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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

Samsung’s Galaxy S mobile phones include the Captivate (AT&T), Epic 4G (Sprint), Vibrant (T-Mobile), and Fascinate (Verizon). Each of these has a 4” Super AMOLED display, 1 GHz Hummingbird processor, Android 2.1 operating system, and Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface. As the Android-based cell phone competition heats up, we decided to take a look to see if a Galaxy S phone would stand out in the crowd – we looked at the Samsung Fascinate from Verizon.

The reviewed phone comes in a small black box that slides into a white sleeve which is adorned with a picture of the phone. In Figure 1, you can see the black box protruding from the sleeve.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 1: The Fascinate in the Box

Inside the box, as shown in Figure 2, are several small pamphlets, including one entitled “Tips, Hints and Shortcuts.” Also included is a USB to microUSB charging cable, which plugs into the included plug for charging from the wall. The Samsung Fascinate comes with a pre-installed 16 GB microSDHC memory card and a 1500 mAh battery. The phone itself can also be seen in Figure 2.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 2: Inside the box

The Fascinate is a sturdy black phone with slightly rounded corners and a large touch screen. It is constructed of black plastic and accentuated with a slim chrome strip on the sides. Measuring 2.53 x 0.39 x 5.02 inches (64 x 10 x 125 mm) and weighing 4.92 oz. (139.5 g), the Fascinate is almost as big as the Droid X, but it is lighter and fits more easily into a pocket.

[nextpage title=”The Hardware”]

The first thing that you notice about the Fascinate is the Super AMOLED display which is 4” diagonal, has a resolution of 480 x 800, and supports up to 16 million colors. Our Fascinate came with a “live” background shown in Figure 3, which looked like an underground water scene with water flowing across the screen.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 3: The Fascinate with “Live” background

With exceptional contrast and pure black blacks, the clarity and color of the Super AMOLED display is truly spectacular. In a side-by-side comparison with the Retina Display of the iPhone 4, the Fascinate certainly held its own. The Fascinate has better clarity in bright sunlight than most other cell phones, but the iPhone 4 bested the Fascinate in sunlight. In Figure 4, you can see the clarity of the screen as it displays the dialing pad.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 4: The Fascinate showing the dial pad

Under that pad are four touch-sensitive buttons which represent Menu, Home, Back, and Search. In Figure 4, you can see that these are lighted, but light stays on for only a few seconds. We found many instances where we would have liked the light to stay on longer, but could not find a setting that would let us adjust the timing.

The earpiece can also be seen in Figure 4, just above the Verizon logo. This earpiece also has a microphone that is used in speakerphone mode or when recording the audio to go with a video.

In Figure 5, you see the Power/Lock button which you press and hold to turn the phone on or off. This can also be pressed to lock the phone or to wake the screen.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 5: The right side of the Fascinate

The left side of the Fascinate is seen in Figure 6. It has just one toggle which functions as the Volume Control. When using the phone’s camera, this toggle acts as a zoom control. Next to the volume control is a place which can be used to attach an optional strap.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 6: The left side

The top of the Fascinate has a standard 3.5 mm headset jack and a USB port for charging and/or sync’ing. We would have preferred to see the USB port at the bottom or side of the phone instead of the top. The top location makes it difficult to talk on the phone while it is charging, which is sometimes necessary.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 7: The top of the Fascinate

The back of the phone holds the camera lens with its LED flash, with an external speaker near the bottom. Although there is a slight hatch pattern on the back, it has a shiny coating. There were several times in using it that it felt slightly slippery in the hand, and we prefer having a non-slippery finish on the back as we found in the Droid X.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 8: The back of the Fascinate

[nextpage title=”Using the Fascinate”]

As mentioned earlier, the 800 x 480 Super AMOLED screen on the Fascinate is a joy to behold. Using the capacitive touch screen is also a delight as the response is excellent and the light sensors and accelerometer also work without a hitch. The 1 GHz Hummingbird CPU, 2 GB of internal storage, and 512 MB of RAM combine to make the Fascinate a speedy phone. Whether surfing or looking up a contact, the phone’s response was quick and smooth.

