Samsung BlackJack II Review

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$149

Pros: Stylish design with convenient jog wheel; Fast HSDPA data; Improved battery life; Very good call quality; Built-in GPS

Cons: Poor and slow camera; No Wi-Fi; Doesn't support over-the-air music downloads

Verdict: It should be called the 1.5, but the BlackJack 2 is still one of the best value-priced smart phones.

The original Samsung BlackJack was one of our favorite Windows Mobile phones because of all the features it delivered for a low price, including 3G data and support for Cellular Video and XM radio. The Windows Mobile 6-powered sequel sports a sexier design and a lot of other improvements, including a beefier battery, more internal memory, and GPS navigation support. There's really not much innovation going on here, but for $149, the BlackJack II has all the makings of a successful sequel.

Slick Design, New Jog Wheel

With its glossy black body, smoky glass-like menu keys, and sliver accents on the side, this smart phone is certainly more attractive than the original. The BlackJack II is also slightly heavier (4.1 ounces versus 3.5 ounces) and a tad thicker than its predecessor. That's because a larger 1700-mAh battery offers more than double the BlackJack's talk time.

The BlackJack II is a bit slippery for our tastes, and it picked up fingerprint smudges too easily. On the plus side, the bulge on the back of the device beneath the camera made making calls comfortable.
The front of the BlackJack II houses a new spinning jog wheel that doubles as a D-pad, which made scrolling through lists and Web pages on the 2.4-inch display simple. The LCD looked a tad dim next to Motorola's Moto Q Global but not alarmingly so.

Another welcome design change is the retooled keyboard. Finally, all of the numbers are close together for faster dialing (instead of being separated by letters, as on the original BlackJack). Some may prefer the Moto Q Global's plumper keyboard, but we were able to type on this taller, more compact layout almost as quickly. Quick-launch keys for the browser, Cellular Video, camera, and e-mail line the bottom of the layout.


Design Dislikes

What we couldn't do as quickly as we'd like was adjust the volume; the BlackJack II's extra height forced us to slide the device down in our hand to activate the volume keys on the top-left side. We're also not too keen on the Power button's location on the very top of the device; we'd much prefer that the End key on the front take on this function.
The microSD Card slot is on the right side, and the proprietary charging/syncing connector, which doubles as a headphone jack, is on the left side. Samsung doesn't include headphones or a 3.5mm adapter, but the BlackJack II does have stereo Bluetooth on board for listening to tunes and making calls with a wireless headset. We paired the phone using the Motorola MOTOROKR S9 and enjoyed hiccup-free XM Radio Mobile streaming.

BlackJack II Messaging

Like most Windows Mobile phones, the BlackJack II offers excellent integration with Outlook and the ability to read and edit e-mail attachments with Office Mobile. AT&T's push-enabled Xpress Mail client did a decent jobupdating our Inbox, which Windows Mobile 6 makes easy to search.
The included instant messaging application offers support for AOL, Windows Live, and Yahoo. It took a relatively brisk 20 seconds for it to sign into Yahoo and load our contact list. We liked that the BlackJack II notified us of incoming messages when we had other apps open.
IT managers will appreciate that this is one of the first devices from AT&T to support System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, Microsoft's end-to-end security and management solution for Windows Mobile devices. Support for Exchange Server also comes standard.

Video Share and GPS On Board

Two of the most notable upgrades from the original BlackJack require an additional monthly investment. Video Share lets you conduct one-way video calls, and this is the first AT&T smart phone with this feature. The cost is pretty steep ($4.99 per month for 25 minutes of use, $9.99 for 60 minutes), and the other person will need to have an AT&T Video Share phone, too, but it might be worth the splurge for road warriors who want to stay in touch with the family. We'll update this review once we've had a chance to test the BlackJack II with another Video Share device.
Purchasing TeleNav GPS Navigator seems like a wiser investment, which offers unlimited turn-by-turn directions, traffic info, and local search for $9.99 per month. The BlackJack II did a good job rendering the 3D maps, and we liked the ability to search for the lowest gas prices based on our location. You're not limited to TeleNav, either. Garmin Mobile XT, which is a plug-and-play microSD Card-based solution, offers many of the same features and involves a one-time fee of $99.

