Thursday, 07 December 2006

I almost didn't write this one. But then I changed my mind because it occurred to me that there's a lot of people who are in the same boat. Let me be very clear here that this entry is written from the perspective of a business power user, someone who stretches things to their usable limits, and then some.

As many readers here already know, I am a Blackberry guy. Have been for years. Occasionally, I go through the trial phases with other devices, sort of a change-up process that - at least to date - has always ended up being a sort of Blackberry Vacation phase for me.

Anyhow, yesterday I set aside my trusty and scratched Blackberry 8700, with it's extended battery and general useful goodness, to try the latest in Windows Mobile technology for a while - the Samsung Blackjack, procured from Cingular. Giving up my Blackberry, which has survived multiple submersions (don't ask, don't worry) and significant drops on many a hard surface, is not something I take lightly.

The Blackjack looked interesting. I had an opportunity to switch out with no risk and to see what it's all about. The TV commercials had caught my eye, truth be told, and it looked like about as good of a Windows Mobile device as any, probably even better. So, I thought, what the heck... And yesterday it arrived and we swapped out the SIM cards. I went about my business sans-Blackberry and with a sleek new phone. This blog entry is my (rather pointed)comparison of the two devices and software. It's important to note that a comparison point of view is my primary perspective when I review mobile devices. In order to make a switch from what I already have it has to work for me in a business sense, well enough to make me want to move, so a comparison with a power-business-user slant is both fair and meaningful.

Anyhow, It's been an interesting 24+ hours.

First off, the 30,000-foot Gestalt view: To be honest, my hopes have been fairly dashed. No matter how you skin it, from a strict usability standpoint the Windows Mobile 5 experience still just doesn't match that of the Blackberry. It's much closer than it used to be, but the remaining gap is real and there's much work remaining to be done to move into the same category. And I am not referring to the Blackjack hardware here (more on that in a minute). I am referring to the OS as a whole and the UI navigation specifically. I have to scroll and click through so many things just to do the simplest tasks. The conglomeration of operating system and applications (some controlled by MS, some by the device manufacturer, others by the carrier, I am sure) is just a little too klutzy to work well. It's right on the edge of being too difficult to be practical. Keep in mind, I come from Blackberry land, where things work quite well, where Blackberry controls the hardware and the software in a much more complete manner. And that's the set of users that Windows Mobile needs to win over. Without that, the potential market is considerably more scarce. Also keep in mind, I really want the Windows Mobile experience to rival or even best the Blackberry - there's no fan-boy stuff going on here. The simple fact is that in practical power-user life the Blackberry wins by a significant margin. And by practical use I mean email, calendar, tasks, text messaging, and the like. Not MP3 files and video. Those are nice, but the basics have to work really well first.

What exactly am I referring to? On the Blackberry, I look at one screen and touch one wheel to do everything but type. Everything I need is right there, in full view. My email is one thumb click away and so is the calendar. On the Blackberry clicking the wheel brings up a context sensitive menu of options - all of the options right there on the screen without having to go to three or four more buttons on the face of the phone. Sounds picky, I know, but deal with several hundred emails a day and see how much of an impact it has. For that matter, spend ten minutes reading email flowing in on a Blackberry and then see how long it takes you to do the same thing on the Blackjack or any other Windows Mobile device. It's a different world.

Now, granted - Blackberry doesn't have some of the terrific things the Blackjack and Windows Mobile sport, and it's some pretty darned cool stuff that you get on the Blackjack/Windows Mobile device, to be sure. For example, the 3G UTMS/HSPDA network is amazingly fast (the Blackberry 8700 is an EDGE device, which is okay but doesn't really even compare speed-wise), and of course the Blackjack has a camera, which is something you can't get (yet) on a Blackberry (but the 8800 model with a camera is rumored to be coming in the spring). The 1.3 megapixel camera does a pretty nice job, by the way. Much better than other phones I've used before. Windows Media Player 10 (with some nifty streaming audio and video on the fast network provided by Cingular) and the ability to use MicroSD cards is cool. You don't get that on the Blackberry. And a solid MSN/Live Messenger application that I don't have to go find and pay for was a welcome item, as well. It also does AOL and Yahoo! messengers, by the way.

