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Review: Samsung BlackJack a sexy smart phone

Story Highlights

• BlackJack available Nov. 16 for $199.99, with a 2-year contract
• Geared for people seeking more productivity on the road
• Navigation controls are cramped; no integrated Wi-Fi
• Delivers on its 3G capabilities
By Bonnie Cha
CNET.com
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(CNET.comexternal link) -- Cingular appears to be grabbing the lion's share of smart phones. In the last few months, the carrier has stocked its lineup with the Nokia E62, the HP iPaq hw6925, and the 3G-enabled Cingular 8525.

And now they've scored another win with the Samsung BlackJack (or Samsung SGH-i607).

The BlackJack is the second UMTS/HSPDA-capable smart phone for Cingular (the first being the 8525).

It's geared for people seeking more productivity on the road, while the Cingular 8525 (Read reviewexternal link) is better suited for the power user.

While the BlackJack certainly rivals the Motorola Q and T-Mobile Dash with its sleek design, will it show a winning hand? (A black jack reference, yes. How could we not?)

It's hard to say. Since our review unit was a pre-production model, we're holding off on a final call until we get the real thing.

That said, our initial impressions are more positive than negative. There are design issues, but the BlackJack definitely delivers on its 3G capabilities. Available November 16, the BlackJack should retail for a fair price of $199.99, with a two-year contract.

Sorry, Motorola. Your much-hyped Q can no longer claim to be the "thinnest QWERTY device in the world," as the BlackJack trumps (yet probably not for long, either).

At 4.4x2.3x0.6 inches and 3.5 ounces, it's lighter and smaller than the Q (4.5x2.5x0.4 inches; 4 ounces) and the T-Mobile Dash (4.4x2.5x0.5 inches; 4.2 ounces). The all-black casing is undeniably sexy.

The smart phone also features a similar soft-touch finish found on the Dash, and is thus easy to grip. The BlackJack also is comfortable to hold, and thanks to its slimmer body, feels more like a cell phone.

Of course, there are some trade-offs with a compact body. The phone's screen is not a touch screen, and is smaller at 2.25 inches on the diagonal when compared with the Q's 2.50-inch display and the Dash's 2.4-inch display.

Yet it's still bright, with a 65,000-color output and 320x320 pixel resolution; images and video look great, colors are bright, and text is extra sharp. The other trade-off is with navigation. The BlackJack's controls consist of two soft keys, a shortcut to the Today screen, a back button, Talk and End keys, and a four-way directional toggle.

All the buttons are rather slippery, and we really struggled with the toggle switch. Set amid the rest of the controls, the toggle switch is flush with other buttons -- so when we'd try to scroll right, we'd often hit the End key instead. With the Moto Q, for example, the toggle switch is a raised button, so this problem is avoided.

A MicroSD expansion slot is located on the upper-right spine and is protected by an attached cover; the cover, however, makes it difficult to insert a card smoothly.

Fortunately, there are other ways to navigate the BlackJack. A thumbwheel sits on the right spine, which can be pressed to select items; a Back button in the same location helps to escape current menus and applications. These controls make it easy to use the device with one hand.

However, the buttons sit underneath a ridge that's part of the device's body, making it challenging to hit the wheel on the first try. We discovered that you have to press the thumbwheel very firmly to register the Select command. But here's a tip.

If you hold down the wheel for a few seconds, it brings up a quick launcher. Here you can to open applications, such as your calendar or task manager. Holding down the Back button will activate the camera, located on the back of the unit along with a self-portrait mirror.

The full QWERTY keyboard is fairly easy to use. The oval buttons -- very similar to the keys on the Moto Q -- are tactile and adequately backlit for typing in dim light. While we give an edge to the BlackJack over the T-Mobile Dash, which has a keyboard with smaller keys, we do think the Q's keyboard is easiest to use because of its well-spaced keys.

There are no dedicated number buttons, but numbers are highlighted in gray to make them easier to identify in a sea of black keys. Also, numbers aren't grouped in a cluster but instead the three columns of numbers are separated by a column of letters and symbols in between.

A volume rocker and headset/power adapter jack sits on the left side. The BlackJack uses a proprietary port, preventing you from using any mini-USB adapter to charge the device, or or any 2.5mm headset -- a bad design decision.

The Samsung BlackJack comes packaged with a travel charger, a proprietary USB cable, and reference material.

The Samsung BlackJack is Cingular's second UMTS/HSPDA smart phone, right behind the Cingular 8525. UMTS and HSPDA are both 3G technologies that allow for broadband-like connection speeds on mobile devices; basically the GSM answer to CDMA's EV-DO.

