What's hot: Fast, thin and fantastic Super AMOLED display.
What's not: Bing search replaces Google search.
Reviewed September 19, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
As Yogi Berra said, it's deja vu all over again. And though this is the third time we've seen a Samsung Galaxy S slate Android phone hit US shores, and the fourth time we've seen a Galaxy S family phone for the US, the Fascinate hasn't lost its luster. Like the Samsung Captivate on AT&T and even more like the Samsung Vibrant on T-Mobile, the Fascinate is a Galaxy S phone with a super-slim design, knock-out Super AMOLED 4" display and Android 2.1 with TouchWiz 3.0. The Verizon version is slightly taller than the Vibrant and features the same gloss piano black front and rear faces. While the other Galaxy phones (including the QWERTY Samsung Epic 4G on Sprint) stick with the standard Google search as you'd expect of a Google OS phone, Verizon bestowed theirs with the dubious Bing search. Though we love Bing's location and POI services, its web search is weak and we wish there were a way to switch to Google search. Alas, there's isn't, though Verizon stated when the Android OS 2.2 Froyo update comes out for the Fascinate, you'll be able to download Google search.
Specs at a Glance
The Samsung Fascinate has a 4" Super AMOLED capacitive multi-touch display with standard and Swype virtual keyboards, a 1GHz Hummingbird CPU, 384 megs of RAM, a paltry 512 megs of flash storage (most Galaxy S phones have gigs of internal storage), a 5 megapixel autofocus camera with flash than can shoot 720p video, 3G EV-DO Rev. A with Verizon's optional 3G Mobile Hotspot service, a GPS that works with Google Maps, Bing Maps and VZ Navigator, WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0. Verizon includes a 16 gig microSD card that's pre-installed in the phone.
The Verizon version of the Galaxy S is overwhelmingly similar to those on other US carriers, particularly the Captivate and Vibrant. The Samsung Epic 4G is a different animal because it has 4G WiMAX and a slide-out hardware QWERTY keyboard. Since the Fascinate is so similar to the AT&T and T-Mobile versions, this review won't poke at every nook and cranny of the phone's design and software.
Wirefly price (no rebate required):
The Fascinate looks most like the Vibrant, which in turn looks most like the overseas version of the Galaxy S. It features high gloss black plastics that love fingerprints, and a subtle back cover pattern. A thin chrome surround gives the phone visual interest and we'll note that the Fascinate is a bit taller than the other slate Galaxy phones. Changes for the better include a rear LED camera flash, while changes for the worse include less internal storage (though Verizon does compensate and include a 16 gig card). Still, the meager 512 megs of internal storage memory is enough to store plenty of applications, though we did note that the flash storage memory used in the Fascinate benchmarked slower than the rest of the Galaxy S pack.
The super-slim and slippery Fascinate is less masculine looking than the Motorola Droid X, though the Droid X strikes us as more rugged and expensively built with soft-touch coated metals. The Fascinate's quality is comparable to the HTC Droid Incredible also on Verizon, and the Fascinate is thinner. The Samsung also has a larger display than the Incredible (4" vs. 3.7"), though the 800 x 480 resolution is the same. The Fascinate's incredibly saturated, bright and vivid Super AMOLED display sets it apart from other high end Android smartphones on Verizon. There's simply nothing like Samsung's Super AMOLED for wow-factor and attractiveness, and it's even visible outdoors. Better still, this display technology allows for even thinner and more responsive multi-touch screens. Still, Verizon has a fantastic lineup of Android superphones, and the choice isn't easy.
While HTC has their lovely Sense UI enhancements for Android and Motorola has their dubious MOTOBLUR, Samsung has TouchWiz 3.0. This isn't the overbearing, overloaded version of TouchWiz found on Samsung's old feature phones. it's subtle, attractive and useful. Icons are customized with backgrounds and are arranged into pages. On other Galaxy S phones, apps automatically arranged themselves alphabetically, but on our Verizon Fascinate, newly installed apps instead loaded on the last page in installation order. TouchWiz extends the desktop to 7 screens and these are numbered at top center, to ease navigation between pages. Samsung has widgets for social networking (Twitter, Facebook and MySpace) that integrate with contacts, and the Daily Briefing-- a compilation of news, weather and stocks. Given their ties to multimedia products, Samsung has strong expertise in music and video player software and they've customized the Fascinate's players to improve on Android's pedestrian offerings. The phone also supports DivX format video, a longstanding Samsung favorite.
Oddly, Samsung's Media Hub isn't installed at the factory, though it's found on all other Galaxy S phones. Media Hub offers videos for sale and rent, and you can play these files on up to 5 Media Hub-equipped devices as well as a Windows PC. We suspect that Verizon's partnership with Blockbuster to put Blockbuster Mobile on the Fascinate axed Media Hub. While Media Hub is a brand new service that no one's yet married to, it is shocking that Verizon obliterated Google search and replaced it with Bing search. That's right, you can't even download and install Google search on the smartphone. We can understand Verizon making a deal with Microsoft to make Bing the primary search solution, but totally removing Google search from a Google phone seems egregious. Verizon has stated that Fascinate owners will be able to add Google search after the Android OS 2.2 Froyo update is available for the phone.
