Smartphones

Samsung Fascinate review: How Verizon meddling ruined an excellent Android phone

The Samsung Fascinate could have been one of the top Android devices, but Verizon sabotaged it by manipulating it for the carrier's own gain. See how.

The Samsung Fascinate was one of my most anticipated smartphones of 2010. I had already been pleasantly surprised by the Samsung Captivate, the Samsung Epic 4G, and especially the Samsung Vibrant -- all of which are part of the Samsung Galaxy S line of smartphones that have most of the same internals but different form factors.

The Vibrant was my favorite of the three, mostly due to the simplicity and elegance of its design. However, each of the Galaxy S variations is on a different carrier and the Vibrant is on T-Mobile, which has coverage and bandwidth limitations in the US (the bandwidth limitations being the bigger issue, for a high-end smartphone).

When I heard that the Verizon Wireless version of the Galaxy S -- the Fascinate -- was going to have a design almost identical to the Vibrant, I thought this one had a chance to become one of the top Android devices on the market. I certainly expected it to break into my leaderboard of the top 10 Android smartphones.

Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed by the Fascinate. In fact, I was so disappointed that I initially decided not to write a review of it at all. But, I owe it to the public to warn against this device and explain why, so here's my assessment of how Verizon sabotaged what could have been a fantastic smartphone.

In place of a long narrative, TechRepublic product reviews give IT and business professionals exactly the information they need to evaluate a product, along with plenty of photos, a list of competing products, and links to more information. You can find more of these reviews on our Product Spotlight page.

Photo gallery

Photos: Samsung Fascinate ruined by Verizon meddling

Specifications

  • Carrier: Verizon Wireless
  • OS: Android 2.1 with Samsung TouchWiz 3.0
  • Processor: Samsung 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird
  • RAM: 512 MB
  • Storage: 2 GB internal with 16 GB microSD (expandable to 32 GB)
  • Display: 4.0-inch Super AMOLED, 480 x 800 pixels
  • Battery: 1500mAh Lithium (Li-on) battery
  • Ports: microUSB, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, six-axis gyro, digital compass, proximity sensor, light sensor and GPS
  • Weight: 4.16 ounces (155 grams)
  • Dimensions: 4.92(h) x 2.53(w) x 0.39(d) inches
  • Camera: 5.0 MP, autofocus, LED flash, 3x digital zoom, 720p video recording
  • Keyboard: vertical and horizontal on-screen qwerty, and Swype
  • Networks: CDMA dual band (800/1900 MHz), 1xEV-DO rev.A
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, DLNA
  • Tethering: USB and 3G mobile hotspot (connect up to five Wi-Fi devices)
  • Price: $199 (with 2-year contract)

Who is it for?

The Fascinate will primarily appeal to existing Verizon customers looking for a high-end Android smartphone, or those who like the Galaxy S line of smartphones and want to pair it with Verizon's nationwide 3G service.

What problems does it solve?

The Android ecosystem has mostly been dominated by HTC and Motorola, but Samsung has made a powerful entrance with the Samsung Galaxy S line, which has sold five million units worldwide since it was launched this summer. Samsung is doing a good job of integrating its own CPUs into its Android smartphones and optimizing them for top performance and long battery life.

Standout features

  • Excellent hardware specs - Like the rest of the Galaxy S smartphones, the Fascinate packs a lot of high-end features -- 1 GHz CPU, bright AMOLED screen, 802.11n Wi-Fi, 1500mAh battery, and mobile hotspot capability. It's not quite the equal of the HTC EVO 4G or the Motorola Droid X in terms of high-end features, but it's also a lot leaner than those two.
  • Slim design - The Fascinate is remarkably slim and attractive. It is reminiscent of the iPhone 4 in that regard, although not made of the same top-notch materials.
  • Verizon data network - Since you can get similar Samsung Galaxy S phones on a variety of different carriers, one of the best things the Fascinate has going for it is that it's the only Galaxy S that has access to Verizon's top-notch voice and data networks, but especially its nationwide 3G network in the US.

What's wrong?

