By now, you've probably seen the TV commercials featuring Ozzy Osbourne and his new personal assistant, the Samsung Jack. The Jack is the successor to the Samsung BlackJack series and aside from the name change, the Windows Mobile smartphone brings an updated look and some feature enhancements, including a faster processor and better camera. The Jack also includes the staple productivity apps and e-mail capabilities to satisfy the needs of the busy individual and delivered excellent phone quality during our tests. All of this is made even more attractive by the Samsung Jack's $99.99 price tag (with a two-year contract). However, when compared with AT&T's other $100 messaging smartphone, the Nokia E71x, we have to say we slightly favored the E71x over the Samsung Jack for its design. The Jack's keyboard and overall feel was a bit too slick for our liking and Samsung's use of proprietary ports is annoying. They're minor issues but something to consider. The Samsung Jack is available now from AT&T.
The Samsung Jack is a bit of a departure from the Samsung BlackJack and BlackJack II. While it keeps the slim QWERTY candy bar form factor (4.4 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighs 3.5 ounces), the smartphone features tapered edges and rounder corners to give it an overall look that's more reminiscent of the BlackBerry Curve 8300 series. It also borrows the mirrored chrome look of the Samsung Propel Pro to give the smartphone an updated, flashier look, but not so flashy that it would look inappropriate in a boardroom.
Like its predecessor, the Jack features a 2.4-inch TFT screen that shows 65,000 colors at a 320x240-pixel resolution. It's bright and clear, though it's now starting to look a bit inferior compared to some of the latest messaging smartphones with higher-resolution displays, such as the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900. As usual, you can customize the Home screen with various background images, themes, and so forth.
Unlike the Samsung Epix, the Jack does not have a touch screen, so the controls below the display will help you navigate the phone. You get two soft keys, a Home shortcut, a back button, Talk and End keys, and a four-way directional keypad with a center select key. With a long press, the Talk and End buttons will also activate the speakerphone and lock the handset. In addition, Samsung added a feature called Turbo Scroll that lets you quickly scroll through an entire page by pressing down on the navigation buttons, while a light press will simply scroll through the text. It's not a revolutionary feature by any means but does come in handy. We had no complaints about the layout or size of the controls and found them quite easy to use.
Overall, we were quite pleased with the Samsung Jack's full QWERTY keyboard as well, though there was a slight problem, which we'll get to in a bit. The Jack ditches the oval-like buttons of its predecessors and goes the way of Propel Pro with rectangular keys. Though there's not a lot of spacing between them, the buttons are a good size and they're not as stiff to press as the BlackJack II's, so we didn't have many mispresses. The only trouble we ran into is that the A button on our review unit seems to be off. Looking at the phone from a profile, we can see that the A key sits a little below the rest and so it requires a really firm press to register the letter and whenever we press the S button, it types an A before the S. We had a feeling we just got a defective phone and had Samsung send us another review unit, and the A key worked just fine on the new one.
On the left side, there's a power button and a volume rocker. Unfortunately, Samsung continues to insist on using its proprietary power/headset port, though the company does include an audio adapter in the box. The camera, self-portrait mirror, and speaker are located on the back, while the microSD expansion slot (accepts up to 16GB cards) is located behind the battery cover. We should note that the battery cover is really slick, which made it quite difficult to remove. This might seem like nitpicking, but it gets annoying when you get to the point where you have to ask for someone else's help in taking off the cover, and even worse, when they go through the same struggles.
All that said, we think the Samsung Jack is a nice change of pace from the BlackJack series and we like the fresh look. However, we had a slight preference for the Nokia E71x, given the more solid construction and better user experience of the Nokia. As we noted above, the Samsung Jack is a bit too slippery and the use of proprietary ports is annoying. We wouldn't say these issues are deal breakers, but they're enough for us to slightly favor the E71x. Of course, style is subjective so your best bet is to go into the store and see which you prefer.