Samsung Fascinate Lightning Review: When Greedy Carriers Ruin Decent Phones

Samsung's Galaxy S phones, like the Fascinate on Verizon, represent everything that's good—and bad—about Android.

A single phone, a platform really, spread across every major carrier is something of a feat. The Galaxy S manifests itself as the Captivate on AT&T, Vibrant on T-Mobile, Epic 4G on Sprint and finally here, the Fascinate on Verizon. The core of each phone is the same: a 4-inch Super AMOLED screen, 1GHz Hummingbird processor (similar to what's inside the iPhone 4 and iPad) and Samsung's customized TouchWiz software running on top of Android 2.1 It's not a bad foundation to build a phone on top of—as you can read in Jason's in-depth review of the Epic 4G, most of which applies to every Galaxy S phone.

Each version of the Galaxy S is slightly different though, mostly in weird little ways—the AT&T and T-Mobile Galaxy phones don't have a camera flash. But also in a few major ways—the Epic gets the physical keyboard and 4G powers all to itself. The Fascinate's bone up on the others is the fact it's on Verizon's network—calls were great—and it's got wireless hotspot powers—also worked great—which the AT&T and T-Mobile phones don't have.

Samsung Fascinate Lightning Review: When Greedy Carriers Ruin Decent Phones

Verizon, unfortunately, is also what ruins the phone. Or, rather, what it's forced Samsung to do to the phone, which you could sum up in a word: Bing. Bing is the default—and only—search engine on the Fascinate. A Google Android phone. In the search widget, in the browser, when you press the search button. Bing. No, you can't change it. There's no setting for it, and the Google Search widget that you can snag from the Market is blocked (or at least very carefully hidden). Being unwittingly forced into Verizon and Bing's conjugal relationship is infuriating on its own, but the implementation also feels like the sloppy hack that it is. The co-branded Bing/Verizon portal that an in-browser search takes you to is ripped from the circa-2005 dumbphone-approved "internet," while the Bing Maps app that it pushes you toward is vastly inferior to Google Maps (no multitouch, Latitude, etc.). To be clear, Bing itself is fine. This implementation of it is not.

Crapware abounds: a craptastic mobile IM app that only works over Verizon's network, a Blockbuster trial service and a Tetris game that you think might be a freebie, but in fact accosts you for $$$ shortly after booting it up. Frankly, I'm less forgiving of the TouchWiz interface than Jason as well, even if it is the best job Samsung's ever done. It's still messy and garish, like disco humped by a Day-Glo monkey tripping neon balls on paint fumes. (Neon blue is never an acceptable font color.)

The Fascinate is a sad emblem of what happens when a carrier's worst instincts and moneylust run unchecked (those big branding deals are worth millions). Piled on top of the occasionally horrific aesthetic liberties Samsung's taken with Android, it's an abomination. And yet, these things are totally acceptable because of Android's openness. It just sucks that in this case, it's working against users, not for them.

If you're looking for an Android phone on Verizon, you're far better off with either the Droid Incredible or Motorola Droid 2. If you're looking for a Galaxy S phone, you're far better off switching carriers. [Verizon]

Samsung Fascinate Lightning Review: When Greedy Carriers Ruin Decent Phones

Verizon's network and mobile hotspot

Samsung Fascinate Lightning Review: When Greedy Carriers Ruin Decent Phones

The phone hardware is pretty good!

Samsung Fascinate Lightning Review: When Greedy Carriers Ruin Decent Phones

The UI isn't super terrible to use, but it is oogly

Samsung Fascinate Lightning Review: When Greedy Carriers Ruin Decent Phones

Crappy bloatware

Samsung Fascinate Lightning Review: When Greedy Carriers Ruin Decent Phones

Bing