming messages you have from each contact, and you can choose to SMS, email or phone them. It's all quite fiddly, to be honest, and quite possibly a case of too much choice.
LG is quite keen on its 'gesture unlock' system, and that makes its presence felt in the Cookie Fresh GS290. Basically, from the lock screen, you can draw a gesture on screen and have the handset open into the application that the gesture represents.
Setting this up is pretty straightforward and, if you've a good memory, it could save you a fair bit of time.
Oh, and in among all this we have social networking. There's an option on the apps menu for this and when you select it you get the choice to go for Facebook, Twitter or Myspace. Choose one and you link through to mobile versions of the respective web sites.
The clients are quite slow runners. and no match at all for clients on high-end smartphones, but if you are keen on these social networking services and don't mind hanging about while they refresh, then they're okay.
Of the three services, only Facebook has an icon for the widget Home screen, which doesn't make this a vastly proficient social networking handset in our view. But at least this widget can cope with live updates.
LG Cookie Fresh GS290: Calls and messaging
Making calls is easy. We've already noted that there's a speed dial screen for those people you call a lot. You can also press the Call button from any screen and up pops a summary screen that lets you see all calls made, as well as outgoing, received and missed calls separately.
You can also press the Call button on any of the three main menu screens. It sits in a row along the bottom of the screen alongside a link to contacts, messaging and the main apps menu.
Hit this and the dial pad appears, ready for you to start tapping out a number by hand, while the Recent History button takes you right to that summary screen we mentioned earlier.
Messaging suffers a little in several respects.
First off, the screen is small, and when you have the keyboard in view you can't see an awful lot of what you're writing at any one time. This is the case in both landscape and portrait modes.
At least there is a down arrow at the bottom right of the screen, which removes the keyboard completely so you can see what you've written. A quick tap anywhere on screen calls the keyboard up again.
You've got a choice of input methods. With the screen in portrait mode, you have a phone-style keyboard with or without T9 and several handwriting recognition options. In landscape mode you have a QWERTY keyboard.
The options are many and various and you are bound to find something that suits.
The real problem here, and it's one we encountered time and again with the LG Cookie Fresh GS290, is the resistive touchscreen. Now, LG is hot on the haptics, giving you feedback when you make a connection.
But the screen simply isn't as responsive as capacitive screens are, and we found we had to press fairly hard on each key and work fairly slowly to avoid making mistakes. Do this and you can be accurate. Rush and you may find yourself cursing.
LG Cookie Fresh GS290: Internet
With neither 3G or Wi-Fi onboard, nobody is going to take the LG Cookie Fresh GS290 seriously as an internet user's handset. The best it can be expected to offer is the odd web page check when you need it rather than regular connections.
The web browser is unsurprisingly slow to get where you send it. We gave up on trying to connect to the TechRadar home page at all, settling for mobile formatted sites such as the BBC's news pages. These loaded fairly quickly, but we still had problems.
There is a progress bar that shows page loading, but its very light grey on white background is almost impossible to see. Text is difficult to read at the normal resolution on offer as a page loads, and if you zoom in you get a shock as the text doesn't reflow.
This means there's a lot of vertical panning to read a web page. And if you switch into landscape mode, the same problems are duplicated, though the wider screen means it is often easier to read a web page without zooming.
One neat feature is a search box, so that if there is a large section of the web page that you know contains what you want, you can search for it. But really, we'd steer clear of web browsing on this handset.
LG Cookie Fresh GS290: Camera
The LG Cookie Fresh GS290 camera is also likely to be a disappointment if you are in any way a fan of mobile phone photography. Its 2MP shooting resolution is really below what we'd call entry level these days, and with no flash it's not particularly good at indoors shots either.
Still, that doesn't mean you can't take a usable shot, as long as your ambitions are modest.
A side button launches the shooter, and you've a number of modes to play with. A multi-shot mode will capture three, six or nine images in quick succession and you can opt for Sepia, Negative or Black and white colour filters.
There are white balance settings for the familiar range of Incandescent, Sunny, Fluorescent and Cloudy conditions as well as an Auto setting.
Once you've taken a photo you can add text, stamps and drawings made onto the screen right onto it, fiddle with its contrast, colour saturation, hue and more. Plus you can add filter effects such as blurring, embossing, and make it look like a cartoon.
These effects are actually rather fun, but we wish more options had been given to the camera itself.
OUTDOORS:On a bright, sunny day the LG Cookie Fresh GS290 worked well enough to let us capture information board details
LANDSCAPE:The camera was not so good at this landscape shot. London looms between the trees, but the extra bright sunshine of the day was too much for the camera to cope with and there's a lack of detail
DETAIL:Closer in, just as with the information board, the camera captured what we wanted of it.
CLOSE UP:Although it has no autofocus and no macro mode the LG Cookie Fresh GS290 camera did a fairly good job close up. The detail here is not too bad, and even the colour reproduction is close. We've seen a lot worse.
