Verizon Fascinate

This Verizon Fascinate review should have been an easy one. (And, yes, it should have been done some time ago.) It's the fourth version of the Samsung Galaxy S Android smartphone to be released in the United States. And for all intents and purposes, it's largely like the others (save for the keyboard on the Sprint Epic 4G, of course).

That is, until Bing came along. Look, we're not going to make this whole review about Verizon's deal with Microsoft to make Bing the default search engine on the Fascinate. That's a business decision. It's not one we agree with, and we're going to (mostly) look past it for the purposes of this review.

So join us after the break as we take a look at the Verizon Fascinate.

The hardware

If you've seen the other U.S. versions of the Samsung Galaxy S, then you pretty much know the Fascinate. Same 4-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen, same 1GHz Hummingbird processor -- pretty much the same all around.

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The shell is pretty close to that of the T-Mobile Vibrant. That is to say the corners are nicely rounded and it fits nicely in your hand. We've said it before and we'll say it again -- a 4-inch screen is just about the sweet spot for high-end smartphones these days. The Fascinate is a just a smidge taller than the Vibrant and Captivate (AT&T). Thickness is about the same.

Verizon FascinateVerizon Fascinate

The right-hand bezel has the power -- we're quickly getting used to it being there on these new Samsung phones. Up top is the microUSB port (with sliding door) and 3.5mm headphone jack. They're in slightly different places than on the other phones, so you're not going to be trading cases with your pals. The left-hand bezel has the volume rocker.

Verizon FascinateVerizon Fascinate

There's nothing on the bottom bezel except for the slot with which you'll pry open the battery cover. Flip the phone over and you'll see the 5-megapixel camera (with flash this time!) and speaker port. Note that the bottom of the phone doesn't have the slight bulge that the T-Mobile Vibrant does.

Pry open the battery covery (hint: slip a fingernail into the slot, then move it sideways through the crease) and you'll find the 1500mAh battery. It's interchangeable with the other Galaxy S phones, which is nice if you're a bit smartphone schizophrenic like us. The microSD card also is accessible here, and you can swap it out without having to remove the battery first. That's a nice touch.

Verizon Fascinate

As far as battery life goes, we're pretty much able to get a day's use out of the Fascinate. We're not above plugging in our phones from time to time. But with mild to heavy e-mail and web use, plus the odd phone call here and there, we didn't have any real issues.

One little thing that may make a pretty big difference for some of you -- there's no LED notification light. How and why anyone would chose to go without one is beyond us. But there you have it.

The software

Turn on your Fascinate and you're greeted by the standard Galaxy S boot animation, with Verizon's logo thrown in for good measure. And if we haven't mentioned it before, these things boot pretty quickly. We're not talking that weird hibernation-standby thing you get in the new HTC phones -- just a solid, fast boot time.

Verizon Fascinate home screens

Once you're up and running, you've Android 2.1 with Samsung's Touchwiz user interface atop it. Touchwiz is a colorful as ever. You've got seven home screens on which to load widgets, apps, shortcuts and the like, and flipping through them is smooth and effortless. The Fascinate has the same launcher (app menu) as the other Galaxy S phones. And like the other phones (save for the Epic 4G, for some reason), you can rearrange apps, and swap out apps in the launcher.

As always, if you're not a fan of Touchwiz, you can install a third-party launcher. They work just fine, and the processing and graphical power of the Fascinate seem to handle things just fine.

Verizon Fascinate Apps

You've got a number of apps preloaded, including Blockbuster, the ever-present (but still pretty useless) City ID, Amazon Kindle, NFS Shift (racing game), Skype Mobile, Tetris, ThinkFree Office, Nuance Voice Commands, and a smattering of Verizon V Cast apps.

The Swype keyboard is preloaded and active by default, and you can change to the stock Android 2.1 keyboard if you wish.

The camera

The Fascinate comes equipped with a 5-megapixel with autofocus. And unlike a couple of its Galaxy S brethren, this guy's got an LED flash to light the way. Even if you never use the Flash, it's better to have it than not. The Fascinate has the same camera software as the Galaxy S phones, with the usual nine options for shooting modes -- single shot, smile shot, panorama, beauty, continuous, vintage, add me, cartoon and action shot.

Verizon Fascinate panorama shot

The still camera shoots at the full 5 megapixels (2560x1920) by default. You also can take pictures in "widescreen" mode, which lowers the resolution a tad, but pictures fill the phone's screen when viewed.

Sample images below open in a new window.

Verizon Fascinate sample imageVerizon Fascinate sample image

Verizon Fascinate sample imageVerizon Fascinate sample image

Video recording is accessed through the camera application -- press the camera button in the top right of the screen. You can choose to record either in full video mode, or MMS mode, so you can send videos to friends.

By default, the Fascinate records video at 720x480 resolution. You can crank that all the way to up 1280x720 if you wish.

The Bing thing

OK, let's talk about Bing. The Fascinate isn't the first Android phone to have something other than Google as the default search engine. Anybody remember the Motorola Backflip on AT&T? Nope? That's kind of our point.

Verizon Fascinate with Microsoft BingSo, yeah, the Fascinate has Bing. We've given Bing the what-for, and in and of itself, it's not a bad app. The maps work OK, the search is decent and the photo galleries are very nice. But it's just that Bing really has no more place as the default seach engine on an Android phone than Google does on one of the new Windows Phone 7 devices. But, alas, that's the deal Verizon has made with Microsoft. If it's not a "Droid" phone, it'll have Bing.

And our chief complaint isn't just that Bing is on the phone and is set by default. It's that there's no option to switch to Google, and that you the harwdare search button is slaved to Bing, with no way to change it without rooting your phone. Yes, Google Voice Search is on the phone as a standaline app, and that's good. But it's not enough.

Think of it like this: The little search box in the Mozilla Firefox browser has Google toggled by default. That didn't happen by accident. Money changed hands. There are other options (and Bing actually was just added), but Google is the default. Verizon should have done the same. Make Bing the dfault, but make it so you can toggle back to the Google services, which is a big reason why many of us rock Android in the first place.

The good news? You can rid yourself of Bing on the Fascinate, (mostly) with or without rooting the phone.

The wrap up

Verizon Fascinate

We said at the top of this review that we weren't going to make this entire revew about Verizon's Bing deal with Microsoft. And there's good reason for that. Save for the whole Bing thing (could it really be called anything else?), the Facinate -- like the other Galaxy S phones -- is a top-shelf smartphone. The screen size is just about perfect. The processor and memory are more than adequate.

Really, Bing's the only thing we'll ding the Fascinate on. OK, the Bing Ding Thing and the lack of a notification light. But, really, that's about it. A Froyo update is on the way. (No official date has been given, though.) And once it's up and running on the latest and greatest version of Android (at least until Gingerbread appears), it should remain a top-tier phone for some time to come, rightfully alongside the likes of the Motorola Droid X and Droid 2.