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Home > Hardware Reviews > Mobiles

Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Samsung Blackjack

1. Samsung Blackjack Review

I have now been using the Cingular/Samsung Blackjack for a couple of weeks. Many of you know that I have had a "borderline" unhealthy relationship with my Treo for a couple of years now - I have truly lived on my Treo and relied on it for just about everything. Then, along came the Motorola Q and stole my heart. While the Q had to go back to Motorola after the review - the lingering feelings stayed.

Now, the Blackjack comes along. Could it be - can this little device pull me away from craving a Q of my own? Is my Treo about to be permanently replaced?

There is a lot to love about this Smart Phone. It is sleek, rugged, powerful and easy to use. Couple its good looks with a very effective advertising campaign and an aggressive price point and Samsung truly has a winner on their hands.

The Official line on the BlackJack is:

With the BlackJack™ customers can get rich entertainment features, powerful business applications and the familiar look and feel of Windows Mobile® 5.0, turbo-charged by Cingular's 3G-enabled BroadbandConnect service in an ultra sleek design.

The BlackJack™ offers users a host of entertainment options from listening to music and viewing video clips to browsing the Internet or shopping at Cingular's MEdia Mall for ringtones, games and graphics. The BlackJack™ also includes access to Cingular's latest, exciting entertainment offering, Cingular Music - an integrated, on-the-go music experience that delivers "your music, your way" by providing simple access to the most robust collection of music content available today, including XM Satellite Radio, which comes pre-loaded on the device. BlackJack users can easily access and enjoy 25 commercial-free music channels from XM Satellite Radio through the XM Radio Mobile service.
With Cingular Music, the new BlackJack™ connects users to a one-stop shop for everything music on the handset, such as full-track songs, music videos, ringtones, music news, MusicID, music chat rooms, streaming music and more. Cingular is the first U.S. carrier to offer subscription music to the handset, including music from leading online retailers Napster, Yahoo! and eMusic.

For the visually oriented, the BlackJack™ will feature Cingular Video™, Cingular's on-demand streaming video service. With Cingular Video™, users can watch a large selection of video clips of their favorite television shows, sports, news and weather, entertainment and premium content, including such hit HBO programs as "The Sopranos," "Entourage," "Sex and The City," and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

With an amazing color screen, wireless broadband capabilities, 1.3 mega pixel digital camera that can record video and a full media experience with Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, customers can stay entertained with the BlackJack™ while on the go. It also includes a speakerphone and features Bluetooth® version 2.0 with stereo headset support to enjoy music wirelessly.

Cingular customers who use the BlackJack™ can take the 3G-powered Cingular BroadbandConnect experience with them using the largest national wireless data network and get 3G performance in more than 130 markets in the U.S. surrounding more than 50 major metropolitan cities. They also can use the BlackJackTM seamlessly outside of BroadbandConnect coverage areas via Cingular's nationwide* EDGE wireless data network as well as overseas in more than 115 countries.

Overview
The Samsung BlackJack is a Cingular exclusive that is a stylish and compact 3G PDA for both work and play. With Microsoft® Windows Mobile 5, personal and corporate email and support for Cingular Video and Cingular Music, the Samsung BlackJack does it all.
Included Features

  • Microsoft® Windows Mobile 5.0 Edition(TM)
  • Mobile versions of Microsoft® Office(TM) applications
  • Windows Media Player® 10 Mobile
  • Bluetooth v2.0® wireless connectivity
  • Simultaneous voice and data capabilities
  • Quad-band world phone with dual-band UMTS/HSDPA
  • Slim design PDA with full QWERTY keyboard
  • 1.3 megapixel camera with 2x zoom and video
  • Cingular Music, Cingular Video and MEdia Net capable
  • Microsoft® Direct Push for real-time email delivery
  • Mobile Outlook®, Word®, Excel®, PowerPoint®, and PDF support
  • Email - Xpress Mail, Good Mobile Messaging, ActiveSync, and more
  • Synchronize your desktop and calendar wirelessly
  • Hands-free loudspeaker and microphone
  • Instant messaging capabilities
  • Fast loading full HTML web browser

Technical Specs

  • Weight: 3.5 ounces
  • Dimensions:4.4 x 2.3 x .05 inches
  • Talk Time: Up to 5.5 hours
  • Standby Time: Up to 11 days
  • Dual-band domestic UMTS/HSDPA - 850/1900 MHz
  • Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE - 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
  • 220 MHz TI processor
  • 128 MB ROM / 64 MB RAM
  • Large 2.2" 320x240 65k color screen with backlight
  • MicroSD(TM) expansion slot supports up to a 2 GB card
  • Bluetooth® v2.0 for up to six Bluetooth connections simultaneously
  • Warranty: 1 year on the phone and accessories
  • All talk, data and standby times depend on network configuration

Design:
The Blackjack is a thin, candy bar design smart phone. It has a full QWERTY keyboard at the bottom with the keys somewhat angled in (very BlackBerryesque.) The Blackjack utilizes a rubberized, black plastic case that seems very sturdy.

