Jun 28 2007

Samsung BlackJack

You can never be too thin or feature rich when it comes to a smart phone.

For those who want slim and full access to e-mail and data on the AT&T network, the Samsung BlackJack is the way to go.

End-User Advantages

At 4.4–by 2.3–by 0.5 inches and just 3.5 ounces, the Samsung BlackJack is the smallest of the four major Windows Mobile smart phones on the market. As with the Motorola Q and the T-Mobile Dash, you pay for the slimness by sacrificing the touch screen found on the Palm Treos. Like the other phones, the BlackJack sports a 320x240 screen, and I found it to be the brightest of the bunch. While its feel isn’t as good as that of the Dash (the soft rubber coating is either lacking or light), it still fits in the palm well and doesn’t slide out like my Treo 700w always did.

Of course, the BlackJack also features the Windows Mobile 5 operating system, which when paired with Exchange 2003 SP2, means security features, direct push and access to your company’s global address list. All of these are fairly easy to set up — even for the nontech user — and don’t require any software installations.

Like the Dash, the BlackJack does not come with Microsoft Office. It does have an application called Picsel Viewer, which handles many document types including PDF, MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel, JPG images and others. It’ll give you the general gist of the document out of an e-mail, but it’s still not like having mobile Excel or Word on your phone. Of course, not that many people are typing out sales proposals on these devices, so it’s probably not a big deal.

The BlackJack is on Cingular’s — now AT&T’s — third generation (3G) network. I noticed two things about this: very clear phone calls (probably the best of any smart phone I’ve used so far) and excellent data transmission rates. I actually recorded sessions of 440 and 600 kilobits-per-second downloading to the phone over the air — just like with Cingular’s AirCards for notebooks. Thus, synchronizing e-mail was extremely quick on the BlackJack, as was searching the global address list for the central region vice ’president’s phone number (which, as you can imagine, I would need in quite a hurry).

Why the BlackJack Works for IT

Because the BlackJack uses Windows Mobile 5, when combined with Exchange 2003 SP2 or above, you get a ton of sweet security and data communication features. Loss protection is insured by extending an optional password unlock policy to the devices, which requires users to enter a code to use the operating system (but is not necessarily to answer calls). Remote wipe is also possible. Direct push (e-mail on demand) and global address list access are also features of the Windows Mobile 5 plus Exchange 2003 SP2 system.

With the 3G network, performance using mobile Web applications is pretty sweet. The Web pages come up quickly, which means users aren’t banging away at the controls waiting for the page to load. And we all know what happens when their fingers get way too happy and users get frustrated — an immediate call to the help desk.

As the smallest smart phone of the bunch, the BlackJack delivers all the cool data and voice features in a complete, compact package. I’m the kind of guy who stuffs my phone into a shirt or pants pocket, and this phone is lighter than a deck of cards. With the bright screen, great voice quality and easy e-mail access in such a quaint little package, it’s worth bragging about your BlackJack over a beer after work.


As with the rest of the Windows Mobile 5 smart phone line, it’s a waste without an Exchange 2003 SP2 (or 2007) server behind it. The good news is most organizations have adopted this level of Microsoft’s Exchange platform, so it shouldn’t be a big deal.

As mentioned briefly before, while the Picsel Viewer application lets you get the general gist of your Office 2003/2007 attachments, it’s not always perfect. That might be disappointing when you’ve got just enough time to mess with the phone but not enough time to pull out the notebook computer.

The BlackJack does not include Wi-Fi. On one hand, it’s nice to have around if you need to transfer a file or want to jump on a faster network. On the other hand, it’s just one more way for an intruder to break into the device, and most IT administrators would consider the absence an advantage.

Some users say the 3G network severely shortens battery life. I did not find this to be a problem while using the BlackJack, and I had to push e-mail and the 3G network on the whole time. However, there are ways to disable and enable the 3G network that you can even set up as a speed dial. You can also buy an extended battery for the BlackJack, if you find you are having battery-life issues.

Finally, I thought the navigation controls, while intuitive, were slippery and flush with each other, which made it difficult to “feel” my way around the buttons with my fingers. The QWERTY keys are nicely spaced, leading to fewer mistakes; however, the number buttons are curiously not in adjacent columns but have full columns of letters between them. The numeric keys are colored gray, though, so it’s not that difficult to find them at a glance when placing a call.

Dr. Jeff Sheen is the lead enterprise analyst for Grange Mutual Insurance Company of Columbus, Ohio.