The Samsung BlackJack II is a Windows Mobile 6 Standard smartphone available now from AT&T.
As its name suggests, this is an updated version of a model that debuted in late 2006. The new device has a number of improvements over its predecessor, including an upgraded operating system, more memory, and a GPS receiver.
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Table of Contents
This smartphone uses a design that become fairly common: a slim tablet shape with a QVGA display and a keyboard. The reason so many devices use this form factor is simple: it works. It's a good compromise that allows a relatively small phone to include a full QWERTY keyboard.
At 4.5 in. by 2.4 in. by 0.5 in. and 3.5 oz, the BlackJack II is surprisingly small and light. It's only a bit taller than an HTC Touch, a device that lacks an integrated keyboard (see size comparison). It's small enough to carry around relatively easily in a pocket, though you might want to add some bulk by putting it in a case to protect the display.
One of the things I like about this device's design is that there are a minimal number of openings, and these are all protected by small doors to prevent lint and dust from getting inside. This includes the external microSD card slot and the combination power/data/headset port.
I've read complaints from people about the general build quality of Samsung phones, but I have no beefs with my review unit. The buttons seem good, and I had no problems using this device for several weeks.
This is really nit-picky I know, but this smartphone's shiny black casing seems designed to show fingerprints, especially on the back.
To get its svelte shape, Samsung sacrificed a bit of screen size. The BlackJack II includes a 2.4-inch display, while many of its competitors have a 2.8-inch one. All these devices have the same number of pixels -- 320 by 240 -- but the BlackJack packs them into a smaller area. This reduced screen real estate is definitely noticeable, as text is smaller and so are images.
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In addition, this display has a landscape orientation, while Windows Mobile works best in a portrait mode. With a landscape device, the bars that run across the top and bottom of the screen in most applications take up a significant amount of room. These can be hidden in a few situations, but most of the time they are in the way.
Still, this model's screen is slightly larger than its predecessor's.
For those of you who are more familiar with Pocket PCs or Windows Mobile 6 Pro models, I should point out that the BlackJack II does not have a touchscreen. Naturally, it has been designed so that one isn't necessary.
I'm not impressed with this smartphone's keyboard. It's a bit cramped, and I need to carefully positioning my thumb over each key to be sure I'm hitting the right one. This doesn't lead to speedy typing. In addition, the slick surface of the keys makes accidentally hitting the neighboring key even easier.
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Still, I'm happy to report that Samsung dropped the unpopular way the number keys were spread around on the original version, and this latest model groups them all together.
I like the buttons AT&T has added across the bottom of the keyboard to let you easily access verious functions. I'd like them even better if they could be changed to launch the applications I prefer, but they can't.
Easily my favorite feature in this whole device is the combination D-pad and scrollwheel. This isn't an original idea, but this is the first smartphone I know of that has one, and it makes moving through large collections of selectable items -- links on a web page or application icons -- quick and painless.
A bit of good news about the BlackJack II is that it supports AT&T's 3G network, which means you can download emails or access web sites fairly quickly, no matter where you are. And AT&T isn't one of those telecoms that is opposed to you using your phone as a wireless modem for your laptop, though you will have to load a bit of software on the device if you want to do this over Bluetooth.
I had no problems with dropped calls, and reception was fine. No one complained about voice quality when I was talking to them.
Better yet, all these wireless functions will work overseas. Naturally, you need a roaming contract with AT&T for this to work, though.
On the downside, this smartphone does not include Wi-Fi, so it isn't suitable for making free VoIP calls. It does have Bluetooth, so you can use your wireless headset. In fact, this is probably your best option for a headset. I mentioned earlier that the BlackJack II uses a single port for data, charging, and the headset, so you can't use a standard wired headset.
The BlackJack II runs Windows Mobile 6 Standard, and it comes bundled with all the software you'll need to perform the basic functions: email, SMS, web browser, audio and video player, address book, calendar, etc. As this is a smartphone and not just a featurephone, if you don't like the applications that are bundled with your device, there's a wide variety of third-party software you can install on it.
Business: People who want to use this smartphone for works should be happy to know that, unlike the original BlackJack, the new model comes with a suite of applications for editing Microsoft Office documents. And naturally it offers support for Microsoft's Push email system, which means that incoming messages are sent to your phone as soon as they arrive on the email server. This same system keeps your calendar constantly in sync with the version that on your company's Exchange server, too.
Fun: But this device isn't all business; it can play MP3s and videos, too.
And speaking of which, the BlackJack II can connect to AT&T's music and video services. You can use these to buy tracks directly on the device, or use a very cool app to identify any song that's playing around you. You just ask the phone to listen to the song and in a moment or two the title and artist will be displayed.
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If you're bored and looking for something to kill a bit of time, AT&T's Cellular Video service had a variety of short programs you can watch. Again, this is a model with a smaller screen, but it's still a nice way to find out what's going on with the news... or with Spongebob.
One of the advantages the BlackJack II has over its predecessor is more internal memory. It sports 128 MB of RAM and 256 MB of ROM, while the original model has half that, 64 MB of RAM and 128 MB of ROM.
What's important in this situation is RAM, as this is what you need to hold running applications. The 64 MB of RAM on the first BlackJack models is OK for a Windows Mobile Standard model, the BlackJack II's 128 MB is really quite generous, and you're unlikely to wish for more.
This smartphone has 155 MB of internal storage, but if you want to keep many audio or video files on your device you're going to need a removable microSD memory card. You can get cards up to 8 GB in size that will work with the BlackJack II, and larger capacities are on the way.
Samsung slightly improved the camera in this model. It has a 2 megapixel one, as opposed to the 1.3 megapixel camera in the original model.
Like most smartphone cameras this one is decent, but it's not gong to replace your regular camera.
Here's an example of a picture shot in slightly below average light, to give you some idea of what you can expect (see image at left).
Another feature the BlackJack II includes that wasn't in its predecessor is a GPS receiver. This means you don't need an external one.
You have the option of using TeleNav, a navigation service that offers many handy features but comes with a monthly subscription fee. I like this app, but don't recommend it unless you're going to be frequently using your BlackJack II to find your way around.
For those who are only going to use this device's GPS capabilities occasionally, Google Maps Mobile is a free alternative. It's fairly "bare bones" (no spoken directions, for example) but is good enough for occasional use.
Both of these automatically download maps only when you need them, which means you don't have to take up a bunch of storage space. However, they do require a good amount of data transfers, so I'd suggest you have an unlimited data plan if you plan to use either TeleNav or Google Maps Mobile.
I'm fairly pleased with the BlackJack II's battery life. It generally got me through two days of use between recharges, unless I was using it very heavily. It can even go three days with very light use.
This gives it a better battery life than its predecessor.
If you're someone who already has the original BlackJack and is wondering whether you should upgrade, I'd say probably not. The BlackJack II is basically the original model with some improvements. These are nice, but they don't seem significant enough to me to recommend running out and getting the new model, especially as Samsung has released a Windows Mobile 6 upgrade for the first version of this device.
For everyone else, here's where I think this model fits in among the variety of smartphones on the market: The BlackJack II has a keyboard, but this is slightly cramped, so this model is probably best for people who are entering a moderate amount of text -- emails and text messages, for example.
Those who who typically enter little text on their phone will be better off with a smaller device, while those who generally enter a great deal of text might be better off with something that sports a larger keyboard, like the AT&T Tilt.
Pricing and Availability
The Samsung Blackjack II is available now on the AT&T web site for $350, but that drops to $100 with new service contract and mail-in rebate.
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