Editors' note: Portions of the User interface and Features sections were taken from our reviews of the other Samsung Galaxy S models, since the devices share a common UI and similar core features. This review has also been updated with information about Bing.
As Samsung's Galaxy S devices have hit T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint, Verizon Wireless customers have had to stand idly by waiting for their turn at the company's new Android phones. That time has finally come. The Samsung Fascinate will be available online starting September 8 and in stores September 9 for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate. Like the others, the Fascinate offers a gorgeous Super AMOLED touch screen, a great multimedia experience, and smooth performance. It's a great addition to Verizon's lineup to be sure, but where does it fit in the carrier's already strong portfolio of Android devices?
It is certainly always good to have variety, but we also think the Fascinate is well suited for the consumer who is just getting into Android and smartphones. Samsung's custom TouchWiz interface offers an easy-to-understand presentation of menus that makes the transition from feature phone to smartphone a little easier. By the same token, we know TouchWiz isn't going to appeal to everyone, particularly Android purists and business users who might want something a little more polished and less bubbly, and for them, we'd recommend the Motorola Droid X or the HTC Droid Incredible. Still, if it's more a general all-purpose smartphone you're after, the Samsung Fascinate is a fun one to use.
Out of all of the Galaxy S devices, the Samsung Fascinate most closely resembles the Vibrant. The handset features a clean and attractive slate design with rounded corners, and it is slim and light at 4.92 inches tall by 2.53 inches wide by 0.39 inch thick and 4.1 ounces. Though we dubbed the Vibrant as the sexiest of the series, in some ways the Fascinate is better. For one, it does away with the bump on the back, giving the phone a more streamlined design, but more importantly, it feels more solid. Admittedly, we prefer the higher-quality build of the Motorola Droid X, but we're also thankful that the Fascinate doesn't feel as plasticky or as slick as the Vibrant.
On the front of the device, you'll find the same 4-inch Super AMOLED touch screen that graces the rest of the Galaxy S series, and like the others, the Fascinate's display is gorgeous. The screen's sharpness and pinch-to-zoom support make it easy to read text, and it also displays deep and rich colors, such that the multimedia experience is particularly wonderful. Also great is the fact that you can see the screen even in bright sunlight.
The touch screen is quite responsive, always registering our taps and smoothly moving through home screens and lists. Both the built-in accelerometer and proximity sensor worked well. The Fascinate offers two methods of input: Swype or the stock Android keyboard. The latter is easy to use, even in portrait mode, but once you experience how quickly you can compose messages using Swype, it might be hard to switch back to anything else.
Below the screen, there are four touch-sensitive shortcut keys: menu, home, back, and search. If you're not already aware, a long press of the home button will bring up a task manager presenting you with shortcuts to the last six apps you used for easier multitasking. On the left side, you'll find a volume rocker, whereas the right side features the power/lock button. The top of the device houses the 3.5mm headphone jack and a Micro-USB port. The camera and flash are located on back, but there's no dedicated camera key, so you'll have to use the onscreen button to take pictures.
Verizon packages the Samsung Fascinate with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 16GB microSD card, and reference material. There will also be a number of additional accessories for the Fascinate available at launch, including a desktop cradle ($29.99), a vehicle mount ($39.99), and extended battery with back cover ($49.99).
Like the rest of the Galaxy S series, the Fascinate runs on Android 2.1 with Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 interface. The latter is definitely improved from previous versions, with some enhanced functionality and a more polished look.
To start, there are new widgets, including one called Feeds & Updates and another called Buddies Now. Feeds & Updates streams updates from Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, and you can choose to display content from one, two, or all three of the social-networking sites, as well as set the refresh rate, ranging from 30 minutes to once a day. Buddies Now is like a favorites list and allows you to immediately call or text those contacts, as well as comment on any of their updates. There are a number of other Samsung widgets, as well as Android widgets and other shortcuts, all of which can be added to one of seven home screens.
The home screens can also be personalized with live wallpapers, and on each screen you get a pull-down notification tray on top, which now includes wireless manager and profile functions, and the toolbar along the bottom with quick-launch buttons to the phone app, contacts, messages, and applications. Pressing the latter takes you to a nice grid view of all your apps; they're spread out over several pages, which you can swipe from side to side to get to. We much prefer this layout over the standard Android one, where you have to scroll up and down. It feels more natural and easier to navigate.
Admittedly, we missed some elements of the HTC Sense, such as the Leap screen, which provides a thumbnail version of all your home screen panels, but TouchWiz does a good job of making Android quite easy to use, almost to the point that it doesn't even look or feel like an Android phone. For that reason, we think the Fascinate is better suited for consumers or first-time Android users than something like the Droid X is.
Finally, for those worried about the TouchWiz interface interfering with future Android updates, Samsung has already said that the entire Galaxy S portfolio will be upgradable to Android 2.2 and that it has tweaked the UI to make it easier to adapt to future updates. However, the company also noted that without really knowing what Google has planned down the line, there may be a time where updates can't be supported because of hardware limitations or other factors.