AT&T has one of the best selections of smart phones under $100, which now includes the Samsung Jack, a worthy successor to the popular BlackJack and BlackJack II. It’s not quite as stylish as the ultrathin Nokia E71x, but if you’re looking for a Windows Mobile phone, you’ll find the Jack’s fast 3G data speeds, comfortable keyboard, and good GPS performance satisfying.
The Jack has a much more rounded façade than its predecessors, which were squared at the edges. Measuring 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches, it’s just a hair thicker than the BlackJack II, and weighs a heavier 3.6 ounces. This phone’s slim chrome border flanks a gunmetal-gray keyboard and rear battery panel. Its size, specs, and rounded form factor remind us of a cross between the larger, more expensive BlackBerry Bold and the identically priced yet thinner Nokia E71x.
The Jack has a bright 2.4-inch 320 x 240 resolution display, which is the same size and resolution as the Nokia E71x, but it’s not nearly as sharp or as crisp as the $149 BlackBerry Curve 8900 (480 x 360 pixels).
Below the screen, the circular dial bar on the BlackJack II has been replaced with a five-way navigation pad. Two soft buttons, a home screen, and a return button surround the nav pad. Send/End buttons are to the left and right of the pad, respectively. We do miss the scroll wheel on the original BlackJack, which made it easy to navigate through long e-mail inboxes, and other lengthy lists. Volume controls and a power button are on the left side of the phone. Samsung’s proprietary charging/headphone port is on the right side, but it doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a shame. It does have a 3.2-megapixel camera (without flash) on the back.
While they’re not as well spaced as the keys on the BlackJack II, the Jack’s keyboard is good enough. Its keys are larger and easy to type on, but somewhat close together, which is why we accidentally clicked the wrong keys a few times before getting used to the layout. Users will appreciate the quick-launch shortcuts for commonly used apps, such as the camera, GPS, message inbox, and for Web access.
The Jack runs Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system, and Microsoft tells us that Samsung will offer an upgrade to Windows Mobile 6.5 when it’s available later this year. Samsung added a touch of its own to the Jack’s OS with its Samsung Popup theme. This feature displays your favorite applications on the desktop as thumbnails, so that you can view your calendar events, e-mail inbox, and more, all at a glance.
Like all Windows Mobile 6.1 phones, the Jack supports Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Direct Push for corporate e-mail. AT&T’s Xpress Mail makes it easy to set up your account, and you can use it or Windows Mobile’s own e-mail program to set up IMAP or POP accounts. We configured our work e-mail and a Gmail account in less than 5 minutes. Windows Mobile can also automatically pull your account settings for such popular providers as Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo.
AT&T also includes an app for AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger for chatting with pals on the Jack, but we suggest installing a free third-party program, such as Palringo, which combines these accounts and adds others, such as Google Talk.
Samsung’s Message Ticker brings your new SMS and e-mail messages directly to the home screen in a unique way. Each message is displayed on an envelope that pops up with a text-content preview. You can move between multiple messages by pressing right or left on the navigation pad. It’s a minor, albeit fun, improvement for reading your inbox.
The Jack runs on AT&T’s zippy 3G network; we loaded m.CNN.com in a quick 3 seconds using Internet Explorer Mobile. M.ESPN.com loaded in a slower 14 seconds, and the New York Times’ mobile site loaded in 6 seconds. It also supports 802.11b/g networks: we loaded the same sites using a Wi-Fi connection in 3, 7, and 5 seconds, respectively.
More advanced and feature-rich browsers such as Opera or Skyfire aren’t installed on this phone, so you’ll want to consider downloading them for a more robust browsing experience. Skyfire, for example, lets you interact with embedded Flash modules on sites such as Hulu.com. We watched a clip of a Family Guy episode using a Wi-Fi connection, and it streamed without a hitch, whereas it lagged over a standard 3G connection.
Similar to the Nokia E71x, the Jack’s main failing as a multimedia device is that it doesn’t come with a 3.5mm headphone jack. Although an adapter is included so you can use standard headphones, it’s small enough to get lost in a bag or a pocket. Instead, because it supports stereo Bluetooth, you’ll want to consider using wireless headphones. The built-in speaker could be a bit louder. When we played Zac Brown Band’s “Toes,” it was hard to hear the music over any chatter.
On the other hand, AT&T offers easy access to a great deal of multimedia content, and Samsung has added a few unique and colorful skins to Windows Media player, which spices things up a bit. The Jack supports AT&T’s over-the-air music store (Napster and eMusic are available), and you can stream videos from AT&T’s CV video-on-demand service. A free clip of LeBron James talking about his team’s recent loss streamed very well. The picture was crisp, and we were able to read the text scrolling at the bottom of the screen. Voices were also in sync with the video.
If you don’t mind adding a few extra bucks to your monthly bill, you can also subscribe to XM radio ($8.99 per month), or watch TV with the MobiTV app ($9.99 per month).
The Jack comes loaded with AT&T Navigation, powered by TeleNav and YellowPages.com. The service costs $9.99 per month (after a 30-day free trial), offering 10 million points of interest, and voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions. A global edition is available for international travelers, as well, for coverage in Western Europe and China.
AT&T Navigator accurately found our location in Long Beach, New York, and calculated a route within about 35 seconds. In New York City, the Jack had a harder time grabbing a signal, so you’ll want to take that into consideration when you’re planning to use the device to move around larger cities.
The Samsung Jack has a 3.2-MP camera, which, in theory, is better than the BlackBerry Bold’s 2-MP camera and on a par with the Nokia E71x. Shots taken around New York City in various lighting conditions came out well. A picture of a “Hot Dogs For Sale” sign on a pushcart showed bright green and yellow colors. Another shot of two friends was Facebook-worthy on our PC, albeit a bit blurry. The Jack has a night mode, but shots we took were grainy and similar to those from the flash-toting E71x, both of which produced a green tint. And the Jack’s camcorder records video clips in an unimpressive 320 x 240 or 176 x 144 resolution.
Call Quality and Battery Life
The Jack had very good call quality. During a few days of testing, we didn’t experience any dropped calls, and a message left on a landline voicemail came through loud and clear with minimal background noise. The phone lasted an entire weekend with moderate use, but if you’re planning to use it for heavy Web surfing and to make lengthy phone calls, you’ll want to bring along the charger for weekend trips.
At $99.99, the Jack is a good bang-for-your-buck smart phone. Although we favor the superthin design and standard Web browser on the Nokia E71x, the Jack is an attractive phone that feels great in your hand. Moreover, this device will support Microsoft’s new Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system when it becomes available, making the Jack somewhat futureproof.