Did I mention it's a phone? Bluetooth 2, speakerphone capability and a very good phone call and sound quality are all pretty impressive.

There have been three lock-ups that I had to pull the battery to resolve. One was a network data failure to communicate at all this morning first thing, and the others were random application glitches it seemed. I have had to pull the battery on my 8700 a few times, but it's very, very rare.

Ultimately, even with the cool bells and whistles, if I cannot reliably and effectively do email, calendar and messaging in a very quick, painless and efficient manner like I can with the Blackberry phone, it's all for not. At best the experience on Windows Mobile takes some getting used to for a Blackberry user, and yet in reality even after some adjustment time it still lacks. You just have to navigate too much and too far with too many pointers and controls to get much of anything done, and the beautiful, bright screen is used for "bling" more than for practical real estate application. I will look for screen themes that better use the space, but I'm not holding my breath.

As far as the hardware goes, it is a nice feeling device. It's very solid and feels substantial in your hand. I like that. I think the proprietary cable that hooks to the USB port and/or charger cable was a terribly bad decision. Why not mini-USB so I can use my existing cables and chargers? Oh, wait - that's right. How would they sell more accessories if they all match? Ugh.

And don't get me started on battery life. Get this - between 8am and 3pm, I completely went through a charged battery, and that with only one phone call all day, and that call only lasted five minutes tops. I have the Exchange push-sync thing going and Bluetooth is turned on (by the way, the Bluetooth on the 8700 is flaky and the Blackjack has it beat in terms of reliability). I imagine that uses a bit more battery, but is it unreasonable to expect that the battery would last at least a day? The Blackberry lasts forever on a charge. I have a hard time killing it on a dawn-to-past-dusk day of emergencies and lots of phone calls. Good thing there's two batteries with my Blackjack - I needed them both just today. That's not good. A Microsoftie friend tells me there is some way to  turn off the HSPDA capability and that doing so might help with battery drain, and also that the push configuration with Exchange is a power-killer as well. But to me it seems like the features should be supported by the battery system. Either that or else the features need to be made a lot more efficient. Again, I am speaking from a practical standpoint. It has to work in the real world, regardless of what it is. And I can't change batteries mid-day in many cases. Hopefully after a few charges the life will get a little better but I can't imagine it getting so much better as to alleviate the concern.

Probably my biggest and most noticed disappointment about he hardware is the keyboard. I was surprised at how hard it is to type on this thing. Visually the keyboard is pretty cool and is somewhat similar to the Blackberry. But once you touch it you realize the keys are long and tall in shape, close together, and it's too easy to screw up finger placement. They're also slippery and stick up a long way, making accurate finger action even more difficult. The spacebar key is too narrow, and there's actually room there on the device to make it wider - which makes its lack of size even more unfortunate. And worst of all, as I type email or anything at normal typing speed the device randomly misses keystrokes. They just don't register. And at other times the OS seems to lag in showing what I type. I have had to go back and fill in missing letters and characters all day long on the thing, which is doubly frustrating. Again, from a practical standpoint that's not good.

I hate even writing this, because I very much wanted to like the Blackjack. And while I don't quite hate it (and I will stick with it for at least a few more days to see if somehow my experience and opinion changes), the usability issues have just about killed it for me out of the gate. The enthusiasm is gone and it's been fairly disappointing.

I have to believe that on the platform side Microsoft is truly interested in going after the serious enterprise business market, which is why I mention these details about the OS. And I will happily share my thoughts and experiences with anyone on the Mobile OS team that wants to take them. I'm picky, heh. And the war's not over yet: Today no less than ten people noticed the cool form factor of the Blackjack and instantly asked me if that was a new Blackberry I had. "No," I told them, "it's a Blackjack Windows Mobile phone." Hmmm! said the looks on their faces. "Do you like it?" they asked with anticipation. "No," I said. "It's driving me nuts. It should be cool but so far it's just too much work to use it." And that's the truth.

