Samsung Fascinate Review

Every major US carrier has gotten the Samsung Galaxy S in some shape or form, but how does Verizon’s specific angle differ from the rest of the pack? Most of these experiences are only unique in terms of software (with the one exception to the Samsung EPIC 4G on Sprint with its keyboard). Knowing that the Galaxy S is already a fantastic phone, how does Verizon’s Samsung Fascinate hold up to everyone else’s? Let’s find out!

Hardware

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 I’ve ever used that packs as big of a punch as it does. I’m a guy with large hands and it’s not often that I care about a device being too big or too small, but being able to palm this 4-inch handset with ease is welcome. I think it’d be a mistake to call this phone cheap-feeling as most have, though, as a more accurate description would be to call it fragile.

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.

fascinate ding

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.

I still can’t get over the fact that 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.

fascinate

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.

Software

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. I’m not sure if I need my eyes rechecked (I just got new glasses.) but I can’t see what’s so bad about it. I’ve heard 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.

IMG_1164

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.) I say “sort of” because Need For Speed: Shift takes up a ridiculous 100 MB of data after downloading the trial. 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):

times square fascinate

mickey fascinate

pizza fascinate

chocolate fascinate

Here’s a moving shot. Even though I like the blur effect, I would’ve liked the scenery to be more clear:

2010-10-09 12.04.36

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.

lowlight fascinate

lowlight fascinate 2

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.

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  • Jonathan Drake

    I want your New York Pizza as much as that phone.

  • su2lly

    That’s not sausage, that’s snausage!

  • DonnyDon

    Your about 2 months late with a review………..and second I have this phone and its complete GARBAGE!!!!! So is Android!!!!

  • Robert

    One correction: Google Voice Search is already installable (no Froyo update required). I’m running it on my Fascinate now. If I remember correctly, it comes along when you install Google Maps from the Market.

  • macs

    Why don’t they just let people choose if they want Bing or Google instead of locking us into one or the other. Personally I think bings blows chunks but I know some people who use Bing for some things and Google for others why not let the customer decide and that keeps everyone happy.

    I have the samsung galaxy s and I agree with the every flimsy fragile feeling casing. Other than that the screen is great and the Hummingbird is better than the new snapdragon processor. Though I hate this lock button Samsung insist putting on their devices.

  • Colin

    Odd that it doesn’t get the notification LED. I just looked it up and I guess the international Galaxy S doesn’t have one either, but the Epic does… and that’s now odd to considering the Moment, Intercept, and I believe Transform also don’t have them. I wonder what made the Epic so special?

  • Steven Skwarkowski

    Lock buttons are very nice IMO! Though with this phone being so thin and smooth I sometime have a hard to holding the phone and unlocking or locking it in on hand. I actually wish they added a dedicated camera button on the whole lineup.

  • Rob

    What’s this app in the market that uses the SAMOLED for notifications due to the lack of led? I have the Captivate and I’ve been looking for something similar this.

  • PhineasJW

    Honestly, the lack of an LED notification light on the Galaxy S series is a COMPLETE AND UTTER FAILURE on Samsung’s part.

    As if people want to unlock their device constantly to see if they’ve gotten any new texts/emails.

    If Samsung ever launches the Nexus 2 it had damn well better have an LED notification light or it’s DOA for me.

  • Steven Skwarkowski

    I tried the app that does the icon notification. It worked once and that was it. Was nice when it worked…for a day

  • Moonfire

    @Rob: NoLED. It’s alright, in my opinion, but I prefer just hitting unlock and glancing at the screen. I believe there’s also been talk of mods that will use the soft keys as notification lights.

  • Greg

    The problem with your USB cables not working is an issue of quality. Don’t use cheap cables. I have the same problems with my Dinc so I don’t use cables I got from eBay, amazon, or radio shack any more. I have found the OEM Blackberry cables can be found cheap($5) and are of excellent quality.

  • Donnydon is a tool

    If its garbage why do you have it? mac fan boy!

  • Paul

    That is the problem with Samasung they leave off fundamental items on a phone, most of Samsungs phone have a LED notification led virtually non of the Android phones or omnia phones which is stupid & pathetic & the europe Galaxy S has NO led flash (WHAT, WHY). I dont purchase samsungs any more because of this & the lack of after sales support, almost as slow & sony ericsson with there updates.

