Technology

Samsung's Juke: Switchblade Cool


1030_juke
Editor's Rating: star rating

A decently priced music phone that stands to lure the more forgiving listener

Maybe you've seen those pulsating TV commercials for the new Juke phone, with those edgy youths dancing up a storm as they flip the device open with a flick of the thumb? Well, even if all that looks a bit too cool to be true, the device itself is just that.

The Juke, made by Samsung and available through Verizon Wireless, looks part iPod Shuffle, part switchblade. The device, attractively priced at just $100 with a two-year contract and rebate, is by no means thin. In fact, as cell phones go, it's fat, measuring 0.8 inch front to back. By contrast, the new Motorola (MOT) Razr2 is just less than half an inch thick.

Tricky hinge

But thanks to its novel design, unusually refreshing for the predictable world of cell phones, the Juke is tiny in an entirely different way: It's uniquely narrow for a cell phone, measuring just 1.2 inches wide, or less than two fingers put together, and it weighs only 2.8 ounces.

As compared with most music phones, this one looks more like a portable music player than a phone with a few music controls. On the front, there's an iPod-like navigation wheel and a narrow display. But like a switchblade that springs open from the side, the Juke's top swings up when you flick a corner with your thumb to reveal the phone's dialpad.

On the downside, you'll have to get used to some quirks related to the phone's hinge, which is located behind the music scroll wheel. When you're using the Juke as a music player, you hold the phone with this scroll wheel at the bottom. But before you can flip it open to make a call with the dialpad, you have to turn the phone upside down so the hinge is positioned at the top. And lefties beware. Don't expect the Juke to flip open in either direction: The switchblade only swings to the left, a natural thumb motion when you're holding the handset with your right hand, but not your left. It no doubt would have been more complex and costly, but a design that flipped both ways would have been nice.

Smart features

Unlike the controls on many music phones, the Juke's buttons for playing music and dialing calls are well integrated even though they're located on separate surfaces of the phone. When the device is flicked open, for example, you can use the music navigation wheel to bring up the phone's main menu of functions, then press the right or left buttons on the dial pad below to select an application. While that may sound uncomfortable, it actually feels natural, with all the buttons within easy reach of the thumb.

Another neat feature: When you're listening to music, you can chose whether to accept an incoming call or ignore it with the phone closed, right there on the music player screen. This feature means a world of convenience, and though it seems so obvious, many other music phones can't perform this simple trick. You can also send and receive text messages or shop for ringtones while listening to music.

As the Juke is one of the few music phones on the market to come with gigabytes of internal storage capacity for your music, it also doesn't have a memory expansion slot. I like internal memory, as it's simpler than slipping those tiny cards into the phone. But since Juke's 2 GB of storage will hold about 500 songs, those who like to walk around with vast music collections might be better off getting a phone with a memory slot so they can swap as many cards in and out as they'd like.

Nice niche

Be forewarned, this is also not a great camera phone. It can't capture video clips. And because the phone's screen is so narrow and small, you have to squint when taking a picture to see how the shot looks. Finally, while it sports all that memory for music, the Juke only offers a cramped 22 megabytes of storage for photos and ringtones.

Another potential drawback for some users is that the Juke can't be used to purchase and download music over Verizon's cellular network. For now, most people still put music on portable players by "sideloading" songs from a computer after copying them from CDs or buying them on the Internet. This is how it works with Juke and some other prominent music phones like Sony Ericsson's Walkman W580i (BusinessWeek.com, 8/1/07). But over-the-air music downloads are becoming a more common feature on newer phones such as the slightly pricier LG Chocolate (BusinessWeek.com, 7/20/07), so the Juke won't be for everyone.

At a price of $100, the Juke is pegged as an entry-level phone. It's bound to lack some features. This is by no means an iPhone (AAPL), which sports a great Web browser and up to four times more internal storage. But hey, the Juke also doesn't cost $400. It's designed for a different market—teens and more casual music listeners—and for that audience, it's perfect.

Kharif is a senior writer for BusinessWeek.com in Portland, Ore.

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