The new SGH-i617 features the same basic form factor and design as the original BlackJack. The phone's flat block shape tapers down at the bottom, giving the phone a pleasing look and an equally pleasing feel in the hand. The lines used by Samsung's designers are all very clean and soft, with the only exceptions being the squared corners on the buttons found in the d-pad control cluster beneath the display. New for the BlackJack II is the piano black glossy finish on the cover, which makes the phone something that any CSI investigator would love to find at a crime scene. It is worth noting that the wine red version has a textured back cover that doesn't show fingerprints, but it still has a glossy front cover.
The display on the BlackJack II has a 2.4" screen that can render 65,000 colors. This QVGA resolution screen is crisp and colorful, and can be set to any one of 5 brightness levels, all of which I found to be quite workable. It has an almost paper-like appearance to it that I just love. The aforementioned control keys and d-pad all work quite well and are attractively designed. The BlackJack II's d-pad scroll function works better than the one found on the T-Mobile Shadow that we recently reviewed, and proved itself to be quite useful. I do think that it would work even better if it had a more fingertip grabbing radial pattern on it instead of its concentric circles design, which doesn't provide enough grip for dry and cold wintertime fingers.
The d-pad isn't the only thing that lacks a bit of grip on the SGH-i617. The phone's otherwise stellar QWERTY keyboard's keys have the same glossy surface as the rest of the device, something that makes them a bit slick at times. The older BlackJack didn't have that problem, though it did suffer from a strange number key layout that has been fixed on the new model. The new BlackJack II also has a couple of additional shortcuts keys that I find quite handy. Overall, it is an exceedingly good keyboard, it just could have been a tad bit better if it had kept the old design's matte finish.
The remainder of the device is pretty simple. A nicely shaped volume rocker control is found at the top of the left edge of the phone, and the multi-purpose power/data/headset port is located directly beneath it. I would have preferred for this port to have been on the bottom of the device, though, as side-mounted headsets are a real problem in pockets. A power button is located on the top of the device, which I like since it also calls up the Quick List menu. A small multi-color status LED is located nearby. It provides information about charging and new events, like received messages. The right edge of the phone is bare except for the microSD slot, and the nicely sculpted back cover of the phone bulges out where the 2 megapixel camera is located. Otherwise, the rear cover is plain except for the subtle Samsung logo.
The Samsung SGH-i617 sports a near perfect design for a messaging smartphone. It weighs only 116g (4.1oz) and measures 114mm x 61mm x 13mm (4.5" x 2.4" x .5") in size, with an additional 2mm bulge for the camera. That's not bad at all. There are a few little snags, like the glossy surfaces, but overall it is one of the most elegant and practical QWERTY phone designs on the market.