INDOORS:The lighting conditions for this photo were not poor, but the image is dark. We took the photo during the day. By evening our shots became grainy and unsatisfactory.
Video shooting is woeful with just two resolutions on offer – 320 x 240 and 176 x 144. It's best left alone unless you're desperate to capture a memory.
LG Cookie Fresh GS290: Media
The LG Cookie Fresh GS290 has a music player and this happily found music located at various places on a microSD card, pulling them into the music player software with no trouble.
There is a 3.5mm headset connector on the top edge of the phone. This is the ideal location. It sits in the pocket very comfortably with headphones connected, with no chance of snagging either clothes or the connector.
The provided headphones are worse than average, delivering fuzzy sound. Maximum volume is very high, though. The handset supports playlists, and you can designate any tune as a ringtone, startup tone or message tone.
When a tune is playing, each of the three main home screens offer a scrolling bar telling you what it is. But you can't tap that bar to pause or stop the music or to jump to the player, which is irritating.
The previously noted multitasking button beneath the screen gives you very quick access to the music player, though.
The FM radio will auto scan and has storage capacity for 48 channels. You can only see shortcuts to six channels at a time, though. They sit on a scrolling list at the bottom of the radio main screen.
This is annoying. If you want to switch between autoscanned channel one and channel 14 you'll need to do a bit of sweeping to get there, as there's no single scrollable channel list.
On the plus side, though, you can record from the radio, and can listen through the handset's speaker without bothering to attach the headset. This is a feature even the most advanced handsets usually fail to implement.
When it comes to video playback the LG Cookie Fresh GS290 is strictly limited. It recognised some of our MP4 samples but not others, preferring files of a small size and low framerate and declaring others as being an unrecognised format. It was unhappy with AVI, DivX and Xvid.
You're best thinking of it as good for showing what the camera shoots, and only a very truncated array of third party files.
LG Cookie Fresh GS290: Battery life and other
For a handset with so few advanced features it is perhaps not surprising that the battery life is reasonable. LG has economised and provided just a 900mAh cell, but that seemed to be enough to keep our review sample going for three days of average use.
If you use the music player or FM radio a lot you may find you need to charge more frequently, though.
The range of organiser features is fairly standard for a handset in this price range.
There's a calendar to which you can add dates fairly easily, and a task manager that helps you keep a handle on those things that don't have a definite target date.
There's also LG's Date Finder, which we've seen on other handsets and like the idea of, but can never really find a use for. You can simply ask it what date is a specified number of days after any given date.
For example, what date is 58 days from today? Like we said, we are sure it has potential, but we've never found it.
You can set multiple alarms, and there's a voice recorder, little memo maker and a drawing panel too, onto which you can make handwritten notes. In addition there's a calculator, unit converter and stopwatch to help you keep your life under control.
Connecting to your PC is achieved via a USB cable, which comes in the box. LG's PC Suite software is on hand for synchronising calendar and contacts data. Connect the phone and PC and you can install it directly from the handset.
You can synchronise music via a PC link too, though it's just as easy to copy music to a microSD card manually because the handset has no trouble finding it.
LG Cookie Fresh GS290: Hands on gallery
LG Cookie Fresh GS290: Official photography
LG Cookie Fresh GS290: Verdict
At the price you have no right to expect more than mid-range or entry-level specifications from the LG Cookie Fresh GS290. With that in mind, we can forgive the absence of GPS and Wi-Fi.
But we do find it hard not to tut-tut at the absence of 3G. Any handset that doesn't have 3G on board these days really is starting life on the back foot, especially without a Wi-Fi fall-back.
There's certainly a lot going on here in terms of features and services, with plenty of neat little apps that many users will work hard to use to the full. So there's lots to discover.
The FM radio is a treat, particularly since you don't have to have a headset plugged in to use it.
The photo editing options are fun, and could prove useful, too, and we loved the multitasking button on the front of the phone, which is handy and efficient.
The resistive screen is liveable with in theory, but in practice we found it to be somewhat irritating. It needs a lot of pressure, and we found it was all too easy to select icons when we meant to sweep past them.
Having three Home screens is nice, having them locked to specific functions is less so. The camera, at 2MP, is disappointing.
The web browser's inability to reflow text, is a let down – though anyone trying to use it here, on a phone which lacks 3G, is asking for trouble.
The LG Cookie Fresh GS290 is a low cost handset with a touch screen, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with LG having that as a goal.
The problem, really, comes into play with usability. The touch screen is difficult to master, text entry can be slow, the camera is not up to snuff, and web browsing, because of both the absence of 3G and the poor browser, is almost a complete no-go area.
If you have around £120 to spend on a phone, then alternatives like the Samsung Genio Slide or Tocco F480, both of which are older but make good competitors for the LG Cookie Fresh GS290, are worth a look.