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Samsung Fascinate Review: A Winning Android Phone from Verizon

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Samsung Fascinate

The Samsung Fascinate, from Verizon Wireless.

Verizon Wireless

Verizon was the last of the four big nationwide carriers to offer one of Samsung's line of Galaxy S Android-based smartphone. But being the last one to arrive at a party is not necessarily a bad thing, as Verizon's Galaxy S phone -- the Samsung Fascinate -- is one of the best.

Price and Availability

The Samsung Fascinate is available from Verizon Wireless for $199.99 when you sign a new two-year service contract. That price is the same as what T-Mobile and AT&T are charging for their Galaxy S phones, the Vibrant and Captivate, respectively. Sprint's Galaxy S offering, the Epic 4G is slightly more expensive, at $249.99, but does offer both a hardware QWERTY keyboard and 4G wireless support.

Design

Of all the Galaxy S phones, the Fascinate looks most like the Vibrant. It features the same curved edges, and the same slim and sleek profile. The phone measures 4.9 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by .4 inches thick, just slightly bigger than an iPhone 4 on all counts.

Like all of Samsung's Galaxy S phones, the Fascinate features a Super AMOLED touch screen, which is just gorgeous. Colors pop off the screen, and, with its 800 by 480 resolution, everything from images to text looks crisp and clear. The touch screen is nicely responsive, too.

The display measures 4-inches diagonally, noticeably larger than the 3.5-inch screen found on the Apple iPhone , but smaller than the mammoth 4.3-inch displays found on the Motorola Droid X and the HTC EVO 4G. The screen felt very roomy when using the phone, though, as I never had any trouble viewing Web pages or typing with the on-screen keyboard.

The overall design of the phone is very appealing; it's one of the best-looking Android phones I've seen. I like it even better than the Samsung Vibrant, which has a plasticky casing on the back of the phone. The Fascinate's more solid backing looks sturdier and is more appealing overall.

Making Calls

Verizon's cellular network is well regarded -- and it may be reason enough for people to choose the Fascinate over other Galaxy S phones. And, indeed, it proved its mettle during my tests of the Fascinate. I never dropped a call. Call quality was very good, with voices on both sides coming through loud and clear.

Software

The Samsung Fascinate ships with Android 2.1, which is no longer the latest version of the Android OS. Android has since been updated to version 2.2, though, which is already available on Google's Nexus One and the Droid 2. Samsung says the Galaxy S line of phones should be updated to version 2.2 by the end of the year.

Android has come a long way from its earliest versions, and even though version 2.1 is not the latest version, it does offer refinements that previous versions were lacking. Navigating through the OS's many options has gotten easier, and the Fascinate performed well when I was zipping around the phone, checking out its many options. Keep in mind, however, that Android is still a bit geeky enough to overwhelm some newbies. For more details on Android, read my complete review of the mobile OS.

On top of its Android OS, the Fascinate (like all of the Galaxy S phones) features Samsung's TouchWiz interface, which has been nicely updated. When I tested it on the Samsung Behold II, I found that TouchWiz didn't mesh well with the Android OS; so many of its features were already offered by Android that it just felt superfluous. But the new version of TouchWiz blends into the Android environment nicely, offering new widgets that are more useful. I particularly liked the "Feeds and Updates" widget, which offers easy access to various social networks.

Web Browsing

The Fascinate supports Verizon's high-speed 3G network, as well as wireless Wi-Fi networks. In my tests of the Fascinate in and around the Boston area, the network delivered speedy page loads and downloads.

I also liked the browser on the Samsung Fascinate. In the past, Android's browser required you to dig through menus to access simple functions (like the address bar or the back button). That doesn't seem to be the cast on the newer batch of Android phones. Like the Droid X and the Droid Incredible, the Fascinate features a browser that just makes sense. The address bar is just where you'd expect to find it, and you can use the handy back button below the display to move back through Web pages. The 4-inch screen felt very roomy when I was browsing the Web, too, and I liked that you can pinch and spread the screen to zoom in and out as needed.

What you won't find on the Fascinate -- yet -- is support for Adobe's Flash technology. You'll get this support, which will allow you to view multimedia Web pages as you would on a desktop computer, when the phone is updated to the next version of Android. version 2.2.

You'll also won't find easy access to Google's search engine, despite the fact that this phone runs Google's Android OS. Instead, the Fascinate's default search engine is Microsoft's Bing, and I could find no way to change that.

The Fascinate also supports Verizon's Mobile Hotspot service, which means it can be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot itself, to which you can connect as many as five devices for Internet access. This feature requires an extra $20-per-month service plan, however.

Camera

The Fascinate features a 5-megapixel camera, which is a bit better than the 5-megapixel shooter found on the Samsung Vibrant. For starters, it offers a flash, which the Vibrant omits. Colors looked slightly brighter on photos taken with the Fascinate, too, though I still found some images to be a bit blurred -- especially when I was trying to capture a moving subject.

Multimedia

The Fascinate packs in a decent list of multimedia features, thanks in part to its Verzion ties. You get access to the V Cast Music service, which offers a good (if pricey) selection of songs for download, and the V Cast Video service, which offers a variety of pre-packaged video clips and full episodes of some TV shows.

Other multimedia features include access to the BlockBuster streaming video service, Amazon Kindle for Android, and the standard YouTube app.

What the Fascinate -- like all Android phones -- is missing is the kind of connected eco-system that Apple's iPhone and iTunes offer. iTunes allows you to easily purchase or rent movies for viewing on your phone, offers a simple way to download music, and lets you transfer content easily between your iPhone and your computer. Right now, Android phones can't compete with that. That should change later this year when Samsung launches its Media Hub, which will allow users to purchase music and video. The Media Hub will be a definite advantage for Samsung's phone, provided it offers enough content.

Bottom Line

The Fascinate is an attractive phone, featuring good call quality, a stellar screen, and some impressive multimedia offerings. It tops almost all of Samsung Galaxy S phones, except for the Epic 4G, which boasts 4G wireless support and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. If you can live without those two features, the Fascinate is worth a look.

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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