Software

Like the other Galaxy S phones, the Fascinate packs Samsung's TouchWiz Android skin. Right off the bat, it's pretty obvious that Samsung has changed a lot of things here. I've changed the default applications on the homepage, but you can get a pretty good feel for what you start out with. The first and seventh home pages are completely blank.

Home Screens—Default Configuration and Layout

The default wallpaper is some sort of ocean waves atop coral scene - touching the screen creates ripples in the water which distorts the coral scene underneath. Honestly, I think this is Samsung showing off the SGX 540 graphics, as it's got a heavy 3D feel to it. Run your finger back and forth, and you'll create waves of distortion all over the home pages.

The coral scene underneath is a bit low resolution, and you can pick out some JPEG artifacts just casually glancing at it. I found myself wanting to change the image underneath, but leave the water distortion effect intact. Unfortunately, that isn't possible. You either get the strangely low resolution coral and water ripples, or the normal Android wallpaper selection.

Anand already talked about how Samsung's TouchWiz takes heavy nods from iOS. The application launcher scrolls in pages to the right, and newly installed applications go to the end of the list, rather than in alphabetical order by default. It's out of place on Android to see such a blatant attempt to emulate that experience. Looking through that list of preinstalled applications though, and you'll notice something…

Applications Launcher - First, Second, Third pages

It's Bing.

I want to preface this by saying that I don't have a problem with Bing. I don't have anything against Microsoft's search engine, but Bing is all over the Fascinate.

Lots of Bing

Press the search button, and you're searching with Bing. There's even a widget that's a Bing-searching facsimile of the Google search widget. Want maps? There's no Google maps by default, just Bing maps. Fire up the browser and search? You guessed it, Bing.

It's not like you can change it, either. There's no way to change the in-browser search engine - it's stuck being Bing. In fact, it isn't really even Bing, it's a Verizon-hosted Bing search portal at search.vzwwap.com.

Now, that isn't so bad, but the mobile Bing interface isn't exactly stellar. In fact, I distinctly remember hearing a Microsoft employee, during a session at MIX10, proclaim that the mobile view was awful and seriously in need of work. No kidding. It's improved a bit since then, but there's still a number of out of place or low resolution Verizon and Bing logos all over. It just feels weird.

Similar to the Droid 2, you also cannot remove the Verizon bookmarks. Trying to do so gets you a nice error message. This applies to both VZW Home and My Verizon. 

Default Bookmarks - Deletion Error

Bing Maps was similarly awkward for a time, complete with strangely low resolution resources and no multitouch zooming. About a week after I got my review unit, the software was updated in the market and now includes multitouch support, but still feels clunky and occasionally slow. Thankfully, you can install bona-fide Google Maps from the marketplace and get the whole maps and navigation bundle without any problems.

Oh and that Bing widget? While you can remove it, installing the stock-Android Google widget requires hunting the APK down online.

I looked through the entire Android 2.1 install on the Fascinate, and even finding the word "google" is a challenge. It's curiously absent from the back of the phone as well.

There's also a ton of other Verizon proprietary applications installed, including the paid-service VZ Navigator (why you'd use this instead of Google Maps defies logic). The remaining set of preinstalled apps is the same as I've seen on other Verizon-bound Android phones. A trial install of NFS Shift, My Verizon Mobile, some V Cast stuff - it's all there.

The TouchWiz UI does include a nice task manager, complete with easily locatable "End All" button. You can uninstall packages and also get a glance at RAM use. It's nice to see this preloaded. Holding down the home button to bring up the recently used application list also includes a shortcut to this task manager. I think that's a nice tweak.

TouchWiz Task Manager

Another relatively useful TouchWiz thing is actually the lock screen. Miss a call or get a text message, and you'll get a puzzle piece with the corresponding number of things you've missed. Drag that to the empty piece, and you'll instantly get taken there. I think that's pretty useful.

What's most surprising about the Fascinate (and the other Galaxy S phones) is that they run Android 2.1, but don't feel slow or want for the performance increases that 2.2 brings with JIT compilation. This is the first Android 2.1 device I've used since 2.2 came to the Nexus One that I felt wasn't in dire need of the update. It needs to happen - and soon - but it isn't experience-killing.

Keyboard

Like the Epic 4G, the Fascinate comes with Swype installed and selected by default. The default android keyboard is there too, but Swype is really what you should be using. The Fascinate doesn't have quite as many keyboard options as the Droid X or Droid 2, which bundle a custom Motorola multitouch keyboard, Swype, and SwiftKey, but you can always grab something similar from the applications marketplace. 

Hardware Impressions and Analysis Super AMOLED is indeed Super
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  • chemist1 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    kmmantey: Thanks for your comment. I agree audio quality does change with various factors. However, I would say that does not preclude it being of importance, nor being rateable. [ As softdrinkviking said below, one can do an "all things being equal" test.] Yes, various factors can degrade audio; but if you start with really good audio performance then, as you lose quality, at least you're losing from a higher starting point.

    I think saying "no one cares that much about call quality" is too strong. Granted, most may not care as much as me :). But, even in a mainstream publication like Consumer Reports, voice quality is listed as third among the 11 criteria they use in ranking smart phones (and I think CR has a pretty good bead on what its readership cares about).

