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photo gallery
Windows Mobile 6.1 is still around and kicking with the Samsung Jack (aka Samsung SGH-i637), a phone that could also be called the Samsung Blackjack 3. Codenamed Samsung SGH-637, the AT&T Jack is a QWERTY phone that has a solid Windows Mobile 6.1 implementation. Even though touch phones are all the rage these days, the qualities of an affordable QWERTY Smartphone with a great battery life should not be underestimated. It has however a lot of competition from phones like the Nokia E71 or the BlackBerry Curve 8900 (not 3G). However, the Samsung Jack has a trick: its great battery life.

Context

Before we get deeper in the review, I’ll tell you how I use the phone so that you can extrapolate how it might work (or not) for you: I don’t call much, but I do receive a lot of emails (and reply to a small number). I tested the device with push-email enabled, via Exchange Server. The phone was receiving emails 24/7 during the whole test. During the past week, I placed 3 calls of less than 1 minute each, and received one call that lasted less than one minute. In the same timeframe, I got about 400 emails and replied to possibly 20 to 30 from the phone.

Phone Basics

The sound quality of the Blackjack is good and actually better than my (T-Mobile) Blackberry 8900. I’m not sure if it is the network, or the phone itself, but the good news is: I had only one bar when I placed the call and the sound is not breaking up.

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Composing a number or searching for a contact is easy. Just like most Windows Mobile Phones, the phone will search in the contacts at the same time that you type a number. I have a preference for dialing contacts, but a plain phone number is as easy too.

Just like its ancestor, the Samsung Blackjack (read our review), navigating deep in the menus is a little annoying as it requires a lot of clicks, but usually, you don’t have to go there often.

Overall, all the basics are well covered and there is no obvious deal-breaker there.

Responsiveness

Most people can’t stand a phone that is slow, and I was glad to see that the Samsung Jack was fairly responsive, even after I had synched my emails and contacts. It is much better than its predecessors and actually more responsive than my Blackberry Curve 8900 at unlock time (note that the Blackberry uses content encryption, so that might explain some of the slowness). The Jack can become sluggish when processing a heavy web page. I’m not sure if it’s the Javascript code or something else.

The Samsung Jack doesn’t have to handle any complex scrolling like cool touch phones do, and you could say that its job is “easy”. It might be so, but the point is that the users does doesn’t get frustrated by waiting after the phone to perform seemingly simple commands like dialing.

Keyboard

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It’s good, but the design of the BlacBerry Curve 8900 is superior
Keyboards are always a matter of personal preferences, so let me tell you about my background. I had the following devices for my personal usage (not for testing): Treo 600/650/700w, a Blackjack, Blackberry 8320 and currently the Blackberry 8900. Compared to all these phones, the keyboard of the Samsung Jack has no spaces between the keys, and that requires a slightly different positioning of the finger that might be ‘bizarre’ for the first few minutes of typing, then I got used to it.

The keys are a little harder (as in need to push harder) to press than on my previous phones, but it is also brand new, so I suspect that it will get softer later on. There are a few things that Samsung could do better:

1/ The letter and the special characters use the same color. It makes the keyboard less readable

2/ The space bar is too small. Samsung has added 5 special buttons that take precious space: Email, Camera, Mute, GPS Nav and AT&T Web. I think that this is a mistake. These functions do not need to have dedicated physical keys that take away room for often-used keys like space, shift or symbols. I during this week of testing, the small space bar was bugging me regularly.

If you wonder, the keyboard is nicely backlit:

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A second color to distinguish the upper characters would have been great
 

Text/Email

Thanks to its keyboard, this phone is a great texting device. SMS and Email can be sent from Pocket Outlook. Note that starting an SMS is four clicks away, that’s about 4 seconds. A shortcut would be much needed… A reply to a message is only one click away however, so overall it’s not bad at all.

The email capabilities are very good, especially if you use Microsoft Exchange. Having the contacts, calendar, tasks and email synchronized with a remote server is great. I recommend this to anyone who wants to pay an extra $9 or so for a hosted service and go through the setup, which is not too “hard”, but still harder than for a random POP3/IMAP account.

If you are on Yahoo or Gmail, you should be able to use their respective email applications for Windows Mobile, which is the easiest way of handling email for most people.

Web Browsing

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The low-resolution display is the main culprit of a bad web experience
Web browsing is not a strength of this phone, it’s actually bad compared to what’s out there and what’s in the same price range. If you want to stop by a mobile site like CNN or ubergizmo.mobi, the Samsung Jack will be fine, but a desktop site like Yahoo Finance won’t look like much, if it works at all. You can also forget about web 2.0 site that use AJAX and JavaScript (Google docs…). Windows Mobile 6.1 and the low-resolution display of the Samsung Jack (320×240) just don’t provide a modern web browsing experience.

Camera

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The photo quality from the camera is average – not good, not bad – but I noticed that the camera was not capable of macro photo (close object). In this example, I simply could not get it to focus on the SIM card. And the E71 or the Curve 8900 would do very well on this test.

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This photo was taken with the Samsung Jack
 
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This one was taken with a BlackBerry Curve 8900
 

Data Connect

In our test, we got a download speed of 683 Kbps on average, over seven downloads of a 1MB file from DSLreport. (650, 742, 666, 893, 578, 577 and 681 Kbps). That’s pretty good, but usually the real issue with wireless is latency (per http request), which is why web pages load slowly. Keep that in mind. Top download speed isn’t all there is about internet speed.

Battery Life

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1480 mAh
The battery life is probably the highlight of this phone. In our test, we have been able to use the phone from Monday at 6am to Friday a
t 10am. Note that WIFI was OFF during that time and that the phone’s display wasn’t used much. Battery life is one of the most sought-out feature on a phone and this kind of battery life blasts away my original Blackjack, but also my recent BlackBerry Curve 8900 when used in the same way.

Conclusion

The Samsung Jack is a decent phone, but it’s not edgy by any means. It has a nice design, but so do the Nokia E71 or the Curve 8900 and both are in the same price range. Here’s what I would recommend on average (clearly, each person has unique needs):

If you require a great battery life and can go by with decent email+SMS, then this is a solid phone to consider. If you want a good web experience or a better display, look elsewhere. AT&T has the Nokia E71, which is fantastic travel companion as it can hold the maps for the whole world in a 4GB micro-SD. Outside of AT&T, the Blackberry Curve 8900 is also a possible contender, but it does not have 3G (which is a non-issue for SMS and Email). We’re talking about $100 phones here – and you can get some of them for free (with a contract) on Amazon.

The great battery life and the native support for Microsoft Exchange are the main factors that would sway someone towards this phone. Finally, look at the total package: what is the price of the data plan, including email access and data (web browsing/downloads) access? Nowadays, it’s not rare that the data plan costs more than 10X the price of the phone over a couple of years. if you have more questions, drop a comment.

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