HSPDA has the potential to transmit data at up to 14.4mbps, but you'll most likely average speeds of around 400kbps to 700kbps. For a more in-depth explanation of this technology, check out our Quick Guide to 3G. In short, 3G support means the BlackJack offers a better experience for browsing the Web, listening to streaming media, or downloading games.

This technology, however, is not available everywhere, especially in more rural areas. Currently, Cingular's UMTS/HSDPA network, called Broadband Connect, is available in up to 136 markets in more than 50 metro areas. You can check for your city here.

To get the most out of 3G, the BlackJack supports the Cingular Video and Cingular Music services. Using Cingular Video, we watched clips of The Daily Show, Access Hollywood, ESPN sports highlights, and a few other videos.

Downloads were speedy with barely any delay for video buffering. The recently launched Cingular Music is a full-featured service that not only allows you to purchase songs from independent music services, such as Napster to Go and Yahoo Music, but also includes streaming XM satellite radio, music videos, MusicID for identifying song titles and artists, and a music news site called TheBuzz.

Unfortunately, not all features of the service were enabled on our review unit (and on-the-go music downloading is still impossible), but we were able to listen to XM satellite radio and enjoyed smooth streaming audio. Of course, you can import your personal library of MP3, AAC, WAV, WMA, MPEG-4, and WMV files via MicroSD card, thanks to Windows Media Player 10 Mobile.

Onboard memory caps out at 64MB of RAM and 128MB of ROM.

One of the main differences between the BlackJack and the Cingular 8525 is the phone operating system. While both phones run Windows Mobile, the BlackJack uses the Smartphone Edition, while the 8525 uses the Pocket PC Phone Edition. As such, you won't get the Microsoft Office Mobile Suite or document editing capabilities on the BlackJack.

Instead, you get an application called Picsel Viewer Suite, which allows you to only open and view Word and Excel documents, PowerPoint presentations, and PDFs. We were able to transfer and open such files successfully with the BlackJack.

Other tools include: a calendar; contacts lists; task lists; other notes; a voice recorder; a calculator; a stopwatch; a world clock; and a unit converter.

The BlackJack can handle everything from corporate to personal e-mail; you can access Outlook messages as well as POP3, IMAP, and SMTP accounts. In addition, push technology for real-time e-mail delivery is available through several services, including Microsoft Direct Push, Good Mobile Messaging, and Cingular XpressMail.

The BlackJack also supports instant messaging (AOL, MSN, and Yahoo) as well as text and multimedia messages.

In case you want to actually talk to someone, the BlackJack is also a quad-band world phone that can be used in more than 180 countries. It also includes a speakerphone, three-way calling, and conference calling.

The address book is limited only by available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts), and each entry can accommodate up to 12 numbers, several e-mail addresses, IM handles, job titles, and additional details. For caller ID, you can assign a contact a group ID, one of 20 ring tones, or a picture.

The phone also supports MP3 ring tones, and you can always download more through the Web. If you want to use a wireless headset, that's also possible; the BlackJack has integrated Bluetooth 2.0.

There is no integrated Wi-Fi, which is disappointing as this would have been a nice addition for customers outside of Cingular's 3G network.

Finally, this smart phone comes equipped with a 1.3-megapixel camera, complete with video recording capabilities and a 2X digital zoom lens and self timer. You have the option of shooting in various modes and multiple resolutions, ranging from 1,280x960 to 176x144, for still images.

There is no flash, but there are white balance settings. You can also enhance your photos with various effects and frames. Editing options are a little more limited in video mode, but you do get a choice of two shooting modes (limited for MMS or normal), two sizes (320x240 and 176x144), and three quality settings (fine, normal, and economy).

If you're the silent-move type, there's also a selection to turn off audio. Overall, the BlackJack took decent photos with good color and definition, and video quality was above par, as we didn't witness as much pixilation as we have with other camera phones.

We tested the Samsung BlackJack (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE; UMTS; HSDPA) in San Francisco using Cingular's service, and call quality was excellent. Conversations sounded loud and clear, and though the other end noticed a slight echo, audio quality was generally great.

Activating the speakerphone didn't diminish the sound quality at all, and we had no problems pairing the device to the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset.

As noted earlier, we tested a preproduction unit of the Samsung BlackJack, which we're hoping is the reason for some of the sluggish performance we experienced (stay tuned; we'll update results with the final product).

There was a noticeable lag when we tried to launch the camera or open various documents.

On the bright side, the Web browsing and multimedia experience on the BlackJack was awesome. Web sites loaded quickly as did streaming media. Music playback through the phone's speakers was good, although audio sounded blown out when we turned the volume to its highest setting.

Video looked spectacular on the BlackJack's gorgeous screen, even though there was the expected pixilation.

The Samsung BlackJack is rated for 5.5 hours of talk time and up to 11 days of standby time. In our tests, the phone just met the rated talk time.


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