Samsung Fascinate Review
2010 could easily be dubbed the year of the Galaxy S, releasing a version on almost all carriers in North American and abroad. Verizon networks released a version on their network called the Fascinate boasting many of the same properties of the rest of the Galaxy S lineup but has a handful to call it’s own. Having spent ample time with the device let’s get started talking about what makes it special, helping you decide if this is the device for you.
The first time you pick up the Samsung Fascinate you won’t believe how light the device feels. Weighing in at a mere 116 g you actually question if you have anything in your hands at all. A quick look at the measurements, 125 x 64 x 10.5 mm and you begin to understand why. Like other Samsung devices it is primarily plastic right down to the chrome bevel around the sides. Don’t let that scare you as the plastic is strong and should withstand a drop or two, although I don’t recommend trying it.
The front of the phone has a 4” Super AMOLED screen running at 480 x 800 resolution. If you have never seen a Super AMOLED display it can best be described by using highly technical terms such as wow. Samsung has mastered the art of creating beautiful displays and this version is no different. Like other Super AMOLED screens you can view the screen in direct sunlight, making use outdoors much more pleasing. Spending more time on the screen is pointless because it could simply be summed up as fantastic, need I say more.
Diving a little deeper into the specs we discovered the power under the hood. In the case of the Fascinate we are looking at a 1Ghz Hummingbird processor which has plenty of power to make using your phone a pleasure, also worth mentioning a powerhouse for multimedia which we will cover later. The Fascinate isn’t going to be the fastest phone on the market but it will handle almost anything you throw at it with ease. Combine the snappy CPU with ample RAM, advertised as 512MB, and you have yourself a powerful phone.
Store a lot of media on your phones? If your answer was yes than you will be happy to hear that the Fascinate comes preloaded with 16GB and is upgradable up to 32GB using removable SD card slot located under the back cover. With plenty of space you can sync as much music and movies as your ears and eyes can handle. Not being a fan of SD cards under the back cover I didn’t mind the Fascinate as it was easy to remove the back and replace the card as needed. In the future I would like to see more and more phones allowing side access to SD cards but that is just wishful thinking at this point. When it comes to storage the Fascinate wasn’t stingy like many other models that include a mere 2GB-4GB. If they give us 4GB we want 8GB, we get 8GB we want 16G, this is just how consumers minds work. It is fair to say that 16GB is plenty of space for almost all power users so let’s just leave it at that.
Battery life is an important factor to any smartphone. A great phone can easily be written off if the battery doesn’t last at least one day under normal conditions. Packed in the back of the Fascinate is a lovely 1500 mAh battery which handles the job well. Putting the phone through above average use it lasted 3/4 of the day, as would be expected. During normal usage it easily made it through the day, typically begging for a charge around 11AM. You may not get 2 days out of it but there aren’t many phones with this size screen that can pull that off these days. With the now standard micro-USB interface most of us have it plugged in while at a desk so it isn’t that big of a deal.
Stepping away from the specs for a moment let’s talk about the design of the device. Screen size is everything these days and the Fascinate has that perfect number, not too small yet not too big, the magical 4 inches. Touch, being the main way to interact with the device, needs to be comfortable . The Fascinate has a beveled edge around the corners which some love and others hate, me being somewhere in the middle. Having a bevel “could” make it easier to navigate due to having a reference point but that is a long shot. The bottom of the phone contains four buttons, menu, home, back, and last but not least the dedicated search button. The top contains a speaker as well as a proximity sensor that turns the screen off as you bring it closer to your face. The right side of the phone contains a single power/wake button near the top right corner. If you are used to HTC phones it feels a bit awkward at first having the power button on the right side of the phone but the longer you use it the more comfortable it becomes. The button has a nice feel to it, allowing easy pressing to wake or power your phone. Not sensitive enough to cause accidental pocket presses yet not so hard that you have to mash with all your might to get the phone to wake up either. If you are expecting the next button to be a dedicated camera shutter button you will be sadly mistaken as the Fascinate has no such button. For some this may be the deciding factor but the majority of users won’t even realize it isn’t there.
