The Samsung Fascinate doesn’t differ much from other Galaxy S phones, but this was my first time using one so my opinions aren’t of someone who’s used it before. Right away, one of the biggest things users will notice about the Samsung Fascinate is how light it feels in the hand. It feels great in the pocket and you might even sometimes forget that it’s there. (Which could be a good or bad thing, depending on who you are.) It’s also one of the slimmest devices that can be.
I don’t make a habit out of dropping phones so I didn’t do any durability testing, but I can see where someone might be a bit nervous if it ever happens. I did manage to produce a small crack on the right side of our review unit somehow, though, which concerns me considering this phone has not seen any impact. Sitting in my pocket with keys or other small items did prove to be fatal to the very scratchable battery door and it’s easy for the chrome-looking sides to get knicked and scraped. What’s most important to note, however, is that the screen did not take a beating despite how the rest of it stands up. We know all of the Galaxy S devices have been using Gorilla Glass, so I’m not surprised.
You’d expect capacitive buttons on a cell phone to “just work” these days, but it’s not the case with the Samsung Fascinate. It hasn’t been a completely nerve-wrecking experience using them, but I do get a bit annoyed when I press the Home and Back buttons and I’m met with some sort of resistance. It’s weird because the Menu and Search buttons give me no issue whatsoever. I usually don’t need to press the buttons more than twice, but that’s one more press that I shouldn’t have to deal with.
There is no external notification system outside of sound and vibration. A simple LED light would’ve been highly appreciated. I love being able to glance over at my phone to see if I’ve missed something without having to pick it up, but the Galaxy S does not facilitate this in any way. Sure, there’s an application in the market that utilizes the Super AMOLED display for this very function, but I’d like something a bit more clean and official.
Thankfully, that 4-inch WVGA Super AMOLED display comes in handy for more than just notifications. This is – by far – one of the best screens I’ve used on a cell phone yet. (No, I have not yet used an iPhone 4 or the new iPod Touch. I don’t plan on touching one for a very long time.) Everything is as crisp as you’d want it to be for gaming, videos, and browsing the web. Unlike an LCD screen, the display doesn’t get hot when using it for long periods of time.
Something else that doesn’t get hot is the battery. The 1500mAh battery used in the Galaxy S is enough to keep you going for a full day as the phone consumes power very efficiently. I haven’t done any stress tests, but I’ve always taken the phone out of my pocket confident that the battery wouldn’t take much of a beating. For your average user, the amount of time you get out of this phone on a full charge should be more than satisfactory.
Everything else is as you’d expect on a Galaxy S phone. 1GHz Samsung Hummingbird processor for a smooth application and gaming experience, 512 MB of RAM to help that right along, 2GB of internal storage, and it comes with a 16GB microSD card. The 5-megapixel autofocus camera – coupled with a lone LED flash – is one of the best I’ve used on a phone, but we’ll discuss more about that a bit later on.
The software on the Samsung Fascinate is just like the software on any other Galaxy S phone, but with a few perks, of course. The biggest perk of them all has to be the inclusion of Bing as the phone’s default search engine. A lot of people are against this, but over time, I’ve come to just accept it. I don’t necessarily like Bing, but the results it returns don’t absolutely suck compared to Google. As far as the Bing application itself, I actually prefer the mostly-native setup. You don’t get hit with any browser business until after you’re ready to click on a result. I would’ve appreciated being able to easily change the default engine, but I understand that Verizon has a business to run and this is an unfortunate side effect of that. To be fair, Verizon’s stated that we should be able to install the Voice Search application once Android 2.2 is released for the phone in order to get Google back in our lives. The only problem is that we have no clue when Android 2.2 will be released.
With that said, this is still Android 2.1 with a nice coat of TouchWiz 3.0. I personally have never used a phone with this version of TouchWiz so consider this a quick mini review of it. A lot of people detest it from the moment they got their phones, but I think it’s one of the most beautiful implementations of Android yet (outside of my favorite: good ol’ stock.) The music and media experience is head and shoulders above any device out now, the launcher is lightweight and fast (though this could just be due to the fact that the phone packs a very nice processor and GPU), and the colors don’t make my eyes bleed.
A lot feel that this phone is too iPhone-looking, software wise, but that’s only apparent when you open up the app launcher. Everything else is quite Android-ish and unique to Samsung. One thing I love is the bouncy effect you get when hitting the top or bottom of a list. It’s nothing that adds substance, but a little eye candy never hurt anyone.
