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May 11, 2007

Samsung Black Jack: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Samsung's new Black Jack Smartphone was omnipresent at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. It was heralded from giant posters on buildings, banners, bags, billboards, signs on cabs, and probably from the sky, if you looked up.

Samsung's megabooth at the show was no less impressive. Is the Black Jack worth all the fanfare?
Last year the Motorola Q was the darling of the Smartphone world, but the Black Jack has definitely impinged on its territory. A quick, superficial comparison shows that the Black Jack is smaller and sexier. I never could understand why the Q needed those big hips to accommodate such a small screen.

The Black Jack is much slimmer than the Q, and I would say that slim is in. It accommodates a crystal clear 320x240 color TFT screen in landscape orientation. Below that, we have a five-way navigation panel with OK button surrounded by left/right softkeys, home and back buttons, talk and end buttons. The end button also serves to lock the keys. There is an earpiece at the top of the screen and a microphone below the keyboard

Also on the front panel, you will find a unique QWERTY keyboard that separates the dual function number keys that help to eliminate input error on keys too closely spaced together. Notice that each column of number keys is separated by a column of non-numbers. The number key and the key directly to its right both function as number keys so that the number key is actually two keys wide. Very nice.

On the top of the device, you will find a dual function power switch. Depressing it quickly will result in a useful Quik Menu that lets you select these functions: Power Off, Wireless Manager, Key Lock, Device Lock, and the following modes--Normal, Silent , Meeting, Outdoor, Automatic, Headset, and Speakerphone. I like this instant, time-saving access. At the extreme right is a hole for attaching a lanyard if you want to dangle it around your neck.

From top to bottom on the right side we find a hidden compartment for a micro SD card. Next is a scroll wheel handy for navigation and launching applications when pushed. Finally, there is a button that cycles backward to the previous function. If there are no more previous functions, it will turn off the machine, but it will not turn it on again.

There is nothing on the bottom panel, but the left side houses a rocker volume control switch. Below that is the goofiest thing I can imagine. It's a concealed, proprietary charging port to which you can attach to an AC charger or a USB cable. It is also where you attach headphones, external speakers, or earbuds, none of which come with the unit. You'd think with a silly connector such as this, a set of earphones would come in the box. To make matters worse, I have not seen an adapter. Why in the world couldn't Samsung just used a 3.5 mm jack like everyone else. Why couldn't Samsung just use a mini USB connector, which is common and convenient? I really don't appreciate have to lug around a spider web of different cables when I travel.

I can tell you right now that you will be a frequent visitor to this pitiful port because the battery life is not great. For this reason, I suppose, you get an extra battery in the box. You also get a strange plastic case at least four times the size of the battery that allows you to charge an extra battery from AC or USB. You get cables for this purpose, but why not simply supply a cradle that would hold the device while charging and synchronizing and have a compartment to charge a spare battery? There is no cradle available for this device at any price at the moment.

Toward the top of the back, you will find the 1.3 MPX camera lens, speaker, and self-portrait mirror all set in a protruding panel that kind of interferes with the otherwise slim girlish figure. There is no flash. While the 1.3 MPX camera is not great, the camera comes loaded with some nice software that allows you to manipulate your photos.
This small svelte device feels so good cuddled in your hand that it's as if it were grafted there. Part of that good feeling comes from the black rubberized case that enhances its tenacity. It measures 4.4x2.3x5 inches and only weighs an amazing 3.5 ounces cram-packed with software.

The Black Jack sports a 220 MHz processor by Texas Instruments, which is fairly respectable for a WM5 Smartphone, But it astonishes me that it's not a Samsung processor. This quad band GSM/GPRS/EDGE phone offers dual band 3G UMTS/HSDPA data and Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity. I am sorely disappointed that the Black Jack does not offer Wi-Fi connectivity. What a shame.

It comes with the following pre-loaded programs from Microsoft: Tasks, Calendar, Messaging, Speed Dial, Call History, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player 10, Voice Notes, Camera an dVideo Recorder, Task Manager, ActiveSync, Calculator, Bubble Breaker, Solitaire, Pocket MSN, Pictures &^ Videos, Modem Link Download Agent, File Manager. From Cingular, you get MEdiaNet, Cingular Mail,

Music Communities, Music Apps, Piscel Viewer, and RSS Reader
One of the really cool applications is Music ID that allows you to listen to music from an external source, and it then identifies it from an online database. It then gives you the opportunity to buy a ringtone of that tune. Most of the media oriented applications are subscription services.

Piscel Viewer allows you to view, but not create or edit, many document formats such as Word, Excel, .pdf, and PowerPoint. To be really productive on the road, you should be able to use your portable device to create and edit documents.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
I do not want to seem completely negative, for I do not feel that way at all about this rather spectacular Smartphone. I like it and recommend it highly. However, there are some annoying features or lack of features that puzzle me.

I consider that goofy multi-functional charging/syncing/audio port connector to be an incredibly unfortunate choice because it will not connect to any standard equipment. This drools big time. Next time around I hope there will be a 3.5 mm audio jack and a mini-USB port.

I am a little surprised that Samsung only offers a 1.3 MPX camera when so many new models are coming out with 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 MPX. Some even have flash. I'd have to say this drools too.
Another disappointment is the short battery life. If seems as if I'm continually swapping batteries. If you decide to acquire this device, take along some spare batteries, and you will be fine, but basically this drools.

I suppose I wish that there were more accessories in the box such as a case, a cradle, and at least some ear buds that fit the funny audio port.

The biggest disappointment I consider a double drool, and that is the lack of Wi-Fi. Having 3G connectivity is not a suitable excuse, as far as I'm concerned.

What really rules about the Black Jack is simply its compact, slim design and the way it feels in your hand with the texturized rubber case. It looks good, and it feels good.

The Bluetooth 2.0 radio rules and somewhat makes up for that inept audio connector because you can use wireless stereo headphones.

This sleek, little device provides you with great connectivity in a small package while functioning as an entertainment center with some productivity tools that can stand some improving, which is really not a problem with third party applications.

In the final analysis, there is a lot to like about the Samsung/Cingular Black Jack, and I think anyone who wants a small and powerful handheld communicator will be pleased with this unit. Let's face it; it is one sexy little package that almost anyone would be proud to pack. Basically, the Black Jack rules a lot more than it drools.

It will cost you $199.99 with a two-year service plan from Cingular.

Incidentally, there's nothing ugly about the Samsung Black Jack.

Posted by tim at May 11, 2007 07:53 PM