  • Too much crapware - Verizon has loaded up the Fascinate with a bunch of its own apps and services (and made them the defaults), including its own GPS navigation service, its own music store, its own video store, and some special goodies that are part of a Verizon deal with Microsoft (more on that in a minute). The worst part of all this "crapware" (as we call it on PCs) is that users can try to ignore it or suppress it, but they cannot uninstall it.
  • Replaces Google with Bing - As ironic as this will sound (since the Fascinate is built on the Google Android platform) Google Search and Google Maps are not available on the Fascinate. They are replaced with Microsoft Bing Search and Bing Maps, based on a Verizon-Microsoft search deal. I don't have a problem with Bing being offered, but to rip out two of the core Google functions from Android and replace them with Bing without giving users an easy way change it back is an egregious transgression. There are ways to hack Google back on to the phone and there are reports that the Android 2.2 update will make it easier to add Google search on the Fascinate (though not replace Bing as the default).
  • Lots of plastic - While the design of the Fascinate looks elegant, the phone itself is almost completely made of plastic, which makes it feel a little cheap. It certainly doesn't have the high-quality finish of the Nexus One or the iPhone 4.

Bottom line for business

I simply cannot recommend the Fascinate because of the combination of all the uninstallable crapware and the Verizon-Bing fiasco. Even if you like Bing Mobile (which isn't bad), get an Android phone that allows you to choose your search preference (and use multiple search engines) and not one where Verizon has chosen for you and limited your options. If you're looking for a high-end smartphone on Verizon, I'd recommend the HTC Incredible or the Motorola Droid X over the Fascinate.

Now, there will be some of you who will say that I'm overreacting to Verizon's Android modifications on the Fascinate. However, this is a case where Verizon has stepped over the line in meddling with Android, which was already in danger of over-manipulation by manufacturers and wireless carriers, as I explained in The dirty little secret about Google Android. Verizon's chicanery with the Fascinate is the worst example of it that we've seen so far, though. If buyers refuse to put up with it, then it will force the telecoms and phone makers to act in good faith towards users.

Competitive products

Where to get more info

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

43 comments
valerieaobrien
valerieaobrien

Way to go Verizon! Screw your customers again. Can you hear me now?!!!

akadoe
akadoe

I think point is Verizon has a 'history' of gladly "dumbing-down" a phone's features, lest customer's small minds become confused/troubled, and call-in for help (Oh No). Too much sophistication, inside deals, and Verizon underestimating it's customers lead to "you know how Verizon is" comments. Going back several years, Samsung had a great "media" phone out. It came with a simple USB cable to move data phone-to-PC, and back. Verizon DISABLED this cable and feature, and in it's place sold a "media bundle" for $29.95. Sprint carried the same Samsung, with cable, right out of the box. So the Verizon/Microsoft "deal" is more about Verizon, than it's customers concerns. Don't like we screwed with the Fascinate? Tough...we're the biggest.

sstenhjem
sstenhjem

I just got my Fascinate last week. I have used Windows mobile for as long as I can remember, so this is my first Android phone. I really like this phone. So verizon put some software on the phone, what is so bad about That? As many of you have mentioned most user interface devices come with garbage, the average user, doesn't even really know it is on there unless it pops up in their face and asks to sign up for it. I have no problem using Bing search. I compared it to Google on a friends Incredible and other friends iPhone using Safari, they are all searching the same internet. The turn by turn with Verizon works fine. Why is it important to remove all this extra software? If you don't like it don't use it. Is it for storage space? I use a laptop and flash drives to store files. I am connected to my exchange server and get e-mails fine. The phone rings I can answer it and conversate with people. The apps I download work great. The camera takes good pics of the kid at the park. The interface is very easy to use. The phone itself is very "pocketable" in comparison to the Droid X and screen is perfect size compared to the Incredible. The hardware is amazing and I always get a case for my phones, so I dont even notice the the plastice backing that makes to phone very light. If I am missing something please let me know. I have a few weeks to return it if you can convince me it is full of garbage that slows down the performance or interfears with the operation.

