Samsung BlackJack Review

Samsung BlackJack

“Different, sure, but Samsung also has vastly increased the level of difficulty for this device's primary function, making a call.”
  • Windows Mobile 5; thin and slim; MicroSD card slot; extra battery and charger included
  • Poorly designed and tightly constricted keypad; non-standard headphone jack
MSRP $0.01

Summary

At some point cell phone designers will stop screwing around with the keypad layout. To help differentiate its otherwise slammin’ Blackjack (aka SGH-1607), available from Cingular for $499.99 (or $199.99 with the usual contract commitment stipulations), Samsung’s industrial designers could not resist screwing with the numeric keypad. Instead of integrating the standard three-by-three plus 0 arrangement into the QWERTY layout like every other Smartphone extant, they’ve instead bizarrely alternated the grey number keys with black alpha keys. In other words, the 1/E key is next to the @/R button instead of the 2. What in the Sam Hill were they thinking? Different sure, but Samsung also has vastly increased the level of difficulty for this device’s primary function — making a phone call. Talk about your fatal flaws.

If you can somehow look beyond this inexplicable hiccup, you’ll be rewarded with an otherwise wonderfully sleek and slim Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone that exceeds normal cell speed limits on Cingular’s new 3G HSDPA/UMTS network with access to the carrier’s vast array of streaming video and music services.

Features and Design

Your first instinct will be to compare the Blackjack to the Motorola Q. Resist the temptation. Yes, the Smartphones are quite similar, but the Q is available only from Verizon and the Blackjack is available only from Cingular. If you’re a Verizon subscriber/Q user, you’ve got a slightly superior phone (if we’re forced to compare), so there is no reason to consider switching. Q’s slightly larger surface real estate — at 2.5 v. 2.3 inches, it’s a bit wider than the Blackjack — actually works to its advantage. There’s more room for its LCD screen (2.5 v. 2.2 inches) and its QWERTY keypad. If you’re a T-Mobile user looking to make a change, the Q is $100 less. ‘Nuff said.

More logical comparisons for the Blackjack are the other Smartphones Cingular offers, such as the Nokia E62, the Treo 680 and the varying Blackberrys. But comparing the Blackjack to Cingular’s other Smartphones is more of a software choice — Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone vs. Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC (for touch screens) vs. Symbian (Nokia) vs. Palm (Treo) vs. Blackberry — which is another discussion entirely. At press time, the Blackjack is Cingular’s only Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone phone, which literally puts it in a class by itself. But what sets the Blackjack apart from its Cingular cousins is its blazing fast HSDPA/UMTS speed and, therefore, access to Cingular’s copious amount of multimedia content. Its quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE – 850/900/1800/1900 MHz capabilities combined with the global reach of HSDPA/UMTS networks also makes the Blackjack a world phone.

Samsung also is heralding the Blackjack’s slimmer profile (4.4 x 2.3 x .5 inches), which is not really an advantage over other Smartphones. All that’s required of a Smartphone is that it fit comfortably in a breast shirt or sports jacket pocket. All Smartphones meet this criteria, even though at 3.5 ounces, the Blackjack won’t sag a breast pocket as much as the 4.1 ounce Q or the 4.7 Blackberry 8700c. Regardless of Blackjack’s diminutiveness, however, it’s still too bulky to fit in a pants pocket, where buttons are accidentally activated and the exposed screen scratched by keys, loose change and other pocket flotsam.

What also sets the Blackjack apart from Cingular’s other Smartphones is its ridiculous alphanumeric array. Dialing becomes a game of Finding Waldo, except there’s nothing red to aid the search. Not only are the number keys not bunched together, but their dark grey color blends with the nearly identical neighboring black keys, more hue harrowing given Blackjack’s matt black surface. Beaming white character backlighting helps this black-on-black confusion considerably in dimmer ambient lighting conditions, but you’ll be frustrated in sunlight and bright rooms. And with less girth, the keys also are bunched a bit more tightly than on other Smartphones, making it difficult to avoid adjacent key hits during text and email message composing.

Samsung BlackJack
Image Courtesy of Samsung

Features and Design Cont’d

Some punctuation keys also are confusing. Activating the quotes mark on the period/quote mark key and the question mark on the comma/question mark key are Function rather than Shift functions. Shifting still gives you the bottom mark. But the pound key on the "vibrate mode" is activated via the Shift key. And the Space key is less than half the length as those on the Blackberry and Q; we often accidentally hit the adjacent #/vibrate key instead.

