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Review: Samsung Fascinate

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The Samsung Fascinate earns its title with a fascinating blend of influences and features. It's a Google Android phone with Samsung's TouchWIZ interface tweaks running Verizon Wireless branded features with search and maps handled by Microsoft Bing. Let that sink in, because that is a Shakespearean cast of strange bedfellows, indeed.

The interface is TouchWIZ on top of Android 2.1, the same as all the other Samsung Galaxy S phones. It's bright and colorful, a bit more playful than the stock Android interface, but occasionally in a cartoon way that comes across as goofy. I don't mind the TouchWIZ interface, except when Samsung's design seemed to hurt performance with the touch lag I noted.

Some of the most important features are stock Verizon Wireless fare. Navigation is available from VZ Navigator. The music store is V Cast, not Amazon MP3. There's a V Cast Ringtones store app and a V Cast Video app. Beyond V Cast, there's Blockbuster video and many, many more apps. Most of these you can delete, but some, like Blockbuster and the Need for Speed Demo, cannot be uninstalled.

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In other words, the Samsung Fascinate is the phone that I worried the Motorola Droid would be. It's the carrier-stamped Android phone. Instead of the stock Google kit, with Google Search, you get Bing search when you press the Search button, with no way to change your Search results provider. You can download Google Maps from the App Market, but the phone has other navigation and mapping options built in.

So the main difference is Google search versus Bing search. The search feature still looks through your contacts, your music files and your applications in addition to suggesting a Web search, which opens Bing. Bing also offers maps, image search, news search and a dedicated section for local movie times. I found the Bing results somewhat limited compared to Google search results on other Android phones, and the interface seemed like a step back, ignoring the cool background image in the Bing search app. I prefer Google, but Bing wasn't much of a factor either way. I suppose if you have a strong preference for Microsoft over Google . . . well, why are you buying an Android phone?


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