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Cingular deals up new Windows smartphone

Gary Krakow likes most of what he sees in the new Cingular-Samsung Blackjack. But it can't dethrone the T-Mobile Dash.
Samsung's new Blackjack smart phone is being offered exclusively by Cingular.
Samsung's new Blackjack smart phone is being offered exclusively by Cingular.Cingular

It’s Cingular’s turn to introduce a thin, manageable and sexy smartphone to compete with Verizon Wireless’ Q phone and T-Mobile’s Dash. 

The newest member of this exclusive club is called the Blackjack and it comes equipped with some very clever features — as well as a few that need some further refinement.

The Blackjack is a small, thin 3G world phone. 3G means that it works on Cingular’s latest, third-generation, high-speed UMTS/HSDPA wireless networks (850/1900 MHz) as well as the worldwide GSM/GPRS/EDGE networks (850/900/1800/1900 MHz). What all that means is that this phone should work nearly everywhere on the planet.

The handset itself measures 4.4 by 2.3 by 0.5 inches and weighs only 3.5 ounces. It runs on a 220 MHz Texas Instruments processor and sports 128 MB of ROM (read-only memory) and 64 MB of RAM (random-access memory). There’s a good-looking 2.2-inch backlit color screen, a 1.3 megapixel camera, micro SD card expansion slot, Bluetooth connectivity, travel adapter and data transfer cable.

It also comes with two 1,200 mAh Lithium-ion batteries and a separate A/C charger. When a cell phone comes standard with two batteries, it usually means you need both batteries to get through the day.

In my tests, one battery lasted approximately 13 hours if I checked email every five minutes during peak business hours. If I lengthened that stretch to checking every half hour, the battery lasted more like 24 hours. For the record, T-Mobile's Dash lasts nearly two days per charge if I check mail every five minutes during peak hours.

Like the Q, Dash and a number of other new smartphones, Blackjack runs on Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system and all the MicrosofT-Mobile Office applications packed inside. Cingular also loads the phone with software that lets you browse/buy from Cingular’s Music, Video and Media Net Websites. Cingular wants to get the message across that this is a very media-capable smartphone.

Getting started
When I took Blackjack out of its box I tried turning it on. No battery installed. When I went to put a battery in, I noticed a clear plastic sticker on the battery cover warning me that obstructing this area would give me less-than-optimal performance. You can’t hold the back of the phone when you’re making a call? They put the antenna where it can be blocked during normal use? Where are you supposed to hold this handset? They have to be kidding.

In real world testing, I didn’t notice much difference in performance when I delicately held the phone or covered the back completely with my hand.

As with other smartphones, a five-way controller located just under the screen handles most of the navigation duties. It lets you move up, down, left or right — with a button in the middle to enter a specific program or page.

The five-way controller on the Blackjack is very small, flat and round — which made it difficult for me to navigate around the screen. My finger always slipped off and found its way to other, unwanted buttons. On the plus side, Blackjack also has a BlackBerry-style thumb wheel which helps alleviate the problem somewhat.

Ingenious solution
Unlike other Windows smartphone I’ve played with, Blackjack’s phone-dialing number keys are not next to each other. There are letter keys (black) in between the number keys (gray) to give your fingers a little extra room when you’re dialing. I have no feeling about it either way but it is an interesting solution to a common smartphone problem. 

All other hardware functions on the Blackjack seemed to work as promised. The phone seemed to open Web pages very quickly — probably 20 to 30 percent faster than my T-Mobile Dash which operates on somewhat older/slower data networks. As for software, Internet Explorer opened quickly but seemed to be very slow when it came to opening Cingular’s audio and video online stores.

I’ve spent a lot of time telling you about some of what I found to be negatives. Not all is bad.  Blackjack is terrific — small and lightweight and capable of handling just about everything I asked of it. It is an extremely well-made modern-day Windows smartphone. It just has the misfortune of being compared with my current smartphone favorite, T-Mobile’s Dash.

But, if you’re a Cingular customer, Blackjack could be the answer to your prayers.  Currently, Cingular is selling the phone for $199 ($299.99 minus a $100 mail-in rebate) with a two-year service contract.