Review: Samsung Fascinate for Verizon

Admin | 1:28 AM |

Verizon Wireless continues to slam the Android operating system down the throat of Apple with the introduction of the Samsung Fascinate to its product line. The Fascinate is part of Samsung’s new Galaxy S lineup of phones which offers the same core features. What’s a bit confusing is the fact that the Galaxy S was a specific model of smartphone itself, but Samsung has shifted gears to allow the name to cover a line of phones.

All Galaxy S phones feature a 1GHz Hummingbird Cortex A8 processor. The processor promises faster upload and download times and access to HD-like media in addition to better graphics. Other Galaxy S phone standards include Android 2.1 (which is expected to be upgraded to Android 2.2 later this year), and a Super AMOLED screen. As you can imagine, it’s the screen which truly sets the Galaxy S phones apart.
Firing up the phone the 4-inch Super AMOLED screen is the first thing you notice with its absolutely crystal clear detail and bright, crisp colors which makes it an absolute joy to view photos and watch videos on. The display is capable of 16.7 million colors and offers a resolution of 480×800. Amazingly, as good as the screen is, it is thinner than other traditional displays and also helps to conserve battery life.
The Fascinate comes with 2GB of internal storage, but includes a microSD card slot which is capable of supporting up to 32GB. If you purchase the Fascinate from Verizon it will come with a 16GB microSD card.
The Fascinate’s battery life includes 420 minutes of talk time or 312 hours of standby time.
TouchWiz 3.0 UI and Navigation
I found the touch screen and navigation buttons to be very responsive and definitely better than the Motorola Devour I use day-to-day. The TouchWiz UI is also a nice addition with the most commonly used shortcuts for Phone, Contacts, Messaging and Applications conveniently docked at the bottom regardless of what screen you are on. Other perks are the live, animated wallpapers and gadgets including those specifically for managing buddies and your social networks. The Feeds and Updates gadget connects to your Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts and a Buddies gadget allows for quick access to your favorite contacts. The UI also includes Swype, an improved typing interface, which improves the ease of typing over other Android phones.
Many of the features offered by TouchWiz can be turned on through the utilization of apps on other phones, but I like how TouchWiz seems to bring it all together into one interface as soon as you turn the phone on. If you’re a “power” user though you probably won’t like TouchWiz because it’s a big skin over the very open Android operating system. The disadvantage of having all the functionality within TouchWiz upfront is that you can’t easily turn it off if you don’t want it.
Media Playback and Camera
Samsung ensures you make the most out of your video viewing experience with the included DiVX video player. A 5 megapixel camera also promises great pictures and is coupled with anti-shake, auto-focus, touch-to-focus, blink and smile trigger and panorama functions. I really like the touch-to-focus feature because it is so easy to use. Simply put what you want the camera to focus on in the center of the picture, touch the screen and the camera will focus on that object or person. See sample shots below:

Unified Contacts and Calendar
If you’re a big user of social networks, like myself, you will like the social integration offered by the Fascinate. Unified contacts include contact information for Twitter, MySpace and Facebook in addition to IM and email accounts. The Unified Calendar combines information from Outlook and Google Calendars with Facebook birthdays. Skype Mobile is also supported on the phone thanks to Verizon’s agreement with Skype to support Skype calls over Verizon’s cellular voice network.

Bing Is Your Search Default Like It Or Not
One interesting thing I noticed about the phone is that it comes with Bing Maps and Bing Search as the phone’s default search engine. That’s thanks to Verizon Wireless’ agreement with Microsoft which you have to believe Google takes as a stab in the back considering the success Verizon has had with Android. According to Ubergizmo, users won’t be able to install the Google Search application easily until the Android 2.2 update is available for the Fascinate, though I did confirm you can download Google Maps now.

The Fascinate comes with Wi-Fi connectivity, which is becoming standard on smartphones these days, with support for 802.11 b/g/n. The phone is also capable of becoming a 3G mobile hotspot so that its cellular data connection can be shared with up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices, but you’ll need a corresponding subscription plan to utilize it. The 3G hotspot plans are in addition to any data plan and begin at $20 a month.
Call Quality
Call quality is crisp and clear most of the time, though in a noisy environment the person I was calling stated my voice had a “tinny” quality to it. I also found the speakerphone to be easily heard with plenty of volume to spare.
The Verdict
Up until now Motorola’s line of Android phones under the Droid brand haven’t had much competition on Verizon. I think that changes with the Samsung Fascinate, but I will be the first to admit it depends on the kind of user you are. If you aren’t going to do a bunch of UI customizations on your phone and you’re a big consumer of video and photos then I don’t see how you pass the Samsung Fascinate up. Especially, when you note that the Fascinate is lighter than the Motorola Droid phones. If you want to do a bunch of customizations to the UI and aren’t as concerned with screen quality then the Fascinate is not for you.
Personally, I don’t tend to do a lot of changes to a smartphone’s UI so I was pretty happy with what the Fascinate offered to me up front. That being said, I still found the phone to not be as intuitive as other options when it came to adding social network accounts, for example. It would be nice if the handset would simply ask for that information up front as soon as you turn it on so that when you go to your home screen for the first time everything is setup and you’re not trying to figure out how to setup many of your gadgets.
As much as I like the UI I did find some of the menu pops and screen flips to stutter a bit. If I had to guess it’s probably due to all the stuff that’s slammed into the TouchWiz UI by default. Removing some gadgets that you don’t intend to use will no doubt speed things up a bit so take an inventory of what you will and won’t use and make the appropriate removals to improve UI performance.
In regards to the phone’s screen–I loved it. The animated wallpaper, photos and videos were great to view on the bright screen. There is a drawback though. The display is easily smudged so the first thing I would do before using the phone is to get a screen protector.
Other than the Samsung Fascinate being lighter, having a better screen and improved interface you have to ask if the smartphone actually stands out from other Android smartphones. The honest answer is no. When it comes right down to it many Android phones are starting to look the same and there are not many which stand out from the crowd. Ultimately it comes down to what you are looking for in a phone, as they all have their strengths.
Personally, the Samsung Fascinate would do me just fine, but considering my measurement is my Motorola Devour which will forever run Android 1.6 I’m easy to please.