  • Paul

    Sorry above I meant of Samsungs phones DO NOT have a LED notification led

  • Droidman

    the only thing my g1 is missing is more on board storage and a flash for its cam other than that its perfect`

  • tommy

    “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.”

    Hogwash. Verizon shouldn’t control your search experience. They are the phone company.

  • Liferules

    strange about the comment of it not getting hot. I find my captivate screen gets warm frequently with heavy use. Is this uncommon?

  • Chris

    The epic 4g has a notification led :)

  • Dave

    There’s no need to make lame excuses for Verizon. They may “have the right to treat their devices how they want,” but a reviewer has the right (nay, the obligation) to criticize, without qualification, any decisions that don’t serve the user’s best interests. Taking away Google Search and loading up the phone with unremovable bloatware inconvenience the user and make the phone less useful. Verizon should be called on this hostile behaviour in the strongest terms possible.

  • Square

    You don’t need a leds, when the top notification bar tells you the status of what going on, txt, mail, etc.

  • ToastnJam

    What’s up with Donnydon? Why would you buy an Android phone if you hate android? Let alone be on an android site? What an idiot!
    I bought the Fascinate the day it came out and I think it’s a great device. As for the led notification issue, it’s actually a non-issue. There’s a free app on the Market called NoLED and it works perfectly, notifying you of SMS/MMS, emails, voicemails, etc. and is super customizable. The super amoled screen tops any other phone on the market in direct sunlight and personally I don’t mind Bing either. If you wanna get rid of it, root your phone. Otherwise just bookmark Google and add the icon to your homepage and problem solved. The only fault I have found with this phone is no dedicated camera button, but you quickly get used to that. I personally think the Fascinate is a great phone and I couldn’t be happier with it. (now, if they’d only release 2.2 I’d be set!)

  • Mike

    I don’t get it.. I have a fascinate and loaded google maps with gps and moved the icon right to my home page.. .GPS works okay (little slow to pick up gps)–and that’s without routing. Can’t you just create a shortcut to google search?

  • gary

    I have my Fascinate connected to my PC via a third-party cable (one that came with my Western Digital external HD) and I can mount it just fine. Micro-USB cables come in a 4-wire and 5-wire version. The Fascinate uses a 5-wire. I’m wondering if the reviewer wasn’t trying with a pair of 4-wire cables.

  • Eli

    Wow. That is very late review and unless I missed it didn’t even touch on the biggest problems people are having with the phone:

    – broken GPS
    – Poor call quality (specifically no noise cancellation resulting in difficulty for the other person to hear you)

  • ToastnJam

    I don’t have a problem with my GPS OR poor call quality. As a matter of fact the call quality on my Fascinate has been much better than my last three phones and those were fine to begin with. It DID take forever for GPS to load and locate when I first got the phone but everything works fine now. And seriously, how often to people really use GPS unless their travelling? I don’t know too many.
    I find that all the people that complain about this phone in all the android forums are the ones who have never physically touched this device and are only going off what “they’ve heard” from someone else. There are bugs with every single phone on the market when they first come out I don’t care what phone you buy. Most get fixed quickly with ota updates, some take a bit longer, some not at all. IMO, the only thing missing on this phone is 2.2 and that’s due out this month, hopefully.

  • Jamie

    There’s maybe two phones on the market right now with specific noise cancellation built in. DroidX and Evo So every other phone available has poor call quality? I doubt that

  • DonnyDon

    Heyy “DonnyDon Is A Tool” get your mouth off my ass

  • Champs

    TLDR: on specs alone, this should be a good phone, but it’s a consistent letdown. Fragile case. Sketchy buttons. It’s Bing’d. Doesn’t run Froyo. TouchWiz. That was enough for me.

  • JO

    LOL at the fanboys. Nah, Google dod’t load their OS with Bloatware do they???
    Google search, Gmail, Google maps, Google Gtalk, Geotag, Android Market, Google contacts Sync.

    This looks like a nice phone, but if it’s as flimsy as the reviewer makes it out to be, I’d definitely think twice

  • http://phandroid rd0311

    I actually have a fascinate and I can truely say it is the best phone I have ever used. I have had droid, Dinc and have family that hasthe DX. The phone does have several issues that need to be addressed but the LED is not one of them. I think the bloat ware is the main issue here. Verizon loaded it with city id, bing, vcast and other app that really upsets me. This is a android phone and should be loaded with google search not bing but I know with 2.2 google search will be available. The other one is touch wiz. This UI really slows this speed demon down on some every day apps. Dont get me wrong touch wiz is not bad but it is no htc sense.

