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.
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- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Where to get more info
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).