Hardware

Product spotlight: Samsung Jack, a disappointing successor to BlackJack II

The Samsung Jack is a major update to the popular BlackJack II smartphone. Learn the pros and cons of the Jack and who might want it.

The Samsung Jack is a major update to the popular BlackJack II smartphone. Learn the pros and cons of the Jack and who might want it.

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The Samsung Jack (i637) is an upgrade to the BlackJack II that brings faster hardware and the latest Windows Mobile OS. Learn the pros and cons of the Jack from an IT and business perspective, see which users will be most interested in it, and learn why it is a bit of a disappointing upgrade.

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Specifications

  • Carrier: AT&T
  • Price: $99.99 (after $100 mail-in rebate, and with a two-year contract)
  • Operating system: Windows Mobile 6.1 (upgradeable to 6.5)
  • http://www.techrepublic.com/contents/2346-13629_11-341508.html

  • Processor: 528MHz
  • RAM: 256MB
  • Storage: 256MB + microSD (up to 16GB)
  • Display: 2.4" 320x240 pixel TFT LCD (65K colors)
  • Battery life: 1480mAh Lithion Ion battery; Up to 7 hours of usage and 12 days of standby
  • Weight: 3.6 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4.4"(h) x 2.4"(w) x 0.5"(d)
  • Camera: 3.2 megapixel
  • Keyboard: 39-key hardware qwerty
  • Networks: Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Tri-Band UMTS/HSDPA 850/1900/2100MHz; Quad-Band EDGE 850/900/1800/1900MHz
  • Tethered modem capability: Yes
  • Official Samsung product page
  • Photo gallery: Samsung Jack

Who is it for?

The Jack is a business user's device that offers tight integration with Microsoft software, including the full Office Mobile Suite (Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint). For the companies that have line-of-business applications tied to the Windows Mobile platform, the Jack offers performance improvements (CPU and 3G) over previous Windows Mobile smartphones, including the BlackJack II, the product that it has replaced in the Samsung lineup.

What problems does it solve?

Samsung brought the Jack to market to update the popular BlackJack II with a faster CPU, a faster 3G connection, and the updated Windows Mobile software. This is primarily just a hardware and software update to a bread-and-butter Windows Mobile qwerty smartphone.

Standout features

  • Good connectivity - With built-in Wi-Fi (802.11b and 802.11g), 3G, and global roaming capability, the Jack has excellent options for staying connected. Motorola's experience in building cellular radio devices is also apparent, since the Jack holds a signal very well — better than other smartphones on the same AT&T network (yes, I'm referring to the iPhone).
  • Microsoft software integration - Because of its Windows Mobile underpinnings, the Jack easily connects to Microsoft Exchange to sync corporate email, calendar, address book, and even tasks (which aren't synced on most other smartphone platforms). It comes with the mobile versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, which makes it easy to view and edit business files directly from the device. Of course, the phone also syncs seamlessly with a Windows computer using the desktop sync software.

What's wrong?

  • Subpar keyboard - The BlackJack II keyboard had keys that were small and thin but because they were deep and spaced well, it was an easy keyboard to type on. The Jack has a completely new keyboard in which the keys have very little space between them and are rounded and slippery. This is a step backwards. If the keys were inverted more like the BlackBerry Tour keyboard, it would be a lot better. One of the key elements of a device in this form factor is the full qwerty keyboard, and unfortunately this is one of the worst qwertys I've seen.

  • Surprisingly bulky and slippery - The Jack's rounded edges and silver finish give it a sleeker, more attractive appearance than the BlackJack II. But, once you hold the device, it feels thicker and more bulky than the slender BlackJack II. The finish of the device is also very smooth and very slippery. If you regularly use a smartphone with one hand, this device could easy slip out of your hand.
  • It's still Windows Mobile - The Jack comes loaded with Windows Mobile 6.1, but AT&T has stated, "The Samsung Jack will also be upgradable to Windows Mobile 6.5." While that will help, Windows Mobile increasingly feels outdated compared to the latest smartphones on the market, like the Palm Pre, the iPhone, and even the latest BlackBerry phones. Using Windows Mobile after working from any of those smartphones almost feels like going back to Windows 95 after getting used to Windows XP.

Competitive products

The Samsung Jack (left) has a very different design than the BlackJack II (right).

Bottom line for business

Two years ago, I liked the Samsung BlackJack II. I called it the best Windows Mobile phone on the market and one of the best smartphones you could get for your money ($99). But, a lot has happened in the smartphone market in the past two years. BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm Pre, and HTC have brought a lot of new innovation to the smartphone market. With minor hardware and software updates (and a step backward in hardware in a couple areas), the Samsung Jack just doesn't keep up.

If you're looking for a qwerty smartphone, I'd recommend the BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry Tour over the Jack. If you're looking for a Windows Mobile smartphone with a qwerty keyboard, I'd recommend the T-Mobile Dash 3G over the Samsung Jack. The only reason to get the Jack, in my opinion, is if you specifically want a Windows Mobile qwerty device on AT&T.

User rating

Have you used or supported the Samsung Jack? If so, what do you think? Rate the device and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. You can also give your own personal review of the Samsung Jack in the discussion thread below.

About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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