Verizon really blew it. It traded having one of the best Android phones out there for some cash from Microsoft. For their money, Microsoft got Verizon to pluck out the really good parts of the Google phone (search and maps) and clumsily put Bing in its place. The mandatory, unchangeable search bar is now Bing and it is flakey (see video below) to say the least. Bing buys you search results that don’t match up with Google’s and even worse, they don’t show up as you type.
This phone still uses Google for speech recognition, which is fairly accurate, but the results are still from Bing.
Most importantly, Bing can’t be integrated into the phone the way Google (GOOG) is. For instance, a call to maps from an e-mail or an SMS doesn’t work as it should. Verizon (VZ) did away with Google’s maps and replaced them with Verizon’s (pay for subscription) and Bing-branded maps applications. These are laughable compared to Google’s. You can install Google’s maps application from the Market but system-wide searches still default elsewhere.
The Fascinate hardware is nice overall. It is pretty close to the T-Mobile Vibrant (reviewed here), but it adds a LED Flash for the camera and obviously support for Verizon’s CDMA network. IT feels great in your hand and is thin and light. The 4-inch SuperAMOLED screen is a delight to use and even works outside in direct sunlight (although obviously this isn’t optimal). The OS is quick, though like everyone else, I’d like the stock Android experience rather than Samsung’s TouchWiz.
On the downside, like other Samsung Galaxy S phones, the GPS barely works. Samsung has promised a fix it at some point in the future.
Back to the software:
It would have been one thing if the Bing was a search option. Even the default. But making it the only choice (without serious root hacking), is just wrong. I also think it says a lot that Microsoft and Verizon have to make Bing stick, rather than let its users choose. That decision says to me, Microsoft (MSFT) knows users would go elsewhere if they had a choice and Verizon is willing to lock their own customers into an inferior experience for a few bucks.
Again, that simply means two things:
- Bing is an inferior service
- Verizon is will give its customers’ eyes to the highest bidder, even if it degrades their experience.
The bad news for the Android platform is that Verizon is said to be readying Bing for other Android phones. Google seems to have its hands tied.
This move by Verizon is just the latest line crossed with the Android OS. It seems that consumers just want the plain Android OS without any manufacturer overlays or carrier money-making scheme/apps. The options for phones like that are few. T-Mobile Nexus Ones and upcoming G2s are about the best option I’ve seen. The other carriers, while not going to the lengths of this particular phone aren’t innocent. AT&T tries to get you to use its inferior/pay for Maps rather than Google’s Free Maps. Sprint sticks you with unremovable NASCAR apps amongst other things.
As a consumer, it is getting harder and harder to find an untouched Android experience.
For those who want to take the dive with the Fascinate, here’s what you have to look forward to: