Samsung's Winning BlackJack

While it has a few flaws, this smartphone offers versatility, plus impressive call and photo quality

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Lightweight, ultra-slim design; excellent call and photo quality

The Bad: Lacks Wi-Fi; cramped navigation keys; poor battery life

The Bottom Line: This do-it-all smartphone can serve as an everyday cell phone

With a product name like BlackJack, a reviewer is tempted to make all sorts of gambling references. But the Samsung BlackJack phone turns out to be no gamble at all. If you are in the market for a smartphone (and not interested in saving your pennies for Apple's (AAPL) iPhone), then the Samsung BlackJack is for you.

The BlackJack immediately sets itself apart from the competition in one important aspect. For the moment, it is the thinnest Qwerty smartphone on the market. With a svelte 0.4-in. depth, it is smaller than the Motorola Q (0.45 in.), T-Mobile Dash (0.5 in.), or BlackBerry Pearl (0.57 in.). In addition, the BlackJack (3.52 oz.) is lighter than both the Q (4 oz.) and Dash (4.2 oz.), but not the Pearl (3.1 oz.). Overall, its weight and depth make the BlackBerry an attractive device. In a more perfect world, all smartphones would resemble the BlackJack.

Of course, our world is far from perfect. Thus, I have issues with the size of traditional smartphones; most are either too thick or too wide to be used comfortably as a cell phone. But Samsung has seemingly alleviated those concerns. By developing a slim smartphone that boasts a soft black rubberized coat, Samsung Electronics (SSNGY) has created a beautiful device that no longer makes you feel as though you're holding R2-D2 to your face.

Testy Toggle

But shrinking smartphones aren't without their own problems. A slimmer design tends to leave you with a smaller keyboard, and the BlackJack is no stranger to this issue. The BlackJack has hard keys that are raised, giving the user a better feel for the keyboard, but it still took me a day to get used to. With time, though, the keyboard became less of an issue.

However, I had a problem with the BlackJack's circular, four-way directional toggle, which is located in the middle of the phone between the call and end-call buttons. As I was browsing the Internet, I would accidentally hit the end-call button, sending me back to the home screen. Fortunately, the BlackJack has a thumbwheel on the right side that allows for more efficient browsing and navigation.

Samsung loaded the BlackJack with a seemingly endless set of features and applications. The phone boasts Windows Mobile 5.0, complete with Microsoft Office Outlook Mobile. The phone also gives users the ability to view Microsoft Office files including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. These programs not only add to the phone's excellent organizational abilities but also supplement its overall ease of use.

Beyond software, few smartphones match the BlackJack's versatility. The call quality of this phone is great, and the speakerphone is loud and clear. Here's an added bonus: I was able to take surprisingly clear pictures with the phone's 1.3-megapixel camera. The photos looked terrific on the BlackJack's bright, 320x240-pixel, 2.3-in. display. The phone also has a camcorder mode, 2x digital zoom, Bluetooth 2.0, and a micro SD memory slot to boost storage capacity. (The BlackJack ships with 64MB of RAM.) The micro SD card should come in handy as Samsung includes a USB cable in the box, allowing one to transfer documents, music, and videos from PC to phone.

Good Value

Yet, for all that the BlackJack has to offer, don't expect to pay a king's ransom. With a two-year plan from Cingular Wireless (T), the BlackJack can be purchased for $199.99. This low price may be another selling point to some, but don't go running to your nearest Cingular store just yet. Since Samsung has used Windows Mobile 5.0 instead of the usual Pocket PC software, the BlackJack can only view Microsoft Office files—no editing or creating. So, if you work on the go, the BlackJack is not for you.

I also would have liked to see WiFi on the BlackJack. In a world where coffee shops provide wireless signals as if they were digital lattes, why would Samsung decide to leave out Wi-Fi? Still, interestingly enough, after using the BlackJack consistently for a few weeks, I did not mind the lack of Wi-Fi. Cingular advertises that its 3G network is a reliable, high-speed data network. Think of it as broadband Internet for your phone.

The 3G network gives users the ability not only to surf the Web but to access Cingular's video and music services. Browsing the Internet was just as smooth. Plus, the BlackJack can handle your daily routine without much fuss; the device supports numerous instant-messaging programs (AIM, MSN, and Yahoo) as well as POP3, IMAP, and SMTP e-mail accounts. But be warned, as with any 3G-enabled smartphone, battery consumption remains a major drawback. The BlackJack—which runs five to eight hours on a charge—is sold with a second battery for a reason.

Yet, even with its battery deficiencies, I'm still a big fan of the BlackJack. It performed admirably as a cell phone, and the combination of its browsing capabilities and size make it quite irresistible. Or, as some would prefer, a safe bet.

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