Review: Samsung's Fascinate Android Smart Phone

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When you get right down to it, the battle between the Android platform and Apple’s iOS platform is becoming something of a religious war, with too many supporters in each camp running to default arguments about why devices on their favored platform are good or great.

When we sat down to begin this review of the Samsung Fascinate, an Android-based smart phone, it was surprising to see how deep some had to dive to find reasons why the device falls short in one way or another. Or why it fell short in a number of areas. It’s not that some of the criticisms we’ve seen about the Fascinate aren’t valid, but that some choose to look at relatively small issues instead of realizing that, overall, the device is sound and shows flashes of real brilliance that are hard to ignore.

The bottom line: the Samsung Fascinate is simply a very nice smart phone with a brilliant touch screen, reassuringly stable (it didn’t crash once during our testing), with solid battery life and baseline support for enterprise integration.

Here’s what this evaluation found:

The Fascinate came to our lab pre-loaded with Android 2.1 and some apps, like Skype and the Android browser pre-loaded as well. Using the CRN Test Center battery test for smart phones, which includes turning off all power-saving options and making a single phone call until the phone shuts off, the Fascinate ran continuously for four hours.

That’s fine battery life for a device of this class, but note: during the test, the display was lit the entire time because it was not tested by being held up to a human ear (which shuts the display off.) So we estimate call time on the Fascinate could almost double that four-hour figure during normal calling.

Out of the box, the Samsung Fascinate was up and running on the Verizon network within a matter of minutes. A few more minutes, and the very simple task of integrating Gmail and the rest of a Google account on the phone was a snap.

The Fascinate’s drawbacks:

-- As part of Verizon’s network, the Fascinate uses CDMA technology. This means you can’t talk on the phone and surf the Web at the same time unless you’re also connected to WiFi. But this is the same for any phone using CDMA;

-- When we used the phone for calling, while the sound was strong and clear there was a slight tinny sound that took a little getting used to;

-- The fit and finish was smooth and elegant, with nicely rounded corners – but it was almost too smooth. It’s easy to fret that the Fascinate will slip out of your hand like a wet bar of soap unless you can place it into an easy-to-grip skin.

What we liked:

--- Over the years, we’ve found Samsung’s engineering to be solid and smart whether the product is a printer, a hard drive, a notebook or a smart phone. It’s one of the company’s lasting legacies. With the Fascinate, the same can be said;

-- The 4-inch display is among the brightest, clearest and most vivid we’ve ever seen – and that includes the iPhone 4.0 Retina Display. The power of this display simply can’t be overstated. It also manages to get through most of the day without the fingerprint smudges you get from using an iPhone;

-- The Fascinate’s speaker is loud, crisp and clear and can be heard over most ambient noise inside a room or a car;

--- Samsung has designed the email and SMS features in an easy-to-set up, easy-to-find manner – which we haven’t always seen in Android devices.

-- The 5-MP camera is solid, clear and easy to use; it supports HD (720p) video capture and playback with nice ease-of-use. Plus, the on-board controls are more what you'd expect from a standalone camera or camcorder, with a number of options other smart phone cameras do not have, including flash options and shooting modes.

The tangible sense of interest – and confusion – about devices and platforms to support day-to-day work, data access and communication is real and will only increase in the foreseeable future. Our preference is not to fall in love with every nuance of every point release of the primary mobile operating systems, but to consider them for business support, performance, reliability, stability and long-term staying power.

On those counts, we like and can recommend the Samsung Fascinate on Verizon’s wireless network.

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