Breon’s Samsung Fascinate Galaxy S [Verizon] written review

http://www.droiddog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/DSC_3185.png…finally, the Samsung Fascinate.

A few months ago, Samsung held a big press event for the Galaxy S series of phones.  Three, of the “Big 4″,  carriers had already announced their Galaxy S plans.  Sprint was going to rock out with the 4G capable, slider QWERTY Epic 4G, TMo had already announced the Vibrant, and AT&T was sporting the Captivate.  All Galaxy S.  All slightly different and tailored for each carrier.  But where was Verizon’s version?  No fear; Samsung is here.  They broke cover on the Verizon Fascinate, even if Verizon didn’t want them to.

Fast-forward to the present:  Three carriers have launched their Galaxy S variants.  Samsung has reported that they’ve shipped 1 million Galaxy S phones.  Still no Fascinate.  Well, that’s about to change.

Introducing the Samsung Fascinate, a Galaxy S phone, by Verizon Wireless.

I gotta let you know, I’ve had this phone for just under a week, and I was sworn to secrecy.  No tweets, pics, demos, or peeps about it.  It was one of the hardest weeks of my life.  My coworker kept trying to snap ‘blurry cam’ pics to leak to websites.  I was talking to a dude at Best Buy about the Galaxy S phones, and wanted to badly to show him the Fascinate.  But I was a good lil boy, and didn’t.

On to the phone…

Design

Like the Vibrant, the Fascinate is very pre-iPhone 4-like.  It’s a black, rounded rectangle with chrome accents.  The front, capacitive buttons are slightly visible, when not illuminated (unlike the Epic 4G, with zero visibility).  The Samsung and Verizon logos are really the only things that jump out at you.  The back has rounded edges, which make it comfortable to hold.  There is no “camera bump” that so many manufacturers feel need to be there.  The back is glossy and during the patented “Breon Nagy STi Cornering Slide Test” the phone launched off of the suede, leather seat at mach 1.  A soft-touch back would have been nice.  It probably would have kept the phone from falling out of my hands on several occasions (shhh…don’t tell my VZW contact).  A quick look around the edges reveal the power/lock button, on the right, the volume rocker, on the left, and the headphone & micro USB jacks on the top.  The only thing, I’m not really a fan of, is the external speaker “bump”.  Granted, it’s low and out of the way.  However, it’s still there, and it makes the phone all cattywampus (google it) when sitting on a flat surface.  When will device manufacturers learn put the speaker on the bottom edge, or at least on one of the rounded surfaces?  Overall the phone is mega thin and really light.

Hardware

The “unofficial” specs have been leaked all over the interwebz, so I’m not going to bore you with the entire list…but I will tell you about the ones that make this standout from the other Galaxy S phones, or Android phones in general.

nullAll Galaxy S phones share the same 4″, Super AMOLED screen.  I have to say, this screen is amazing.  The color is very vivid.  While I was snapping some screenshots, I was shocked how much better the content looked on the phone, versus the Macbook monitor.  4″ may still be too large for some folks, but it’s not massive, like the EVO 4G.  The only complaint I have is the the screen doesn’t dim enough in low light and I’m not even sure that the auto-brightness was working at all.

You know what’s weird?  There doesn’t appear to be a notification LED.  I’ve never seen one light up, whether I’m charging the phone or when I receive a message, of some sort.

Fascinate Sample Photos

The Fascinate has the same 5MP AF camera, with flash, like the rest of the Galaxy S lineup.  The auto-focus works well and the pictures look great, on the phone.  I was worried that they wouldn’t look as good on a large monitor.  I was wrong.  They look pretty darn good.  There are tons of settings to mess with, if you’re into that sort of thing.  I kept them all on the default settings.

I only took one video (I’ll try to take more), but it turned out pretty good as well.  It’s at least on par with the other HD recording phones out there.  Sadly, there is not a front-facing camera.

http://www.droiddog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/fas1.png

A touch of the wiz…um…TouchWiz 3.0

The Fascinate shares the Samsung TouchWiz 3.0 interface, with its siblings. It offers two lock screen choices;  The “swipe glass to unlock” and a unique “puzzle piece” unlock screen.  Granted the puzzle piece one isn’t much more than just swiping from left-to-right, but it does offer a little variety.  There are different puzzle pieces for viewing missed calls, messages, and other alerts.

