04 August 2009

REVIEW: Samsung Jack and Windows Mobile 6.1

I recently replaced my 1st generation Samsung BlackJack with the latest generation Samsung Jack.   I had spent months agonizing over what new mobile phone to buy (partly because of equipment and partly because I wanted to wait for the oft-delayed Windows Mobile 7).  I looked at the obvious non-Windows contenders like the Apple iPhone, the RIM Blackberry Bold, as well as other Windows Mobile smart phones, but still came back to the Jack.

In the end, I chose the Jack for a few reasons, listed in order of importance below:

  1. I really wanted to stay with the Windows Mobile platform.  Windows mobile is often maligned for poor performance and even worse battery life.  However, I’ve had pretty good luck with both my Audiovox SMT5600 and Samsung BlackJack.  Both phones worked quite well and I’m usually near a computer, giving me access to trickle charges when necessary.  I’ve not suffered any of the performance problems and I’m tied to an Exchange e-mail account; synchronizing between a Windows smart phone and Exchange is mostly flawless.
  2. Despite some issues with dropped calls and terrible customer support, I wanted to stay with AT&T.  I’ve used both Verizon and Sprint in the past, but found AT&T to be an equal carrier for the locations I visit.  As for custom service, issues and frustrations seem to be universal.  That said, Verizon certainly has much better coverage in less densely populated areas, but I am usually in a medium to large city.  Even when I’ve made it into “the country,” I’ve not had any challenges with AT&T.  Finally, AT&T has international coverage (although expensive), which I’ve used a number of times without incident.  Besides T-Mobile (whom I didn’t consider at all), none of the other U.S.-based mobile carriers handles roaming internationally (at least not well).
  3. After looking at all of the Windows mobile equipment options with AT&T, it came down to the Samsung Epix and the Jack.   Most of my elimination criteria centered on talk time (very important), size (important) and price (important).  The two phones were generally equal when it came to talk time.  The Epix seemed to have the edge on functionality, but was larger than the Jack.  The screen resolution was also higher on the Epix, but I couldn’t get past the relatively small, but noticeable size difference.  Plus, virtually every other aspect of the phones was imperceptibly similar or the same.
  4. AT&T offered a $49 deal to upgrade to the Jack (after a $100 rebate that I have yet to mail in).  I was not able to get an equal deal on the Epix

I’ve been using my new Jack (which looks hauntingly like a Blackberry Bold) for about a month.  In that time I’ve made the following observations:

  • The phone is light, slim and unobtrusive.  It’s slightly shorter than my old BlackJack, but the slick plastic housing is a bit more of a challenge to grip compared with the matte, rubberized finish on the BlackJack.  However, it fits nicely in my pocket without the bulk associated with larger phones.
  • Battery life and management seem to be quite a bit better than my old BlackJack and SMT6500.   I can typically go two days, with moderate usage, without recharging the battery.  My other phones would barely last a day or less before complaining of low power.
  • Windows Mobile 6.1, which is what the Jack shipped with, is much improved over Mobile 5.  I really like the “Slide” interface and haven’t had the any issues with lockups or glitches. 
  • Overall, there just seems to be more intelligence in the design to both the phone and operating system.  I particularly like the single touch button for many functions like mail (which the BlackJack had) and the camera.
  • I really dislike the GPS and AT&T buttons.  The GPS button is tied to the AT&T Telenav application/service.  It’s an extra charge to use the service on AT&T’s network and I’m just as happy to use Bing Mobile or Google Maps Mobile; both work well, though I think I’m more favorable to Bing Mobile at the moment after some very positive early experiences, though neither have audible driving directions.  As for the AT&T button, it seems like a hold over from Cingular and it navigates me to a 404 page; not a fabulous experience.
  • When the keyboard is locked, Mobile 6 has the same faulty behavior that Mobile 2003 had in that it will allow you to dismiss a meeting reminder, but not “snooze.”  Mobile 5 had corrected this oversight, but I think Microsoft forgot to add that functionality back to Mobile 6… weird.
  • I really like that you can now invite others to meetings you schedule with your phone.  That was functionality previously missing from the Windows Mobile platform.
  • Mobile 5 had the ability to send a picture or video shot with the phone through a pre-defined mail account.  This functionality worked flawlessly on my old BlackJack.  However, it fails to work on my new Jack.  When I’ve tried to send a phone or a video, the phone reports that I don’t have any e-mail accounts setup (except that my phone has been synchronizing and sending e-mail through Exchange since day 1).  I thought I may have missed some setting somewhere, but I can’t find it.   I’m hoping the problem is easy to fix, but I haven’t spent enough time investigating.
  • The phone could do with more onboard memory.  It came with only about 2/3rds of the onboard space available.  After installing apps like Bing and Google Maps, I’m closer to half full.  Also, my phone was filled with a bunch of junk I can’t seem to uninstall (like demo games that want money to play).  I could care less about the spamware AT&T installed on the phone, but I could really use that space back.  Unfortunately, none of these games (or the other silly things AT&T insists on adding to my phone – like links to web sites that don’t exist) are listed in the Remove Software option on the phone. 
  • The keyboard is laid out differently than my BlackJack and is a little smaller.  The layout and size seem similar to the BlackBerry.  I’ve generally gotten the hang of it, but I still find myself hitting the space bar instead of the 0 (zero) button when dialing numbers; previously the zero and space were the same key.

