One of the more popular smartphones of 2007 was the Samsung BlackJack, and it's not hard to see why. It offered solid messaging capabilities, 3G support, and good call quality, all wrapped up into one attractive and sleek package. However, the love affair was ruined for some after numerous battery drain issues, which subsequently led to Samsung shipping the BlackJack with an extended battery. Well, now the BlackJack's successor is out, and it takes care of that issue and then some.
The Samsung BlackJack II not only features a revamped design that includes a slightly larger screen and a better keyboard, but there's been work done under the hood to solve some of the performance issues of the past: more memory, a faster processor, and a larger battery. And let's not forget to mention the added GPS, Windows Mobile 6 upgrade, and 2-megapixel camera.
It's not perfect, though; the new front jog wheel may be a sticking point for some, and we ran into some sync problems. In all, we don't think there's anything too compelling for current BlackJack owners to make the switch. However, if you're eligible for an upgrade or are looking to purchase a sleek messaging smartphone, the Samsung BlackJack II is definitely a worthy choice, especially at its wallet-friendly price of $149.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates. It's available through AT&T now and comes in black or burgundy (the burgundy version will be available in mid-December).
Whether you're new to the BlackJack or a previous/current owner, the Samsung BlackJack II is sure to draw some oohs and ahhs, as we've already witnessed during our review period. The two available models are striking for different reasons: the black version has a lacquered finish that makes it eye-catching, while the burgundy color is just plain sexy and unlike any other. There's another difference between the two devices, besides just the color. The burgundy BlackJack has a textured finish on the back that makes the phone easy to grip, while the black version does not, so it's somewhat slick and prone to smudges, but that's not a deal breaker.
The BlackJack II is slightly thicker and heavier than its predecessor, but not so much that we found it to be bulky. Plus, the bigger size is for a good reason, as the extra depth allows for a larger-capacity battery. It measures 4.4 inches high by 2.3 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep, and it weighs 4 ounces (compared with 4.4 inches by 2.3 inches by 0.4 inch; 3.5 ounces). It is still one of the sleekest full-QWERTY smartphones on the market today--certainly more compact than AT&T's other messaging-centric device, the Motorola Q9h. It's comfortable to use as a phone and a messaging device, and while having a more PDA-like design, it's still possible to slip it into a pants pocket.
On front, there's a marginally larger 2.4-inch diagonal (versus 2.25 inches) TFT non-touch screen with a 65,536-color output and a 320x240-pixel resolution. Text and images looked sharp and vibrant, and as with other Windows Mobile devices, you can change the Home screen's theme, background image, and menu style.
Below the display, you'll find a revamped navigation array and full QWERTY keyboard. You still get two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a Home screen shortcut, and a back button. Besides these functions, each button can perform other tasks when you hold it down for a longer period. For example, with a long press of the Talk key, you can activate the speakerphone, or you can lock your device with the End button.
There's also the typical navigation toggle with a center select key, but there's a twist this time. In addition to being able to press it up, down, left, and right, it also doubles as jog wheel so you can spin it clockwise or counterclockwise to scroll through the various menu items. This has replaced the jog dial that was found on the right side of its predecessor, and it drew mixed feelings.
We surveyed a handful of current BlackJack owners, and the initial reaction was always similar--usually an, "oh, cool"--but after spending a few minutes with it, about half said they still preferred the side-mounted wheel, and I felt the same way. I thought the BlackJack II's jog wheel was too loose and wasn't responsive enough (requiring a lot of extra spinning), so I rarely used the wheel mechanism and chose to use the toggle in the more traditional method. Like the BlackBerry Pearl's SureType keyboard, I suspect this is one of those features you're either going to like or hate.
The full QWERTY keyboard features some nice improvements. First, the number keys are now clustered together instead of being separated by a column of letters. Also, the bottom row of buttons now has a number of new quick-launch keys, including shortcuts to the Web, AT&T Video, the camera, and your messages. The one-touch access is extremely convenient, since you don't have to dig through the menus to perform a single task.
The right side has a microSD expansion slot, and the left spine is home to the volume rocker and the connector/headset port. However, instead of a mini USB port or a 2.5mm or 3.5mm headset jack, the BlackJack II uses Samsung's proprietary connector, which is annoying and restrictive. It would have been nice if at least a 3.5mm headset adapter was thrown in as part of the sales package, but for now, you have to purchase this as an optional accessory. Finally, there's a Power button on top of the unit, and the camera lens and self-portrait mirror are on the backside.
AT&T packages the Samsung BlackJack II with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a Getting Started CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
There's nothing revolutionary about the Samsung BlackJack II, but there are some welcome additions. To start, the smartphone now runs the latest Windows Mobile 6 Standard Edition, so you now get the full Microsoft Office Mobile Suite. If you'll recall, Windows Mobile 5 devices typically came installed with the Picsel Viewer Suite for opening and viewing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, but with Version 6, you can now edit these files, as well. Just be aware that the editing capabilities are pretty light, and you can't create documents like you can on the Motorola Q9h, which comes with DataViz's Documents to Go. For more information on the features of the operating system, please read our full review of Windows Mobile 6.
Other productivity tools include a PDF viewer, an RSS reader, a voice recorder, a notepad, a calculator, and a measurement converter. There's also a Task Manager so you can optimize memory usage and the smartphone's performance. For the record, the BlackJack II includes more onboard memory than its predecessor, with 128MB RAM and 256MB ROM (compared with 64MB RAM/128MB ROM). The microSD expansion slot also supports up to 4GB cards.