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.

Cellular and WiFi Performance Performance - Humming right along with Hummingbird


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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:
  • deputc26 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    In the performance page,
    Loading Engadget Times

    EVO Should be 2.2 not 2.1.
  • 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) ;)

  • 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
  • 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 ;)

  • 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 ( 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:
    [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!

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