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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  • metafor - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    That seems to be a common misconception. Just think about it, the processor is somewhere around ~500mW doing an intensive task. Compare that to an RF radio chip that eats 2W or so while communicating to a 3G cell tower. Or the 2-3W display....

    The App Processor is a small percentage of overall power draw.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Agreed, checking the power usage utility on Android it isn't uncommon to see the screen drawing the vast majority of the power. Which AMOLED has the potential to help with if there were a way to format websites to be more friendly to it (i.e. no white backgrounds). Reply
  • metafor - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    I'm personally banking on either Pixel Qi or Mirasol improving to the point where they can take over being the displays used. The power savings would warrant any apparent difference in image quality as long as it's "good enough". Reply
  • JimmiG - Wednesday, October 06, 2010 - link

    "Just think about it, the processor is somewhere around ~500mW doing an intensive task. Compare that to an RF radio chip that eats 2W or so while communicating to a 3G cell tower. Or the 2-3W display...."

    I guess you're right. I can play games and watch video on my HTC Desire without using much battery, but 3G browsing absolutely kills battery life. My daily routine involves heavy 3G web browsing on the 1-hour commute to school by train, then the phone spends most of the day in standby, then another hour of heavy usage on the way home in the afternoon. This is enough to run the battery down to ~10% by the time I get home, if I'm lucky enough to have it last the whole day.

    But then, how does the iPhone4 manage nearly 7 hours of 3G browsing? Does it use a different radio chip, is it the network, or what?
    Reply
  • metafor - Wednesday, October 06, 2010 - link

    RF chips don't really vary that much. I would take a guess that it's good software management. What you don't realize is that most of the time you're browsing, you're not actually loading data. You have a burst of data as the website loads, but then it stops.

    I've noticed on my iPhone that periods of inactivity -- while I'm reading a webpage -- would cause the signal bar to drop a bit. It would go back up once I clicked on a link.

    I suspect the software is putting the RF chip in a low-power mode more aggressively than HTC equivalents.

    A lot of people discount it but software throttling is the single-most effective way of reducing power consumption.
    Reply
  • ssj4Gogeta - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Is there any chance you'll do an I9000 review? It's the European/Asian version of the Galaxy S. It comes unlocked, doesn't have loads of crap preinstalled, and trades the LED flash for a front VGA cam. It also doesn't have a search button, but you can long-press the menu button to search.

    Also, please consider trying the voodoo lag fix in your future Galaxy S reviews.
    http://project-voodoo.org/
    It basically changes the system partition file system from RFS to EXT4, which makes the phone noticeably faster and smoother (no stalling while installing apps, no stuttering..)
    Reply
  • 8steve8 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    i personally have an international galaxy s with beta froyo rom (JPK), with lagfix, these are the numbers i get:

    Rightware BrowserMark:
    35345 : my galaxy s 2.2
    29018 : fascinate 2.1

    sunspider:
    07375.8ms : my galaxy s 2.2
    15835.0ms : fascinate 2.1

    linpack:
    14.399 MFLOPS : my galaxy s 2.2
    08.157 MFLOPS : fascinate 2.1

    NeoCore Benchmark:
    55.6FPS : my galaxy s 2.2
    55.6FPS : fascinate 2.1

    quadrant:
    2000ish : my galaxy s 2.2 w/lagfix
    0800ish with my galaxy s 2.1 stock

    the phone ships with a terrible filesystem setup, causes severe lag over time... as shown in the quadrant score which does some IO stuff... this is fixable with root and a lagfix app...

    and gps works about as good as my nexus one
    (although in 2.1 builds of the firmware GPS was terrible)

    this has been said by everyone, but the 4" SAMOLED displays on these things are sick... makes a nexus one display look really dated, and although props to the iphone for finally getting hi-res, 3.5" just seems comparably too small.

    annoying it shipped so broken, but once dealt with, a beautiful device and over-all experience
    Reply
  • ssj4Gogeta - Wednesday, October 06, 2010 - link

    You don't even require root for voodoo lagfix. It comes in an update.zip and changes the filesystem to ext4. Reply
  • webmastir - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    fantastic review. this is why i love this site! great job & great info. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    If you can forget that a $500+ piece of hardware is in your pocket, then you need to be... outsourced. Reply

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