The device comes pre-installed with some games, but they are only trial versions. Need for Speed Shift and Tetris are two such that you can enjoy, but be expected to pay for them after a short while. Thankfully, these games can be uninstalled (sort of.) Unfortunately, you can’t get rid of the placeholder for the app, so you’re going to be met with a lot of useless icons if you’d rather not have them. Some of these apps include CityID, Amazon Kindle, Skype, ThinkFree, Blockbuster, and more.
Most of this isn’t a knock on Samsung, of course. And I’m not saying Verizon doesn’t have the right to treat their devices how they want, but this complete 180-degree turn they’ve taken from the original Motorola Droid up until now will throw a lot of people off, and it might even be enough to turn some away. Anything else I can say about the software would be regurgitated information and opinion, so take a look at Kevin’s Samsung Galaxy S review if you want someone else’s take on TouchWiz.
Camera, Media, Odds, Ends
There’s a lot to love about the media experience on Android. From playing your music using Digital SRS 5.1 enhancements to DivX videos, Samsung’s really one of the first manufacturers to provide a well-rounded media experience that won’t immediately have you itching for your iPod or any other personal media player. I was especially impressed with the fact that you’re given the ability to customize equalizer settings for whatever music you’re listening to (even if you do need to use headphones to take full advantage.) A visualizer was also a welcome inclusion, but the selection of styles is meager.
It actually kind of angers me that not all of their Galaxy S devices come with this media player (see: Samsung Epic 4G), but those of you on Verizon won’t have to worry about that. (The biggest thing I like are the lockscreen controls.) Perhaps the only quirk I didn’t enjoy was the fact that my music would automatically pause while entering certain apps. The selection of apps seemed random and should not have interrupted my experience. I would be more understanding if I went into a video application or if I launched a game, but launching Verizon’s account management app shouldn’t completely cut my audio off. Whether or not this is a bug, we can’t say, but we’re hoping Samsung rights that wrong in a future software upgrade.
Moving on to camera performance, I was very pleased with the snapshots taken with this thing in natural daylight. Pictures came out crisp and the lens captured every bit of color as accurately as I could hope for from a phone. Switching between different shooting modes and changing the healthy selection of settings was easy enough that I didn’t have to think about it.
Here are a few sample shots from my visits to New York and San Francisco taken with the Samsung Fascinate (note: the pictures may be compressed due to the fact that they were first uploaded to Facebook. My microSD card with the original files was lost by one Rob Jackson):
Lowlight performance wasn’t as stunning, but that’s to be expected. The Fascinate – unlike some other versions of the Galaxy S – does include an LED flash to help make these situations manageable. I was still left wanting more, but there’s not much more you can squeeze out of a phone without slapping a Xenon flash inside.
Shooting video brought about a similar experience in daytime and lowlight situations. The picture is crisp and really makes you appreciate the high quality sensor Samsung’s used. There’s a noticeable difference between video recorded with HTC phones and those recorded with Galaxy S phones. I wasn’t able to recover the sample video I took, but our friends at PocketNow provide a great sample that is reminiscent of my own daylight recording tests:
One oddity that annoyed me was the fact that a couple of my USB cables weren’t working with the device. I have two extra cables – one from RadioShack and one from MonoPrice – and while both charged the phone ok, neither would allow me to go into disk drive mode when plugged into a computer. I also had this problem with the newly-launched Samsung Mesmerize – US Cellular’s Galaxy S. (But it’s worthy to note that it can be described as a Fascinate without the bloatware and a different logo.) I’m sure there is a logical explanation for this, but it’s the first time it’s happened for me out of the many Android handsets I’ve used. If I wanted to transfer data to my computer, I needed to use the Samsung cable provided with the phone. That wasn’t so bad, but if you ever find yourself in a situation where you forgot your cable and need to borrow a friend’s, or if your Samsung-issued cable ever breaks, then it’s something to think about. It may or may not be a widespread issue, but I have no way of telling.
It’s a Galaxy S phone just like on any other carrier. But it doesn’t need to to set itself apart from the others because Samsung’s done a fine job of getting most things right. (As much as I want to, I won’t get into the GPS snafu.) I didn’t particularly like the set of apps preloaded onto it, but it can be easily ignored (and permanently removed if you’re willing to root your device.) If there’s anything pulling you in from any of the other Galaxy S phones and you can’t leave Verizon, then the Fascinate should be absolutely fine.