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Status Symbols: Samsung BlackJack

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The first time mobile browsing wasn't 100 percent irritating

BlackJack stock
BlackJack stock

Status Symbols are devices that transcend their specs and features, and become something beautiful and luxurious in their own right. They're things that live on after the megapixel and megahertz wars move past them, beacons of timeless design and innovation.

The Samsung BlackJack was my first "smartphone," and my first introduction to a phone with a full keyboard. Before that was a long line of Nokias, which I was fairly happy with. I didn’t buy the BlackJack, but inherited it in brand new condition, figuring I’d give it a shot.

The BlackJack was a Windows Mobile 5 phone with a 2.25-inch color screen (320 x 240 resolution), which at the time seemed gloriously, luxuriously giant and crisp. It was released in November of 2006, just about six months before the original iPhone. In terms of hardware, it didn’t get much better than the first BlackJack: solid black plastic, a beautiful, clicky keyboard, and also my favorite feature: a jog wheel. It also had a decently long-lived battery for its day. I once dropped the phone very, very hard onto concrete ground, and watched it explode into what seemed like one million pieces but was probably closer to four. Unlike today’s solid, fragile slabs, the BlackJack simply snapped back together and we were good to go.

At the time, the screen seemed gloriously, luxuriously giant and crisp

The Samsung Blackjack was AT&T’s first 3G phone. You may not remember what a big deal that was, but at the time, in practice, this meant that the phone seemed blazingly, almost impossibly fast, in areas where 3G reception was available. It changed how I interacted with a phone. First, it was realistic to write and send emails on it, but more importantly, it was great for reading lots of email. This meant that the relationship between me and my email changed forever, and it all started with the BlackJack. My favorite thing to do with it, however, was to read RSS feeds and catch up on the news while I walked to other places, usually the subway on my way to or from work. Windows Mobile had a pretty decent built-in RSS reader, and I spent a lot of time adding feeds to it, so that suddenly, my 10 minute walk in the morning felt useful to me.

Years later, part of me would probably rather have the 10 minutes to myself, but back then, this new way of life seemed full of novelty. It was also my first experience of browsing the web on a phone that was not 100 percent irritating. That fact is actually rather hard to imagine from this distance, when phones are one of our main ways of staying connected, but in 2006, it seemed almost miraculous to me.

I kept the BlackJack for the better part of a year, until I switched to the iPhone a few months after it was released. But, in my memory at least, it is still the best phone I've ever owned.