After using the phone for a few days, however, we noticed that it had an occasional stutter or hesitation. It turned out that we had gone overboard and downloaded a few too many auto-updating widgets. When we removed a few, the phone went back to its speedy and smooth operation.

Figure 9 shows the phone with the back removed revealing the 1500 mAh battery and the microSD card slot. The Fascinate comes with a 16 GB card which is expandable to 32 GB.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 9: Th
e battery and SD card

The battery life of this Samsung Fascinate is respectable, projected to be 420 minutes of talk time or 312 hours of standby time.

Most average users will be able to get a full days use out of this phone, but heavy users may have to tweak their battery use by controlling things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and auto-updating Widgets.

We had very good reception and call quality with this phone and didn’t have any dropped calls during our review period. The speakerphone was loud and clear and the phone had excellent noise cancellation.

[nextpage title=”Additional Features”]

The camera on the Fascinate is identical to the cameras on the Captivate and the Vibrant, which are also part of the Galaxy S family with one exception. The Fascinate has an LED flash, while the Captivate and the Vibrant have none. If you will be using your phone to take pictures, this is an important feature.

Although the Fascinate has no dedicated camera button, the on-screen buttons work quite well. The 5.0 megapixel camera has autofocus, adjustable white balance, anti-shake, blink detection, metering, and 10 shooting modes. The shooting modes have some interesting settings. There is a beauty mode that adjusts the contrast to smooth facial features, and AddMe setting that takes one picture then uses the on-screen guide to compose and take a second picture to combine into one. There is also a Cartoon mode, a Vintage mode, and a Panorama mode.

The Touch-to-Focus mode was especially useful. You simply frame your picture with the object you want to focus on near the center of the screen, touch the screen, and the camera will autofocus on that person or object.

All of these various setting give you a lot to play with and if you take time to learn how to use the setting effectively, this phone will produce some very nice photos. We found the quality of the photos to be better than the Droid X, Droid Incredible, or other Droid phones we have reviewed. Close ups in bright light were very good. Although the LED flash really helped to light up dark environments, photos taken in such areas were often still prone to some noise. This was when we remembered that we were using a camera on a phone rather than a dedicated digital camera.

We were impressed with the quality of the 720p videos that the Fascinate produces: they were smooth and crisp with good color reproduction.

The Fascinate has WiFi (802.11b/g/n), Stereo Bluetooth 2.1, and an AGPS radio. We were, however, unsuccessful in getting voice-dialing to work over Bluetooth.

We love the Android OS with its seven customizable home screens, apps, and widgets. The Android Marketplace continues to grow offering a multitude of apps to suit any need.

Samsung ads their own TouchWiz overlay to the Android OS. Our personal feeling is that this is quite unnecessary. We only found two areas where we thought TouchWiz skin was an improvement on the OS. The first was the integration of Swype, a great aid to speedy typing on a touch screen. The second is the opening screen, shown in Figure 10, which lets you view messages and missed calls on the main screen after you drag a puzzle piece into place.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 10: The puzzle screen

The TouchWiz also presents the most commonly used shortcuts for Phone, Contacts, Messaging and Applications docked at the bottom of the screen, as seen in Figure 11. These remain on screen no matter which screen you are viewing.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 11: The Fascinate app screen

In a few areas, the Touch Wiz interface actually detracted from the OS. In Figure 11 you can see that it adds colorful backgrounds to each of the apps. While this might be nice on a regular screen, this screen is so bright and clear, that the added color actually makes it a little too colorful, detracting from the overall look of the page.

One other thing that bears mentioning about the TouchWiz interface is that the default search engine is set to Bing, as shown in Figure 12. Bing also appears as the homescreen widget and is defaulted to in the browser. We were quite surprised by this. Since this is a phone based on Google’s operating system, we expected to see Google as the default search engine. Unfortunately, we could find no way to replace Bing as the default search engine. This seemed unexplainable, especially since Google is the defacto standard in the search engines. We felt that Samsung should have at least given the option to use another search engine.