    The biggest problem I have with this phone is samsung and verizon dragging their feet sending out the 2.2 update. By the time the froyo update gets out gingerbread will be here.

    Also, I know every one is saying that samsung does not support their phones. This is ridiculous. Samsung has sold 5 to 7 million galaxy s phones world wide. They know if they do not send updates out for this phone it will be truely devastating to samsung mobile.

  • TigerPaw

    @ToastnJam,
    Don’t be so hasty to judge those who post the problems they find with Galaxy S phones. You really have no way of knowing whether they have used the phone or not. Their experience just differs from yours. I, for one, am on my second Captivate since early August. The first one went back for hardware problems related to texting. The second one experiences random shutdowns, though not as many as the once daily rate from the first four days I had it. Both have 3400+ meter accuracy on GPS (2+ miles!), and since I do in fact use it, that a serious drawback–and an embarrassment, because I have to rely on my wife’s iPhone for GPS. Ouch!

    I’ve talked to Samsung several times about the GPS situation, receiving such assurances as “next month” in August and “soon” in October. I’d be more inclined to believe “when pigs fly” at this point, but time–and more time–may tell. Perhaps I am being unduly harsh.

    Should I have done more homework before buying the Captivate? Sure. I should have done more research on Samsung’s customer service (bad), quality control (bad), and on the nature of smartphone reviews (mostly gushy, unlike digital camera reviews, where there are several sites that test the cameras extensively, then pull no punches).

    Overall, I’d have to say I like the Captivate. I have just under a bazillion apps on it, and like the Android app interfaces better than the typical iPhone app UIs. Just a personal preference, not a slam at iPhone. Also, I really like the haptic feedback and the menu, home, back, and search buttons. They really help save screen real estate. Call quality is good. But the GPS is a nasty crack in the windshield, so to speak. Also, Samsung mini Kies does not appear to have had any real debugging.

    And don’t get me started on AT&T’s nanny state restrictions on their Android handsets. There are reasons I’m still with AT&T, but that’s for another forum.

    So there you have my experience with the Galaxy S Captivate. As always, your mileage may vary.

  • TigerPaw

    @PhinesJW,
    I’ll trade you a functioning GPS for a notification LED
    :-)

  • TigerPaw

    @ToastnJam, OK, I’ll give you that DonnyDon’s original post didn’t have much helpful detail. I just hope he’s still in the 30-day buyer’s remorse period so he can return the phone without a $$$ penalty.


    @Liferules, yeah, my Captivate battery sensor runs from 20 Celsius to 46 Celsius, so the whole phone can get pretty hot, especially when I’ve been crankin’ on the web, streaming stuff, and running a half dozen apps in the background. Also, the handset gets pretty hot when plugged in to the car charger for 30 minutes or so.

  • http://lightsourcephotography.com Ed Abrahamson

    How to clear bookmarks……..thanks ed

  • Brad

    From everything I’ve seen and read, including other reviews and youtube reviews, the fascinate is top notch. The people who have the phone love it but the people who just talk about what they’ve seen seem not to like it. Watch some video comparisons on youtube with the fascinate and iphone and i bet you will be impressed on how the fascinate keeps up witht the iphone in every aspect. I won’t say it is better because its not better. It’s a tie. But if i were to prefer one i would get the fascinate over the iphone because u can customize the phone to the way u want it. To do so on the iphone you would have to jail break it.

  • AngelVols

    How do I remove the unlock feature from my Samsung Fascinate….I don’t want to have to move the puzzle piece or draw a 4 point shape everytime I want to use my phone

  • Gary

    The Only thing I don’t like about this phone is it sticks on a screen and I have to remove the battery to reset the phone

  • cb74cb

    Don’t buy this phone if you want to be kept up-to-date with Google’s Android OS. This phone has been stuck on 2.1 since Fall 2010 and no Froyo update is coming (2.2). Nor are Samsung/Verizon giving any useful information on an update, just months of empty promises. If you’re cool using an old OS (Gingerbread 2.3 is already on a lot of phones) then you’ll be fine with the Fascinate.