r-nelson
r-nelson

This is typical of Verizon. I had Razors that were stripped of functionality and had Motorolla's Phone Tools app disabled. While Apple profits from vertical marketing. It tailors its own products to work together and sells enhancements that actually add value. Verizon markets hardware by others, strips functionality and adds crippleware. I see this as false advertising. They should be clear in marketing that what they are selling is no longer what it appears to be. It is interesting that there have been recent rulings allowing jail-breaking Apple products, but no mention of the legality of seam ripping other products.

theikkila
theikkila

Switched last week and though I do not like Bing, I love the phone over a WinMo phone. Added a quick link to Google search.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Generally, when it comes to electronics, (beyond 1975)Samsumg is famous for producign low cost, low end garbage with an immensely rich feature set. If you want features but don't want to spend money, Samsung is your best shot. Their phones seem to avoid that expectation though, while richly powerful, the features and cheap bells and whistles are kept to a minimum. Unfortunately it is the US carrier in this case that has screwed with their device. I haven't checked Canadian carriers to see what the did, but I wouldn't put it past them to limit it somehow too. as far as cheap plastic, I thought the same when I got my Nokia Surge with Symbian OS. It was plastic and reviews all complained about the battery charge outlet cover being flimsy and the slide not feeling right. Once I started using it, I too though the little charger inlet cover was flimsy but it has held up without issue, the slide feels solid and sprung well, the tactile keyboard is my favorite though, I have yet to feel a better keyboard on a phone (and with big keys and a big space bar too!)It doesn't feel cheap to me and even after dropping it, several times from the height of my truck seat to the ground, I have a small scuff on one corner and it still works like a charm. Everyone that plays with it, find they absolutely love the keyboard, compared to their smartphone. My friend bought a rugged wrap for his iPhone (one of the guys who's company bought it for him, then bought him an HTC as well, for work use, as the iPhone didn't cut it). Unfortunately I still can't convince him to a drop test stand-off between my Surge and his 'rugged' iPhone, some guy just have no kahones!

BrianBooher
BrianBooher

We geeks need to stand up to the telcos and educate the public that there are better choices than what the telcos offer. We need to get the word out that the customer has the right to add and remove whatever software is on their computers, as these as what they are, with phone capabilities. I am a proud owner of a Nexus One. It is a pure Android phone without any of the telco crapware on it. If the phone comes preloaded with software of that carrier, fine, just as long as I have the ability to remove it if I find it useless or harms the performance of the phone. If they want to keep me as a happy customer, then damn it they are going to give me the best experience I can make from it.

wrogg.frank
wrogg.frank

I would not mind it as much if they passed on the savings to me that they are getting from Bing to put this software on there.

Animal13
Animal13

Getting a new iPhone on Verizon with Bing, Microsoft Crapware and all the other Verizonisms preinstalled on your iPhone. I can only imagine the negotiations between Verizon and Apple; "But we are contractually obligated to have IE on all our phones..." Hehehe

Pluff_Mudd
Pluff_Mudd

Seems that when Microsoft did this with Internet Explorer, the DOJ had a little something to say. Maybe Verizon needs a visit!

jrowe
jrowe

I used the phone for about one week and went back to my HTC Incredible, the usability of the phone was destroyed by Verizon, they really need to stop doing this.

Justin James
Justin James

... given that on any other Android phone, there is no way to replace Google's services with Bing's, or anyone else's for that matter, that I have found. I have the Bing app installed on my Droid 1, and yes, I was able to add a Bing toolbar to the home screen, but all searches seem to go through Google unless I deliberately choose Bing on a per-usage basis, with no way to change that. J.Ja

robapacl
robapacl

Another example of why I refuse to deal with Verizon even though it's cell phone coverage in my area is superior to T-Mobile, my present carrier. My resentment goes way back. They have long exemplified a company that thinks " customer-be-damned "

blhayes
blhayes

They have worked to try to use their platforms to give VZW an "advantage". BREW vendors in particular seem to have a history of attempting to act like a "walled garden" vendor to "preserve (revenue from) their network investment". As more US folks learn about GSM's relatively open ecosystem, this sort of behavior just cannot continue. BLH

fbyers59
fbyers59

Spot on, I couldn't agree more!