Samsung Fascinate Cell Phone ReviewFigure 12: The Bing search engine on the Fascinate

In another seemingly ridiculous move, this phone defaults to Verizon Navigator instead of Google Navigation in all areas. Although we were told that this could be changed, there was no obviously simple way to do this.

As with other Android phones, setting up email was easy. The Fascinate supports Exchange, so there is no need to worry no matter what type of email connectivity you have. Although perusing the Web on a larger screen like the Droid X is slightly better, the Samsung Fascinate gives you the ability to pinch to zoom and to double tap to zoom, so surfing is smooth and easy.

The Fascinate also has 3G Mobile HotSpot capabilities for up to 5 device (with an additional monthly fee) and DLNA with Allshare. ThinkFree Office is included for viewing/editing Microsoft Office docs.

The Buddies feature on the Fascinate will aggregate friends from Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and Google. This phone also allows you to combine all of your contacts into one list. A unified calendar combines information from Outlook and Google Calendars along with Facebook birthdays. Skype Mobile is also supported.

As with other Android phones, this phone is quite capable for use as a music player, but it lack the simplicity of sync’ing, playlists, and other software capabilities offered by Apple and its iTunes software.

[nextpage title=”Specifications”]

The main specifications for the Samsung Fascinate cell phone include: 

  • Dimensions: 2.53 x 0.39 x 5.02 inches (64 x 10 x 125 mm)
  • Weight:  4.92 oz. (139.5 g)
  • Processor: ARM Cortex A8 Hummingbird 1 GHz
  • Operating System: Android 2.1
  • Internal Memory: 2 GB
  • Memory Card: MicroSD, up to 32 GB, 16 GB included
  • Screen: 4" 480×800 (WVGA) 16 M Super AMOLED touchscreen display
  • Camera: 5 Megapixel with LED backlight (720p @ 30 FPS video)
  • WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth: v3.0 with A2DP
  • 3G Mobile Hotspot
  • FM radio 
  • Battery: Standard Lithium Ion (1500 mAh)
  • Battery life: Up to 420 minutes talk time, up to 312 hours stand-by time
  • Service Provider in the USA: Verizon Wireless
  • More Information: https://www.samsung.com
  • MSRP in the US: USD 580, USD 300 with a US
    D 100 mail-in rebate debit card with a two-year contract (USD 350 early termination fee) plus a data package (USD 30 minimum)

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

We have become a bit spoiled by the high quality and capabilities of the many new smart phones. The question is no longer, “Which phone is good?” but “Which phone is better?”

The Samsung Fascinate is a very good phone with first-rate call quality and excellent Verizon coverage. Yet, it keeps up with competition rather than blowing them out of the water.

If you are easily swayed by a pretty display, you will find the screen quality of the Fascinate and other Galaxy S phones superior to all the other current smart phones except the iPhone 4. We found that screen color and clarity about equal to the iPhone 4.

Although in a side by side comparison the screen on the Fascinate may be better, the screens on Verizon’s other Droid phones are no slouches, you won’t feel like you missed something if you choose one of them. That means that other features will come into play when you purchase a smart phone. For instance, we liked the HTC overlay on the Droid Incredible better. We liked the size of the screen on the Droid X better, and we liked the keyboard on the Droid 2.

All-in-all, with the smart phone arena becoming more and more crowded, it becomes necessary to decide what is important to you and to make a purchasing decision based on that criteria. We only wish that if phone manufacturers were going to add overlays like the TouchWiz, they would allow users to turn them on or off at their discretion.

Pros

  • Excellent screen
  • Good sturdy design
  • Good camera and video capability
  • Speedy
  • Wonderful camera features
  • Adequate battery life
  • Wi-Fi hotspot mode

Cons

  • Ships with Android 2.1 instead of 2.2
  • Poorly placed USB port
  • Voice commands through Bluetooth not available
  • Music player lacks sync’ing and playlists
  • Lighted keys turn off too quickly
  • Default search engine is Bing, not Google, and we couldn’t find a way to change that
  • Defaults to Verizon Navigator instead of Google Navigation in all areas