Verizon Samsung Fascinate Review

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Ah the final chapter of the Galaxy S lineup, the Verizon Fascinate. Verizon was a little late to the party with their version, but better late than never, right?
Anyway, the Fascinate is your typical Galaxy S phone, featuring that beautiful 4in 800×480px, Super AMOLED display, blazing 1GHz Hummingbird processor and roomy 16GB of internal storage. Another nice feature of the Fascinate that two out of the four Galaxy S phones don’t have (Captivate and Vibrant are missing this) is an LED flash for the 5MP camera.
That’s really the only thing different about the Fascinate when compared to the other Galaxy S phones (hardware wise) so let’s unbox the Fascinate and get this review started.
The Fascinate box differs from all of the other Galaxy S phones. The white portion of the packaging you’re seeing is actually a sleeve that goes over a rather attractive looking, Samsung-branded box:
Opening up the box, you’ll be greeted by Verizon’s newest Android phone:
So what lies beneath the phone? Let’s take a peak:
Everyones favorite things, manuals! And beneath those? Accessories! So here’s everything that comes in the box:
I find it odd that Verizon chose to not include the nice headphones that ship with the other Galaxy S phones or a microSD to SD card adapter (that doesn’t really bother me). Maybe they dropped those in favor of the 16GB microSD card that’s included with the phone? Most people will probably be ok with trading headphones for a 16GB microSD.
So now that we know what comes in the box (and what doesn’t) let’s take a spin around the phone and see how it compares to the other Galaxy S devices. The top and bottom of the phone are the same as the other Galaxy S phones, with the miniUSB port & 3.5mm headphone jack up top:
And microphone at the bottom:
Onto the sides of the device, you again have the typical, Galaxy S setup with the volume rocker on one side and power button on the other:
Onto the back of the phone you will find the 5MP camera with LED flash:
The Fascinate (like the Vibrant) has a plastic, glossy back-plate that is an absolute magnet for fingerprints. You can’t pick this thing up without leaving the back covered in prints. That being said, it does look good when it’s clean, with the pattern looking similar to the Vibrants:
Once you pop off the back cover of the Fascinate, you’ll find Samsung’s 1500 mAh battery:
As well as a location to attach a lanyard: (Something that every Galaxy S phone has, except the AT&T Captivate)
So now that you’ve read all about it, watch the video to see the phone in action, and some of it’s unique applications:
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GPS

Is still broken. In my brief testing, it took the Fascinate 56 seconds to lock onto a GPS signal. My Nexus One? Three seconds. C’mon Samsung, get that Galaxy S GPS fix out already!

Camera

Like the Epic 4G, the Fascinate packs in a LED flash to go along with its 5MP camera. How much difference does a flash make? Well look for yourself:

Now let’s turn that flash on:
Obviously there’s quite a difference. However the one thing lacking on the Fascinate’s camera settings is a “Night Mode” setting. If you look at our Epic 4G review, putting the phone on Night Mode resulted in a better low-light photo that using the flash. For some reason however, the Fascinate lacks this feature.

Software

The Fascinate does sport a few unique features on the software side. Like the Captivate and Vibrant, you can customize the TouchWiz3.0 icons, which is really nice. Just open your applications, then press the menu button and edit. Then just long-touch whatever icon (except home) that you want to replace.
The Fascinate is also the only Galaxy S phone to feature colored icons in the settings menu:

It also has a backup assistant, which will backup your address book and sync your contacts:
Probably the most-unique feature of the Fascinate is the restriction to Bing search. There’s no way (yet) to get the Google search widget onto the phone and Bing is heavily wired in:
The Fascinate also sports four different analog clock widgets:
And it has two digital and dual clock variants:
The Fascinate also comes with the Weatherbug, weather clock widget:
And to round out the unique widgets, we have the widgets for Bing, the program monitor and data plan usage:


Another unique Fascinate feature is the little gear next to the homescreen “dots” right under the notification bar. Pressing that gear will allow to you add or remove homescreens as you see fit. The other Galaxy S phones support this (except the Epic 4G) they just access it using the Menu key.
The final unique feature of the Fascinate that I would actually make use of is the Desktop Cradle setting. You get to this via the Applications launcher:

Obviously from here you can access your alarms, do a voice search, access your picture gallery and your music. It’s also a great way to keep your Daily Briefing widget displayed while on your desk. Note that the Daily Briefing mode in the desktop cradle supports portrait viewing, while the desktop cradle itself only displays via landscape.
In addition to the Daily Briefing mode of desktop cradle, it also has a night mode, that can be accessed by pressing the little Sun icon in between the Home and gear buttons. This will be very useful for those people who charge their phone at night and use their phones as alarm clocks:
Last but not least on the more interesting apps on the Fascinate is the My Verizon Mobile app. It allows you to view minute/data usage, how many text messages, as well as a ton of other info:
So besides the above features of the Fascinate, here’s apps that are included with the device:
  • 3G Mobile Hotspot
  • Allshare
  • Bing
  • Blockbuster
  • Car Cradle (puts most common buttons on the screen)
  • City ID (displays city and state of incoming phone #s, you can also search #s)
  • Desktop Cradle
  • Kindle
  • MobileIM (AIM, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo IM)
  • My Verizon Mobile
  • NFS Shift Demo, full version $9.99 (Needs to be downloaded & installed)
  • Skype Mobile
  • Task Manager (allows you to end running programs)
  • Tetris Demo, full version $7.99 (Needs to be downloaded & installed)
  • ThinkFree Office
  • VCast Music, Tones & Videos
  • Nuance Voice Commands (watch Youtube video for demo)
  • Visual Voicemail ($2.99/month)
  • VZ Navigator (Needs to be downloaded & installed)
So obviously, Verizon has crammed a lot of “extras” into the Fascinate. Personally I could do without almost all of the programs in the above list, but I’ll let you be the judge of how useful they are.