As I said, I almost didn't write this. There are many people out there that will get the Blackjack and love it, I am completely sure of that. It's a great phone. But as a hard-core power user on the business side, I need more - and this is my way of asking.

First impressions count for a lot, and the experience I've had with the Blackjack - colored by my experience with other devices that work very, very well - was simply less than I had hoped for. I think I have reasonable expectations. I am hopeful - and somewhat confident - that it will get better in the future. At least I sure hope so. The Windows Mobile OS has a lot of potential to kick butt. It just needs to get across that magical proverbial line, and probably Microsoft needs to do even more to ensure that the device makers do their part, as well. I know that seems like a legal stretch, but hey there's plenty of proof showing why it's needed. Blackberry has perfected their form factor and their software, which while relatively simple is elegant and works very well. Microsoft doesn't need to copy them to come up with a great solution, and they don't need to stifle the channel partners, software authors and hardware manufacturers, but they do need to set high standards, and they need to push hard and fast.

If and when that happens, maybe then I'll switch. Maybe it'll be a no-brainer. I am open to it, and hope that someday it will happen. Until then, I think this is just another vacation from my Blackberry career, but I am willing to let time tell. Heck, it's probably a good idea to stick with something else for a short period anyhow as far as repetitive stress injury avoidance goes, at least. Right?



Add/Read: Comments [21]
Mobile | Tech
Thursday, 07 December 2006 00:20:24 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Thursday, 07 December 2006 00:56:33 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Greg,

Thanks for the review. Interesting that today I walked over to the Cingular store to have a look at this device and the Cingular 8525. The Blackjack did feel nice, and as I already have a WM Smartphone (2125), it was familiar, but I didn't like the keyboard at all. The 8525 was much nicer to me and the keyboard seemed great. The 8525 is a Pocket PC device and has a touch screen and all of the other nice stuff that comes with the Pocket PC side of Windows Mobile.

I've never used a Blackberry, but suspect they've got the one-handed thing down better. In fact, my understanding is they (Blackberry/RIM) have a patent on the scroll-wheel functionality...gosh patents piss me off these days. Not sure of the details on that, though.

In any event, I've got 6 months left on my contract and they jacked the price up for both devices for me. Won't be doing a swap for a while. Anyway, thanks for the review!
Thursday, 07 December 2006 08:40:54 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
BlackBerries rock. I support several of them here at work and I can honestly say that they are superb when it comes to getting the job done with no frills. The thumb wheel is the best feature of all.

I myself, do not own one. While they practically give the device away, they make all of their money on the plans required to use the device to it's full potential.

I find that a WM5 device works fine for what I need. I use the HP IPAQ 2795b, it works great. I mainly use it via Wi-Fi to check email on campus if I am not in my office. Oh yeah, that and E-Wallet. Ahhh, E-Wallet. The utility I cannot live without. Gotta love the 256-bit RC4 encryption, too.
Monday, 08 January 2007 20:08:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I just got the blackjack today. It's my first fone that does more than just call and download ringtones so i was indeed impressed. I take your word for it that the Blackberrys are better from a practical standpoint and I will make a mental note to upgrade when I upgrade my workplace from store clerk to private buissness owner. From a media standpoint I am very satisfied with the Blackjack, movies, songs and such. I found the same problems you had with the lag and the keyslippage and the crampedness and somekeys refusing to register on the first click.

I do have a question or two for you about the blackjack:
Do you know how to create or sync ringtones ready to be accepted with a "set as ringtone" like my brothers i930?
and for some reason my email will not work when I enter my yahoo id (alex_sokolof) and the password and that is a major bummer.