The screen is a non-touch screen - thus it is a true Windows Mobile Smartphone. It is smaller than the screen on the Moto Q - but beautiful to behold (more on that later.)
The keys are smaller than the Q, but it was easy enough to type on the QWERTY keyboard with pretty good accuracy. Above the keyboard sits a d-pad which is circular and framed by the two "soft" keys, home key, "back" key and green on/answer and red/off keys.

A volume rocker graces the left hand edge of the Blackjack along with the proprietary charging port. Along the right hand side is a slot for a Micro SD card, a thumbwheel (again, Blackberry and Q like in design) and a small button for going "back."

What’s in the Box:

The Blackjack is bundled with a very thoughtful and complete package of goodies. Most noteworthy is that is ships with two batteries and an external battery charger. This is amazing - so I can keep one battery in the device (and even charge it off the USB port of the computer) and another battery in the charger for later use. Effectively, this doubles battery life (which is already significantly better than the Q.)

A setup CD, very good instruction manual and the USB Syncing/charging cable round out the package.

The bundled software is very impressive - by far, much more so than on the Q or any Treo I have tested. All the Cingular multi-media features are pre-loaded. This little guy can stream videos, download music, organize playlists, get XM radio and more.

The Blackjack as a Phone:

The Blackjack has launched on the Cingular network - so it is a GSM phone. This is the first quad band GSM/HSPDA phone I have tested. I tell you this because I have found that in my neck of the woods (actually on my island) GSM service stinks.

That being said, the reception on my Blackjack was pretty good. I never had as many bars as I get on Verizon or Sprint - but except for a few places (my basement included) I had decent service.

Call quality was very good. I had commented in my review of the Moto Q that the call clarity was better than any phone I had tested and that clarity was matched by the Blackjack.

The headset is plenty loud and did not distort at high volumes. The speaker phone was great and callers didn’t notice I was on a cell phone.

The Blackjack makes great use of the Windows Mobile soft keys - the right soft key brings up the contacts button - push it and type a few letters or numbers and the directory is scanned for matching contacts. Click the center button of the d-pad, hit call and that’s all there is to it.

Hit the right soft key and a menu comes up allowing you to send a text message, save the contact to your SIM card, add the contact to speed dial and more. Adding unique ring tones and call tones is easy and fun. You can also add pictures of your contacts either through Outlook or directly through the Blackjack.

There is one serious omission in this early release of the Blackjack - there is no voice dialing included. This was such a great feature in the Q - that I can’t understand why it isn’t present in the Blackjack. That being said, I was assured that in one of the first updates this will be taken care of.

The Blackjack as a PDA:

This is, after all, a Smart Phone - so how smart is it? It is as smart as you are. The Blackjack was able to manage my calendar, appointments, contacts and read all my attachments. In short, it did all I needed it to do.

Windows Mobile, as I have written before, takes a little getting used to. It is not as intuitive as the Palm OS, but I do believe that it is more powerful. The absence of a touch screen means that there are a couple of extra buttons to push to complete a task. On the positive side - all actions can be taken with the use of one hand. Samsung has added a few nice tricks as well. Samsung adds a folder in the programs directory called "Organizer." In this folder, there are icons to launch an alarm program, a calculator, D-Day (which counts down to an important day), notepad, currency converter, stop watch, tasks and voice notes and a world clock. All of these were very useful and well done.

The included Picsel viewer allows you to "read" Microsoft office and Adobe pdf files. Since there is no touch screen - it took a little getting used to, but, eventually, navigating through my files was easy. When reading files on a small screen you do have to zoom in and zoom out and pan the document - but once I got comfortable with this I was reading large documents with no trouble. I would not read a 100 page file on the Blackjack - but for most attachments it will work just fine.

The Blackjack as a Media Player:

The Blackjack may be the best integration of a Media Player and a Smart Phone that I have seen. Unlike the Motorola Q, the Blackjack includes Media applications right in the Start menu - Cingular Music, Cingular Video, Media Net, IM and the Camera are included with easy to find icons.

While an "all you can eat" data plan is certainly recommended - the Data/Media features are just tremendous. Stream XM radio, purchase music, listen to MP3’s, watch Video highlights and trailers from the Cingular site and look at pictures and videos from the storage card. All these functions are so easy to use and they look great on the gorgeous screen and sound great through either the system speaker or a good set of headphones.

