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CTIA Fall 2007

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We had just a few moments to spend with the new BlackJack II from Samsung. Unfortunately the models available were both pre-production; we were told that hardware and/or software issues we might encounter with them should be resolved come the release date.

There are definite improvements in the hardware when comparing the BlackJack II to the original. First, it is slightly thinner, both across and in depth. Even though it is thinner, it has a deeper internal cavity for the battery, and offers a much better stock battery (1700 milliamps). It sits well in your hand and is comfortable to hold. It has good balance: not too wide nor too narrow. And because the battery is positioned in the bottom half of the phone, it is not top heavy. This means it is easy to grip for typing two handed, and it didn't cause hand fatigue.

Speaking of typing... the keyboard is better. The keys themselves are a bit rounder, and are not angled oddly as on the original. They also seemed to be a bit more like nubs, and less like dashes, and they stick up from the surface of the phone just a touch more. Using the keyboard was natural, though the action of the buttons on this pre-production model left something to be desired. Most of the keyboard provided good feedback, but the top central part of the keyboard, directly below the navigation cluster, was essentially dead. When you pressed them in, the entire keyboard sank in and there was no "click" at all. When attempting to type messages, those problem keys led us to make a number of mistakes, as we had to press the keys multiple times to get anything typed in. The Samsung rep we spoke to assured us that this would not be an issue with the production version.

The navigation cluster has also been updated, some of it good, some of it not so good. First, the d-pad has been made bigger. This is good news. It is also a scroll wheel, which lets you zoom around the menus of the BlackJack II quickly. The scroll wheel was responsive and moved the cursor or selector around the screen swiftly. Of course the d-pad also acts like a regular four-way d-pad if you want to just press it up, down, left or right to make your selections. Since the scroll wheel functionality was not consistently available in all modes of the phone, it actually becomes necessary to use the d-pad in some situations. The action of the d-pad was good, and because it is larger, it is easy to find and use.

We can't say the same for the navigation keys that surround the D-pad. On the original, these buttons were ever-so-slightly rounded, with small valleys along the seams of the keys. This contour made them easy to distinguish from one another. This is not the case with the BlackJack II. The buttons are all completely flat and smooth, and there is very little to help your thumb determine on which button it is actually resting. In fact, these keys don't even really feel like keys, with their mirrored finish and smooth contour. They are all about the same size and shape as on the original, though. So if you're upgrading from the first version of the BlackJack, perhaps this won't be an issue.

All of the hatches and buttons along the sides of the phone were easy to use. We didn't have any issues finding them, determining what they do, and using them. The volume toggle keys can be found quickly with your fingers, and have nice action to them when pressed.

As with the original, there is a slight bulge along the top of the phone where the camera is. It is no more pronounced than on the original, and doesn't affect the feel nor pocket-friendliness of the phone.

In using the Windows Mobile 6 interface, we didn't notice any issues with the speed of the phone. Applications and menus were snappy.

The unit we tried was burgundy in color; a black version will also be available. It has a slight texture to the paint job, and if you look at it closely, you can see that the paint looks (but isn't actually) cracked. The front has some silver and black styling on it.

So while there are definitely improvements over the original, we hope that the issues we experienced using the keyboard are resolved before the BlackJack II hits store shelves in the coming weeks.

Blackjack II  

Here is a video preview tour of the BlackJack II:

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