carlsf
carlsf

We wont and DONT tolerate BING in any shape or form. BING is emoved from all our Computer systems also, VISTA and XP NO WIN7.

jim_wilson_
jim_wilson_

I completely agree and thanks for the review. Too many user technology items are loaded with junk that the manufacturer installs for its partners or as an additional revenue stream through marketing contracts and the only way it will stop will be by the consumer choosing to spend their money elsewhere. I remember years and years ago when you could count on a new PC coming with 20, 30, 40 pieces of extra installed junk that would drag the performance down even before installing your own software! The market rebelled and although crapware is still present, it's much toned down in the quantity and relevancy.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

I'm the first to boycott someone/something if I'm not satisfied by their performance or options after reasonable attempts to cooperate have failed...but too many people are willing to settle for bad treatment, and I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe the phone is paid for by their workplaces, maybe it has a few functions that outweigh the rest of the bad, maybe they get a discount on a phone and plan they're drooling over. Verizon's (or any carrier's) issues are not about disrespect, they are about the Holy Dollar. If the bad treatment brought less of the Holy Dollar, you'd see them change their policies in a heartbeat.

jwhite
jwhite

Unless you live in NYC or San Fran. While the fascinate IS a huge upgrade from a WinMo phone, the other Android phones and the iPhone are just so much better - but you'd have to try them yourself, and it would take more than a couple weeks (that's exactly why they make the satisfaction period that long - it's not long enough to discover all the non-obvious issues). I had a WinMo phone for years, and I loved it, I could do anything with it. But then when I tried an iPhone, I couldn't believe how fast, smooth, and stable it was. It just ALWAYS WORKED. Didn't need a restart every day, and even let me do all the things I could do on WinMo - the one missing thing is downloading torrents but that's more for fun than utility. Just trust techrepublic on this one, even if you HAVE to stick with Verizon you can get a better Android phone that they didn't put their dirty little paws all over before releasing it

Hazydave
Hazydave

Yeah... Verizon didn't just leave out Motorola functions on the RAZR, they completely reeplaced the Motorola firmware with Verizon's "Red" interface.. same thing you got on very low-end phones. They also took out Bluetooth OBJEX, so you couldn't transfer photos directly to a PC. This also hurts Samsung. They make much of the guys of the iPhone, and have some seriously good tech in the Galaxy line. But screw it up, and they could damage a reputation for years to come. I'm surprised they didn't release this as a Google Experience phone, and avoids the tampering. Could be Verizon... with all the good Android phones now, the carriers have more power than they did last year.

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

Yes, Verizon has a long history of crippling phones built in features in order to sell you something, but here in the USA GSM is not the answer. Verizon has the best phone service. So if you decide to get a much better better GSM phone, you are stuck with inferior service. So you have a tough choice to make. I hate to say this, but this may be one instance where government intervention may be necessary. Right now I really want a smart phone from verizon, but I don't want to pay for a data plan. Most of my non-sleeping time is spent in places with wifi coverage, so a dataplan makes no sense to me. But Verizon is greedy and insists on selling you a smart phone only if you get a data plan. They already get too much of my money for me to give them more for something I don't need.

Hazydave
Hazydave

Yup, Verizon screwed with all kinds of stuff in the past. They put their dumbed-down interface on all the higher end multimedia phones, and actually released updates that removed features. But they really seemed to be changing last year. The Droid (I'm typing in it) was the perfect anti-iPhone.. better features, open, and sold as a Google Experience phone -- a guarantee that both Verizon and Motorola had kept their mitts off Android. So it's kind of sad, not unexpected, to see that the old Verizon is still around. And in particular, messing with search... Android uses Google search for many things, even speech recognition. You can't drop Bing in and expect to have a fully functional Android device. I don't know how deeply they have integrated Bing, but I would never bother to find out,. For me, that level of tampering is a dealbreaker. Makes one wonder if even the suspected iPhone on Verizon is going to be safe from their tampering. Its one thing to add tional features needed enhancements.. that's one advantage to Android's freedom. But to really screw customers (and the hardware vendor) this way is just wong, even if it's allowed.

adimauro
adimauro

Verizon always does this with their phones. They are notorious for crapware, and forcing their own interface/apps onto phones. Why is this such a surprise?

