Reviews

Samsung Fascinate Review: Verizon’s prettiest and perplexing phone

October 13, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka

Android Phones and Devices, Samsung, Verizon

fascinate-wide

The Samsung Galaxy phones are appropriately named. One is captivating, another is vibrant, and one has the features to warrant its epic moniker. In a similar vein, Verizon’s offering for the Galaxy S truly is a fascinating device, though not necessarily for the right reasons. The Samsung Fascinate, for all its beautiful screen and top-of-the-line specs, also ushers in an era of high-powered Android devices hobbled by Bing services instead of Google’s (arguably) superior apps. We’ve already covered how to make the phone more Google-friendly, but is the Fascinate even worth the trouble?

Are you kidding me? Of course it is worth the time. The Fascinate meets most of the marks set on the modern smartphone checklist. Samsung’s delivers one of the best graphics and processing power combination for a gaming experience rivaled by few phones. The warm colors from the Super AMOLED screen, the platform-topping frame rate, and inviting design add to the devices appeal. The Fascinate is definitely worth a few tweaks and a closer look at its virtues.

HARDWARE

The Fascinate’s hardware is mostly beautiful, but the device could just have easily been called the Infuriate because of some peculiar design choices. For starters, there’s no LED notification light. The flashing bulb users rely on to know when a new message is in or there’s a missed phone call is strangely absent. Equally frustrating is the microUSB slot that has been moved from its normal position at the bottom of the phone and rests on the crown instead. And while the home button is typically to the far left on Android phones, experienced users reaching for that spot will hit the Menu button instead.

The “Infuriate” makes up for those shortcomings in more important areas, namely performance. The Galaxy S trademark 4-inch Super AMOLED screen is incredible, capturing colors and movement with dazzling, eye-popping results that rival anything on the market. It’s the best answer I’ve seen to the iPhone’s retina display.

Samsung also packed a phenomenal processor and graphics unit into the Fascinate. The 1 GHz Hummingbird sings at a great rate, helping make this the a premiere gaming device. Gameloft 3D titles play exceptionally well on the Fascinate, and the 2D action in my current obsession, MiniSquadron, seems to have planes that dip just a tiny bit faster and maps that look just a little bit better.

And what type of battery tax will you pay for all these features? Not much. In my recent travels, the Fascinate made it through heavy e-mail, Internet, and Twitter browsing without issue. Sneaking an hour of MiniSquadron or an episode of This Week in Google couldn’t even kill the 1500 mAh battery, which typically makes it through an entire day of usage. People who tend to blab on the phone all day and play videos or games obsessively will need to keep an extra battery or charger handy, but even above average Android users should have no problem putting this phone through an honest day’s work.

SOFTWARE

The presence of Bing is inexcusable, and it’s only the tip of a bloatware-filled iceberg. The Fascinate ships with Blockbuster, City ID, Mobile IM, V Cast, and VZ Navigator, apps that offer nothing to users and are bested by competing titles in the Android Market. Froyo will make it easier to switch to Google Search, so there’s hope that this will be a less-troublesome issue.

Oh, about that Froyo thing: you’ve got to wait a few months for that update. In the meantime, make due with the Android 2.1-based TouchWiz UI that some critics have called iPhone-esque. These claims are not without warrant; the icons, sideways-scroll, and cartoonish tile backgrounds of the Fascinate’s app drawer look like they are straight from Cupertino. However, copy-cat concerns quickly disappear when using the refined interface familiar to Galaxy S devices. While HTC’s Sense UI could be considered a massive overhaul of Android – a wolf in sheep’s clothing, TouchWiz is a lighter modification of the stock experience – a wolf in newer, wolf-tailored clothing.

From the subtle changes made to the music player app, which looks and performs wonderfully, to the convenient settings switcher available in the notification menu, there’s no mistaking TouchWiz is a pretty facelift for the platform. Other welcome additions include Swype text entry, having playback controls in the notification bar when playing music, the unobtrusive Dialer/Contacts look, media-sharing through AllShare, and a nice group of custom widgets. The TouchWiz brand suffered heavy scarring with the Behold II, but this isn’t your daddy’s UI. The only real complaint to levy against TouchWiz is that it stands in the way of getting Froyo sooner. But what else is to be expected for a modified version of Android?

CAMERA

The 5 megapixel camera on the Fascinate is no slouch. The phone has a variety of shooting modes and an exemplary lens. While some mobile phones look washed out when using an LED flash, the Fascinate looks great when snapping photos in low-light. It also can set exposure levels, ISO, and focus.

The real benefit, however, is the diverse set of shooting modes the camera offers. Galaxy S phones feature a Panorama setting that seamlessly joins photos for extra wide shots, captures movement in Action mode, and shoots multiple images quickly with Continuous, among other things. The Fascinate ships with features typically reserved for premium camera apps, and the quality produced is obviously of excellent quality.

Here’s a playlist of some video samples and test shots of the camera.

CONCLUSION

The Fascinate is one of the most interesting Android devices I’ve seen, if only because it could just as easily offend as it pleases. However, most of the device’s offenses are forgivable. Downloading Google Maps and Vlingo from the Android Market can ease some of the frustration from using Bing, and ADW Launcher or LauncherPro can quell the annoyance of the app drawer not alphabetizing apps. (Tip: I’d personally get ADW since the Market already includes a decent imitation TouchWiz theme for that home replacement app.)

Samsung has stumbled – nay, fallen – mightily with some of its previous Android efforts. But the Galaxy S line of phones is a successful series of steps in the right direction. The Fascinate has enough virtues to make it one of the best options for anyone tied to Verizon. Anyone who enjoys 3D gaming, watches video frequently, and doesn’t need a physical keyboard can rest easy knowing that this phone can go toe-to-toe with anything on the market. It may not win every phone battle, but it will put up a strong fight. The Samsung Fascinate is as aptly named as its brothers; and it’s slick enough to represent the family’s honor well on Verizon.