One by one, the Samsung Galaxy S lineup was released. The craziness started with the Captivate on AT&T, followed by the T-Mobile Vibrant just days later. The following month we were blessed with the presence of Sprint’s version, the Epic 4G, with its faster network and full keyboard to go along with it. But even when the Epic 4G was released, questions still lingered about the mysterious Verizon version, the Fascinate. At that point the release date was still privy to rumors flying all over the place, and both Samsung and Verizon were keeping their mouths shut on the matter. Either Verizon wanted to create as much of a space in time (or hype) as possible in the wake of the Epic’s launch, or the company simply didn’t care about this particular Android handset. After all, with powerhouses like the Droid X and Droid 2 just being released recently, why divert any attention away from those flagship phones?
Whatever the reason is, the Fascinate was finally released quickly and rather quietly. But we noticed, and Samsung graciously sent us a unit to check out and play with for a few days. The unfortunate part of the matter for the Fascinate is that by being the last of the four devices in the lineup to be released and reviewed, it has to endure comparisons to all previous 3. How does this one hold up? Is it as good as the others? Or, is it just exactly the same as all the other ones and thus, nothing special? Either way, the Fascinate has a long way to go to actually live up to its name. It’s hard to be fascinating when it isn’t anything special compared to its siblings.
So, we will explore how the Fascinate is different, how it’s the same, what I liked and didn’t like. Let’s take a ride through the world of the Samsung Fascinate.
In the unboxing, I noticed that Verizon was trying to stand out from the crowd by setting the Fascinate up in a completely different style of box. For one, it was bigger. Also, it didn’t come with extra accessories that I have come to expect in most smartphone boxes such as headphones. All it came with, besides the obligatory user manual, was a wall charging module and USB cable to attach to that module. Nothing else.
It did come with a 16 GB MicroSD card included, but that’s not extra since all other Galaxy S phones come with 16 GB, either internal or external. In the Fascinate’s case, there is hardly any internal space included so it all comes in the form of MicroSD. Frankly, I don’t like this idea. If the GSM models like the Captivate and Vibrant are coming with 16 GB built into the phone directly, you have the option of expanding that memory even further to 40 GB total with a MicroSD. Instead, the Fascinate only contains 2 GB of internal space. Adding on the MicroSD does give you 18 GB total; that means the max memory you can have is 34 GB (and that’s in place of the 16, not in addition). All frustration aside, it still has more internal space than the Epic 4G, which has 460 MB.
Needless to say, that didn’t leave a great taste in my mouth right up front. But otherwise I enjoyed the look of the Fascinate. It did remind me a lot of the Vibrant’s design and look, since Verizon chose ultimately to go with the same rounded corners and peel-off battery cover. The back itself, however, does look a little different. We’ll get into it more in the next section, but overall I liked how good the Fascinate looks.
The Samsung Fascinate’s Design
Verizon opted not to have a full keyboard like the Epic 4G, so at 10.5 mm the Fascinate has the same thinness as the Captivate and Vibrant, right? Wrong. The Vibrant is 9.9 mm thin, while the Captivate is 10.4 mm. Perhaps there’s something about the CDMA models that requires extra internal space, but the Vibrant is still the thinnest of the four. The Fascinate, however, does win the title for lightest Galaxy S at 116g; the Vibrant is a close second place at 118g.
It does come as some of a surprise to me that the Vibrant is the thinnest, since it comes with a protruding battery cover that’s supposed to aid the user in holding the phone comfortably. The Fascinate, with all of its similarities to the Vibrant, does not have that protruding back — the whole battery cover is entirely flat. It’s all plastic too, so it’s still just as easy to smudge with fingerprints. I personally prefer the Fascinate with its flat back. Not everyone will agree with me, but I just didn’t find the protruding back cover as handy as other people might.
The Fascinate comes with all of the same buttons on the outside: volume rocker on left, screen lock/power button on right, and 3.5 mm jack with microUSB charging port (complete with the same awesome sliding cover, which just makes complete sense and should come included on every smartphone). The button setup is the same on the front as well — four touch-sensitive buttons for options, home, go back, and search. The back shows off the 5 MP camera with LED flash, another welcome addition. Only the Epic and Fascinate make use of LED flash for some reason; the GSM versions opted not to have it for some unknown reason.
As mentioned earlier, the Fascinate’s closest-looking sibling is the Vibrant because of the rounded corner look on both. I must admit that it is indeed a very slick looking and feeling device, and is easier to grip in my hand than the Captivate and its sharper edges.
Unique Features on the Samsung Fascinate
After reviewing three versions of the same kind of product, it can be a little difficult finding new things on the phone to talk about, but there are a few interesting differences with the Fascinate worth pointing out.
Let me start with the most important difference, which is the use of Bing as the search engine of choice. Normally Android phones, being based on Google, will offer the Google search engine as the default. Only in a few instances has this not been the case, such as the Motorola Backflip on AT&T utilizing Yahoo. Bing is a curious choice, but even more so is the fact that it’s the only available search engine to use. While Verizon has mentioned that a OTA firmware update would eventually allow Google search, Bing is currently forced upon you for now. Many people probably don’t even care about it, as long as it does its job and finds the right information. I, however, am not a Bing user simply because I have found Google to be more fitted to my liking. So of all the big differences on the Fascinate, this is the only one I can see being a decision breaker.
When playing with the home screen panels on the Fascinate, I noticed a settings button near the top of the screen. This takes you into a program that allows you to change the order of the home screen panels, and even change the default home screen. That way, if you prefer your Buddies Now panel or Feeds and Updates panel to be the go-to every time you hit the home button at the bottom of the phone, you’ll be much happier than hitting home and then having to scroll over 1-2 panels to find what you use the most. Small change, but I love it and wish it were available on the others.
