The Samsung BlackJack II is a Windows Mobile 6 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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I’ve been using this device for only a short time, but I want to share my preliminary impressions of it. A full review will be available later.
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.
My early impression of the BlackJack II is that it’s surprisingly small and light. It’s only a bit taller than an HTC Touch, a device that lacks an integrated keyboard (see size comparison).
To get this svelte shape, though, the Samsung sacrifices a bit of screen size. It includes a 2.4-inch display, while many of its competitors have a 2.8-inch one. This reduced screen real estate is definitely noticeable, as text is smaller and so are images.
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.
So far, I’m not impressed with this smartphone’s keyboard. It’s a bit cramped, and the slick surface of the keys makes me feel like my finger can easily slide over a tiny bit to accidentally hit the neighboring key. 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.
Easily my favorite feature 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.
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. Plus, unlike the original BlackJack, it comes with a suite of applications for editing Microsoft Office documents.
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.
Another feature the BlackJack II includes that wasn’t in its predecessor is a GPS receiver. You have the option of using TeleNav, a navigation service that offers many handy features but comes with a monthly subscription fee, but Google Maps Mobile is a free alternative. It’s fairly “bare bones” (no spoken directions, for example) but is good enough for occasional use.
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 to enable this.
Better yet, all these wireless functions will work overseas.
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.
If you’re someone who already has a 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 promised to release a Windows Mobile 6 upgrade for the first version of this device. Still, I’m sure there are people who need one or more of the new features.
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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.
Of course, like I said, I’ve only been using this model for a few days. My conclusions might change after I spend more time with it. And the final review will certainly be more in depth.