Samsung has totally upped its game with its Galaxy S line of Google Android phones. With variants available on all four major American carriers, the Galaxy S line offers a strong choice to every consumer, regardless of their coverage situation. All four phones share the same roots — Google Android 2.1 with Samsung TouchWiz 3.0 and a gorgeous four-inch Super AMOLED screen — but there are differences between the various models. The Samsung Fascinate for Verizon is one of the better choices. I was very impressed with the phone’s look and feel, but there are some curious software choices and performance issues to consider. Let’s break it down!
Build Quality: Although the Fascinate has an ample four-inch screen, it’s surprisingly thin and light. It’s so light that it’s easy to confuse for a display model. A big reason for the phones lightness is that its body is almost all plastic. It doesn’t feel cheap by any means — though it does look like an iPhone 3GS wannabe — but it doesn’t offer the luxurious feel of metal.
A lot of people feel that phones like the Motorola Droid X and HTC Evo 4G are too big to be pocketable. Those people will love the size and weight of the Fascinate. While I prefer having a larger screen, I acknowledge that most people will prefer the size of the Fascinate. It offers solid (if not overly impressive) build quality, feels great in your hand, and is easily pocketable.
The Screen: Most people will be dazzled by the Fascinate’s Super AMOLED screen. It’s just frickin’ gorgeous. The colors are super vibrant and the screen is bright. It makes TFT LCD screens look dull. There are some caveats though. Some colors — particularly reds and purples — are over-pronounced. TFT LCD screens are also easier to see outdoors. Although some colors aren’t reproduced accurately, I think most people will prefer the brightness of Sammy’s Super AMOLED screen.
User Interface: Going into this (not a) review, I was dreading spending time with Samsung TouchWiz. Version 2.0 was garbage. I’m pleased to say that 3.0 is quite good. It offers several little touches that make the Android experience smoother. I particularly liked having control of the WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth radios in the notification area. The music player is also much better than stock Android’s. Thanks to the phone’s potent CPU/GPU combo — which is currently the best in the business — everything ran smoothly.
That said, there were a few things I didn’t like. Having four icons stuck at the bottom is another iPhone feature that was borrowed. I don’t need to see those icons on all seven menu screens. I really don’t like that Bing and Bing Maps are the default choices for search and location. In fact, you can’t change the default search engine at this time (Verizon has claimed that this will change in future updates). All that said, I’m impressed with Samsung’s improvements to TouchWiz 3.0. It’s not quite as good as HTC Sense, but it’s as good as what Motorola has done with its Android customizations. (Of course my personal preference is vanilla Android for its speed and faster updates.)
Call Quality: The Samsung Fascinate’s combination of powerful hardware and smooth software allow it to do many things excellently. Making calls isn’t one of them. I found the call quality to be average. Incoming voices sounded a little tinny. The phone doesn’t have the noice-canceling wizardry found in the Droid X either. It’s not a bad phone for making calls, but if voice is a priority than the Droid X is a better choice on Verizon.
Camera: Samsung has been making some of the best camera phones for years, so my expectations were pretty high for the Fascinate. They were mostly met. Photos taken outdoors or with ample light were among the best I’ve seen from an Android phone. Indoor photos and low-light pictures were trickier. It’s easy to get nice shots when messing with the various settings, but quick shots taken indoors can result in poor photos. Unlike the Evo 4G, the Fascinate has one LED flash instead of two. This can make a big difference indoors…particularly when you’re drunk. Here are some sample photos (see if you can guess which ones were taken under the influence of wine and beer).
Random Thoughts: After using Android 2.2 (FroYo) on the Evo 4G and the Droid 2, it was tough going back to 2.1. There were a few times when I thought, “What is this caveman crap?!?” I really missed having Flash too. Although Samsung has promised a Galaxy S FroYo update in October, who knows when a Fascinate-specific build will be submitted to Verizon and approved. Samsung has a bad reputation when it comes to updating Android (see the Behold II), so there is some cause for concern. However, I think the company has learned from its past mistakes. Hopefully Verizon leans on Samsung for a fast update.
Conclusion: This is the second-best phone in the Galaxy S line. Unlike the AT&T Captivate and T-Mobile Vibrant, the Fascinate has a camera flash and doesn’t suffer from the ridiculous GPS issues that plague its siblings (though it’s still not as accurate as other phones I’ve used). The Bing issue will annoy some users, but that should be getting fixed in the near future. The Fascinate isn’t quite as good as Sprint’s Epic 4G, which has a keyboard, front-facing camera for video chat, and WiMax connectivity.
For Verizon customers, the Samsung Fascinate is an interesting choice. I love the call quality and screen size of the Motorola Droid X, but I prefer the screen technology and UI of the Fascinate. They’re both excellent phones — it just depends on what your priorities are. If they happen to be a pocketable phone with a brilliant screen, wicked CPU/GPU, and a snappy interface then you can’t go wrong with the Fascinate.
As always, please let me know if you have any questions about the phone. If I didn’t answer them in the (not a) review then I’ll try to cover it in the comments section.