I bought the Samsung BlackJack that I mentioned the other day. I’ve been using it on and off throughout the weekend, and so here are my initial thoughts:
Pros:

  • The form factor is incredible. The device is about the same height and width as the Treo, but it is considerably thinner and much lighter. Actually, the form factor is probably closer to that of the Motorola Q (which is not available for Cingular customers), but unlike that device, the BlackJack feels solid and rugged. It’s also remarkably comfortable to hold next to your ear.
  • The back (which includes half of the depth) of the device is rubber coated. This makes it very comfortable to hold, it just grips and feels right in your hand.
  • The scroll wheel (for which the BlackBerry is famed) is well placed, intuitive to use, and just plain works. This is a big plus, and scroll wheels should be the standard on all devices like this.
  • The screen is very sharp and clear. It’s small, smaller than the Treo and much smaller than the absolutely perfect Nokia E62 screen, but it is still easy to read and very bright.
  • The device is very responsive, easily as fast as the Treo (650), faster than the other Windows devices I’ve used (including the Cingular 8125 and the Treo 700), and orders of magnitude faster than the Symbian devices I have tried of late (including that horribly sluggish E62).
  • Audio quality is great, both on my end and on the other end of the connection.
  • Cell coverage is really good, this phone works in places where my Treo (and former Sony Ericsson devices) could get no coverage at all. (Incidentally, the Nokia was just as good in this respect).
  • Bluetooth support is decent, although not great. I’m listing Bluetooth as a pro because at the end of the day it does work with every device (including my car). But at the same time, it does not publish extended data (cell and battery strength), it does not always easily switch from headset (the one in my ear) to headset (my car). Although, to be fair, the week I spent with the Nokia E62 significantly raised the bar for what Bluetooth support should be, and frankly, I have yet to see any other vendor implement Bluetooth as perfectly as Nokia did in that device, and I doubt I’ll be satisfied with any other Bluetooth implementations now.
  • The phone comes with 2 batteries, that’s the good news. The bad news is that the second battery is needed, see below.
  • The 3G support is really good, and very fast. When it works, that is. More on that below, too.
  • The basic apps are great, although that is more a Windows Mobile function than the device itself.

Cons:

  • The screen is small. I know I listed this already under pros, because it is, it helps with the device form factor that I love. But at the same time, it is a bit too small for web browsing or for reading large documents or e-mails.
  • The keyboard is a bit cramped. And yes, I know I said that I like the small form factor. But the keys are a bit narrow, they are longer than the keys on the Treo, but the narrow shape makes it harder for big fingers to press just the one you want. The multi-directional toggle button is also really badly designed – it is flush with the other keys, including the red end-call key. I may get used to it, but for now I hit that end-call key way too often.
  • The text messaging app is not very good, nowhere near as good as the Treo’s one. No as-you-type lookup, and no chat mode, are the biggest flaws. But at least it isn’t the horrid integrated inbox text messaging app that other Windows devices have (like the 8125).
  • I already said that the 3G support is good, and it is, it is really fast. When it works. Every once in a while the device can’t connect to anything! I don’t know if it is the device, local coverage, or what – I’ll test it some more while on the road this week, but requests that neither respond nor time out are downright annoying!
  • Battery life is poor, definitely worse than any device I have used previously. Good thing there are two batteries!
  • The back cover is absolute pain to get on and off, and, taking into account the previous item ,this is a real problem.
  • No voice dial.
  • Speed dial keys are basically useless. One of the things I really like about the Treo is that you can instantly access what you need, there are the dedicated calendar and messaging keys, you can assign speed dials easily to any letter, and there are also one touch soft buttons on the home screen. The BlackJack has two context sensitive softkeys, and a dedicated messaging key, but only one real programmable key (on the right, and only the long press is programmable). And it appears that you can only assign speed dials to number keys, and not letters. This coupled with no voice dial (as previously mentioned) means that you’ll be digging through lists and menus far too often.
  • There seems to be a problem using ActiveSync when I am on a VPN connection. I know that this is not a Samsung issue, it’s a Microsoft ActiveSync one, but still, having to disconnect from VPN to synch the device is frustrating.

My initial reaction to the Samsung BlackJack is a very positive one, primarily because of the form factor, the feel, and the performance. So far the pros outweigh the cons (I think). More to follow.

23 thoughts

  1. Thanks for post on this. I’m a traditional cell phone user. But my work is requiring me to pick out a smartphone for work related communications, with reasonable limitations in price. Choosing one is tough without knowing what to look for, knowing what to avoid, and having the budget to try out everything.
    I traditionally view your blog for CF/Flex related news. The wireless topic is most informative. Thanks again.

  2. Thanks Ben. I’m waiting for you to find the right smartphone… I had some bad experiences in the early days and you seem to be trying to avoid the same issues I am trying to avoid. Looking forward to hearing more!

