The Samsung Blackjack

I have been walking around with an O2 Atom Exec for almost two years now. It was my second PocketPC phone and I really loved it for its compact size. PocketPCs are notorious for being huge brick slabs but the O2 Atom was perhaps the second PocketPC to really be small enough to pass off as a celphone as opposed to a miniature laptop (the first being the O2 Mini 2 aka the HTC Magician).

I ended up getting an O2 Atom Exec, which was basically a souped up Atom with a more elegant finish, but it had one major flaw: the battery life was not very good and the device got hot very fast when WiFi was turned on — this would burn the battery at a tremendous rate, which caused the said heating up. Other than that I was perfectly happy with the device, up until I got an iPod Touch. I am not saying that the Touch is a superior device to the O2 Atom Exec; the two are clearly different kinds of gadgets that fill different needs, however the glaring factor was in the physical make up of the two devices: The Atom Exec was a chunky 18mm in thickness. Two years ago this was great as many phones were in the 20mm range and certianly most PocketPCs were even bigger.

However in this new age where you have devices like the HTC Touch (which weighs in at 13.9mm) and the LG KS20 which is at a mindblowing 12.8mm — probably the thinnest PocketPC to date — the Atom Exec suddenly wasn’t feeling all that suave. Worse, when I got the iPod Touch which was a mere 8mm in thickness, let’s just say the Atom Exec started feeling fatter and fatter in my pant pocket.

And so began my search for a thinner phone. But I came across a bit of a quandary. I originally got into PocketPC phones because I needed a PDA that I could use to take notes on the go and otherwise manage my data in a device that I always kept with me. I said goodbye to conventional celphones a long time ago in favor of PocketPCs for this express purpose. This was the beginning of my trend towards convergence as I began to consolidate my gadgets into one do-it-all device, but this had problems as I posted in another part of this blog. Yet I have never regretted doing so, and I love my Atom Exec but I began to realize that now that I had an iPod Touch, the role of PDA may very well fall to the Touch instead of my phone.

As I had noted in another entry on this blog, the Touch does a great job of being a PDA (among other things) and being as thin and pocketable as it is, I always had it on me. There’s also something about the iPod allure that makes you always want to have it with you anyway, and it certainly doesn’t fail to disappoint as eye candy. So, did I really still need a PocketPC for my phone as a PDA?

On the other hand, I was feeling the need for more than just a candybar touchscreen tablet. The PocketPCs were always awesome phones in that they were really easy to use. The touchscreen made navigating them really easy, and perhaps most importantly Microsoft came up with a little gem called MS Voice Command which is probably the best thing to ever happen to a phone. With Voice Command, you could dial contacts, receive notifications on SMS and even use the phone as a DJ for your MP3 jukebox with nothing more than your voice. I fell in love with it. I use it all the time. There’s nothing like talking to your phone and having it do your bidding. It’s especially useful while driving where you don’t have time to look at your phone. Instead all I do is press a button and say, “Call So and So” and the phone responds promptly and sends the audio over to my bluetooth handsfree. Ah, this is mobile bliss.

But the PPCs that I had were all candy bar tablets with no keyboard! I found that this was not the ideal setup for writing text messages, and here in the Philippines SMS is the name of the game, we are known as the Text Messaging Capital of the world with phone company reports showing that we send the most text messages per person in the entire world. For text messaging, nothing beats a QWERTY keyboard in terms of speed and convenience. And I mean a real, hard keyboard, and not the soft keyboards you get on a touchscreen like I had on my PocketPCs and the Touch.

So I went and did a search and found that the Samsung i600, the international version of the Blackjack which was considerably popular in America, may just be what I needed. It was thin — 11mm, but had a full QWERTY keyboard and it ran on Windows Mobile 5. The catch was it wasn’t a touchscreen; it was running Windows Mobile 5 for Smartphone, rather than the PocketPC edition. In use all this meant was it wasn’t touchscreen, and seeing as I already had a Touch, the touchscreen was no longer a major concern. I could opt to get the i780 instead — which is basically the i600 but a little chunkier at about 13mm. But the main reason I got into replacing my Atom in the first place was because I wanted something thinner, no?

So I took the plunge a week ago and ended up getting a Samsung i600. Samsung is perhaps the world leader at making slim handhelds and the i600 was awesome. It was so thin and light, I could put it in my breastpocket without feeling weighed down like I did with the Atom Exec. This phone is actually lighter than the Atom, despite being a bit taller and wider. It was a lot thinner, though, and that’s exactly what I was after.

 

All in all I am extremely happy with the device. I installed MS Voice Command and got to using with the same features as my Exec, and it has a QWERTY keyboard which is just awesome for text messaging. However, the problem is I really find myself longing for the touchscreen. The device is pretty user friendly but I find myself hitting the display with my finger a lot. It’s been a week since I got the i600 but years of using a touchscreen have left their mark.

The phone is also no longer suitable as a PDA. Whereas with my old PPCs you could easily bring up notepad and tasks and the calendar and navigate them with ease using the touchscreen, it is more of a chore to do so with the i600 and the phone is basically relegated to just that: being a phone, albeit with a kick-ass voice interface and an awesome QWERTY keyboard. But it no longer has the fluidity that my previous PPCs had as a PDA.

All in all though, it was a good bye. I traded in my Atom Exec, sold it to my best friend who really needed a phone. For the price I gave him, I was able to get this new phone just by adding a few hundred pesos, a pittance and I was able to upgrade to a new phone and experience a different kind of gadget. I love the phone though I am still somewhat on the fence after a week as to whether I should have gotten the Samsung i780 instead.

The i780 is chunkier and a bit heavier, but still thinner and lighter than the Atom Exec. But in overall size I’d say it’s quite bulkier than the Exec. Here is a comparison shot of it and the Samsung i320 from Mobile-Review.com (an excellent review site), which is more or less the little brother of my i600:

Have to say that the i780 is an awesome phone for such a cheap price. It’s like half the price of the typical HTC PocketPC, yet has all the features in a Blackberry formfactor. What’s there not to like? Aside from Samsung stubbornly refusing to use USB and sticking with proprietary connectors, I think the phone is a huge winner. The unusual 320×320 screen will pose some compatibility for some apps that are looking for a QVGA screen, but there are workarounds for it and most people won’t be using such apps anyway. At the price, the phone is a steal and I still mentally kick myself now for getting the i600 over it, but the i600 was about half the price and I basically got it for free trading in my Atom Exec. The i780 is probably the ultimate convergence gadget for me, but as the years have gone by I have found myself diverging from convergence and more back to specialized gadgets for specific needs.

Moving away from convergence, having a seperate PDA (the iPod Touch) and a seperate phone (the i600) made some sense although old habits die hard, I still long for the i780. Maybe eventually I will trade the i600 in for the i780 but for now it is doing great as the ultimate messaging device that it billed itself as, while my Touch is great for the ease of use as a PDA/MP3 Player/web browser.

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