Paris Hilton, Snoop Dogg, Lindsay Lohan, Tony Hawk--they're all fans of the T-Mobile Sidekick II. Although it's not particularly sexy, the mobile device's powerful messaging features have earned it wide popularity with the younger crowd, and now, the new T-Mobile Sidekick 3 adds a number of notable improvements and additions that should keep it on the "gotta have it" list of celebrities and urban hipsters alike. First, there's a slimmer and sleeker design, and you finally get integrated Bluetooth for hands-free calling, as well as EDGE support for faster Web browsing. It has a better camera and a built-in MP3 player, and while they're certainly not good enough to replace the real things, the added multimedia functionality is nice. Of course, the Sidekick 3 is still a messaging machine, and whether you're sending e-mails or text or instant messages, the Sidekick does it all well; it's not a bad phone either. That said, we really wish it had a higher-resolution screen.
Although the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 is a smart phone, it's not quite suited for the busy corporate user, and the Sidekick's manufacturer doesn't hide that fact. It's designed for users who want to keep on top of their social lifestyle rather than their workload, and for teens and twenty-somethings, the Sidekick is a solid and fun device. The Sidekick 3 will be available exclusively online to T-Mobile customers first, starting June 28, then in retail stores nationwide on July 10; for those of you who live in New York or Los Angeles, you can get the Sidekick 3 at select T-Mobile stores on June 28. Price points are set at $299.99 with a two-year contract, $349.99 with a one-year contract, and $399.99 with a pay-as-you-go plan. T-Mobile also said it has no plans at this time to offer a trade-in program or discounts for Sidekick II owners.
The Sidekick has never been the sleekest handheld on the block, but with each iteration, it has shrunk in size. At 5.1 by 2.3 by 0.8 inches, the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 is no different, measuring a hair thinner in width and depth than the Sidekick II. On the flip side, it's marginally heavier than its predecessor at (6.7 vs. 6.5 ounces), but that's not surprising, considering all the new features packed into the handset. Also, the Sidekick 3 now sports a more sophisticated black and silver color scheme, as opposed to the Sidekick II's off-white casing.
The T-Mobile Sidekick 3 is comfortable to hold in the hands as a messaging device, but with its blockier, PDA-like form factor, using it as a phone (the earpiece is located on the left side of the device) takes some acclimation. Then again, it's no different than any of the Pocket PC phones out there, such as the Cingular 8125 or the Sprint PPC-6700. Plus, it's equipped with a speakerphone and Bluetooth, so you have the option of hands-free calls. Our one big complaint about the phone: If you want to dial a number that's not in your address book, you have to open the screen first so that you can access the keyboard/dial pad, then close it again to use it as a phone--a really cumbersome setup.
The navigation controls on the front of the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 remain largely unchanged from those of its predecessor, though they're more streamlined. Plus, you will find one new feature: the trackball. Replacing the scrollwheel found on the Sidekick II, the trackball gives you the freedom to scroll left and right and not just up and down. You can also press the trackball to select a highlighted item or open a pop-up menu. In addition, the globular control illuminates different colors for various functions and alerts, making for a neat effect. Is it gimmicky? Sure it is, but it's cool nonetheless. We polled a couple of avid Sidekick users around the office, and their reactions to the trackball were the same: weird at first, but you eventually warm up to it. You can also navigate the various menus using the more traditional directional keypad located to the left of the screen.
As we mentioned earlier, previous Sidekick users will be familiar with the rest of the Sidekick 3's controls; the only major difference is that their layout is more compressed, so the individual buttons are closer together. Despite this, however, they're large enough for avoiding any misdials. In addition to the aforementioned directional keypad, there is a Menu key and a Jump button on the left side, while the Cancel button, Send and End keys, and Done button are on the right. It's hard to see the icons of each control against the black casing, and only the Send/End buttons are backlit. However, the controls are easy to master, so you shouldn't have too many problems after the first couple of times using the phone.
In the center of it all is the 2.75-inch TFT screen (note that it's not a touch screen), but much to our disappointment, Sharp didn't make any improvements to this aspect of the Sidekick. Although the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 displays 65,000 hues, it retains a lowly 240x160-pixel resolution, giving the screen a dull and washed-out effect. Colors don't pop, and images and text aren't as sharp as we've seen on other devices. To flip up the screen and access the full QWERTY keyboard, just nudge the upper-right corner or the lower-left corner of the screen, and the display quickly rotates a full 180 degrees and snaps into place with a satisfying click--but watch your fingers.
The T-Mobile Sidekick 3's QWERTY keyboard is one of the best we've seen on a phone. The spacing between buttons is ample, and though Sharp switched from the rubberlike keys found on the Sidekick II to firmer buttons, they were still tactile, and we had absolutely no problems firing off e-mails and instant messages. What's more, they're adequately backlit for typing in darker environments, and there's a dedicated number row.
Along the bottom edge of the device, there is a volume rocker, a power button, and a 2.5mm headset jack. We have to warn you, though: The volume rocker and the power key are a lot smaller than on the Sidekick II, and they're set flush with the phone's surface. As a result, we had to press the buttons firmly. To activate the Sidekick's camera, just press the right multifunction key on the top of the unit. The camera lens is located on the back next to a flash and a self-portrait mirror. Finally, Sharp added a Mini SD card expansion slot to go with its new multimedia features, and though you have to remove the back battery cover to access it, we still appreciate its inclusion. As a bonus, a 64MB Mini SD card is included in the box. T-Mobile also packages the device with a wired headset, a USB cable, an AC adapter, a protective case, and a wrist strap.
After we reviewed the T-Mobile Sidekick II, a few key items remained on our wish list of desired features, and we're happy to report that the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 addresses them--and then some. First, the device now has integrated Bluetooth 1.2, so you can pair the unit with other peripherals, such as a Bluetooth headset or a hands-free car kit, or you can wirelessly send a vCard to another Bluetooth device. In addition, it supports T-Mobile's growing EDGE network, which means you can enjoy quicker (but still not 3G) speeds of around 100Kbps to 130Kbps. The Sidekick's Web browser already does a good job of compressing and optimizing Web pages for viewing on the Sidekick, but with the added EDGE support, download times are even faster (see Performance for more).