I just love the camera and camcorder feature... i understand your reasoning, "There are many people out there that will get the Blackjack and love it," i love it already after day one despite these problems. we are, though, using the phone for different reasons so as far as my needs go (enough stuff to keep me entertained and the power to add more) the blackjack does the trick
Alex Sokolof
Friday, 02 February 2007 06:31:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I live in the Sticks of Thailand so don't have any of these "Uber" phones but I was wondering what your take was on the New apple Iphone, is it a similar product and how does it compare?
Saturday, 03 February 2007 10:20:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I am very grateful to have done a goggle check this morning prior to going and purchasing the BlackJack; I also love gadgets and my Blackberry is famous because I have not switch devices for 6 years--the longest by far; I much like yourself, about every six months see different devices and am tempted to switch because they just look so cool--but after either getting a loaner or testing it, I always switch back because of the two items you hammered on, the batter life and usability by one hand. I have the 8700 and do look forward to the camera upgrade. I run exchange and prefer email over phone calls- I have converted our whole executive team to Blackberries because when I first arrived I couldn't get a hold of anyone, and no one could every get their other devices to work (two had palms and the other two windows), I consolidated everyone to the 8700 and them eventual moved all management to the 8700; outsourced exchange to a company that had the blackberry enterprise function and it has done wonders for the communications and tracking internally. Very simple to manage, even the CEO who is technically not gifted uses it to email me back...which NEVER would happen prior--yea I had to move the screen font size up, but the simplistic flow of the Blackberry is as I have thankfully read, unmatched.

I again much like yourself was really hopeful that the BlackJack would be a winner, in fact when I started to read the Blog, I was hoping you would have said the opposite-I thought since Windows moved away from a touch screen I would be able to use it one handed and not have to jump though all windows to do simple tasks- when I read about your comments with hundreds of emails and the extra steps, I laughed thinking about voice mail message I have stating that I only check the VM nightly and if it is an emergency they can email.

Thank your review. DRC
DRC
Sunday, 08 April 2007 21:04:45 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
hey just some fyi if you use just one of the batteries for a few days it will break it in and it will last you alot more ive gone three days without charging mine :-) works great but now with my simcard being stupid i can never get or make calls .. even when im out doors! and my sonyericsson s710a is amazing with signal compaired to this but oh well its a price to pay when you want something cool
Andrew s
Friday, 27 April 2007 16:31:26 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
The Blackjack has been nothing but good to me since the first day i've used it. You really can't compare a Blackjack and a Blackberry, it's impossible. They are two totally different devices that are used for totally different things. The Blackjack is the best phone on the market (in my opinion, for price and functionality). I have not had it freeze on me once. As far as the 3G data goes, it's new, it's still being roled our as of today, so I would expect to have some issues here and there with any 3G phone. Also, if you're not working with the phone the way it is supposed to be use, it will freeze. You must clear out the programs once in a while to free up some memory. I didn't read that you tried that once. It's seems to me that you're just so used to the Blackberry environment, that you really dont understand how to configure the Blackjack the way you needed it in order to get things done faster. I've been selling CellOne/Cingular/ATT now for the past 7 years, and as far as i'm concerned, if you know what your doing and know the ins and outs of a windows based phone, you'll be fine. 24(+) hours is really not enough time.
Friday, 08 June 2007 17:14:21 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
just reading about the blackjack here confirms my worries about the blackjack, just purchased it the other day along with a sony ericson P990i, heck im evn typing all of this right now... and well if uv worked with a blackjack then u'l understand the frustation im having typing out long msg's, its ok for short sms's and all, and dont get me wrong ive closed all the other tasks in the backround, so the blackjack missing keystrokes really is a glitch in the phone.... the whole reason i got the blackjack for myself was for instant messaging and emails and internet browsing, not to mention the speed of internet and the great sound quality... but still the whole real point was instant messaging, and the sad truth about the blackjack is that there is no jvm (Java Virtual Machine) on it, which for me = no instant messaging unless someone has a solution for a non java based multi messenger for msn, aim, yahoo and mostly gtalk.... otherwise ive just wasted cash.... the missing keystrokes i can get used to but the complete inability to chat on instant messengers?? well cant run my bussiness efficiently or correct me .. smoothly since instant messaging really is what the nae states instant, someone please find me a solution before i go mad... lol.. and oh yeah remember i typed all of this on the blacjack, the trick is just getting used to releasing one button before you hit the next, thats the only glitch i know with the keys... if you can even call that a glitch... its irritating but you get used to it
Charl Du Plessis
Saturday, 09 June 2007 09:44:14 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Thanks everyone for all the comments. Clearly, the Blackjack is far from a failure ad many people like it a lot. As I mentioned early on, the most critical needs for me are ability to type a lot accurately and without errors, plus long battery life. OS stability and usability are also inmportant. If I was using the blackjack to watch video or to do the occasional SMS maeeage and MSN IM stuff, it would be more than sufficient. But becuase I had it synced with my Exchange server and was using it for hundreds of emails a day and many calls, it just would and could not meet the needs.

