Samsung BlackJack II (SGH-i617) Review

Samsung BlackJack II (SGH-i617)

“The BlackJack II offers the best of the original: the power of a PDA with the ease of a basic Smartphone.”
  • Simple to use; stylish and compact; affordable
  • Poor video quality; inconsistent media downloading; headphones are not included
MSRP $0.01

Summary

Originally released in 2006, the first BlackJack gave more high-end (and expensive) handhelds a run for their money with its sleek design, easy use and overall approachable setup. The new BlackJack isn’t so much a redesign as it is an upgrade. Lovers of the original will be happy, but it isn’t different enough to attract anyone new.

Features and Design

Not unlike the original, the BlackJack II will fit almost entirely in an adult male’s palm, making it wider than the average phone, but still smaller than a PDA. The tasty size makes it both inviting and compact. A flat, one-piece phone, the BlackJack II has a widescreen on its upper half, and while well sized for the device, an additional inner border across the top and bottom make the actual viewing screen smaller. (To be fair, the BlackJack II screen has an excellent backlighting, which makes it easy to view in an otherwise dark room.) The navigator is the traditional circular dial surrounded by call start and call end buttons, two generic menu keys, an erase button and a very handy “home” key to take you back to the main screen. Below the dial is a full QWERTY keypad, each button wonderfully raised and defined like corn on a cob. The number buttons are in a 3 x 3 square, starting with the letter “E”. Space bar aside, there are a smattering of quick keys on the bottom row including camera, email and Internet.

The silver-and-ebony BlackJack II is smooth to touch, probably because it has very few accessories on its edges. On the right side of the phone is a microSD card slot, on the left is a closable headphone/USB jack and volume buttons, and at the very top is an on/off switch. The lens for the 2.0 MegaPixel camera is on the very back.

The Samsung BlackJack II is 3G, so it is one of the faster phones on AT&T’s network. The proprietary MEdiaNet gives fast access to news, sports and so forth. The available videos seemed to download slower than other 3G phones, and a couple videos shut down halfway through loading. While the regular menus are crisp, the Internet video resolutions were bumpy compared to other 3G phones, with a quality closer to a YouTube video than a high-res download. The internal memory may have been part of the challenge, so a microSD card should definitely be budgeted into purchase.

Samsung BlackJack II
Image Courtesy of Samsung

Setup and Use

The BlackJack II doesn’t come with much equipment, which is less an error and more a testament to its simplicity. Expect to pull out a thin instruction booklet, power plug, Windows Mobile 6 CD and a USB connector. The only disappointment is the lack of headphones, which must be purchased separately.

Phone calls are straightforward and clear, and the equally effective email system works with AOL, Yahoo! and others. The same goes for Instant Messenger. The 2-megapixel camera isn’t so bad for a phone, but any photos or video requires a good, consistent light source. Pressing the camera button on the keypad turns it on quickly, and pressing the right menu button switches the still camera to a video camera. Both can be easily attached to email or text messages.

The phone will hot sync after installing Windows Mobile 6, which will take about ten minutes to download from the CD onto your PC. It will then ask you to set up the appropriate Microsoft Outlook email account to sync with the BlackJack II. The phone seemed to run without any hiccups and transfer the appropriate files, including Internet Explorer bookmarks.

The BlackJack II uses AT&T Mobile Music, a service that offers $.99 USD music singles on the go, as well as a XM radio trial subscription and free music videos. Unlike other recent AT&T phones like the LG CU515, Samsung wisely includes a USB wire to transfer your music to the device. After installing Windows Mobile 6, the Windows Media Player will add a new icon representing the BlackJack II. Adding music is as simple as a drag and drop of a song, album or playlist. Each song transfer takes about ten seconds. Multimedia is easy to use on the BlackJack II: Rewind, play/pause and fast forward are done with the dial, and the music and video libraries can be organized by artist, theme/genre, and so on. The speakers aren’t that loud, so don’t expect to share the tunes with other people. It is likely more effective with the headphones – which, of course, you have to buy on your own.

Price

AT&T’s BlackJack II runs for $349.99 USD, which isn’t a ridiculous price, but the usual two-year commitment discount (minus $150) and the current $100 mail-in rebate puts it at $99.99 USD, an excellent price. The phone is part of AT&T’s Talk, Text, and Web plan, which starts at $90/month for unlimited web, video, email and messaging.

Considering its multimedia needs, add a microSD card – and potentially headphones – to the bill. Check www.attwireless.com for the latest prices.

Conclusion

The BlackJack II offers the best of the original: the power of a PDA with the ease of a basic Smartphone. The video does leave a bit to be desired, as does the Internet download speed, but people would be hard pressed to find a more affordable – and let’s face it, stylish – multimedia phone.

Pros:

• Easy to use
• Stylish and compact
• Affordable

Cons:

• Clunky video
• Bumpy multimedia downloading
• Headphones are not included