The app drawer is like the other Galaxy S phones, in that you access the app screens by swiping left and right.  Unlike the Epic 4G, and like the Vibrant and Captivate, you can reorder the app icons to your liking.  You can replace the center two quick launch icons in the dock, to apps of your choosing.  You can also add and delete Home screens, as well as set your preferred Home screen.

Samsung’s core apps are well designed.  I like the Messaging app, and that’s saying a lot from a Handcent SMS fanboy.  They include allshare, to share you media to DLNA devices.  I couldn’t get it to work with my XBOX 360, but I didn’t try that hard.  allshare, is the ONLY way to share your content on your home devices.  The phone does not come with a TV out feature, like the Captivate and Vibrant.  This is something that I’m very interested in.  It’s possible that the hardware supports TV out, but it’s not enabled in the firmware.  There are also car and desk cradle apps.  I can’t wait to see the actual cradles.  There is a task manager that is accesible via the app launcher or by long-pressing the Home button.

Samsung also included a handful of exclusive widgets.  Most of them are clocks.  But there are a few other useful widgets, like the Program Monitor which shows you how many applications are active and what your memory usage is, on a scale of green-to-red.

The best part of the TouchWiz interface are the toggles that are included…on the notification panel. Best.feature.ever.  It’s great that manufacturers include one-touch toggle widgets, but having them on the notification panel, cleans up your Home screens AND gives you access to them, while you’re in an app (well, most apps).  There are toggles for WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS (yay) and Airplane mode.

Verizon included the Skype, Kindle, Blockbuster, City ID, My Verizon, V-Cast, and VZ Navigator.  They also include MobileIM, which is an AIM, Yahoo and MSN instant messenger client.  This is a smart move, as Google removed their IM app a couple of versions ago.

Send in the replacements…

We already knew that each of the Galaxy S variants were going to be slightly different. However, it looks like Verizon had a very heavy hand in the customization process. What’s gone?  How about Google Search?  Google Maps?  Amazon MP3?  Check, check and check.  Verizon has partnered with Microsoft to bring you Bing for Android.  While searching the web is pretty standard issue, these days, the Bing app falls short in one area; Maps.  Don’t get me wrong, the maps are accurate (well, at least as accurate as Google Maps).  However, the implementation is horrible.  It feels like a cheesy “wrapper” around a mobile Bing site.  It doesn’t appear to have any link to your contact’s addresses and doesn’t pre-fetch results, like Google.  Fortunately, you can download Google Maps from the Android Market.  However, there is no Google Search app in the Market.  So you’re stuck with Bing.  I’m sure the hackers & modders of the world will figure out how to correct this.  Or maybe Microsoft will update their current app to be a little more worthwhile.  I’m not surprised that Amazon MP3 is missing from the phone.  Verizon’s V-Cast services are all available so you can download music, videos, and ringtones.  If you search the ‘webz, you can find a suitable version of Amazon MP3 to install on the phone.

Samsung Media Hub is also missing from the phone.  This is a HUGE surprise, as Samsung made a big deal about the service, by sending out free movie tickets to the press.  I assume that Verizon didn’t want competition to their V-Cast service.  On the flip side, Media Hub still isn’t available (just checked on the Epic 4G).

Pricing and Availability

At the time of writing this, I have no information of when the phone will be out, or how much it will cost.  Rumor has it that it will be out on September 9th and will cost $199, on contract.  I’ll update this post as soon as I get an official press release.

UPDATE: I received, not one, but two emails this morning, with the press release below.  The phone will be $199.99 on contract and will be available September 8th online, and September 9th in Verizon Wireless stores.