In the end, I like the phone (I withhold a modifier like “really” until I have more time with the device).  I think it was an excellent upgrade from my BlackJack and if you’re looking for an upgrade to your Windows Mobile phone, I would recommend it.


Anonymous said...

I'm getting my Jack in a couple of days. I'm very excited about it. I'm coming from a Curve and I picked the Jack because I wanted WiFi, 3G, 3.2 MP camera and access to Skyfire. It also didn't hurt that the device cost me $0.99 for upgrading. I considered the Blackberry Bold and Tour but the Jack has everything that's missing from both BBs in one device (Tour does not have WiFi, the Bold does not have a 3.2 MP camera, they both lack access to Skyfire, and are both priced high when compared to the Jack).

I'm confident I made a solid decision. I'm upgrading to 3G, WiFi, 3.2 MP and the big one, Skyfire! I love my Curve, but browsing the internet on the BB native browser was painful. Bolt and Opera made browsing 'tolerable' at best.

Additionally, I'll be able to upgrade to WinMo 6.5 when it becomes available. I'm sure the UI will improve.

I'll follow up with my thoughts and observations after a couple of weeks experience behind the qwerty of my Jack.

D.M. Johnson said...

thanks for posting this review. I am upgrading fron the original Blackjack myself and I've agonized over the decision for months. (In fact, I just ordered the Jack from AT&T and I'm still googling product reviews!)

I had a hard time deciding between the Jack and the Touch Pro 2 on t-mobile. I finially went with the Jack because the price was better, it has pretty much all of the same features, and the user experience is less of a departure from what I was used to with my old Blackjack.

I'll post back with some of my own thoughts after it arrives. i'm excited to be getting WIFI and GPS finally, and provided that the keyboard isn't too hard to get used to, I'm confident that I'll like my new phone.

btw, to the person who commented above who paid $0.99 for their Jack, BE CAREFUL buying phones with service plans from the web! places like Amazon and Tiger Direct have sensational prices on handsets, but they tack on additional restrictions to your contract!

For example, you can buy the Jack from Amazon for $25 when you renew your contract, but you have to switch your rate plan to one of the plans they want you to have.

It gets worse because they also have a policy that says they can charge you a $250 "Equipment Subsody Recovery Fee" if your bill is late in the first 6 months. I put in a call to the Amazon Wireless sales line, and they confirmed to me that this $250 charge may be added to my bill if it is even ONE DAY LATE!!!

I ended up buying my Jack direct from AT&T. Paid $79 for it, but I was able to keep my rate plan without dealing with rude surprises. BE SMART AND READ THE FINE PRINT!!!