I couldn’t help myself. I kept calling the local AT&T stores until I found the Samsung BlackJack II that I mentioned the other day, and then I asked them to hold it for me, and dashed over to buy it. And the verdict? Well, first some pros and cons:
- Samsung has been touting the new bigger screen. And the screen is indeed larger than the BlackJack screen, but only marginally so. And at first glance the glass is indeed bigger, but then you turn the device on to discover that the actual display area is only few millimeters bigger in each direction. So, yes, bigger screen is a pro, but barely.
- Having said that, the screen is much brighter and clearer.
- The device edges are a little rounder than before, making the device more comfortable to hold for extended periods.
- The keyboard is definitely improved. The shape and size of the keys is better, as is their angle and placement./li>
- The phone buttons (including the soft keys) are better shaped, easier to press, and harder to press accidentally.
- Battery life is good, although not great. Basically, Samsung replaced the battery with a slightly bigger one (it was an optional add-on purchase before), and so the battery lasts longer.
- The device is fast, much faster than the original BlackJack. Not that the speed of that other device ever bothered me, but this one is noticeably quicker.
- The new device has added an external LED that flashes to notify you of events, a welcome addition.
- Audio quality is great.
- The new Office client apps are a welcome addition.
- The GPS is pretty slick. AT&T opted to tie the service to a specific paid provider, but a 3rd party has disclosed how to unlock the GPS so that it works with other clients, like Google Maps. And it works really well.
- The device runs a newer version of Windows mobile, and the apps are cleaner and crisper. While not truly a BlackJack II pro, it is an improvement nonetheless.
- I did not get to try the phone in Japan today (that’s a tad out of the way), but the fact that the phone will work there is a big plus.
- Ok, first the biggie. Don’t trust the hype! Sure, this device runs Windows Mobile instead of Windows Smartphone, but it’s actually Windows Mobile Standard which IS Windows Smartphone (they changed the name going from version 5 to version 6). I’d not have considered this a con if this were blatantly clear, but it’s not, and so con it is.
- And even worse, the device has the same lousy Bluetooth restriction of one active paired device at a time. You can still pair as many devices as you want, but to switch from one to the other (as in from car to headset) you need to go through menus and activate the other! Considering how many users complained about this, it is unbelievable that Samsung did not fix this major flaw.
- Bluetooth works, and works well. But the device still does not publish signal strength and battery life (something my Sony Ericsson device did 5 years ago). Basically, it’s the same okay-but-not-great Bluetooth functionality as in the original BlackJack.
- The device has a slick glossy surface. It looks cool, but after holding the phone for a few minutes it is completely smudged and looks filthy. I found myself wiping it clean constantly – very annoying.
- In addition, the new surface is actually far less comfortable than the old rubberized feel back.
- The new jog wheel is ok, but not great. It replaces the side scroll wheel, and while cool, it is not as convenient for one handed use as the scroll wheel.
- While Windows Mobile 6 looks better, and the apps are cleaner, they are still the same apps. The scheduling app is a bit better, but the SMS client is just as pathetic.
- Windows Mobile devices are unlocked using an unlock button and then the * key. So the * key needs to be prominently placed, and indeed it is on BlackJack. But BlackJack II uses the 5 key as the *, making it just that more fidgety to unlock the phone.
- Ah here’s a doozey for you. Samsung uses a proprietary adapter to charge and synch the BlackJack. And the BlackJack II also uses a proprietary adapter, but not the same one! It looks similar, but the size is slightly different. Which means that if you bought any adapters or chargers for the BlackJack you’ll need to throw them out and buy new ones for the BlackJack II. Outrageous!
The BlackJack II is an incremental improvement over the original BlackJack. This new device has retained some of what made the BlackJack so popular, but it has also retained some of the biggest flaws and limitations of that device. The biggest new benefits are the better international support and the integrated GPS, but do those justify the upgrade? I don’t think so. I can see BlackJack II appealing to users who don’t already own a similar device, but if you are a current BlackJack user then the BlackJack II is really not that compelling an upgrade.
So, the verdict? I do like the BlackJack, but it does have known flaws and limitations, none of which BlackJack II address. I am disappointed with this new device, and will be returning it tomorrow.