The Samsung BlackJack has been a runaway success over in the United States which doesn?t surprise me at all. Thin, light, black, it covers all the bases. A gorgeous and comparatively large high-res screen, thumboard, and some 3G has been thrown in for good measure.
The BlackJack has just recently arrived here in Australia, and when Samsung agreed to loan me one for review I was very excited. My Treo is (or now I should say was) a great Smartphone, but these days with a design like that it is simply too fat. As I read recently about the Motorola Q9, 3G is no longer a reason for a fat phone. Most people aren?t prepared to carry a big thick phone simply because it can do everything. The Motorola RAZR proved that thin is in. While Motorola were the first to bring some of that thinness to the Windows Mobile Smartphone scene, they missed one key aspect that should be standard on high end business phones (and more expensive consumer phones): 3G.
It didn?t take me long to realise that I really liked the BlackJack, and I jumped on Expansys to order my very own. I needed the European 2100Mhz model to use with my 3G carrier, so I picked up the SGH-i600 from Expansys for AU$750. It arrived only a few days later, while I still had the BlackJack, so I will be able to compare the few differences between the two models.
The first thing you notice about the BlackJack is how thin it is. Samsung really did a great job in keeping the size down and usability up. Fitting HSDPA in is awesome enough, but in the i600 there is also WiFi and a front-facing camera for video calling!!
It even competes pretty well with the tiny Motofone.
Up the top is the VGA camera (i600 only) which can only be used for video calls.
Right below it is the gorgeous 2.3? 320×240 LCD. One of the benefits of the smaller screen size over Pocket PCs is that the same resolution is packed into the smaller space, producing a sharper image. The screen is bright too!! Out of the box it comes on the medium setting. There are 5 levels total, and on its brightest it is amazing!! For the sack of battery life and not being blinded I use it on the second brightest setting. It still looks great both indoors and outside.
I would highly recommend a screen protector though. The Samsung demo unit I received already had some nice scratches on the screen when it arrived. I put a screen protector on my i600 as soon as I took it out of the box.
The softkeys, navigation pad and green and red call buttons are squeezed into a space only 12mm high. As other reviewers have stated, it can make navigation just a tad fiddly. On occasion I would hit a button adjacent to the one I intended, sending me back to the homescreen or to the call log. There is quite a bit of space between these controls and the screen, so I think some larger buttons wouldn?t have been too much to ask. The buttons are nice and firm though, and don?t creak or feel wobbly. You won?t have any trouble starting or ending calls, as those buttons are quite big and easy to hit (or in some cases accidentally hit). Like the keyboard, they are backlight.
The keyboard really is very good. I was well adjusted to the keyboard on my Treo 750, so much so that I could type faster than the Treo would recognise and it would miss keys. While I am not that fast on the BlackJack keyboard yet, I am getting there, and after a few weeks practice I think I can get similar speeds to the Treo. The buttons on the BlackJack are hard and clicky, whereas they were softer and quieter on the Treo. I miss the silence of the Treo keyboard, as in a quiet room the BlackJack can definitely be heard clacking away. The keys do feel nice though, and give good feedback and are easy to press. I?m not sure if I prefer them to the Treo so much as it is different. The keyboard feels more spacious, and the keys have better separation, but I still hit nearby keys if I am typing fast. Some conversations on MSN Messenger with Judie were real quick If you are a die-hard Treo user, then you will probably need some adjustment.
Like most QWERTY smartphones there is no separate number row, instead doubling them up with a letter key. On the Treo is was a 3×4 arrangement, but on the BlackJack it is a strange 6×4 setup with TWO letters representing each number when on the homescreen. If that doesn?t confuse you enough, the doubling effect doesn?t occur anywhere else. If you are entering a new calendar item only the key highlighted in grey is a number. The key to the right (which on the homescreen does the number as well) turns into the symbol on the key. It takes a bit of getting used to, as it isn?t particularly natural to have a column of numbers then the same numbers in the next column. After a few days I got the hang of it, but I think they would have been better to just have the 4×3 grid.
On the left side of the device is the volume control and Samsung do-it-all connector. The volume control is a single piece that rocks up and down. The USB/Power/Audio/Kitchen Sink connector below it is a very thin plug protected by a rubber/plastic cover.
Now this rubber thing really annoys me. When I am using the device with headphones the cover gets in the way, and there isn?t really a convenient place to put it. I am certain that it will break off eventually. The one on my loaner i601 had already begun to come off.
Also down the side is a WiFi and a BT logo, just to show off how impressive this little device is.
On the right side there is the microSD slot, a jog wheel and a back button. Similar to the USB connector, the microSD slot has a cover over it, and it this instance it works well. It is the same type of cover, but because it will probably only be opened occasionally, and never left hanging while something sticks out, it should be fine.
