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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  • Ethaniel - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Good thing you directly recommend rooting and flashing the device. That Verizon-pseudo Google-Bing combo is kinda creepy... and bloated. Reply
  • medi01 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    "Outside readability in practice is improved from the Nexus One. "

    Dare I ask whether it is improved from, God forbid, iPhone 4? :rolleyes:
    Reply
  • deputc26 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    In the performance page,
    Loading Engadget Times

    EVO Should be 2.2 not 2.1.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    I haven't included numbers from the EVO running 2.2 yet, although I've got them and will do so, those are current for 2.1 (as marked) ;)

    -Brian
    Reply
  • Shlong - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    it seems the Epic with Sprint is the best out of the Galaxy S line. Reply
  • alovell83 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    The Korean Galaxy S would beg to differ. FF cam + DMB. Yes, you do lose out on 4G, but you save hundreds on the life of the contract and it isn't as much up front either. Out of those available to the U.S. it's the $10 4G tax, without necessarily receiving a 4G signal which is the bummer, but you still get the best kit subsidized state-side. Living in a 4G city, the Epic is a no-brainer. Outside, we are talking about $300 more, assuming you don't get an amazon $.01 deal which would bump the contract life of the Epic to more than $400 more than the others...just for a FF camera and (cross you fingers, hopefully) to one day get a 4G signal in your city is just asking for too much. Reply
  • silverblue - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    I have the UK version of the Galaxy S, and it's quite odd how many variants are out there. Differences on the UK version:

    1) no LED flash
    2) sports an FF cam
    3) the micro-SD slot is on the left inside the back, with the SIM card to the right and the built-in micro-SD above that
    4) the buttons are confined to Menu on the left, Back on the right, and a physical Home key in the middle
    5) the headphone socket has a black plastic surround instead of chrome effect (strangely, the review states 18mm - shouldn't that be 35mm?)
    6) there's a "with Google™" logo on the back along with the SAMSUNG logo but no mention of Galaxy S; there's no mention of the carrier.
    7) the phone weighs less at 118g
    8) The default wallpaper isn't a Live one
    Reply
  • deputc26 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Interesting and yes that should be 35mm Reply
  • Brian Klug - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Yeah, I meant 3.5mm, 1/8 inches. Fixed ;)

    -Brian
    Reply
  • chemist1 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    The single most important function of a phone is to, well, be a phone, i.e., do voice communication. And one of the characteristics most important to voice communication is the audio quality---both sending and receiving (via the earpiece or a headset; the percent of time spent listening via speakerphone is, for most, is less than for the earpiece or a headset). Yet, in a very long and otherwise thorough review, I could find only one sentence that addressed earpiece audio quality:
    "Earpiece performance and volume is adequate - voice quality is as good on the Fascinate as I've seen on other CDMA handsets in the testing I performed."
    And I could find no mention of audio quality from the headset jack, nor any mention of audio quality for someone on the receiving end of a call from this phone.

    It's sort of like reading a detailed review of a new camera, in which lots of attention is given to metering, focus, etc. (all parameters that affect image quality), but with only a single sentence on how good the images are after metering, focus, etc. is dialed in. Likewise, you have several paragraphs on issues that affect audio quality -- e.g., the dependence of signal attenuation on how the phone is held-- but again, only one sentence on how good the phone actually sounds (and nothing on how good I sound to someone I'm calling) after these secondary effects are taken care of. I.e., suppose I'm receiving a call under ideal conditions (say, it's from a land line, there's a strong signal, I am holding the phone optimally, etc.). In that case, do you mean to tell me that someone with a trained ear would hear no difference in audio quality when listening through the earpieces of different CDMA handsets? While this may be true, I certainly would not be convinced of that based on reading just your one sentence, since it does not give the impression that a serious attempt to assess audio quality has been made.

    As you can likely tell, I'd like to strongly suggest that, in future reviews, the comparative audio quality of these phones is addressed in a more serious and discriminating manner, by someone with extensive audio expertise and a highly trained ear. The reason your site is so well-respected is because it brings an unusual level of sophistication to computer hardware reviews. I’d like to see that same sophistication applied to audio performance, when you are reviewing devices where audio performance should be central (phones and portable music players).

    I've been following this site for many years, and I think you folks are the best --- you do a fantastic job. But your expertise is computers, it's not audio. And often, when you venture into audio, I don't see it approached it with the level of sophistication with which you approach computer hardware. You can see your site's extraordinary sophistication with computer hardware with, for instance, Anand's perspicacious reviews of SSDs, in which he identified 4K random read and write speeds (as opposed to sequential large-block performance) as being the key to real-world performance. Yet, by contrast, when Anand was reviewing the audio perfomance of the iPod Nano, he just cookbooked the standard set of Rightmark Audio Analyzer measurements (http://www.anandtech.com/show/3903/apples-ipod-tou... he didn't demonstrate the audio expertise to first listen, and then make an informed decision of which measurements needed to be done. If he had, he might have realized that problems lie in areas that would only be revealed by a different set of measurements. Anand then went on to say "I believe we've hit a ceiling for PMP audio playback quality." Well, no, it could still be improved quite a bit. It is informative to contrast how Anand approached audio with, for instance, Marc Heijligers' astute analysis of iPod audio performance, at: http://homepage.mac.com/marc.heijligers/audio/ipod...
    [I did mention this in the comments for Anand’s review, but it was towards the end of the thread, so they may not have been noticed.]

    I suspect that, if you want the audio component of your reviews to be up to the high level of sophistication you show for computer hardware, you're going to need to bring in someone with years of audio expertise and a highly trained ear.

    Thanks for listening to this very long comment!
    Reply

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