Samsung BlackJack II – A good PDA phone just got better

Samsung took almost everything about the first BlackJack and turned it up a notch, making a good PDA phone a little better.

Though the BlackJack II doesn’t look drastically different from the original and still leaves room for improvement, the subtle changes in design and components are a nice upgrade.
For example, the BlackJack II is noticeably faster than the older model.

Toggling between and opening applications generally felt snappier, and moving around the Windows Mobile 6 interface was a fairly smooth endeavor with the new scroll wheel in the centre.

The centre wheel also functions as a five-way navigation button, and it replaces the thumb wheel that was located on the side panel of the original BlackJack.

Unfortunately, rotating the new wheel won’t let you select menu items on the same row, such as the top row of recently used apps on the home screen; you must press the left or right side of the wheel, essentially using the arrow keys.

If you use or have seen the original BlackJack, you probably noticed the potentially confusing layout of the alphanumeric keys: A column of alphabet-and-symbol keys sits between them.

Thankfully, Samsung fixed the issue on this model by placing the alphanumeric keys directly next to one another.

Other keyboard-related enhancements are in the bottom row, where you get a dedicated key for the silent mode and a dedicated key for the camera.

Samsung added built-in GPS to the BlackJack II. If you download and subscribe to TeleNav’s GPS Navigator, you’ll receive voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions; but if all you need is a map, we recommend downloading the free Google Maps for Mobile application instead.

On the software side, the Windows Mobile 6 OS comes with a couple of enhancements, including push e-mail support (messages automatically download in the background as opposed to your manually retrieving them) and a slightly better Internet Explorer browser.

It’s worth noting that,instead of the Picsel Viewer app used in the original BlackJack for viewing and editing Office documents, the BlackJack II runs Microsoft Office Mobile with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Though Picsel Viewer and Office Mobile work similarly, I miss the pan-and-zoom capability that the Picsel software offers.

Call quality on the BlackJack II was just as good as on the older model, thanks in part to its 3G antenna. Though the speaker was loud enough to hear clearly, it sounded too tinny for our taste.

As for missing pieces, the phone conspicuously lacks Wi-Fi, a touch screen, and a standard headphone jack (it uses a proprietary port).

We would have liked the existing screen to be better, too: Graphics and text on the 2.4-inch, 320-by-240-resolution LCD tended to look grainy and a little blurry. The plastic shell feels a little cheap, as well, and the glossy paint job tends to be a fingerprint magnet.

The microSD slot supports up to 4GB add-on cards, though some smart phones can handle up to 8GB or larger.

Overall, though, the BlackJack II is still a good deal.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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