In the end: It's a great consumer phone but does not meet the needs of what I think is someone representative of common heavy business use.

I'm looking forward to seeing what they cone up with next. Most of the issues could easilly be fixed with better power management (software), better keyboard managment (software) and some usability changes in the OS and apps (especially email). Palm sis a few usability changes with the Treo 750 (based on real world needs and problems iwth out of the box Windows Mobile), and they came closer. So, it will be cool to see what's next.

greg
Monday, 25 June 2007 05:11:28 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
HOW DO I MAKE THE EMAIL SETTINGS WORK ON THE BLACKJACK FOR EXPRESS MAIL PLEASE HELP
KATHY
Monday, 13 August 2007 13:01:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I've been a blackjack owner now for almost a month and have yet to have any problems with it... Sure, at first its drawbacks are annoying but i've learned to hack them or live with them. The only thing i cant quite get used to is the keyboard; it is indeed a pain in teh ass. As for battery life, I dont need the WCDMA 3G bull. That's what kills your battery the quickest, so heres a lil hack for yah. Connect your blackjack to your pc, and in your my computer, open up the device. Go into the windows directory and find the program BandSel.exe(i think its in the windows directory but cant remember off the top of my head, but just look; its there), create a shortcut and place that wherever you like. When you fire that beast up it allows you to select from 3 bands, GSM 800 (which is EDGE), GSM 1900 <--what I use (also EDGE), and WCDMA (3G). Even if you do have a data plan, im sure you dont always use it so reverting back to EDGE will indeed save your battery. Im using the Smaller of the two batteries they give you and it lasts me 2 days before even starting to die. Also the IM client it comes with is junk, get IM+ im sure you can get it for free if you know where to look ;).

Heres some handy sites for making some modifications:
http://www.corynielsen.com/modifications-and-hacks/overclocking-the-blackjack
http://joel.burslem.ca/?p=215

Also on a side note:

Theres a registry editor out there for WM 5, i know cause i have it, where i got it? no clue...

TCPMP, its a free awesome media player cause WMP sux at playing large videos and is a processor hog

Theres a NES emulator out there somewhere... GET IT cause it will increase your 1337ness by like 500 points lol.
Adam
Saturday, 18 August 2007 12:58:34 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Hi Adam... where were u able to find the free Instant Messenger... can u please email it to me at imjussochic@aim.com... thanks
Tonya
Saturday, 01 September 2007 13:10:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
In your report you said that the battery life pretty much sucked. But I got the Uber battery for it and my phone lasts for 4-5 days without dying that includes me wathcing video, listing to music and talking. now i dont do all those things all day but i think it has exellent battery life as long as you get the big battery.
Sunday, 23 September 2007 14:02:04 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Note: Non-constructive, individualy insulting comments will always be removed. If you have something constructive to say, please do. If not, don't waste your time - or anyone else's. Thanks.

