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Overview

What's Good: Thin and light; fast processor; nice high-end addition to Verizon's Android lineup.

What's Bad: Device has some issues; doesn't ship with Google Maps out of the box; Verizon has disabled Google search in favor of Bing, and the average consumer can't change it.

The Verdict: The Fascinate is a decent device and a nice alternative to the DROID line, but the Verizon-inspired changes and random quirks are frustrating.

Introduction

At long last, Verizon's launch of the Samsung Fascinate brings the Galaxy S saga to a close (at least for the nationwide carriers).  Like the other members of the family, it's a high-end device that packs a 1 GHz processor, 4-inch "Super AMOLED" display, 5-megapixel camera, Android 2.1 with Samsung's TouchWiz user interface.  It's thin, light, and with a consumer-friendly user interface, it should appeal to a wide range of users.  That said, it has a few annoying bugs that could keep people from adopting it en-masse like the DROID series.  Can it hold its ground against Verizon's other Android devices?

Design & Features

Design-wise, the Fascinate is the most boring member of the Galaxy S family.  It's a rectangular device with no special design cues beyond a carbon fiber battery door.  The left side of the phone houses a volume rocker, while the top of the unit offers the typical 3.5mm headphone jack and microUSB charging port (with a handy sliding "door" to keep out dust).  The 5-megapixel camera is on the back, along with a flash.

The Fascinate ships with an AC adapter module, USB cable, instruction manual, and a 16 GB microSD card (installed in the phone), but no earbuds.  The overall design is the same (volume rocker on left side; power button on right side; 3.5mm headphone jack and microUSB charging port on the top), but the battery door is slightly different.

Measuring in at 4.91 inches tall by 2.54 inches wide by 0.41 inch thick, and tipping the scales at 4.1 ounces, Fascinate is the current thin and light champion in Verizon's Android lineup.  It offers a 4-inch "Super AMOLED" display, and like the other three, it's stunning.  Picture quality is fantastic, and colors are rich.  Perhaps more importantly, I was able to use the phone in direct sunlight - something I can't do with other AMOLED-equipped devices like the Nexus One and DROID Incredible.

Usability & Performance

Like the rest of the series, the Fascinate sports a 1 GHz Hummingbird processor and 2 GB of internal storage space.  Since these devices are still running Android 2.1, some level of internal storage is a must, since apps can't be saved to the microSD card.  The Galaxy S devices have been fun to cover due to the slight differences between each model, and the Fascinate is no different.  Like the Vibrant and Captivate, it runs a relatively unchanged version of Android 2.1 with Samsung's TouchWiz user interface, with Verizon's 3G Mobile Hotspot, Bing, Blockbuster, City ID, Mobile IM, My Verizon Mobile, Skype Mobile, V CAST (Music, Tones, and Videos), Visual Voicemail ($2.99 monthly) and VZ Navigator ($9.99 monthly).  Samsung has committed to upgrading the Galaxy S line to 2.2, though current rumors pinpoint the update for October.

For an Android device, it surprised me that Google Maps wasn't installed out of the box (the phone defaults to VZ Navigator), though you can pick up the app from the Android Market.  Unfortunately, Google search is another story.  Verizon opted to exclude Google search in favor of Bing, and the frustrating thing is you can't change it.  Verizon has stated that the Android 2.2 update will bring the option for Google search, so we'll see.  Like the rest of the series, the Fascinate is pre-loaded with Swype and the standard Android keyboard, though it's lacking the Samsung keyboard that's found on the GSM models.

Outside of the Verizon changes, it has some funky quirks as well.  When in a call, for example, tapping the "Search" button below the display causes the call to be disconnected every time.  Additionally, I'm shocked at the number of grammatical errors that are buried in the software.  Statements like "SNS message cannot be deleted" and "This history will be deleted call log, too.  Continue?" baffled me and made me wonder how Verizon missed them during field tests.  For a high caliber device like the Fascinate, these are bugs that should have been worked out prior to launch.



Like the other Galaxy S devices, the Fascinate ships with a 5.0-megapixel camera, though it includes a flash.  Editing options include ten shooting modes, the ability to change the exposure value, focus mode, scene mode, resolution, white balance, ISO, metering, and more.  Picture quality was very good (exactly the same as the other Galaxy S devices, as far as I can tell), and video quality (720p) was impressive as well.  After working with the Epic 4G, I was frustrated with the lack of a physical camera button.  You can click on the screen to enable autofocus, but the natural hand shaking that comes from holding an object made the picture less accurate.

I worked with the Fascinate in the Charlotte metro area, and was pleased with call quality.   Callers had no problem hearing me, with one caller unable to tell whether I was on a landline or a cell phone.  As with the other Galaxy S devices, earpiece volume was very loud.  When testing the phone in a Verizon dead zone in the city, I was able to complete a call, despite severe choppiness and audio dropouts.   I paired a Bluetooth headset to the device, and callers continued to be pleased with the quality.



It ships with a 1,500 mAh battery, and with moderate use like calling, text messaging, e-mailing, browsing the web, and downloading a few apps from the Android Market, I was able to make it most of the day.  Out of all of the high-end Verizon Android devices I've tested, I found it to have the best battery life (though not by much).  People that call or message on a regular basis throughout the day will want to carry a spare battery or a car charger.

Fascinate is an EVDO Rev. A device, so data speeds were strong.  Throughout a week of testing, I was able to obtain an average download speed of 1,120 Kbps, and an upload speed of 802 Kbps.  The phone offers Verizon's 3G Mobile Hotspot capabilities, which allows you to connect up to five Wi-Fi-equipped devices and can be had for an additional $20 per month.

Conclusion

Like the other Galaxy S devices, the Fascinate is a feature-packed, high-end device that happens to be positioned in the same price bracket as Verizon's DROID lineup.  Samsung's TouchWiz user interface is a nice option for those venturing into the Android realm for the first time, and the colorful menus should appeal to those that want an iPhone-like device on Verizon.  That said, out of all of the Galaxy S devices, the Fascinate is the least exciting and has the highest number of issues out of the box.  The value proposition comes into play as well.  Sprint, for example, offers visual voicemail and Sprint Navigation (in addition to Google Maps) free of charge.  Purchase both of these on Verizon's Fascinate, and you're spending an extra $11.99 per month.

The Samsung Fascinate is available at Verizon Wireless for $199.99 after mail-in rebate.  For additional pictures, check out the gallery below!

 


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