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Know When to Hold ‘Em

Up next for the title of BlackBerry killer: The not-so-originally named Samsung BlackJack, which comes awfully close to claiming the belt, but loses out on a few technicalities. (And here you thought I was going to use a poker metaphor!)

Up next for the title of BlackBerry killer: The not-so-originally named Samsung BlackJack, which comes awfully close to claiming the belt, but loses out on a few technicalities.
(And here you thought I was going to use a poker metaphor!)

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The newest addition to the Cingular lineup of smart phones, the BlackJack is about the same length as the Motorola Q, but shaves a quarter inch from the width, making it feel less like you’re holding a piece of toast next to your ear when you go to make a call. It’s very light – 3 1/2 ounces, making it almost toylike, but a slightly rubberized grip on the back is a big improvement over similar devices.

Of course, each time you shrink a smart phone, you make tradeoffs when it comes to the QWERTY keypad, and the BlackJack is no exception. While I didn’t make too many mistakes, I always typed in fear of mashing a few keys with one misplaced thumb. It was probably for this reason that Samsung spaced the number keys out, so while they’re paired with letter keys (“E” and 1, “T” and 2, “U” and 3, etc.) there’s a letter, sans number, in between.

My main problem, as would prove to be the case with other aspects of the design, was that it was thiiiiis close to being perfect. If you’ll notice in the image, the number keys are grey instead of black, but are much darker in person than they are in the image, so even with backlit numbers, it takes a little more brainpower than you’d expect to start dialing in a number. Admittedly, it isn’t much, but still…

Two other design features that fell just short of being perfect was the 4-way doughnut-shaped button on the front of the device, and the thumb wheel on the right-hand side. The button on the front (which, if you’re left-handed, you’ll probably use more than the scroll wheel) was handy for navigating, but it wasn’t raised enough from the four keys around it. This was especially aggravating when I would be in the middle of scrolling through something and my thumb would inadvertently hit the “end” button, taking me out of whatever application I was in and bringing me back to the main menu.

As is the case with every device that knows how to use it well, the scroll wheel was very handy, although I found it rather stiff, especially when pressing it inwards to open a folder or application–so much so that I found myself trying to use the “back” button right below it instead, which of course doesn’t work either. The other nitpick? On the first screen, there are a number of icons arranged horizontally of the most recently used applications, but you can’t use the scroll wheel to cycle through them. Instead, turning the wheel brings you vertically down the screen, through a text list that doesn’t fully take advantage of the BlackJack’s bright screen. This, though, seems to be more of a problem with the Windows Mobile software than anything else.

Cingular has packed the BlackJack with a number of their different applications, like Cingular’s music and video download service (as well as XM radio), that make it more of a lifestyle device than a purely business-oriented gadget. If you can get over the relatively small size of the screen compared to the plasma monolith you’ve got hanging on your wall at home, the video is remarkably clear and smooth, and the speaker on the back kicks out a lot of sound for its size, and, equipped with stereo Bluetooth, you can also listen using remote speakers. However–and this should come as no surprise–using said services all cost extra and chew up the battery very quickly. I should have guessed as much when I opened the box and saw an extra battery and charger included.

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Oh wait – you can make calls on this thing, pretty much anywhere in the world, since the phone operates using GPRS, and the reception in the New York area, where I tested the phone, was very clear. The 1.3 megapixel camera takes decent enough pictures and videos, and has a fair number of options to adjust the size and characteristics of the photos. So all in all, the BlackJack falls about a face card shy of a royal flush.