Review of the Samsung Fascinate: Does Verizon's Galaxy S Device Deliver?

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Samsung Fascinate

Verizon was the last of the major U.S. carriers to get their version of a Samsung Galaxy S device, which they call the Samsung Fascinate. Since Verizon already has a fairly robust selection of Android phones, thanks to the Droid series, the big question here is if the Galaxy S has anything to offer Verizon customers that they don’t already have. The answer, of course, is a big “it depends.” The Samsung Fascinate has a lot of really strong features, a few drawbacks and one or two things that just make you go “Huh?”

Design (5 out of 5)

Fascinate Back

While all of the Galaxy S devices look similar, they each have a slightly different design, and the Samsung Fascinate may just be the best of the bunch with its flat back and rounded corners. The Samsung Fascinate measures 4.18 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide. It is also very slim at only 0.39 inches thick. The case is made out of plastic, so the phone only weighs 4.5 ounces, but it’s almost too light as the lack of weight makes it seem not as solid as similarly-sized phones that are a little bit heavier.

The highlight of the Samsung Fascinate is definitely the 4-inch Super AMOLED screen. The screen is a capacitive touchscreen that displays at a resolution of 800 x 480. The specs may not seem groundbreaking, but just one look at this display and you will know that this is the best screen available on a mobile phone. The images are clear and the contrast is strong; the phone even looks good in direct sunlight.

You will find a 3.5mm headset jack on the top of the Samsung Fascinate, along with a micro-USB port. There is a camera and flash on the back of the phone, along with a power button and a volume button on the sides.

User Interface (3 out of 5)

Even though Android 2.2 has already been released, the Samsung Fascinate ships with version 2.1, which is kind of disappointing. Samsung has announced that all of the Galaxy S phones will eventually be upgradable to version 2.2, but it is still a little frustrating to buy a new phone with even a slightly outdated operating system. I would love to be able to complete this Samsung Fascinate review after the new operating system is available, as I think it will blow the current version away.

On top of the operating system, Samsung has placed the TouchWiz 3.0 skin which gives the device a different feeling than most Android phones. The skin isn’t wonderful and it isn’t terrible, it just kind of “is,” which makes me wonder why they would bother with it. These skins are supposed to improve upon the stock user interface experience, but when the result is simply different instead of better, it just seems like a waste.

That said, the Samsung Fascinate interface is easy to get around and find the applications and features that you need. There are seven customizable home screens that you can use and each screen has a pull-down menu that includes the wireless manager and a few other options. Samsung includes a good number of homescreen widgets like weather, news and social networking, so that you can get exactly what you want out of the device.

Features (4 out of 5)

Fascinate Side

While the Samsung Fascinate is packed with a number of outstanding features, the one thing that jumps out at you when you first use the phone is that Google is not the default search engine, Bing is. While I’m perfectly OK with Samsung partnering with Microsoft to make Bing the default search engine, the fact that there is no way to change it is a bit upsetting. The Samsung Fascinate is a Google-branded OS device and there is no way, short of hacking the unit, to use the Google search engine unless you manually navigate to the Google web page.

Once you get past the search engine mess, the rest of the features are fairly nice. The Samsung Fascinate comes packed with Verizon’s software, like the V Cast Music and Video, NFL Mobile, Verizon Navigator, Kindle for Android and more. The device can also be connected to several social networking sites and email addresses, so you can stay connected by whichever means you choose. For a $20 per month charge the Fascinate can also act as a mobile hotspot for five separate devices.

The Samsung Fascinate has a 5.0 megapixel camera that can also record HD video. The camera includes a number of exposure controls and a few handy features like autofocus and vibration control, making this seem more like a real digital camera and less like something they just threw into a mobile phone. The images and video look good and have both bright colors and sharp contrast. The Fascinate also integrates the camera with your social networking sites, to ease the picture sharing process.

Performance (4 out of 5)

The call quality and signal strength are both excellent on the Samsung Fascinate. The speakerphone is loud and clear and that quality persists when you use a Bluetooth headset. The voice recognition worked perfectly, with the only caveat being that voice dialing over Bluetooth will have to wait until the device is upgraded to Android 2.2.

Navigating through the Samsung Fascinate is a breeze and I never noticed any stalling or freezing. Even when switching between applications the Fascinate responded almost instantly. The phone sports a 1 GHz processor and it looks like it is getting all that it can out of it.

Samsung rates the Fascinate battery at 5 hours and 50 minutes of talk time, and I found that rating to be fairly spot on. It’s nice to be able to use the phone for a whole day without having to charge it up, but as with all Samsung batteries, the real test will come after a few months to see how long the battery lasts then.

Verdict for the Samsung Fascinate (4 out of 5)

Fascinate Front

The Samsung Fascinate is a slick-looking device with a ton of features. The screen itself may make the Fascinate worth a look. The only things holding this phone back from being a true top-tier device are some questionable decisions made by Verizon and Samsung. The overall feel of TouchWiz makes it seem like this device is targeted more at people who haven’t been exposed to Android before, and at least in that regard it succeeds as a nice introduction to the OS. If you already have a Verizon Android device, there really isn’t much on the phone that screams out that you have to run out and buy it. Overall, the Samsung Fascinate is an above-average device with a few nice features countered by a few drawbacks.