At a Glance:
What's Good: Compact, stylish Windows Mobile 6 smartphone; HSDPA (3G) high speed data; Improved battery life; GPS; Center mounted jog wheel
What's Not Good: QWERTY keys are a little small and a little slippery; No touchscreen; Display is smallish for a smartphone
Bottom Line: Blackjack II is a solid improvement over its predecessor. There's nothing revolutionary here, but faster hardware, improved battery life, and speedy 3G data make this a worthy update to the popular original.
Samsung's BlackJack was a big hit amongst smartphone users in 2007 thanks to its compact candybar form factor, full QWERTY keyboard, and enterprise-friendly Windows Mobile operating system. But BlackJack suffered from a few flaws, inadequate battery life being the biggest offender; most BlackJack users I knew wound up buying an extended battery which all but negated the phone's sleek body by adding a big ol? bulge to its backside.
Lucky for business users across America, Samsung seems to have learned from its mistakes. BlackJack II isn't groundbreaking, but it's a solid successor that corrects the original's mistakes and adds a few goodies in the process. Most notably, BJ2's battery life is much improved, and faster hardware and speedy 3G data access make for noticeably improved productivity.
The new BlackJack is just a little bit thicker and heavier than the original, but it's still one of the most compact smartphones around - it's noticeably smaller than the similarly designed Motorola Q9. There's no touchscreen to be found here, and though I wouldn't mind a slightly larger display and QWERTY layout, BlackJack users ready for an upgrade will generally find a lot to like in this sequel.
BlackJack II is sleek in a business-class sort of way. I don't know that I could ever call a smart phone 'sexy,? but the burgundy-finish review sample Samsung sent me certainly is handsome, anyway. The handset fits easily in one of my hands, and its center-mounted nav dial makes for easy left or right-handed operation Some folks have bemoaned Samsung's decision to replace BJ1's side-mounted scroll wheel with this new front panel dial, but I like it. The wheel's similar to those found on iPods, if not quite as smooth and responsive - you can use it to scroll through selections or as a four-way directional pad with a center select key. A standard layout of softkeys flank the wheel on either side, and I found these plenty spacious - though some might scoff at the slick plastic finish that adorns the buttons.
The QWERTY keys on the lower half of the phone's front panel are on the smaller side, but the oval shaped keys are set on a slight diagonal and well spaced, which makes them pretty easy to use, even with my big thumbs. Samsung also grouped the dialing buttons together (they were oddly spread out on the original) and added some shortcut keys to the bottom row of the keypad, which are handy. My burgundy BlackJack II also featured a textured back panel that made for easier gripping; the black version of the handset has a smooth plastic back instead. Speaking of the back panel, here you?ll find the sensor for BJ2's two megapixel camera which can also capture video.
A Windows Mobile device, BlackJack 2 can handle your contacts and email and messaging needs, including support for Exchange Server and POP3 and IMAP email accounts. Windows Mobile 6 supports full HTML email, and the device ships with support for AIM, Yahoo, and Windows Live instant messaging. BlackJack II also comes with Microsoft Direct Push, which supports real-time ?push? email delivery as well as automatic Outlook syncing. The handset can be synched to a PC via USB cable using ActiveSync.
On the AT&T side, there's support for the new Video Share service so you can make video calls if you and your recipient are both on compatible devices, within 3G network coverage, and willing to pay $5/month for 25 minutes of video calling bliss. There's also support for AT&T Music and Video, which stream a/v content to your handset for additional costs. I tried out the XM Radio and ESPN video highlights services and was impressed with how quickly the applications loaded and the content started playing. For my money streaming music is still much more useful on a mobile phone than streaming video, but the quality of both services was on par with anything I've tried on a Sprint or Verizon Wireless device.
As a phone, BlackJack II was a solid performer. Signal strength was good, voice quality was generally quite good, and callers said I came through clearly on the other end. I found the integrated speakerphone to be so-so; sometimes calls sounded fine (if a bit hissy) while other times voices were garbled and folks on the other end said they couldn't hear me so well. The phone paired up just fine with both mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, and also worked well with the included wired earpiece. Samsung uses a proprietary headphone jack, so if you want to use a third-party headset you?ll have to get an adapter.
Windows Mobile is not my favorite mobile platform, but BlackJack II ran it pretty well all the same. WinMob 6 ships with Microsoft Office Mobile Suite, which supports viewing and limited editing of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. There's also a PDF viewer onboard. Combined with HTML Email support, these features give WM 6 a nice shot in the arm, productivity-wise.
On the other hand, Internet Explorer mobile is still a pretty terrible Web browser. That's not BlackJack II's fault, though, and a quick download and install of Opera Mini or Mobile will get the most out of the phone's access to AT&T's HSDPA data network. Armed with Opera Mini, my BlackJack served up a very fast, solid Web browsing experience wherever I had a 3G signal. There's no WiFi connectivity on this handset, which isn't a problem so long as you stay within 3G coverage areas; the larger battery meant that I didn't have to worry about draining the phone's battery unless I was doing some serious, steady Web surfing.
BlackJack II packs more memory and a faster processor than its predecessor, and the new hardware translated to noticeably better performance. The integrated GPS worked well with Google Maps for Mobile, and the two-megapixel camera is an upgrade over the original's 1.3 MP shooter spec-wise, though image quality is still middle of the road for a cameraphone. There's no flash for the camera, but there is a self-portrait mirror.
BlackJack II is a solid smartphone. I can't get super-excited about because I?m not its target audience - I don't like Windows Mobile and I do like touchscreens and snazzy features - but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate it. Samsung took a good thing in the original BlackJack, fixed its fatal flaw by upping the battery life, and boosted performance and features in the meantime.
If you?re wedded to the idea of being able to navigate your smartphone via a thumbwheel on the side panel, you won't like this new BlackJack. Like I said, I really like the front-mounted navigation dial but I know some users really miss the original BJ's side-mounted setup. Aside from that, there's nothing here that would put off a BlackJack fan looking to upgrade. Windows Mobile 6 is an upgrade over 5, BJ II's processor, screen size memory, and megapixel count are all upgrades over I, and now there's GPS thrown in, too.
Samsung did a nice job updating a popular handset without straying too far from what made the original a success. Is this enough to make smartphone buyers pony up for BlackJack II? Yeah, I think so. BlackJack II is a mid-range smartphone - there's no giant touchscreen or WiFi, but it's got 3G and it's small, sleek, and priced to move. Sounds like another winner to me.