Friday, July 15, 2011

Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate 4G Review

Samsung finished off 2010 with a bang, their Galaxy S line of phones had sold millions of units, finding its way on to every major carrier in North America, and was one of the most successful Android devices ever. Its hardware even became the baseline configuration for Google's most recent iteration of the Nexus line of Google Experience phones. TELUS was the last of the big three in Canada to put out their Galaxy S device the Fascinate so it is a tad odd that they would release a slight refresh of the device that simply had HSPA+ capabilities (like T-Mobile in the US). Nevertheless, we're taking a look at the Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate 4G to see if this phone is worth choosing over its non-4G variants.

Overall Construction
The Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate 4G has an identical overall construction to the Original Galaxy S Fascinate except for one cosmetic change the back plate. Instead of using the original glossy black cover that the Galaxy S Fascinate had the 4G variant is sporting a simulated metallic coat of paint with a matte finish. This makes scrapes on the phone much less visible and allows for a better grip in the hand. The paint color also seems to vary based on the viewing angle of the back plate.

The phone itself though is still relatively solid considering that the phone is primarily made of plastic. This in turn allows the handset to be incredibly light, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your preferences. For people looking for a premium feel to their devices it would be very hard to recommend the Galaxy S 4G as it really doesn't exude the feeling of being to the level of phones like the HTC Desire HD or the iPhone 4. But for people needing their device to be ultra light for portability the Galaxy S 4G fits the bill.

If there was any knock on the overall looks and design of the Galaxy S line of phones is that it (as well as the TouchWiz UI) looked way too similar to that of the iPhone 3G and 3GS. The Fascinate 4G isn't much of a departure from that design and looks just like a 3G/3GS. Like the weight of the device the looks could be a plus for someone looking to transition from iPhone to the Galaxy S 4G or could be an extreme minus for someone looking to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

As mentioned earlier the back panel’s metallic finish look changes in hue depending on the angle it is held at. This effect is actually quite interesting as it add a slight level of premium looks to a phone that not isn't the most high end feeling phone. I believe Samsung is fully capable of putting together heftier more premiums feeling phones but values less weight over premium materials and as stated earlier this can be a big plus for certain people.

I appreciate the inclusion of a trap door for the microUSB connector given that I have seen several phones that had to be sent in for repairs for damaged microUSB ports.

Sadly, there is no notification LED included on this version of the Galaxy S. So other than actually waking the phone there is no way of knowing about missed calls, SMSs, Emails, etc.

Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate 4G

The screen on the Samsung Galaxy S line of phones is well known and publicized in the tech world so I will keep this part of the review as brief as possible. The screen is simply outstanding. If you've never seen a Super AMOLED screen in person it simply is a joy to view pictures, video as well as to play games on.

That being said it is understandable that with the success of the Galaxy S line, Samsung seems to have kept most of its Super AMOLED production in-house, forcing competitors (like HTC) to look elsewhere for displays for their handsets.

The Galaxy S 4G has spectacular colors, contrast and unmatched black levels. Viewing angles were good but like all AMOLED screens give off a bit of a cyan hue when viewing at extreme angles

Overall responsiveness of the touchscreen was excellent and the multitouch gestures worked great. Accuracy was as good as we've seen on any other high end Android handset.

There is a down side to the screen used in the Galaxy S 4G and that is its use of the PenTile pixel matrix. As we mentioned in the Motorola Atrix review, PenTile does degrade the overall image quality very slightly because of the jaggedness that is attributed with PenTile but is certainly deterred by the other redeeming qualities of the Galaxy S 4G. By no means is it a deal breaker, just a bit of a letdown to an otherwise amazing screen.

On the bottom of the face of the phone you find your usual array of Android buttons, Back, Menu, Home and Search. The responsiveness of the buttons was good and they were spaced out adequately.

The physical buttons had a good tactile feel to them requiring just the right amount of pressure to trigger. Although the placement of the power button, on the right hand side of the phone, is not ideal as it makes it a bit awkward to press in certain situations and the volume rocker could have benefitted from being a tad longer.

Battery Life
During the course of testing the device the 1650mAh battery was enough to get us through the day. There is nothing out of the ordinary with the battery life of the Galaxy S 4G, it has been pretty much on par with many of the phone I've tested with similarly sized batteries. But of course your mileage may vary depending on your usage habits on your phone.

Internal Hardware
At the announcement of the Samsung Galaxy S at CTIA in March of last year people were certainly intrigued by the specs but it was obvious that HTC's EVO 4G stole the show. Regardless, the world found out the Galaxy's hardware was not only top notch, but bested the Qualcomm's First Generation 1GHz Snapdragon offerings in many synthetic and real world benchmarks and even impressed Apple execs enough to become the baseline hardware for the iPhone 4. The specs haven't changed at all in the HSPA+ version of the phone.

- 1 GHz Samsung Hummingbird Processor
- 512MB of RAM
- 1GB of Internal storage expandable with microSD card by up to 32GB (16GB microSD card included)
- PowerVR SGX540 Graphic processor
- 14.4Mbps HSPA+ capable chipset
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- 5MP auto-focus camera and 720p HD video capabilities

While the specs are identical to TELUS' original Galaxy S there are two significant changes. First, the most obvious addition if the HSPA+ capable radio which of course gives it it's "4G" moniker. The second more obscure change is the departure of the 16GB of internal storage instead Samsung includes a 16GB microSD card. While a nice alternative, 16GB internal storage with the possibility of expanding that memory via a microSD card is a far superior option.

As with the other Galaxy S phones, the HSPA+ version is screaming fast in multimedia usage and gaming proving solid frame rates for high res videos and games.