Faster than the Original BlackJack

Under the hood, the BlackJack II offers smoother performance than its predecessor, thanks to Samsung's doubling the amount of memory, to 128MB of RAM from 64MB, and to 256MB of ROM, up from 128MB. The 260-MHz processor (up from 220 MHz) loaded applications pretty quickly, and having multiple programs open didn't slow things down much.

Speedy Web Surfing

Surfing the Web was quick using the BlackJack II's 3.6-Mbps HSDPA connection. It took only 9 seconds to load NYTimes.com and 40 seconds to load the more graphics-heavy Gizmodo.com, although we could start reading the site within 15 seconds. Samsung throws in an RSS reader, so you can catch up on the latest headlines without surfing to multiple sites. It took a mere 38 seconds to update eight feeds, including BBC News, CBS Financial, NYT: Home Page, and Yahoo U.S. News, all of which include images. The app also makes searching for and adding feeds simple.

Entertainmentand the BlackJack II

The BlackJack II doesn't support over-the-air music downloads as some other AT&T handsets do, but you can access XM Radio Mobile ($8.99 per month), which offered a pretty smooth stream on our tests, so long as you can put up with its tinny audio quality.

Unlike the Moto Q Global, the BlackJack II offers full-screen video streaming via Cellular Video. That's not exactly a blessing given the blurry picture quality and slightly out-of-sync audio, but it's better than staring at a postage stamp-sized window. It took 17 seconds for the device to start playing an ESPN SportsCenter Minute update, and although the anchor looked a tad pixelated, we had no problem making out the highlights and scores.

Shooting Photos and Video

Samsung upped the camera resolution from 1.3 megapixels to 2 megapixels. Unfortunately, you'll appreciate the extra detail only if you're shooting a still life or landscape. The BlackJack II struggled mightily with shots that had any movement, and we noticed a significant shutter delay. We were more impressed with the camcorder, which captures 320 x 240-pixel footage. Playback on our notebook looked decent in a small QuickTime window, and the footage is just good enough for YouTube.

Voice Quality & Battery Life

Call quality was solid on our tests in Manhattan and New Jersey. We left two messages on a landline, one from inside an office and one from the street, and the audio was clear in both cases. One caller said he could hear a little bit of background noise when we made a call from Times Square but that otherwise the quality was very good. The Samsung BlackJack II lasted nearly 3 days on a charge with intermittent use and push e-mail enabled, but you should expect to charge the phone at least every other day with heavier data use.

BlackJack II Verdict

AT&T customers looking for a full-featured and affordable smart phone will like the Samsung BlackJack II. It lacks many of the Moto Q Global's bells and whistles, such as the Opera Mobile browser and Documents To Go, but it also costs $50 less. Windows Mobile fans may prefer the identically priced T-Mobile Shadow, which offers Wi-Fi and a slicker user interface, but it has a clunkier keyboard and doesn't offer 3G data. Although the BlackJack II doesn't offer enough new features to warrant an upgrade for BlackJack owners, first-time smart phone buyers and those looking to upgrade their older BlackBerry or Treo won't find a better device for work and play for the price.


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Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier AT&T
Form Factor Candy Bar
Data HSPDA
Internal Memory 128MB RAM, 256MB ROM
Memory Expansion Type TransFlash/MicroSD
Display (main) 2.4 inches (320 x 240 pixels/65,000 colors)
GPS No
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth Stereo
FM Radio Yes
Camera Resolution 2 MP
Talk / Standby Time 7 hours/14 days
Size 4.4 x 2.3 x 0.4 inches
Weight 4.1 ounces
Company Website http://www.wireless.att.com