RipVan
RipVan

I wanted a smartphone but would never consider becoming an iSheep. So I dropped Verizon and went to Tmobile for the MyTouch. I like the phone, but the COVERAGE SUX. I have 9 months left on my contract and want OUT. Even though I don't have to get this particular phone when I switch back, I HATE THE VERIZON PIRATES!!!!! I guess whoever you use, you have to hold your nose. I'll just try to shop carefully, I guess. But in 9 months, they may find some way to run their CRAPWARE through everything by then, and COMPLETELY ruin my experience...

delphi9_1971
delphi9_1971

This is the same as what AT&T did to the Captivate. All you need to do is Root it! Granted that's not the best thing for a corporate grade device, but if I were buying this phone or any other Android phone, I'd be rooting it anyway. Hell it's so easy now on the AT&T captivate, it's a one click application. Anyone can do it with minimal risk to bricking the device. (yea, I know warranty blah blah blah.. Most people get new phones so fast it doesn't matter)

MadestroITSolutions
MadestroITSolutions

I can't believe this. It's just SO WRONG!... wtf, I can't uninstall it if I dont like it?... screw them. A little off the subject here but I thought I would share with you. I wanted to get Verizon FIOs to replace my current provider and after 15 minutes of over-the-phone-salesman non-stop ranting I managed to figure out they were actually trying to hook me up with DIRECTV service!.... it turns out they didn't have FIOs in my area and the dude purposely talked fast and unclear to get me to sign up with one of their "partners"....

jwhite
jwhite

I can understand your issues with microsoft's behavior as a company and lackluster software, but Windows 7 is one of the few products in recent memory that overcomes their bad reputation. Why Vista over Win7? I mean, I'm not a Vista hater, in most ways it's equal to Win7 now (though it did suck at release), but Win7 is certainly a superior product in the opinion of most who didn't mind Vista. Care to share?

bstockha
bstockha

As a retiree of an entity now part of Verizon, I have the option of discounted Verizon wireless service. However, due to their incessant meddling with and locking down of phones, I have no interest in taking advantage of the discount regardless of how good their network is. Verizon, CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW???

sstenhjem
sstenhjem

Well I have done what you suggested. I was in the big city and used a buddies iPhone for a few hours and another buddies droid X. Still like the fascinate more. The Fasc works just as smooth as th iphone and incredible. I have google navigate working great. Got me from Central Oregon over the mountains and right to a small vineyard I was going to be working at. The battery lasts two days. I use the phone all day too. Checking e-mails from my exchange and Gmail. Downloading and playing game apps. I am still wanting to root the phone to get rid of some of the bloat from Verizon but it doesn't seem to get in the way. Just want to get rid of some of the apps that I will not and do not want to use. I have not had to restart the phone. With the release of the Android 2.2 Froyo, should improve on somethings I didn't know were wrong.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... or maybe signing out a criminal complain that they're doing a 'bait-and-switch' on you--offering the phone with one software package and completely changing it on you? Remember, there are laws and regulations for this sort of thing. Companies will push those limits until someone pushes back.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Honestly, I have to disagree. While Verizon may have the best 3G coverage, they don't necessarily have the best service as demonstrated by what they've done to the Samsung Fascinate. The purpose of a cellular phone and data service provider is to provide service, not control what apps or hardware is used how. They are a NETWORK provider, not an applications developer. Personally, AT&T seems to offer better service, even if their 3G coverage seems to be lacking.T-mobile and Sprint both concentrate more on their networks than they do on trying to take ownership of every device they sell. I, too, used to think Verizon was better than Bell in almost everything--Verizon's attitudes over the last few years have changed my mind.