Also suffering from Blackjack’s constriction is its circular navigation pad. Nearly flush with the surface, action activation requires a dainty exactitude. But combined with the navigation pad’s snug proximity to surrounding keys, there’ll be accidental function launches despite your best efforts. Because the spine scroll wheel on Windows’ Smartphones isn’t as smart as the Blackberry’s (for instance, you can’t use the wheel to scroll across the top row of applications that headline the Windows Mobile 5 home screen), you’ll need the navigation pad more often than you’d like.

BlackJack KeyboardOtherwise, the Blackjack offers the usual array of high-end Smartphone phone features — push/pull personal and corporate email, instant (AOL, MSN, Yahoo!) and text messaging capabilities, a 1.3 MP camera/camcorder, MP3 player that can play back MP3, AAC and WMA tracks, speakerphone.

Blackjack also offers Stereo Bluetooth. But specs from both Samsung and Cingular confusingly list it as "Bluetooth 2.0" instead of "Stereo Bluetooth," both corporate entities stupidly assuming everyone knows that Bluetooth 2.0 means stereo. Everyone doesn’t and shouldn’t.

And everyone doesn’t want to bother with Bluetooth, stereo or not. But instead of a standard 2.5mm headphone jack for those who favor physical connections, Blackjack is equipped with a proprietary plug and, even more annoying, no earphone is included in the box. In fact, there’s isn’t even a mono earphone available. If you want wired conversation, you have to buy the $39.99 Music Bundle, which includes stereo earbuds. A data cable is included, thankfully, along with an extra battery and a handy separate charger, but a belt clip is extra.

Performance

Once you get past the keypad insanity, the Blackjack performs as advertised. With its HSDPA power, Blackjack accessed Cingular’s MediaNet Web home page twice as fast as using EDGE on the Blackberry 8700c. Web pages took only around five seconds to load, and streaming video took only about 10 seconds to start playing.

Blackjack’s 2.2-inch 320 x 240 pixel 65k color screen is a hair brighter and cleaner than the well-respected Q’s, the difference so barely perceptible that it’s hardly worth mentioning, but it produces far more contrast than the 8700c’s screen.

BlackJackConsidering its high-tech positioning, the inclusion of a 1.3 MP camera, rather than a 2 MP or higher imager found on lesser Samsung models, is a bit surprising. But like other Samsung cell cams, the Blackjack suffers from severe shutter lag. You need to wait a full second for an image to be captured after pushing the capture button, plenty of time for your subject to move out-of-frame, or just move, creating a blurred image — or for you to move the phone mistakenly thinking the scene captured but ending up with nothing but blurry streaks. While there’s a self-portrait mirror, there’s no flash, another curious omission.

For voice, connections were mostly uniform and free from echo and interference. Oddly, the microphone is on the bottom right of the Blackjack’s front surface, rather than on the bottom left as on the Q and the Blackberry 8700c. If you’re right-eared, the mic ends up under your chin rather than across from your mouth. We often had to hold the phone more vertically across our cheek to make sure our end of the call could be heard clearly. Blackjack’s rear-mounted speakerphone meant turning the phone depending on who was talking to make sure both callee and caller could hear.

Bowing to the power needs of HSDPA and its multimedia functionality, Blackjack offers 5.5 hours of talk time compared to Q’s 3.9 and Blackberry’s 4 hours, not to mention the extra battery Samsung supplies — although the battery cover is a bitch to pry off.

Conclusion

Why, oh why, did Samsung shuffle Blackjack’s keyboard? Blessed with Blackjack’s blazing HSDPA online speed and superior multimedia features, one could easily ignore this handset’s other petty peccadilloes. But why purposely place unnecessary and unreasonable hurdles to a cell phone’s primary function? How great your need for a speedy smartphone will determine how much you’ll put up with hunt-and-peck dialing.

Pros:

• Slim and stylish
• HSDPA/UMTS compatibility
• Bright, crisp LCD screen
• Extra battery and charger included
• Music player with Stereo Bluetooth
• MicroSD card slot

Cons:

• Badly arranged alphanumeric keypad
• No wired headphone included
• Lengthy camera shutter lag

Editors' Recommendations