updated 02:20 pm EDT, Mon May 12, 2008
Samsung BlackJack II
For anyone who needs a low-cost smartphone that still offers advanced features, take a look at the Samsung BlackJack II smartphone. The BlackJack II may lack fancy features found in more expensive smartphones, such as a touchscreen, but its still more than functional. Since the BlackJack II uses Windows Mobile, it's especially handy for synchronizing data with a Windows PC (but less desirable for Mac users).
Physically, the phone is slightly wider than other phones due to its use of a full QWERTY keyboard, which makes typing text far easier than other phones that require multiple taps on a single key to display a specific letter. Part of this keypad includes numeric keys, which automatically activate when dialing a phone number. If you need to type numbers while typing text, you'll have to press a function key to make the phone type a number instead of a letter. Audio quality through the phone is fine although there's an occasional hint of static in the background, but nothing that would interfere with a call.
Despite the larger width of this phone, it's still small and comfortable to handle, using a rubberized casing that makes the unit easy to hold. All buttons appear on the front of the unit, except for a single volume control button that appears on the left side. Such an arrangement makes it easy to adjust the volume whether you're right or left-handed.
Physically, the phone is 4.40 inches long, 2.30 inches wide, and 0.40 inches thick. The entire unit weighs 3.52 ounces, can run off its batteries for up to 7 hours, and displays up to 65k color on a 320 x 240 resolution 2.4 inch screen. For transferring data, the phone offers Bluetooth wireless connectivity, but no WiFi capability.
The phone's 2.0 megapixel camera is adequate, but captures slightly fuzzy images. Such images might be fine for capturing images on the fly, such as taking a picture of a car's license plate, but you won't want to rely on the camera for capturing one of a kind images such as a wedding unless you have no other option available. The camera can also capture video as well, but like its still images, captured video clips are adequate but not distinct.
For navigating through various menus, you can use a jog wheel centered in the middle that's easily accessible with the thumb of either hand. Additional buttons send or end a phone call, allow you to go back to a previous screen, or select an option from a menu displayed on the screen.
Perhaps the phone's weakest point is its reliance on Windows Mobile. Never know for its speed and responsiveness, Windows Mobile mimics the Windows interface complete with a Start button in the lower left corner of the screen and programs buried within multiple folders. If you're already comfortable using Windows Mobile or Windows in general, Windows Mobile will feel familiar. Otherwise the Windows Mobile interface seems more like an attempt to squeeze the Windows interface into a mobile phone rather than create a useful interface optimized for a smaller screen from the start.
The typical cryptic error message appears in Windows Mobile
Betraying its Windows roots, Windows Mobile curiously includes the Task Manager, a program which allows you to see which applications are running and how much memory each one may be using. While this may be important for technical users, it may be more puzzling than useful for most ordinary users.
The familiar Task Manager from Windows appears on Windows Mobile
The phone supports AT&T's faster 3G network (UMTS/HSDPA and GPRS/EDGE), so browsing speed is fast. An RSS Reader lets you keep up on the latest news while instant messaging is available through AIM, Windows Live Messenger, or Yahoo! Messenger. To connect by email, the phone also supports MSN Hotmail, AOL Mail, and Yahoo! Mail. Thanks to the full QWERTY keypad, typing email or instant messages isn't as tedious as using phones with ordinary numeric keypads.
To keep you entertained, the unit lets you listen to XM Radio and watch music videos. The audio quality is acceptable with an occasional echo-like effect, but the video quality can get chunky or choppy at times. The unit supports H.263, MPEG, and Windows Media video files, which lets you watch video clips of the latest news, sports, or weather.
One handy feature for frequent travelers is the built-in GPS radio with the TeleNav GPS Navigator program to display maps and directions to help you find the nearest gas station, hotel, or restaurant. Rather than force you to stare at the directions or map on your phone, you can choose to hear spoken directions so you can keep your eyes on the road while driving.
Getting directions and maps from TeleNav GPS Navigator
If you're a Windows PC user, you may appreciate the ability to view and edit Office files such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, through the Office Mobile programs. Even more useful is the copy and paste feature, which is normally absent on smartphone applications. While these Office Mobile programs won't let you create new documents, they do let you make minor changes to documents that you can later copy back to your computer.
Besides transferring Office files, you may need to synchronize important appointments, names, and addresses between your PC running Outlook and your phone using the ActiveSync program. If you have data stored in PDF files instead of Office files, the phone can view them through a PDF Reader program too.
The Office Mobile programs let you open and edit Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Excel files
This phone may not imitate the iPhone, but if you want a smartphone with a full QWERTY keypad and tight integration with a Windows PC to open and edit common Office files, the BlackJack II may be the perfect accessory for you. The BlackJack II costs $349.99 or $199.99 with a two-year contract with AT&T.