Samsung Jack Review: Design and User Interface

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The Jack is a Windows Mobile smartphone created by Samsung as a successor to their BlackJack line.

Samsung Jack Front

The Jack is designed to target the business and professional market dominated by the Blackberry. This target is clear both from the device’s design, which closely resembles a Blackberry Curve, and from the device’s functionality. The Jack runs on the Windows Mobile 6 platform, and can be upgraded free of charge to Windows Mobile 6.5.

Design (2 out of 5)

As mentioned previously, the physical design of the Samsung Jack is very similar to a Blackberry Curve. An immediate difference that you can’t get from a picture is the weight. While the Blackberry is a hefty, sturdy phone, the Samsung Jack feels cheap as soon as it’s taken out of the box. It is lightweight, but not in a good way as the slick plastic case feels like it would crack at the slightest impact. The 2.4" diagonal TFT LCD display has a QVGA resolution of 320x240, which is decent, but lagging behind competitors in the same niche.

While the keyboard looks like the standard QWERTY smartphone design, the layout is ‘off’ in critical ways. The shape and proximity of the keys makes it easy to hit wrong or multiple keys, a problem which I have never had on other phones of similar design. Additionally, the ‘cancel’ button on the Samsung Jack is very easy to accidentally press, which is extremely annoying when typing an email or SMS.

The most frustrating design choice by Samsung is their decision not to include a headphone jack. Instead, you must use a small extension that attaches to the same proprietary plug as their charger and USB cable. Not only is this extension cable easy to lose, but it makes charging or tethering the phone while using headphones impossible.

User Interface (2 out of 5)

Since the Samsung Jack is a Windows Mobile 6.x smartphone, the “home” screen is completely un-customizable beyond the built-in layouts, which only change the position and formatting of items and not the actual content. I have never used 80% of the options on the home screen, and instead am forced to go several levels into the menu to access my common applications. Many important settings for the phone are also hidden below several layers of menus, with no consistent ordering or guidance.

In general, most of the navigation options on the Samsung Jack are confusing and mis-ordered, with the most common and frequently used options hidden behind uncommon choices. The bottom of the keyboard is layered with quick-navigation keys that are tied to proprietary AT&T applications, and have no apparent configuration options. These keys are extremely easy to press by accident, which will exit whichever application you are currently using. The interface is also extremely prone to lag and unresponsiveness, commonly taking up to 10 seconds to respond.

The one positive aspect of the interface is how calls, SMS, email and calendar appointments are easily accessible from the home screen along with a short preview. However, the lack of customization for these items is a major shortcoming.

Features (4 out of 5)

Samsung Jack Back

The non-phone features of the Samsung Jack are the sole bright spot of the device. It has a 3.2 megapixel camera and camcorder, which takes the best quality pictures of any camera phone that I’ve used, although the video quality is slightly lacking. The Jack has generic wi-fi support, including a very useful AT&T wi-fi application that allows you to access over 17,000 AT&T and Starbucks hotspots. Decent web access is provided using the built-in Internet Explorer mobile. The Jack includes GPS capabilities; however, AT&T’s bundled Navigator application requires a fee for usage after the first month.

Most instant messaging protocols are supported through applications found in the Marketplace, and the Windows Mobile platform provides excellent access to multiple email accounts for all common protocols such as Exchange and Gmail. The Internet Sharing application is extremely easy to use and useful for tethering the Samsung Jack to a laptop or desktop computer and sharing internet access. When connected to a 3G network, tethering can provide speeds of up to 5mbps.

Performance (1 out of 5)

The most noticeable drawback of the Samsung Jack is it’s lagging performance. Even though it comes with a better processor and more RAM than it’s predecessor, it still starts up slowly and has terrible performance when coming out of locked mode. Contrary to most other reviews, I’ve found that the battery life is horrendous. Even sitting on a table with only one push email account running, it requires a charge after about 8 hours.

The call quality is also extremely spotty and prone to dropping calls, and the audio volume in calls is much lower then other phones that I have used. Compared to an iPhone, which has a bad track record for dropping calls, the Samsung Jack is worse. It also has a problem with reception coverage, consistently receiving several bars less than a similar phone in the exact same location on the same network.

The Verdict (2 out of 5)

After using the Samsung Jack as my primary phone for several months, I am sorely disappointed. There has rarely been a moment when I was pleased or excited about a single aspect of the device, and the small but frequent frustrations such as lack of a headphone jack, slow response times, and poor call quality left me constantly peeved at the device. While it is relatively cheap, the Samsung Jack does not represent a good value relative to other devices in the same price range. Given that this phone is targeted at the demanding business and professionals market dominated by the Blackberry, it falls far short of the mark.