  3. I still don’t understand why you keep buying butt ugly devices that tend to never live up to your expectations. Wouldn’t an ultra-portable like a Toshiba Portege suffice? And just have a "simple" mobile phone like my humble Sony/Ericcson. Not only is the Samsung butt ugly it is also huge.
    WIth the miles you travel I am thinking you are the ideal candidate to road-test some of these devices – for free (or they should pay YOU).

  4. Peter,
    Actually, I think the Samsung BlackJack is anything but ugly, and would go so far as to say that I think it is rather good looking. 🙂
    I don’t want to carry another computer, portable or otherwise. I already travel with a notebook and every connection and add-on you could ever need (extra batteries, chargers, AC and telco adapters, 3G card, and much more). Everything on my phone/PDA is on my computer too, but there are times when I don’t want to have to power up a computer. Needing an address when you get into a taxi, a phone number lookup, a quick Google Maps lookup, quick IM or SMS messages … the list goes on and on. I fought getting a PDA for years, not wanting to have to carry additional devices and chargers etc. But eventualy I broke down and got one, and now I rely on them. So sure, I could carry a phone and a PDA (like I did for a while), but I also want to carry fewer devices and accessories, and so I want a phone/PDA combo.
    Yep, I want it all. 🙂
    — Ben

  5. Fair enough! A fine argument. But as for the road-test idea you should approach say, Samsung, why stop at being the best ColdFusion evangelist? Just draw the line at PS3 or XBox 360!

  6. I’ve heard some good stuff on other sites about this phone – it’s supposed to be pretty sweet! If anyone is interested, they’re giving away 5 of the Blackjacks on You Tube in some contest. Doesn’t look like too many people have entered it yet so the odds are pretty good right now (although i just put something up, so i guess i’m one more!). Easy way to get a free phone though: http://www.youtube.com/groups_main (Claim you fame, i think)

  7. Derek,
    Actually, yes, I am using the included RSS reader. It’s pretty good, not great, but usable. It’s good for reading the first few lines of posts, not for anything long. But still, useful.
    — Ben

  8. Gmail and Google maps do not work on this phone. Java has been crippled by Cingular
    Talked to a level 3 Samsung tech today. This is not a bug, it is a
    feature. Cingular has chosen to cripple java on the blackjack.
    According to the Java security standard
    http://jcp.org/en/jsr/detail?id=177 an untrusted midlet should be able
    to have unlimited https access with a single confimation by the user.
    Cingular was a part of that standard group, but has decided not to
    follow it. This is not the only place they use the excuse of secuity
    to keep content providers off thier network, only the newest. The best
    thing you can do is contact Cingular and demand the follow the standard
    at 1-800-331-0500. You pay for unlimited data access, why cant you use it?

  9. I have too recently purchased the Samsung Blackjack, Micro SD Card and bluetooth ear device and I have a few of questions…
    1. Is it possible to listen to the music that I have downloaded to the Micro SD card inserted in the phone via the bluetooth ear device that I have also connected to the phone? If so, how do I tell my Blackjack to make this happen?
    2. If listening to music through the bluetooth ear device is not possible, then what headset wireless or otherwise is available that will?
    3. When reading email on the Blackjack, how would I be able to view pictures and video? The file appears, but there is not way to highlight it or "click" on it???? Do I need to download a program in order view pictures and video?
    Any help would be much appreciated!!
    Thanks,
    Dawn

  10. Thanks Joe Royall for your comment on the crippled samsung Blackjack. I had my suspicions but you have confirmed them. ALL BLACKJACK users should contact Cingular immediately and complain about the fact that they have literally crippled much of the functionallity available to them through the use of Java on their machines, maybee they will release a crutch to un-cripple this otherwise fantastic little machine

  11. Just a note on the "crippled Java" implementation on the Blackjack. You don’t have to rely on Samsung / Cingular’s cruddy Java VM…IBM has one that works far better, and yes, it works with Gmail and Google Maps. It works decently well enough, although it does prompt you repeatedly to allow HTTPS for some reason. Still, far better than the POS Java VM that shipped with the phone.
    I’m actually downloading an open source one at the moment to see if it works any better:
    http://www2s.biglobe.ne.jp/~dat/java/project/jvm/index_en.html

  12. When I read emails from my Blackjack they are erased from my home computer Outlook. Any idea how to fix this? I use gmail for my email service.

  13. @Chriss:
    Check the Settings in GMail and your black, it’s probably POP’ing the emails off the server, then your outlook synchronizes with the server and removes it too.
    So you must tell it not to remove once downloaded on the blackjack.
    Cheers,

  14. Is it possible to group text-message with a BlackJack II, that is, to mutiple recipients? If you ActiveSync with Outlook and you have groups set up in Outlook, do the groups transfer over usably in the sync on the phone?

  15. I was playing around with the phone and now I can only see my Sim contacts, can you tell me how I can show both Sim contacts and phone contacts ?? thanks.

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