Samsung BlackJack II
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.
For messaging, the BlackJack II ships with Microsoft's Direct Push technology, so you get real-time e-mail delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. There's support for other e-mail solutions, such as Good Mobile Messaging and AT&T Xpress Mail, and there is continued compatibility for POP3 and IMAP accounts. As part of the Windows Mobile 6 upgrade, you can also view HTML-formatted e-mails and more easily search your Outlook in-box. And good news for instant-messaging fans, as the device comes preloaded with AIM, Yahoo Messenger, and Windows Live Messenger clients.
We set up a review unit to access our Gmail account, and after a simple process of entering our username and password, the BlackJack II downloaded all our messages and retrieved new e-mail every 15 minutes. We also used the included USB cable to synchronize the BlackJack with our PC but ran into some connection problems with ActiveSync. We talked to Samsung, which identified it as an Outlook connection error, so we had to remove our installed copy of ActiveSync v4.5, perform a Detect and Repair process in Outlook, and then reinstall ActiveSync, which solved the problem.
Voice features are pretty standard. The quad-band BlackJack II offers world-roaming capabilities, a speakerphone, speed dialing, three-way calling, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging. It's also the carrier's first smartphone to support AT&T's Video Share service, which allows you to make video calls. (Plans for Video Share start at $4.99 per month for 25 minutes.)
Unfortunately, there are no voice dialing capabilities. The address book is limited only by available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts), and each entry can accommodate up to 12 numbers, several e-mail addresses, IM handles, job titles, and additional details. For caller ID, you can assign a contact a photo, a group ID, or one of 27 polyphonic ringtones.
Like the first BlackJack, the BlackJack II continues to work on AT&T's HSDPA network for a broadband-like connection on your mobile device. HSDPA has the potential to transmit data at up to 14.4mbps, but you'll most likely average speeds of around 400kbps to 700kbps. Still, we're talking about some pretty darn fast Web surfing and downloads.
In addition, you can use the 3.5G speeds to enjoy streaming music and video via AT&T Music and AT&T Video. These add-on services enable you to access content, such as streaming XM satellite radio, music videos, MusicID for identifying song titles and artist, and video programming from CNN, ESPN, and NBC, among other channels. The BlackJack II does not, however, support over-the-air song downloads.
Other wireless options include Bluetooth 2.0 and the addition of GPS. There is no Wi-Fi connectivity on this device. You can use the Bluetooth technology to connect to mono and stereo headsets, hands-free kits, Bluetooth peripherals, wireless file transfers, and others. The built-in GPS radio lets you use your smartphone as a handheld navigator. This, coupled with a mapping application or location-based service like Google Maps for Mobile or TeleNav GPS Navigator, can provide real-time tracking, text- and voice-guided directions, business searches, and traffic information.
The BlackJack II gets an upgrade in the camera department with a 2-megapixel lens. It continues to offer video-recording capabilities, and it features a 4x zoom and a self-timer. For still images, you have your choice of five sizes, four quality settings, and three shooting modes. Sadly, there's no flash, but you can adjust the white balance. Once you've captured your image, you can add various effects and frames. As per usual, options are a bit limited in video mode with just two sizes and two recording modes. Picture quality was subpar, not because images were blurry but rather because the colors were washed out in our photos.
Finally, for other multimedia content, you can enjoy more streaming-video content with MobiTV, and there's the standard Windows Media Player 10 Mobile to check out your library of MP3, AAC, WAV, WMA, MPEG-4, and WMV files.
We tested the quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE; UMTS/HSDPA) Samsung BlackJack II in San Francisco, using AT&T service, and call quality was quite good. We enjoyed clear audio with minimal background noise and ample volume, and we had no problems interacting with our bank's voice-automated voice response system.
Our friends also reported similar results and had no complaints. The speakerphone, however, didn't fare as well. On our end, we could hear a slight but noticeable background hiss, and voices sounded a bit garbled. Meanwhile, callers said they could tell that we were on the speakerphone and heard a bit of an echo.
The bright side is that none of this prevented us from continuing conversations, and there was plenty of volume. We were able to pair the BlackJack II with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
Powered by a faster 260MHz processor (the original BlackJack had a 220MHz processor) and with the increased memory, we found the Samsung BlackJack II to be a responsive and better-performing device than its predecessor. There was very little lag, even when we had numerous applications open, and we didn't experience any system crashes during our review period.
To test the GPS capabilities, we used Google Maps for Mobile, which, by the way, downloaded super quickly, thanks to HSDPA, and it took about 5 minutes for the BlackJack to get a fix on our location, but it did a decent job of tracking our position. Multimedia performance was mediocre. As with the speakerphone, there was plenty of volume, but the sound quality was a bit tinny and lacked richness. Videos were always synchronized with audio. When the picture is blown up to full-screen mode, it's almost unwatchable, as images looked pixilated and blurry.
The Samsung BlackJack II's 1,700mAh lithium ion battery is rated for 7 hours of talk time and up to 14 days of standby time. We are currently still conducting our battery drain tests but will update this section as soon as we have final results. According to FCC radiation tests, the BlackJack II has a digital SAR rating of 1.2 watts per kilogram.