Moving to the left side of the phone we have a single volume rocker at the top corner. Pressing up increases your ringer volume or if using a media player the media volume. Pressing down obviously does the opposite by lowering the volume. Both sides are smooth to the touch making the device comfortable to hold for long periods of time.
The top contains a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as a micro USB charger interface. Like other Samsung devices on the market the usb interface has a slide out protective cover which keeps your usb input clean from debris, assuming you remember to shut it before throwing it in your pocket.
The back of the phone is made of a thin plastic which is designed to look like carbon fiber. Don’t let the thin appearance fool you, the plastic is rather sturdy and provides decent protection for your phone. My only gripe about the material is due to the clear coat and pattern used, scratches, as well as finger prints can be seen almost immediately after use. On our review unit there were scratches that had accumulated from normal daily use. Depending on the price you pay for the phone this could be rather discouraging. The sides and front glass display showed no signs of scratches, holding up to normal daily usage without problems.
The overall design of the phone is attractive although I feel some higher quality material could have been used to prevent some issues with scratching, especially the back cover. If you like a thin lightweight phone you will love the Fascinate’s design. With its sleek design it will fit in almost everybody’s hand comfortably. On the other hand if you like a phone that feels like it could be dropped out of a moving car, and survive, this phone will feel like a toy to you.
The Samsung Fascinate comes loaded with Android 2.1 with the promise of a future update to 2.2 in the “near” future. Samsung provides an enhanced experience on their Android devices powered by a custom skin called TouchWiz (version 3.0). The TouchWiz interface is simple to use and provides a decent experience without slowing down the phone in any noticeable way. Some notable differences is the way the application menu is handled. On a stock Android experience the menu slides from top to bottom while TouchWiz slides from left to right with applications organized alphabetically. The dock on the bottom contains a set of four shortcuts which cannot be customized. These shortcuts include Phone, Contacts, Messaging, and Applications. If you are used to customizing what goes in your dock you might be disappointed knowing you don’t have this ability with the TouchWiz dock. You are allowed seven home screens that you can customize with widgets and shortcuts to your hearts content. Out of the seven you are able to specify, through settings, which of the seven you would like to be your home screen. When you press the home bottom at the bottom of the phone you will always be returned to this screen to begin your journey.
It is hard to find a phone that doesn’t contain at least some preloaded software to help entice customers and this model is no different. The software worth mentioning that comes preloaded on the Fascinate includes Car Cradle, Desk Cradle, Need for Speed Shift, Bing services, ThinkFree Office, BlockBuster as well as your standard Verizon services including V CAST Music, Tones, and Videos. These should keep your busy for a little while before diving into the Android Market and spending your hard earned money.
So how does the phone perform compared to other phones with similar specifications you may be asking. Short answer it is on par with other phones with the same specifications. It doesn’t blaze past any other models we have tested but it is not the slowest by a long shot either. Only in rare instances was lag noticeable . This was mainly due to the number of applications running in the background. With the update to Android 2.2 these issues should be ironed out. Overall it was a solid performer.
We want music, movies, games all in the palm of our hands. Having a phone that provide not only a good experience but a great one is huge selling point to many consumers. If you are one of these people you will be happy to know the Fascinate, like most Galaxy S models, provides exactly this. I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the formats supported and what it can and can’t play. This has been discussed in detail many times over. What people really want to know is how this phone handles media and where it passes or fails to impress.
Music, being the most popular type of media being used on most peoples phones, is a pleasure to use on this phone. If you have used any Android device in the past year you won’t find much different about the software loaded on the Fascinate. The point I wanted to talk about was the sound quality coming out of both the 3.5mm headphone jack and the external speaker.
Lets start with the external speaker and move on from there. If you tend to set your phone on the counter in the morning while your getting ready with tunes cranked as loud as they will go you might find yourself a bit disappointed. The speaker isn’t bad but not one of the best. The speaker is plenty loud, considering its size, however it tends to be harsh on the ears at high volume. Clearly it wasn’t designed to listen to music as the primary goal. I wouldn’t say this is a problem being that the phone isn’t marketed as a portable juke box. All considered it does the job, just not well.