jwhite
jwhite

Don't be dissing Verizon's ONLY good product, FiOS! It's a shame they stopped the nationwide rollout (their Union fiber-laying workforce is SO inefficient it was costing them 10x as much as it should have to lay the fiber), FiOS is far superior in performance, price, service, etc to any other cable/internet provider in the country. I've used a lot of them, and I know people who have just about every major cable company around, incl. DirecTV (which is awful, even though it's cheap), FiOS just beats the pants off of them in speed & quality (HD TV channels look twice as good on FiOS). Plus I pay just under $100 a month for HBO, every other non-premium HD & SD channel, & 25/15 Mbit internet. Comcast in this area was almost twice as much for the same features (slower internet too, and heavily compressed HD channels).

carlsf
carlsf

We as a group have the settings in Vista and XP set the the "CLASSIC" option, for ease of trouble shooting and a standard UI for all users across the business. For us to change to WIN7 requires the following.... 1) COST 2) Purchase of the WIN7 3) Installation and configuration 4) Re-Training of users 5) Downtime and loss of income as the new UI is understood. For the same reason we are still using Office 2003 PRO no one likes the "RIBBON" in Office 2007/10

nwallette
nwallette

I'm really sick of having Microsoft's Bing waved in front of my face everywhere I go. Yes, good for you. You have a search engine now. I GET IT. But I'm NOT using it. I felt sick after watching a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother, where the group is at a bar table discussing routes through New York City and the lead character turns around his Windows branded laptop (WTF?) conveniently exposing a super-clear, full-screen shot of his Bing Maps page. Ugh. Blatant and unnecessary product placement.

jwhite
jwhite

The positive reviews of DirecTV are generally missing one major point... but first, yes DirecTV is a good choice if saving $10-$20 a month is really important, you don't care about OnDemand, and/or you have an older SD TV. But the major issue with DirecTV (and they are very guilty of false advertising in my opinion) is that they, in reality, have NO HD channels. They so heavily compress all their channel signals that their HD channels are actually more compressed than the competition's SD channels. So they DO run in an HD resolution but they're so compressed it looks like you've taken a Blu-Ray movie, set it to run at 1920x1080, but compressed it so much that it fits on a CD instead of a Blu-Ray disc. That is NOT HD in my opinion! EDIT: Take a look at some comparison photos of Channels on FiOS vs. the same channel & frame on DirecTV. I've seen them before and it's not pretty.

MadestroITSolutions
MadestroITSolutions

FIOs is superior, no question about it. That is why I wanted to get it in the first place. My issue is with the company itself and its questionable business practices... By the way, I have been reading reviews all over and it seems DirecTV is not bad at all. Granted, the speed may not be the same as far as internet access but the TV service seems to be really good. I am looking to switch since these Cablevision idiots dropped Fox and other channels and now I can't watch my favorite shows.. >:(

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

as long as it does the job. I have an inkjet printer that doesn't scan, copy, or fax, and only prints about 10 pages per minute. It does what I need; why spend money on something else. Ditto my '95 Nissan Sentra.

mark
mark

just so you wont have to upgrade your systems. It will happen sooner or later and then what you will have users 2 m ybe 3 versions behind and then you really will have training issues. I am a Linux admin and had no problem changing to win7 in fact after using it for about a year now I dislike using XP as there are many little time savers included in Win 7 that I miss. XP seems kinds inefficient after using 7. In addition when the desktop group started rolling out Win7 they had some questions but overall it wasn't the big deal you claim. (Wh have over 2000 desktops with xp win 7 and MacOS.) Just My Opinion

nwallette
nwallette

If we can't belly-ache over the things we don't like, what purpose does PHP serve?

mark
mark

Who cares what map app or words are written on a laptop on a lame show anyway? I personally dislike it when they make up crap like the pear system or a goofy rendention of an OS. but not enough to whine about it.

nwallette
nwallette

Yes. At least Apple MAKES laptops. "Windows" is not a hardware manufacturer. It just seemed like a cheap gratuitous shot. Now, if Ted were to wheel the thing around and say "I'll just use iLife to draw a map!" then my complaint would stand. Do you assume all those who object to constant and persistent advertising are Apple zealots? ;-)

Akais1
Akais1

Yeah? Would you have been happier if there was a fluorescently lit image of a fruit on the lid of his laptop?

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