Also included in the Fascinate is a task manager. This is different in that Verizon has thrown this in as a true native application. As with any Android device, several Task Managers/Task Killers are available through the Android Market, but it is nice to see something official from Verizon. I like this particular Task Manager because it shows me exactly how much RAM and CPU is being used by each open app, which in turn helps me know how much battery is being used by these background apps. It also includes an easy Kill switch for all open apps, or I can go in one by one to turn off the apps I am not using. The Task Manager also has a summary page that lets me know how much RAM and storage space overall is being used currently, and a page that quickly uninstalls programs that I simply don’t want on my phone any longer. So even though I don’t see much point in having yet another task manager available (especially one that can’t be removed from the phone if you don’t want it), this particular one is built very well.
I was intrigued by two new programs on the Fascinate called Car Cradle and Desk Cradle. Both of these cradles are best fit for use with the optional desk cradle ($29.99) and car dock ($39.99), and are meant to offer the most used programs for each situation. For instance, while in the car you may need quick and easy access to your navigation/maps, or contacts for calling. The Car Cradle offers these apps in an easy to find user interface. Same with Desk Cradle, only the difference is in the apps featured. Desk Cradle offers a large display showing date and time, and has apps for things such as an alarm clock, daily briefing, voice search, and music player. Certainly these are apps more likely used when placed on a desktop next to your computer. I don’t have much use for either cradle, but I do like the unique line of thinking for them.
Here’s a detailed video I took discussing these same unique features.
Performance of the Samsung Fascinate
One thing I noticed and was concerned about with the Captivate and Vibrant was how long it would take for both phones to read through the memory upon first booting up. I didn’t have to wait as long with that Fascinate, as it read through the entire 16 MicroSD card in an incredibly brief period of time. It turns out that a new update for the Captivate speeds up the process, but it was nice to see the Fascinate come this fast already out of the box.
When it comes to viewing video files, Android typically allows for MP4, H.264 and AVI; the Fascinate, however, adds in DivX and Xvid support as well. I’ve maintained that the Galaxy S’s Super AMOLED screen is one of the finest displays that you’ll find on a mobile device currently, only shadowed by the Retina Display of the iPhone 4. With the 4 inch screen, it makes for a gorgeous screen.
While I did not publish a video I made on the Fascinate, I found the 5 MP camera and 720p video recording resolution absolutely wonderful. Having tested out the Motorola Droid X and its 8 MP, I actually enjoy using this camera much more; for one, it’s much easier to take a picture that’s in focus, and the pics turn out just as good if not better when actually in focus. In comparison with the other Galaxy S, it’s right on par.
The 1 GHz Hummingbird CPU is present in the Fascinate, and definitely moves along quite speedily. There were a few occasions in which there were slight stalls between my touch and the intended reaction. Even just scrolling from one home screen panel to another, there is a slight delay that gets a little annoying. This is definitely a finicky statement, as it still is rather fast when compared to an Android with a slower processor, but I compare it to other Android devices all running at 1 GHz; while the processor is the same speed, other factors — such as the Touchwiz 3.0 UI — come into play. The Touchwiz is a decent and easy UI for Android but has a dark history of slowing down any devices it has appeared on.
I was hoping all GPS woes that plague the Galaxy S line would be fixed on the Fascinate. The GPS does work better, but it just takes a longer time for the GPS to find the exact location. For the first few minutes after loading the native maps app, it looked like I was actually 2 miles away from my real location; but after patiently waiting a few more minutes the GPS did finally catch up with me.
No issues to report on phone call quality or data performance.
Overall View of the Samsung Fascinate
Don’t you love how phone manufacturers are now naming their phones after adjectives that are supposed to tell us how to feel? The Fascinate is just one example (the Droid Incredible is another), but I always try to measure up the phone’s performance in comparison to the name when this happens. Is this phone fascinating? Not necessarily, when compared to the other Galaxy S phones. It’s pretty much the same, in fact. But it’s a good performing Android phone that is up to par with Verizon’s other current Droid offerings such as the Droid X and Droid Incredible. And once it gets an update to Froyo, it’s going to be even better.
I don’t have any reasons why not to get this phone, unless you’re an absolute hater of Bing’s search engine. I really do wish other search engines were at least available as alternatives; after all, Android is supposed to be all about how awesomely open it is, right? I’m starting to realize that just because it’s open source doesn’t make it as flexible as it keeps bragging itself to be.
The only other thing besides Froyo that I would like to see on the Fascinate is a front-facing camera. The Epic 4G remains the only Galaxy S in the US to offer it, which is disappointing for every other carrier besides Sprint. Other than that, the design is great on the Fascinate and the phone’s specs (in total) are among some of the best devices out on market today.
I also want to see more accessories included with the Fascinate. Though I understand that no smartphone nowadays will come included with a car charger, I feel that the box was more empty than it should be. No additional cables or headphones, just a wall USB plugin with a USB cable.
Just like any of the Galaxy S phones I’ve reviewed, the Samsung Fascinate is a fine version of the lineup and is worth considering for a future purchase.
And, if you don’t want to shell out $199 at Verizon, you can get Samsung Fascinate with new Verizon contract for free from Amazon.com here
So now is your turn to let us know what you think. Have you checked one out at a local store? Are you seeing the videos and pics for the first time and trying to make a decision? Do you think I’m wrong on everything? No matter what, we want to hear your comments! Check out the gallery below.
You can follow Brad on Twitter at twitter.com/phonewisdom.
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- Verizon Samsung Fascinate (Galaxy S) available online tomorrow, in shops Thursday – now official