- gh
Monday, 01 October 2007 12:23:40 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I NEED ASSISTANCE WITH MY BLACKJACK SET-UP

I CAN RECEIVE ALL MY E-MAILS VIA MY GMAIL ACCOUNT, HOWEVER I CANNOT REPLY OR SEND. AT&T TECH INDICATES ITS GOOGLE. I CAN RECEIVE MY EMAILS/AND THE INTERNET IS WORKING. THE PROBLEM IS SENDIND NEW OR REPLYING. ERROR MESSAGE:LOGGS ON AND READS: AN ERROR OCCURRED WHILE DOWNLOADIND MESSAGES. VERIFY YOU HAVE INTERNET COVERAGE...... AGAIN JUST ON MY OUTGOING MAIL. AT&T SEEMS TO THINK GOOGLE MAY HAVE CHANGED THE SETINGS?
FOR OUTGOING... THIS PROBLE JUST STARTED,I WAS ABLE TO REPLY AND SEND BEFORE... PLEASE SUPPLY SOME POSSIBLE TROUBLESHOOTING TIPS FOR BLACKJACK ..I DO NOT USE MEDI-NET...OG SERVER SMPT.GMAIL.COM .. NO CK ON REQ AUTHO..help;;;;;VERY FRUSTRATING TKS CHARLIE
Charlie Corley
Sunday, 14 October 2007 20:28:01 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I'm having issues with the micro SD. It locks up the BlackJack when I access mp3's from it. I can't find a list of approved micro SD's either which is a real pain. My micro SD is a Lexar 2GB. Has anyone else had issues with their micro SD? Thanks, Brian
Brian
Wednesday, 16 January 2008 15:06:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Interesting review. I think you're right about the fact that the blackjack is for 'enterprise business' users.
This is the first smartphone I've owned, and I got it when I started with the company I work for right now. It's definitely a powerful phone- I can check emails, and stocks when I'm away from a computer. It's got a 'vcard' feature, so I've added mself as a contact, and I can just sent that information to anyone as an sms message. It's replaced my old phone, my alarm clock, my pda, and has a lot of nice features!
I haven't experienced battery problems, I usually don't even take my charger with me when I fly out on short trips... But I guess I should pack it now just in case!
I wouldn't recommend this phone to the average high school student- maybe a very busy law student. But if you need a heavy duty tool to help keep you organized, this is the one.
Tuesday, 29 January 2008 12:26:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I've had a BJ for two days and feel like I could have written the same review you did. I'm a long-term BB user and have abused my 8700 for three years without it complaining. I live on the edge of range of several cell towers and usually have two bars at best. Phone use is marginal at best on the BB with frequent disconnects. The local AT&T guy told me that the 3G signal would be much stronger for voice even though it is primarily for data. He was right - a miracle. I now have four bars and voice is great. Unfortunately, the email capability of the BJ is weak from a user-friendly perspective. I miss the ease of access the BB offers and particularly hate how difficult it is to type on the BJ. I miss the auto-text and key-hold capitalization features the most. The messages display is particularly weak and the lack of shortcuts on the BJ really make me miss the BB. The proprietary USB connector is irritating also. A road warrior hates having to have multiple cables in the overly crammed flight bag. The BJ is going back to AT&T.
Brett Kriger
Wednesday, 30 January 2008 16:42:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
i noticed today that when i went to my pictures they were NOT there. i know they were there this morning because i txt'd some. My background is still up and in the settings it says the background is a different picture than what it really is. what should i do? e-mail me and tell me whats up
Monday, 17 March 2008 19:01:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Greg,

all along ive been able to access internet, and medianet, and all sorts of things accustomed to the blackjack. All of sudden this past week, ive been unable to do anything that involves a connection. I can't send or receive/ download picture or video messaging. I can't access the internet or anything. Everytime i try it says "Error- unable to connect. verify your profile settings and try again". The only thing i can think of is that i accidentally hit a button or something, i cant figure out how to fix it. I did not alter my plan or anything of that sort, and i still can't understand it. Please help me!
Evan
Saturday, 19 July 2008 07:59:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Read your entry with great interest. Thanks so much for diving deep into the Blackjack. I just purchased a Blackjack ii. I need to sync my yahoo calendar. Using Vista and the wmdc I am hopelessly lost. If there are any websites you might suggest I would be very grateful. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Ellen
ellen
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