I encountered two issues, however with regards to Media playback that are noteworthy:

  1. SlingPlayer Mobile did not function correctly on the Blackjack - But Sling Media and Samsung are working on a fix.
  2. There is no headphone jack - no mini jack - no full sized jack. Rather, the proprietary port for charging is also a proprietary port for headphones. In my opinion, this is a huge mistake on Samsung’s part. Why not just give us a jack so we can plug in our MP3 headphones and be happy.

What the Blackjack can do, however, is support A2DP Bluetooth Stereo playback. That means that you can listen to your XM, videos or MP3’s wirelessly in stereo. This is certainly cool - but, we all know that for now, Bluetooth stereo does not offer nearly the quality of a good wired set of headphones. You can "purchase" and adapter - but I do with that one came as standard equipment.

Email and Text Messaging:

The Blackjack is not a Blackberry - that being said, for most of us, the Blackjack will handle our email needs just fine. The Keyboard is very good. The keys have a solid feel, but they are a little close together. They are similar in spacing to the Treo keys making two finger typing bearable. I think that folks with big fingers will have a little learning curve - but I did like the overall "feel" of this keyboard.

The Blackjack syncs with your Outlook email, it also allows you to set up POP 3 and IMAP email accounts. The Blackjack is also compatible with Cingular’s X-Press mail and with Good’s email program - both of which are included. So, there are plenty of email options and one of them is bound to make you happy. Set up was very easy. I let the Blackjack try to automatically adjust the settings for my various email accounts and it did so with ease.

It also takes one extra step - one extra menu and button push to get email (just like the Q) than it does on the Treo. That being said, the beautiful screen and default text display made reading email a joy. The jog dial on the right hand side was great for one-handed viewing and scrolling. Text messaging was also very easy and enjoyable. While it doesn’t have the "chat" set-up of the Treo that I prefer, it was very easy to select contacts and text them.

Web Browsing:

The Blackjack is the first phone I have used that supports the new HSPDA (sometimes called WCDMA) high speed network. When I got off my little island and headed to Boston or Providence, I was able to take advantage of the high speed network. Wow, it was like lightning - faster than anything I experienced on the Q or any of the Treos - even when they were picking up the EvDO networks. When not in HSPDA range, the Blackjack used the much slower "EDGE" network - which was still fine for email and small screen formatted text pages. The screen is gorgeous and easy to read - so web browsing was really a joy.

Bluetooth:

I paired the Blackjack with two Bluetooth headsets, one Car Speakerphone and a set of Bluetooth Headphones. In each case, the Blackjack paired and remained connected. Quality of the connection was great - as good or better than the Q and way better than any of the Treos tested. A2DP is a great feature and I love being able to stream music wirelessly to headphones.

Camera:

The Blackjack comes with a 1.3 mega pixel camera. Image quality was really superb for a Smart Phone. I found the picture to be vibrant and clear. The digital zoom is a great feature, but, as expected, image quality suffers with the zoom.

It was a cinch to Sync the images to my computer and print them and equally easy to send picture via email from the Blackjack itself.

Overall Conclusions:


If I were not locked into a contract with another carrier and I was looking for the coolest phone/Smart Phone on the planet - I would buy the Blackjack - hands down.
This phone is cool enough that one might even consider leaving their current contract, playing the early termination fee and signing up with Cingular. I would not advise doing that, however, until you are sure you have good GSM coverage near where you live.

This is a true Quad band, 3G HSPDA world phone. It should work anywhere you go. It feels great in your hands - has a gorgeous screen and does everything well.
It is less that half the thickness and weight of the Treo, smaller than the Q and I does more than both of them.

So, what’s not to love? Very little except for the lack of a normal headphone jack and the omission of voice dialing. So far, battery life is much better than the Q and about as good as the Treo and it even comes with a second battery.

The current pricing plan for the Blackjack is:


Samsung BlackJack
Price

US$424.99

2-yr Contract Price

US$299.99

Mail-In Rebate

- US$100.00

*Your Price

US$199.99

Pros:

  • Great size
  • great build quality
  • great call quality
  • camera and PDA and Media functions
  • Extra battery is a nice touch

Cons:

  • No voice dialing
  • crummy proprietary headphone jack

Important note: The $100 rebate is only valid when you sign up for the unlimited data plan for $39.00 a month - this is very steep.

From everything I researched, the $19.00 Media Net package will allow you all the unlimited data you need and give you 200 text messages and save you twenty bucks a month!




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