Final thoughts…

In the context of the other Galaxy S phones, the Fascinate is a pretty amazing phone.  While it doesn’t have 4G capability, like the Epic 4G, it offers much more customization, straight out of the box.  I would like to get my hands on a Vibrant and Captivate so I can give a truly fair comparison, but from what I’ve seen, in my short interaction with those two devices, they have a few extra features that put them one step ahead of the Fascinate.

In the context of all Android devices, this (along with the Vibrant and Captivate) is one of the best designed phones I’ve used.  It’s slim and slender.  There are no massive protrusions, like a “camera bump”.  The 4″ screen is big and bright, but not so large that you can’t get your thumb across the screen.  While I’m not an uber TouchWiz fanboy, that doesn’t matter much.  With a little downloading, modding, and rooting, you can customize the interface to be what I want.  In contrast, no amount of rooting can change the form factor of other devices.  I’ll take form over function, any day, especially when “function” can be changed with apps.

I’m not sure how long I’ll have the device, but if you have any questions, please post them here or tweet me (@breon).

See all Fascinate screenshots here

Fascinate Screenshots



Press release:

SAMSUNG FASCINATE™, A GALAXY S™ SMARTPHONE, AVAILABLE TOMORROW ON THE VERIZON WIRELESS NETWORK

BASKING RIDGE, N.J., and DALLAS – Verizon Wireless and Samsung Telecommunications America (Samsung Mobile) today announced that the Samsung Fascinate™, a Galaxy S™ smartphone exclusively at Verizon Wireless, will be available online on Sept. 8 and in Verizon Wireless Communications Stores on Sept. 9 for $199.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate with a new two-year customer agreement.

Powered by Android 2.1™, the Fascinate refines customers’ social networking experiences with its Super AMOLED™ Screen Technology, advanced touch screen capabilities, Samsung 1 GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird Application Processor, and virtual QWERTY keyboard featuring SWYPE technology.  Additionally, the Fascinate boasts an array of accessories, including:

– Charging Cradle – Doubles as a phone charger and includes a micro USB wall adapter so customers can view movies, display digital photos, and listen to music. .  It can also be used as a desktop speakerphone to make hands-free calls and it comes preloaded with the Samsung “Desk Home” application, which allows customers to switch brightness levels from day to night and provides one-touch access to Samsung Widgets and Bing Voice Search.  The charging cradle is available for $29.99.

– Car Dock – Attachable to the windshield or dashboard, the car dock displays turn-by-turn GPS navigation instructions, rotates freely between landscape and portrait modes, and features a preloaded Samsung “Car Home” application, targeted towards vehicle operation such as contacts, maps and navigation..The car dock is available for $39.99.

– Backup Battery Charging System – Includes a 1500 mAH battery, battery charger and Y-cable for charging a phone and spare battery simultaneously.  It is available for $39.99

Pricing and Plan Information

Verizon Wireless customers who purchase the Samsung Fascinate will receive the mail-in rebate in the form of a debit card; upon receipt, customers may use the card as cash anywhere debit cards are accepted.  Samsung Fascinate customers will need to subscribe to a Verizon Wireless Nationwide Talk plan (beginning at $39.99 monthly access) and an Email and Web for Smartphone plan (beginning at $29.99 for unlimited monthly access).  For additional information on Verizon Wireless products and services, visit a Verizon Wireless Communications Store, call 1-800-2 JOIN IN or go to www.verizonwireless.com.

About Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless operates the nation’s most reliable and largest wireless voice and 3G data network, serving more than 92 million customers. Headquartered in Basking Ridge, N.J., with  79,000 employees nationwide, Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications (NYSE, NASDAQ: VZ) and Vodafone (LSE, NASDAQ: VOD).  For more information, visitwww.verizonwireless.com. To preview and request broadcast-quality video footage and high-resolution stills of Verizon Wireless operations, log on to the Verizon Wireless Multimedia Library atwww.verizonwireless.com/multimedia.

About Samsung Telecommunications America

Samsung Telecommunications America, LLC, a Dallas-based subsidiary of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., researches, develops and markets wireless handsets and telecommunications products throughout North America. For more information, please visit www.samsungwireless.com.

Android is a trademark of Google Inc.

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