Not only does the BlackJack share the ?Black? in its name with the Blackberry, they have also thrown in a jog wheel and back button in the same spot as on most Blackberry?s. It is FAR better than the jog wheel on the Hermes, not only because it is on the right hand side (in reach of the thumb on the right hand), but it is actually useful in the operating system, but still cant? touch the Blackberry. While the jog wheel can scroll lists and webpages on the Hermes, it is otherwise largely under-utilised. On the BlackJack is serves as a application launcher (by holding it down for 2 seconds) and scrolls through the homescreen.
The back button just below it makes the jog wheel a pleasure to use. It also doubles as button that can launch any application by holding it down. I have it programmed to the task manager, as it is the easiest way to switch between apps.
There is an italicised HSDPA logo there too, flashing the speed of the device whenever you get it out. I havent? really decided if I like all these logos all over the device, but meh.
The bottom of the devices is completely devoid of anything. No reset buttons, mics, connectors, nothing. Pretty much rules out any type of cradle.
The back of the device houses the speaker and 1.3MP camera (with mirror) in a kind of hump on the back. Shame that it sticks out like it does, but it doesn?t look strange. What annoys me it that they didn?t include a light of some kind. The portrait mirror is the most ridiculous thing, and would be much better as a ?flash? of sorts. While they typically aren?t the greatest (although some of the Sony?s and Nokia?s have great flashes on their phones), they are better than nothing. At least the mirror is less deep than the camera lense so it hasn?t got nasty scratches on it.
The speaker is quite loud and doesn?t sound toooo bad for music. It is great for MP3 ringtones though. I have a 25 second clip of a song that my friends wrote as my ringtone in MP3 and it?s great. Come to think of it, the mirror space could have also been used for another speaker?.
Inside the SGH-i600 beats the hearts of three high-speed radios: HSDPA, WiFi 802.11g and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR. Wow. No matter how you want to transfer data, it will transfer FAST!! (The i601/i607 miss out on WiFi probably due to carrier requests)
I have had a UMTS phone since around August 2006, and it is brilliant. Not only is it fast, you can make calls and be on the internet at the same time. My first HSDPA phone (unofficially through a hack) was the Treo 750, and that just made it even better. The BlackJack also has HSDPA built in, and it is fantastic. Unlike the Treo, there is an indicator to show when the device is receiving a HSDPA signal (?H?) as opposed to a standard UMTS one (?3G?). While surfing felt just as fast on the BlackJack as it did on the Treo, DSL Reports only gives me a maximum speed of 600Kbit as opposed to the 810kbit I peaked at on the Treo 750. Not to worry, it is still very fast, and that speed is further realised when the device is used as a HSDPA modem over BT.
The BlackJack includes BT2.0+EDR which supports speeds of up to 3Mbit, more than enough for transferring pictures, songs, and meeting the maximum 1.8Mbit of the HSDPA radio when used as a BT modem.
The SGH-i600 also throws in WiFi, which works just fine, but I have only turned it on twice just to try it out. It works just fine, but I have a 1GB data plan so I just use that over UMTS/HSDPA. For some the WiFi may be very useful, especially if they don?t have a data plan (or only a few MB per month).
It is a shame that Samsung decided to make custom hardware versions for the various markets, as it limits the worldwide capability. The i601 supports UMTS 850, the i607 supports UMTS 850/1900, and the i600 supports UMTS 2100. Why not just make a Triband model and be done with it!!
Reception on the SGH-i600 on the Three network seems a little better than on my Treo 750. I can get an EDGE signal in places that the Treo got nothing. I also get UMTS/HSDPA signals in some places that I could previously only get EDGE.
The loaner BlackJack (i601) came with a Telstra SIM card, and I have to say it was hard to give it back and go back to my Three SIM. I got AMAZING converage on the Telstra network. In those places I said I got a weak EDGE signal on Three (where I got none on the Treo), I got half HSDPA signal on the BlackJack. Most other places I got an excellent HSDPA signal. Kudos to Telstra! Speeds were similar to Three (since Three is capped at 3.6Mbit and Telstra at 7.2Mbit, which aren?t achievable on the 1.8Mbit HSDPA radios, similar speeds are to be expected).
Other than WiFi, the other hardware difference is the including of a second front-facing camera for video calling. I rang my dads phone and the image from the i600 was actually very clear, far better than the image from my dads Dopod 838 Pro. Video calling is still a bit expensive over here (and isn?t included as part of the plans) so I have only ever used it a handful of times, but it does work pretty well.