Google Maps isn't pre-installed, though VZ Navigator is. You can download Google Maps (plus Places and Navigation) from the Android Market and make full use of Google's mapping and navigation application. The rest of the Google Android suite is intact: YouTube, Gmail, the Android Market, Gallery and the excellent Webkit web browser.
The Fascinate, like all Galaxy S phones has 4 touch sensitive buttons
below the display that are very hard to see when backlighting is off.
Here's our 10 minute video review of the Samsung Fascinate:
Call and Data
The Samsung Fascinate is a CDMA dual band digital phone (that's the technology Verizon's network uses) and it has 3G EV-DO Rev. A for data. The phone has the 3G Mobile Hotspot feature that lets you turn your phone into a wireless 3G modem that you can connect to using your laptop (or other device) over WiFi for an additional monthly fee. The Fascinate has good call quality and average volume. The speakerphone has good volume and clarity, though it can't beat the gold standard first gen Motorola Droid. As you'd expect, the Fascinate works with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets as well as built-in Bluetooth on late model cars.
This is a top of the line Android phone, and as a result you get a darned fast 1GHz Hummingbird CPU with 2D and 3D acceleration and 384 megs of RAM. Hands on, the Fascinate and all Galaxy S phones feel very fast-- faster than many other high end Android phones. There's no lag when switching between desktop and app browser screens, the web browser's rendering speed is excellent and the phone feels a bit faster than the Droid Incredible and Droid X (and those are pretty speedy smartphones). In terms of benchmarks, the Fascinate wins on all counts in SoftWeg's Benchmark except the File System score. We suspect the 512 megs of flash RAM aren't as fast as the gigs of storage used in other Galaxy phones or the Moto Droid X. In the Quadrant Benchmark that looks at 3G performance, the Fascinate does very well, though the Motorola Droid 2 is the top dog in that benchmark to date. Samsung and Verizon include a trial version of Need for Speed Shift, a demanding 3D racing game that plays fluidly on the Fascinate.
Softweg Benchmark scores (2D tests only for graphics:
Samsung's 5 megapixel shooter takes very good photos, and the LED flash greatly improves indoor shots (we wish all Galaxy S phones has a flash!). The autofocus lens is fast by camera phone standards, and the phone saves images reasonably quickly to the microSD card. The camera can also shoot 720p video with audio, and the quality is quite good, in fact it's nearly as good as the iPhone 4.
As we mentioned, the phone ships with VZ Navigator, a $10/month mapping and spoken navigation application that worked well in our tests. Bing is also included and it does have excellent location-based services such as local movie listings, maps, POIs and directions. You can download Google Maps via the Android Market and you'll get Google's Navigation and Places application with the Google Maps download. Google's apps also worked fine and once we turned on GPS location services in settings, we didn't encounter any problems getting a GPS fix.
It's hard not to love the Samsung Fascinate. Like all Samsung's Galaxy S phones, it's slim, very fast and has an absolutely wonderful Super AMOLED display. This is a superphone and as such it has a large, high resolution 800 x 480 display, 1GHz of computing power, a very good 5 megapixel camera, GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth. What's not to like? Our biggest complaint is the absent Google search, but that will return as an option once the Froyo Android 2.2 update is available. Given Verizon's very strong lineup of high end Android phones, it's not easy picking between them. If you don't need a hardware QWERTY keyboard, the Droid Incredible, Droid X and Samsung Fascinate are all strong contenders. It comes down to which you like the looks of best, how large a display you want and which manufacturer software customizations resonate most. No matter which you pick, you'll do just fine. But we say it's hard to resist the Samsung Fascinate's awesome display, excellent multimedia performance and slim design.
Display:4", 800 x 480 capacitive multi-touch Super AMOLED display. Has a 6-axis accelerometer and ambient light sensor.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1500 mAh. Claimed talk time: up to 5.5 hours. Claimed standby: up to 300 hours.
Performance:1GHz Samsung Hummingbird CPU, ARM Cortex-A8 with PowerVR 3D accelerated graphics. 384 megs RAM and 512 megs internal storage.
x 2.53 x 0.39 inches. Weight: 4.16 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital 800/1900MHz. 3G EV-DO Rev. A. Has 3G Mobile Hotspot feature (requires additional monthly fee if you wish to use it).
Camera:5.0 megapixel with autofocus lens. Can shoot HD 720p video.
Audio and Video:Built
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Samsung customized music player and video player. Can play DivX videos as well as MPEG4.
WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0.
Software:Android OS 2.1 Eclair with Samsung TouchWiz 3.0 and the full suite of Google apps except Google search. Samsung software: Daily Briefing, social networking software, Swype virtual keyboard and AllShare (DLNA home multimedia streaming). Verizon apps: VZ Navigator, V Cast Video, V Cast Music with Rhapsody, 3G Mobile Hotspot, NFL Mobile, Blockbuster Mobile, Visual Voice Mail, My Verizon, VZ Backup Assistant, Bing Search, Bing Maps and Skype Mobile. Upgradable to Android OS 2.2 Froyo. Third party software: ThinkFree Office, Need for Speed Shift trial game and Kindle.