One problem that really plagued the older Galaxy S devices was the very long wait for a GPS lock. During my tests of the device it seems like the 4G version also had this problem which is unfortunate as it was thought that Samsung had figured out the problem since the Nexus S was devoid of this issue.

HSPA+ “4G” Capabilities
Like Bell and T-Mobile, TELUS has rebranded it's HSPA+ network as a 4G network. While it might be nothing more than a marketing strategy, all that really matters is that much the consumer gets the faster speeds. So the last question that should be asked is whether or not this device really deserves its "4G" name.

Having 4G in your name is quite a burden, unlike the Atrix or Incredible S on Bell that weren't initially branded as "4G", making expectations unfairly high. During testing, the phone's data connection certainly wasn't slow by any stretch of the imagination, but left me expecting a bit more.

Download speeds would often be between 4-6Mbps which by all means is quite respectable and well within the range of the Incredible S and Atrix. In the end, to the regular consumer that is plenty of speed, and really that is all that matters.

As always, this is only a sample of the HSPA+ coverage speeds in Montreal so your mileage will vary, but this should give you an idea of the speeds to expect when in a well covered HSPA+ area.

Speaker and microphone
The ear piece during phone calls was excellent, while the exterior speaker was decently loud and clear during calls put on speakerphone as well as when used for videos and games. The microphone quality was good and was sufficiently loud and clear.

Like the iPhone 4, from face value it's hard to tell that this is a top notch camera and from our testing the quality of the shots taken were fantastic. From the sensor to the Samsung custom camera software the entire package delivers some clear, crisp pictures with good detail and color reproduction.

Another notable addition from the original version is a front facing camera like most front facing cameras this isn't a showstopper and will certainly be good enough for video chatting and those vanity shots for your next profile picture.

As for video quality, the overall package does not disappoint either as the 720p HD recording was clear and crisp.

Unfortunately, this version of the Galaxy S does not have an LED flash for the camera, like the Epic 4G and Fascinate in the US, making night shots very difficult. This will probably be a huge deal for a lot of people and it's really unfortunate considering how good the camera is.

Sample Pictures


Samsung TouchWiz 3.0
Like every other Android manufacturer out there Samsung has its own custom user interface which is called TouchWiz. As with other custom UIs the look and feel of navigating around the homescreen, app drawers, menus is changed to what Samsung feels would deliver a better user experience.

That being said, Android purist will sure look at this handset with chagrin, but nevertheless there are some redeeming qualities and additions brought to Android through TouchWiz 3.0.

There are several small cosmetic changes in TouchWiz that differentiate it from stock Android as well as other manufacturer UIs. For one the color scheme chosen seems to be focused on bright vibrant colors which is probably to show off the prowess of the Super AMOLED technology.

Another differentiator is the way icons are displayed in the app drawer, instead of scrolling up and down to see all your apps, they are arranged in a grid still which is navigated with left and right swipes and has a persistent last row of apps much like the iPhone.

There are also nice additions to the notification panel, like quick toggle buttons for some of the most frequently used settings such as Wi-Fi and GPS.

Samsung also adds a small selection of keyboards, allowing users to use the Samsung custom keyboard or Swype which is a welcome addition.

The widgets included by Samsung aren't the most attractive widgets in the world but will certainly please some who want to aggregate and bring their data to the homescreen instead of having to drill into their apps to get to the data they want.

Like a few other Android devices launched recently, this handset unfortunately come with Android 2.2 Froyo and not the latest Android 2.3 Gingerbread. While this certainly unfortunate, Froyo is sufficient to get just about any app you would want of the Android Market. Of course there are some underlying improvements in Gingerbread that would be welcome to the Galaxy S 4G but unfortunately will have to wait till TELUS and Samsung release an update for the handset.

As with any carrier subsidized phone, the Galaxy S 4G has some pre-loaded apps included but not as many as handsets on other carriers, which is nice to see.


The 4G capabilities of this handset are certainly a nice plus but is a hard sell to some looking to save a few bucks and get the 3G version of the Fascinate. Power users who need stock Android or a Dual Core phone will probably skip this device although Samsung probably isn't too worried as their own Nexus S and Galaxy S II are the likely target for these power users.

The Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate 4G is by all means a solid phone. Unfortunately, the timing of its launch in such relatively close proximity to the launch of the 3G version of the Fascinate, as well as the launch of several dual core Android phones like the Galaxy S II and the Pure Android touting Nexus S makes it an unfortunate victim of a numbers game.

Nevertheless, if one found themselves in a situation where they needed fast download speeds for something like tethering and needed to stick with TELUS, the Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate 4G is a solid phone that will not disappoint.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 7.5/10
- A tad too plasticky. If you get this phone get ready to explain that your phone ISN'T an iPhone as it looks very similar.

Screen: 9/10
- Take away PenTile and this screen is an easy 10. Nevertheless, a class leading display.

Buttons: 8/10
- Responsive buttons, odd placement of power button and smallish volume rocker.

Internal Hardware: 8/10
- HSPA+ speeds were very good, top notch hardware of the Galaxy S phones provides a speedy experience for multimedia, browsing and gaming. Unfortunately still has GPS locking issues.

Speaker and Microphone: 8/10
- Good speaker, microphone and external speaker

Camera: 9/10
- Fantastic job on the entire package of hardware and software providing excellent pictures and video

UI Changes: 7.5/10
- Not everyone will be a fan of the changes the Samsung made, but certainly has merits some credit on some nice additions. Again like the overall design will fool some into thinking you have an iPhone.

Addition Enhancements: 8/10
- Pre-loading Swype is a great addition

Included Apps/Bloatware: 9/10
- Bloatware kept to a minimum which is great to see. As pristine an install of Android as one will get.

Final Score: 8.2/10

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