Benchmarks

What’s a review without benchmarks? Everybody likes “bench racing” their devices, so that’s the purpose of these benchmarks. All of the devices in these benchmarks were running Android 2.1 except for the Xperia X10 which runs 1.6 and the Nexus One which runs 2.2.
First up on the benchmark block is Google’s V8 Benchmark version 5. This test benchmarks a devices JavaScript performance, mainly while web browsing. (Click on these graphs for larger, more readable versions)

Obviously the Nexus One with Android 2.2 runs away with this test. If you do a little snooping around the web you’ll find that pre-Froyo, the N1 was getting scores in the low-60’s. So to say that Froyo has a few performance increases is an understatement. I can’t wait to redo these tests once the Galaxy S and Droid X officially get Android 2.2.
BenchmarkPi calculates Pi, so it’s all about CPU power, plain and simple:

There’s a few interesting things to note here. One, the HTC Aria has a 600MHz CPU and it beat out the Xperia X10 which has a 1GHz Snapdragon. Chalk that up to the differences between Android 1.6 and Android 2.1. Moving on past the Samsung Intercept you have the Galaxy S (aka Fascinate) and the Droid X, these two phones both sport different CPUs, but run at 1GHz and they’re essentially neck and neck. Once again however the benefits of Android 2.2 can’t be ignored.
Next up is Linpack. The Linpack Score relies heavily on CPU performance and how it handles some of the interactions with the Dalvik VM in Android:

It really is sad how badly Android 1.6 cripples the 1GHz Snapdragon, barely beating the 600MHz CPU in the HTC Aria. Once again the 1GHz CPUs in the Fascinate and Droid X are neck and neck, with the Froyo-sporting N1 taking the cake. One anomaly that I can’t figure out is the Samsung Intercept results. Having such a low MFLOPS result should result in a lot more than 1.85 seconds. I re-ran the test multiple times and continued to get this result, so I’m not sure what’s going on there.
Neocore is an OpenGL-ES 1.1 graphics performance benchmark for Android devices. It shows off some of the techniques that are possible on accelerated platforms such as 1-pass light maps and bump mapping.

Here we can see the Galaxy S flexing its GPU muscles. Even though this benchmark is made by Qualcomm (who makes the 1GHz CPUs in the Xperia and Nexus One) the 1GHz  Hummingbird in the Galaxy S line of phones just screams. Any sort of graphical content just gets chewed up and spit out by the Galaxy S phones. The lowly Samsung Intercept couldn’t even run this benchmark, quite possibly due to it’s oddball resolution. As for the Xperia X10, it performs on par with the other Snapdragon phone here, the N1. Finally the HTC Aria held its own here due to the lower resolution of its screen in comparison to the other devices with larger screens.
The next benchmark in our tests is fps2d. Fps2D, like Neocore, is an app to measure Android’s frames per second performance. However, Fps2D, as the name implies, tests 2D performance rather than the 3D performance that Neocore tests.

Poor, poor, Xperia. Hopefully once you get updated to 2.1 you’ll be able to play with the big boys, in the mean time your hardware is squandered. The HTC Aria does fantastic at this test since it has the lower-resolution screen. The other phones are essentially neck and neck with each other.
Last but not least, we have the all-encompassing Quadrant benchmark. Quadrant is a CPU, I/O and 3D graphics benchmark.

Here again we see the N1 with Froyo take the win with the Galaxy S and Droid X left fighting for third and second place. As with the rest of the benchmarks, the X10 is crippled by Android 1.6 and is almost surpassed by the wee HTC Aria. Again, once the Droid X and Galaxy S line of phones receive Android 2.2 officially, it’s going to be very interesting to revisit these benchmarks to see how the scores change.

Conclusion

Well here we are, you’ve read the review, looked at the pictures and watched the video, so what do you think? The Fascinate is in a unique situation because without a doubt, Verizon has the strongest lineup of Android phones of any carrier, so unlike on AT&T or T-Mobile, where the Captivate and Vibrant are no-brainers, the decision isn’t so cut and dry if you’re with big red. Having to choose between the Droid clan and the Fascinate will require careful deliberation.
You really need to think about what you like to do with your phone and your personal tastes. The Droid X is a large phone, to large for many, so make sure you play with one before committing. That being said the 4.3in screen is huge. However the Fascinate ties or beats it in most benchmarks.
If you’re used to physical keyboards, then you have to determine if you can transition to touch-keyboards. In my opinion the touchscreen on the Galaxy S devices is excellent and very accurate, but it’s nothing like typing on physical keys. So if you can’t imagine ditching a physical keyboard, you’ll probably be better off with a Droid 2.
But if you’re looking for a “just right” size phone with a gorgeous display, accurate touchscreen and on the “for sure” list for Android 2.2 (and most likely Gingerbread as well), then the Fascinate is a safe bet. Sure it comes with a lot of bloatware, but I find it pretty easy to deal with those. Besides once this thing get’s rooted (which shouldn’t take long looking at how fast it happened to the other Galaxy S phones), removing those extra apps will be easy as pie.

Pros

  • Super AMOLED screen is still the best I’ve seen
  • GPU is a powerhouse
  • 1GHz Hummingbird CPU will only get faster once Android 2.2 lands
  • Camera (now has a flash!)
  • Desktop cradle app is great

Cons

  • Lots of extra apps that aren’t really necessary
  • Like the Vibrant, the plastic back of the phone is a fingerprint magnet, and feels cheap
  • No Google search!
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