    More importantly, what should be important here is not what most care about, but rather what we, as presumably more informed and discriminating consumers ;), would find desirable. And I believe that many of us —perhaps even you!—would find a phone that provides significantly better audio quality more pleasing to use.
    Reply
  • awaken688 - Wednesday, October 06, 2010 - link

    I have to disagree Kmmatney. In fact, in the Droid 2 article I made a similar comment to Brian. For those of us with poor experiences with phones (using the phone part), making sure we get a strong quality phone for phone calls is very important. I want to know that in my car driving on the highway, I can hear someone clearly (is the volume level adequate). That if I am forced to turn it up to the highest volume, it doesn't have distortion. Things of that nature. I know Brian said he is working on it, so I will wait.

    Brian,

    In the meantime, I'd still even appreciate a slightly unscientific test. Take the phone in your car on the same highway at a set speed. Call a recording (make sure it on par with an average human conversation, maybe even quieter to simulate a quiet speaker). Call a friend who can play a recording from a PC at a set volume/distance from a constant phone to simulate those loud and quiet talkers. I'm sure you will think of something. As long as you state it is a placeholder and unscientific, most of the people will completely understand. I'm sure you will have those 1 or 2 idiots post a comment complaining, but don't worry about them. There are many more of us who comment rarely and read daily.
    Reply
  • MGSsancho - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    set up your own cell site and connect to that? then make your own phone server with asterick and connect to that? thats a massive about of work dude or see if anyone have mad an app that can poll the codec info using the api? this guy made hos own cell site for 2G but might work on 3G http://www.tombom.co.uk/blog/ if you said you have played with cdma codecs then ill assume you know how to use asterisk lol

    there are various ways but i think can think might be better. use a really good mic and take a recording from the sidewalk where you take video from and from other busy/common places, then use those audio files for testing. setup an audio chamber with a speaker playing those recordings. then use a directional mic really close to the speaker of the phone and do analysis on that. make the whole box out of foam so wireless signal doesn't get distorted. you can later intentionally weaker the wireless signal and record how the voice quality drops if you like. This way we can see what the phone sounds like at a club, classroom, sidewalk, store, high winds etc. too shorten this up, get controlled recordings, set up phones in a controlled box then use signal analysis on what comes out of the phones line-out/speaker.

    Good Luck
    Reply
  • Samoht - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    This is really starting to worry me. Why do these carriers keep messing up good phones?
    I know that they are trying to differentiate themselves but crippling a product like this is not good business.
    And this is on top of the skins from Samsung/HTC/SonyEricsson.
    I really hope Google will realise that they need to raise the bar again and make a vanilla phone with gingerbread (tasty :-).
    Reply
  • xype - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    "Wait another 6 - 8 months, and you'll probably have something even better than both of these to choose from"

    So the iPhone _is_ coming to Verizon! :P
    Reply
  • FATCamaro - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Haha. My thoughts exactly... Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Um, no, that would be something worse. 6-8 months should bring definite timeframes to LTE and A9 processor rollout, if not functional phones already. Reply
  • metafor - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    "As some of our readers noted, the reason that Linpack performance on the Droid 2 isn't as high is simple - Scorpion has faster FPU performance due to a 128 bit SIMD FPU datapath compared to Cortex-A8's 64 bit implementation. Both FPUs process the same SIMD-style instructions, the Scorpion just happens to be able to do twice as much, or optionally turn off half the datapath to save power."

    That's unlikely the reason. NEON requires vectorized code which -- to my knowledge -- the Dalvik JIT doesn't do on-the-fly. Hell, even Intel's best efforts at auto-vectorization doesn't really cause huge improvements unless your data and loops were already formatted for SIMD operation.

    That being said, we don't know how well Scorpion does on normal VFP instructions. It could be that there are some significant improvements over the standard A8 for those as well.
    Reply
  • JimmiG - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Surprised about the rather poor battery life, as the device both has a bigger battery than the Nexus One and sports a 45nm custom SoC vs the older 65nm Snapdragon used in the N1 and others. I really expected the new generation of 45nm SoCs to excel in terms of battery life, especially after seeing the iPhone4 results. But it seems the iPhone4 battery life come down to software optimizations rather than more efficient hardware...

    This is something Google really needs to work on, since it seems to be a software issue. Before Android went mainstream, battery life of the iPhone (3G, 3GS) wasn't even considered that great. Now it's the gold standard for smart phones... Nearly all Android devices are in the same ballpark of around 4 hours or less of 3G browsing time, with the iPhone4 and even 3GS lasting several hours longer.
    Reply
  • DroidUser - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    I've got an i9000. The battery life issue is a major issue for me particularly during the weekends when I'm not sitting at my desk. Even compared to the original iPhone I had before the battery is poor in a couple of ways:
    2 hours regular web browsing uses about 80% battery life (its hard to tell from the icon). After this some features will not operate (e.g. camera and sometimes making calls). So its a lame-duck phone with <20% battery and in reality you'll be wanting to re-charge it after ~2 hours playing with it.
    Re-charging it from empty takes (approx) 2.5 hours from the mains and 3.5 hours from my PCs USB port. My iPhone would re-charge from empty in about 45 min on the mains. That's a lot of extra time that my phone is out of action. The percentage of missed calls I have has gone way up.

    I don't understand why AnandTech doesn't have a metric to measure charge time. Its probably the easiest of all tests!
    Reply

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