At first, removing the battery cover was like trying to break into a bank vault. It was so tight it literally took me 5 mins to get it off the first time I took it (the i600) from the box. After a few goes it has since gotten better, but for the first few it was absurd. I felt like I would snap the device in two. The i601 didn?t have this problem, and came off easily (not so easily that it would happen by accident though). That may have been because it had been broken in, or because it was made of the harder plastic (I?ll explain that in a second). The standard battery is 1200mAh, and there is an 1800mAh extended battery that sticks out of the back a bit, requiring a different battery cover. As you can see here it does add a bit of thickness, but it is still very slim, just not quite as slim as the standard. I really like how the cover makes the back of the device flat, as opposed to just covering the battery causing yet another hump on the back.
The case of the i600 is made a combo of standard plastic (the front) and a rubberised plastic (the back). It?s somewhat hard to show, but you can see the difference in the front and back along the sides of the device, where is changes for smooth to rubber. The i601 didn?t have this difference, and was made of the same plastic as the front all around. I really like the rubberised caseing on the i600. Makes it feel more secure in the hand, just like the rubber case on the Treo 750 did. I?m not sure why only the back of the device is made of the rubber stuff, but looking at it you can?t really tell that they are different unless you get close.
The case also appears to be relatively scratch proof. I have dropped it on a wooden floor already (Vaja to the rescue in a few days!) but it didn?t scratch or mark at all. It has also survived in my bag with keys, Universals, Zunes and a plastic student pass. The screen however does need some kind of protector as I mentioned above.
When I first started using the BlackJack, I was very disappointed with the battery life, but after a couple of days the battery seems to have broken in and with moderate usage I can quite easily get a day when connected to a UMTS network. The extended battery can stand up to quite heavy usage and still make it through a day.
On heavy-use days (2hrs web surfing, 1.5hrs BT PAN, some calls) I am really thankful for the extra standard battery included in the box. Good thinking Samsung!
Performance is pretty good as well. I haven?t noticed the device getting slow or unstable even with a lot of applications running.
That?s it for the hardware side of things. The BlackJack (currently) runs Windows Mobile 5.2 with AKU 3.4. I won?t go through all the standard WM5 Smartphone (or should I say WM5 Standard?) applications, just the features that Samsung have added to the BlackJack/i600.
I?ll start with the stuff that comes with both the i601/i607 and the i600. Samsung includes several apps that add a fair bit of functionality to the device
Task Manager lets you switch between and stop running applications. You can also check available battery and storage. I have this app mapped to the side press-and-hold back button.
D-Day lets you set a countdown to a particular date.
A basic stopwatch.
A currency and units converter (I just use Google :P)
This will be a favourite for many, a Notes program!! There is an Activesync addin on the CD that lets you sync your Outlook Notes with the Smartphone.
A World Clock.
The camera application has quite a few features in it. I don?t really use it a lot, but it works just fine. The quality of the photos is actually pretty good.
This is a picture taken on the BlackJack when I faced the camera towards the Pocket Controller window with the live screen displayed.
My favourite application has to be Alarms. This makes the device a really great alarm clock, as it supports 9 individual alarms in addition to a ?Wake up alarm? that in itself has three separate alarms.
I have had a rather strange problem with the Alarms application, that seems to be quite common. When a microSD card is in the slot, the Alarm application will freeze if you attempt to change an alarm. The only way to get the device going again is to pull the battery and turn it back on. A very weird quirk that can probably be fixed in a ROM update.
One thing oddly missing from my i600 but present on the i601 is Java. I tested out Gmail and Opera Mini on the i601 and they worked great, but there is no Java client to be found on the i600. Very strange.
The i601 misses out on the cool homescreen that Samsung has included with the i600. They call it a card wheel, as you scroll through the various ?cards? for Calendar, Picture Speed Dial, SMS/Email/Voicemail, Profile (this is quite handy), Photos (looks pretty cool), recently played music, and WMP control. It is very useful and certainly looks really cool, especially when you scroll through it with the jog wheel. Unfortunately you need to go sideways on it, so the d-pad is still necessary most of the time. Displayed to the left is an easy-to-read clock, the date and the carrier. Up the top is your using indicator icons (signal, battery, BT, WiFi). Here is a 1min video to show you how it works, as well as the cool visualisation that the Samsung WMP10 skin has.
I have had the BlackJack for 3 weeks, and I am VERY happy with it. I have found it to be quite reliable, have decent battery life (and a spare is included for the heavy user), great screen, combines all three major wireless technologies (on the i600) in an extremely compact package. Over in the US it can be picked up quite cheaply on a 2yr contract. Here in Australia the i601 is available from Telstra, and the i600v is available from Vodafone. Buy one now!!
MSRP: Varies depending on market and carrier.
What I Like: HSDPA, great screen, excellent keyboard, WiFi on the i600, jog dial, extra Samsung applications, overall performance WM6 Upgrade available soon.
What Needs Improvement: Just make one triband model for goodness sake!