Samsung Fascinate Review: Verizon's Galaxy S Smartphoneby Brian Klug on October 5, 2010 12:01 AM EST
GPS on the Fascinate
I spent lots of time testing the Fascinate's GPS and unfortunately, performance was just as bad as I've heard it being on the other Galaxy S phones. It's really the entire line of device's achilles heel.
There are two real issues with the GPS - fix speed, and overall low SNR. I'll start with Fix speed.
I've seen the Fascinate get fast GPS fixes, and then 10 minutes later get extremely slow fixes. It's completely erratic, and there's no predictability to it. Right out of the box, I timed a whopping five minutes (even connected to WiFi) standing in my yard with a huge swath of visible sky.
Other times, the Fascinate gets GPS fixes quickly like any other modern smartphone - within seconds. At one point, I proclaimed to Anand that I was certain I had fixed the issue by disabling Verizon's location services - all my fixes that day took seconds. As we iChatted for the Apple 27" Cinema Display review, I tried to demonstrate my great success - and of course those fast fixes suddenly stopped. It seriously hasn't been fast since.
The other problem is fundamentally low SNR. Look at this shot, and guess which one the Fascinate is:
That's outside at night in a completely empty field with ideal sky visibility - no clouds, no rain, just cold air. Look at how many satellites the Fasciate has compared to an EVO 4G (right) and Nexus One (left).
Repeat the same thing in my office under a foot from a huge window:
This is the case indoors, outdoors, in the rain, daytime, nighttime, it doesn't matter - GPS is just poor on the Fascinate. The device is almost always at least 1 or more acquired satellites fewer, with slightly worse SNR being reported. It's small consolation that at least on Android we can have apps which read NMEA data so we can diagnose exactly what's going on.
Slow GPS fix times can probably be fixed with a software update. I've read differing reports that the Fascinate already has this fix applied - I can only hope the device I had didn't have it. Poor SNR and signal strength, however, is a problem no more fixable on the Fascinate and other Galaxy S phones than it is on the iPhone 4 - unless of course it's being reported incorrectly by the GPS receiver. I believe that GPS accuracy on the Fascinate isn't really as much of a concern when it takes minutes to get a GPS lock. Anything is better than nothing.
Until the GPS issues are fixed, using things like Google Navigation are downright frustrating. I've literally gone driving with the Fascinate, attempted to use Navigation, only to finally get a GPS lock after I'm 3/4ths of the way there and already looked it up on another smartphone-in-test I've got with me. It's frustrating and maddening to say the least.