Samsung Blackjack From Cingular - First Impressions & Experience

Recently, I learned that my workplace will not be supporting Palm OS devices through our connection software due to the limited number of licenses. As a self-professed Calendar and Reminders addict - constantly checking my trusty Treo 650 to see if something had popped up - I was concerned I wouldn't find an adequate replacement.

I had wanted an iPhone (because it's just damn cool) but Apple and I are having a falling out. I love you Apple, but you're sleeping on the couch for a while. No 3G at launch? Are you nuts? You're going to bone the early adopters - your most loyal followers - with an outdated data transfer standard? And it probably won't sync with Outlook/Microsoft Exchange server either - rendering it useless for a business type guy like me, and, um, a huge chunk of PDA users who sync with Outlook. Just buy an iPod and keep it separate from the phone. They may fix these issues in the future... but I'm not holding my breath.

I laugh at myself now - as I was fortunate enough to discover the Cingular Blackjack. How could a cellphone named after the only card game I'm actually good at NOT be cool? So what if it doesn't have a ginormous touch screen? So I sojourned down to my local Cingular store to purchase the phone on an upgrade plan. Right now, the phone was available for the fun low price of $299 with a mail in rebate of $100 as long as I sold my soul to Cingular for another two years. My soul is available to the lowest bidder, so I signed. The salesperson was very helpful and even waived the $18 activation fee. They should have too, I've been a customer for quite a while.

Out of the Box

Upon opening the shiny, tiny box I was pleased to note that there were two batteries included - a normal battery and an extended battery (more on this later.) It comes with a nifty battery charger case, a USB cable, power cord, software disk, and getting started guide. The salesperson loaded a new SIM card for me, as the Blackjack supports 3G and the old sim card in my Treo would not work. I proceeded through the contract acceptance phone call (from the Blackjack itself) and was on my merry way, giddy like a schoolgirl over my new acquisition.

I immediately went back to the office and began charging the chubby extend-o-battery in its nifty charging case. Then, I was able to settle down and get a good look at the unit itself. It's extremely well-made and is housed in a rubbery black case (not metal) and looks quite sexy indeed. The screen is gorgeous and sharp and worthy of immediate application of a screen protector (I use the WriteRight Universals.) The keyboard is clicky and responsive, the scroll wheel on the right works well, and overall it feels very solid. The buttons are slightly small and close together, so I accidentally bump buttons I didn't intend to bump, but it's a small price to pay. It has an expansion slot for a microSD card.

Mail and Applications

A quick call to IT and I was up and synced with our Outlook Exchange Server with no cables, no wires, no software installation, nothing. I immediately had push email (which is fabulous) and my Outlook calendar was immediately synced. It does not sync Notes, however, which annoyed me but again is a small price to pay. The calendar function works well - although not as dynamic as it would be with a touchscreen - but it's easy to navigate. The email and SMS applications work beautifully and instantaneously and allow you to download and view attachments.

The Blackjack comes pre-installed with a neat little app called PiscelViewer, which so far has allowed me to view text files and PDF's, and I imagine it will allow me to view Excel and Word files as well - though I haven't tried that yet. You can zoom and scroll quite nicely through the documents, although a big PDF I attempted to view loaded slowly. My only gripe is that the device does not allow you to organize SMS's by conversation, it just sort of dumps them in an "inbox." You can sort by sender... but not by conversation. I will miss that feature from my Treo, considering I am now a pretty prolific text messager. Overall, the process of setting up my PIM features, syncing with my exchange server at work, viewing attachments in various formats, and familiarizing myself with the SMS and email functionality of the unit, took about 15 minutes. Wow.

Continuing, I was able to set up instant messaging features using the built in link and I was up and running on AIM in about 2 minutes. Wow. I downloaded XPress Mail from Cingular and was up and running in Yahoo! Mail (which is slick as it integrates directly into the phone's messaging selections, rather than being a separate application) in about 3 minutes. Wow. I installed a 3rd party browser, which is free at the moment and, of course, blows away Internet Explorer. I watched a "Bad American Idol Auditions" video. Um... not so wow, but still cool.

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3G High Speed Data

This brings me to something that just blew my pathetic, peanut sized mind. The speed that 3G (also known as HSDPA - hope I got the acronym correct) is unbelievable. When in a 3G network, I am getting download speeds of approximately 1120 kbps - that's about 110-120 REAL kilobytes of download speed per second. Which is unbelievable for a cellphone and was much more than I truly expected. Wow again.

I was able to tether the device to my MacBook using the included USB cable and at the moment, I am buying a 1GB microSD card from and writing this article using that connection, which has been active and reliable for exactly 59 minutes and 3 seconds - I did not get that reliability from my Treo. I must also mention that at home, I am on the EDGE network (rather than 3G) and getting a sustained 170-200 kbps, which is about 17-20 real kilobytes per second. More than tolerable for browsing and writing articles. For some reason, I wasn't getting reliable speed or connectivity from my Treo like I am with the Blackjack. See these instructions for getting the Blackjack tethered to your Mac. You'll have to ask someone else for PC instructions - I already have my PC rig connected and have no reason to figure out how to tether my phone to my desktop!

User Interface

The interface of Windows Mobile 5.0 (smartphone) is simple to navigate, although you sometimes have to wade through menus to find the option you want. I'm still getting used to it, but it works quite well. Samsung included some nice "dashboards" for use with the Blackjack, which really contributes to the ease-of-use. I prefer the one entitled "Samsung Popup," which allows at-a-glance information about emails, SMS's, calendar reminders, etc. and allows you to arrow through them and select the various functions. Very slick and user-friendly. I give the interface two thumbs up simply for the reason that as an Outlook user, it felt so intuitive and I immediately wrapped myself around it, and was immediately able to start being productive with it.

Final Thoughts

The slim battery cover is extremely difficult to get off, and frankly, the life of the smaller battery is shorter than the life of my first cup of coffee in the morning - so it isn't even worth the struggle. Just use the bigger one so you can get through a full day at the office and keep the Kate Moss battery as a spare. I haven't messed much with the Windows Media application but I imagine it works well for... erm... playing music. For that, I'll just use my iPod or my Rio Karma. The selection of built-in ringtones is poor, probably a strategy to sell those $2.99 ringtones from MyMedia. There are some catchy sounding, non-annoying SMS tones that i like. The USB cable that is included is proprietary - they could have used the standard mini-USB like the Motorola Q - why they didn't is beyond me.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with my purchase. I initially thought I would not like WIndows Smartphone, coming from Palm OS with a stylus, but I enjoy using it and it feels very natural. I sort of "bonded" to the phone in a very short period of time. I would highly recommend it to anyone who uses their phone for business or organizational purposes, especially if you use Outlook Exchange Server for your job. For pure fun, it leaves a little to be desired (this is where the iPhone will excel), but for me - it's golden. It's solidly built and beautiful... and it didn't cost me $599.

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