Plug a set of high quality headphones into your phone and suddenly things change considerably. I listened for several factors when listening to music on mobile phones. The first and foremost is always low noise and any time of interferance. On cheaper phones you will notice hissing or popping sounds generally due to cheap sound components put in as an afterthought. In all of my test I was unable reproduce any of these problems. The quality coming from the headphones was as good as the media being played through the phone. If you are planning on investing in some good headphones this phone will do them justice.
Not all of us enjoy watching the latest blockbuster on our phones but for those of us who do this phone provides a great experience. For my test I watched a movie named “The Last Exorcism”. Clearly this movie isn’t a great example given it has no explosions and colors tend to be on the dark side, even so, it was still a great experience. The Super AMOLED screen on the Fascinate makes watching anything from YouTube to your favorite feature film as good as it can be on a mobile. With the bright vivid colors and high quality sound coming from the headphones you can’t go wrong.
The Fascinate has a 5.0MP camera with LED flash. Most phones in this price range now contain a 5.0MP camera and perform well by most standards. The Fascinate doesn’t have the best optics by a long shot but does manage to snap some decent pictures thanks to the great software included. For those that have used the stock Android camera application you know how much it leaves to be desired. Luckily Samsung agrees and offers a much better experience with their software. The features that stand out are the touch to focus, face detection and fast autofocus. You should be able to capture most anything you need with decent results given it isn’t moving quickly past the lens. The LED flash works but with my test was nothing to write home about. I wouldn’t count on getting any high quality shots more than 3 feet away with the flash. If you have used a Nokia N8 you may scoff at this camera but honestly it isn’t bad at all. I didn’t love it but felt it was more than adequate for all of my needs. The software make it easy to use and provide lots of great features to make even the most demanding mobile photographers happy.
Plan on filming that next big family event because the Fascinate supports 720P video recording at 30 FPS. While it had problems with shooting in low light it handled everything else I threw at it with ease. It may not replace your standalone camcorder but it will make great videos for those moments you don’t want to miss. The interface being identical to the camera is a breeze to use and provides many settings that will keep you busy for a long while.
As I mentioned previously there is no dedicated shutter button on this device. In my experience I find it difficult to hold the phone steady if I have to press the screen to capture media. Applying the force forward instead of down causes my hand to shake, often resulting in a picture with severe motion blur. This is obviously personal preference but I would have liked that dedicated key to give the true camera feel. Your milage may vary.
Regardless if you use it or not, a smart “phone” should be good at being a phone, you know the thing you actually talk into. I expect good voice quality coming from the ear speaker while providing a good quality to the other party as well. Dropping calls due to hardware design is a major problem, a particular phone comes to mind here. Lastly the interface must be easy to use and provide easy solutions to find and get in touch with your contacts.
So how does the Fascinate fare as an actual phone? Not bad at all actually. Being powered by the Verizon network I had solid call quality and zero dropped calls during my usage. I have used phones that offered better call quality but they were designed to be just that, a great phone to talk on. I would be comfortible rating the Fascinate as above average and perfectly fine for a lot of daily talking. The interface is intuitive and simple to use. Depending on what settings you have enabled finding contacts is very easy. The easist way is to load the contacts tab within the phone and search for the contact you are looking to get in touch with. There are other options including, typing the contacts name using T9 which will lookup the phone number for you. This is yet another area that the TouchWiz interface steps up and makes the default Android experience more useful. As a phone it works just fine for me, no complaints.
In closing I felt the Samsung Fascinate was a solid phone that would make most people very happy. There were a few things that I would have liked to seen different, higher quality materials used for the back case, a dedicated camera button, and a year worth of free movies, ok I might be stretching it just a little but you get the point. I would say that the phone was a Fascinating experience but that would be entirely too cheesy and you might crack smile, let’s settle with a great experience. Jokes aside I found the phone well designed, with only a few issues. If you are using or plan to use the Verizon network and have been waiting for a powerful smartphone in a small package this may be the one for you. You can pick this slim guy up for $199.99 with a 2 year contact. As always if you have any questions that we didn’t cover please feel free to ask away in the comments below.