It's about that time of year. Smartphones that were released in 2007 are reaching the end of their life cycles, and the new school of devices are lining up to take their places. Such is the case for the Samsung BlackJack II. While not officially being retired, the BlackJack II has seen its day, and a flashier, shinier model is now on the block: the Samsung Epix.
While the two smartphones look largely similar on the surface, save for a couple of buttons, the Epix steps it up with a touch screen and optical mouse. It also ships with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition and adds integrated Wi-Fi. We wouldn't call it a major overhaul, but the new design features add great value and provide a good user experience; plus, the smartphone offers solid performance. It's a great messaging-centric smartphone for mobile professionals, but current BlackJack II owners could probably wait till they're due for an upgrade (no need to pay full retail price) to switch to the Epix, especially since you can download a Windows Mobile 6.1 software update for your device. The Samsung Epix is available now from AT&T for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates and discounts.
At first glance, the Samsung Epix simply looks like an evolution of the Samsung BlackJack II but there's more than meets the eye. First, the smartphone measures 4.6 inches high by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 deep and weighs 4.4 ounces. It's slightly thicker than the BlackJack II but the Epix houses a larger battery, so there's good reason for the extra thickness and weight. The smartphone comes in a silver/charcoal gray color and while attractive enough, we thought the device's casing was slippery and felt a bit plasticky.
The Epix features a 2.5-inch, 65,000-color TFT display with a 320x320 pixel resolution. Unlike the BlackJack II, however, the Epix has a touch screen so you can use finger touches or the included stylus to launch applications, navigate menus, and more. The screen provides haptic feedback so you get a slight vibration to confirm that the screen has registered your touch. Throughout our review period, we really enjoyed having the touch screen since it made navigation and accomplishing tasks easier. You can, of course, customize the home screen with various themes, background images, and more.
Below the display, you get two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, which also double as the Mute and Lock buttons. There's a Start key and OK button, and sitting in between those two buttons is the direction keypad/optical mouse. The Samsung Epix is the first smartphone in the United States with an optical mouse, though our first experience with it was on the unlocked version of the Samsung Omnia (more on this in a bit). Basically, you can track a mouselike cursor onscreen by moving your finger on the teeny tiny trackpad, and then double-click to select an item.
While we didn't particularly find it useful on the Omnia, we're singing a different tune with the Epix. The fact that the trackpad is slightly bigger and it's located in the middle of the phone (rather than the bottom) made the user experience so much better. We were able to comfortably scroll through menus and select items with one hand. If you find you're not a fan of the feature, you can switch it back to the traditional directional keypad by going to Settings > System > Finger Mouse.
The full QWERTY keyboard is similar to the one found on the BlackJack II, though the keys are a bit smaller. The size of the buttons wasn't so much of an issue as there's an adequate amount of spacing between them, but we did find the keys stiff to press. After typing an e-mail, we noticed that there were a number of errors. You have to make sure you firmly press each button, which is frustrating since it slows you down. On the plus side, the bottom row includes a number of application shortcuts for quick one-touch access, including those for the camera, Web, e-mail, and calendar.
The camera is located on the back along with a self-portrait mirror. On the left spine, you'll find the power button and volume rocker, while the right side has a power/headset connector and a microSD expansion slot. Unfortunately, the Epix uses a proprietary Samsung jack for the AC adapter and headset, which restricts the accessory range. A small consolation is that a 3.5mm audio adapter is included in the box. Other accessories packaged with the Samsung Epix include an AC adapter, a USB cable, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The Samsung Epix isn't a major overhaul of the BlackJack II, but there are a couple of additions in the features department. First, the smartphone now ships with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition, bringing the full Microsoft Office Mobile Suite for editing native Word and Excel documents, and viewing PowerPoint presentations; better Calendar management; better page navigation in Internet Explorer Mobile; and more. Other PIM tools include Picsel Viewer, a notepad, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a calculator, a conversion calculator, a voice recorder, and a task list. A Task Manager is also available to help optimize CPU and memory usage; the Epix comes with 256MB internal ROM and about 150MB or internal RAM. The microSD expansion slot can accept up to 32GB cards.