Just as we said in this review, we think Sidekick is a good deal, but it could use some improvement. Since the time of this review, this model has been superseded by a new color version that offers a 65,000-color transflective screen, a faster processor, and twice the RAM of this model.
T-Mobile's Sidekick, a.k.a. the Danger Hiptop, has been touted as the BlackBerry for the masses, a mainstream, wireless e-mail/phone/PDA hybrid that carries an affordable price tag--both from a hardware and a data-services standpoint. Impressively, the innovative and slickly designed Sidekick lives up to its billing, though it's not fully cooked yet and does have a couple of small drawbacks that keep us from rating it even higher.
|With its screen closed, the unit is about the size of a large bar of soap.||More versatile--but slightly larger--than a deck of cards.|
It's hard to say exactly what type of device the Sidekick is most akin to, but if we had to go with one, we'd say that it looks most like an advanced, two-way pager along the lines of Motorola's Timeport P935. Weighing 6.2 ounces and measuring 4.5 by 2.6 by 1.1 inches, the device is a bit bulky--it's larger than both Handspring's Treo 300 and RIM's 5810 model PDA/phone hybrid. However, the Sidekick weighs slightly less than T-Mobile's own Pocket PC Phone Edition and comes with a nice carrying case that attaches to the belt, although most male users will probably tote the Sidekick on their hip.
|The ergonomic and full-featured keyboard includes a four-way navigation button.||Twist and shout: The Sidekick's swiveling screen.|
From a design perspective, the device's most innovative and distinguishing feature is its rotating screen, which swivels 180 degrees to reveal arguably the most tactile, noncramped minikeyboard on the market. The 240x160-pixel, 4-bit screen displays 16 shades of gray and is sharp for a monochrome model. Still, we look forward to the day when the Sidekick goes color.
Though it's not pocketable, the Sidekick comes with a pouch.
The Sidekick is far from the most ergonomically friendly phone we've used, but you can chat on it both with the screen swiveled open or closed. We found ourselves dialing with the keypad, then swiveling the screen shut as the call went through. We then used the phone as we would a normal candy bar-style mobile, albeit a bulky one; the mike is between the Menu and Jump buttons, and the speaker is just above the scroll wheel. This layout is not ideal--especially since the screen bulges out of the center of the phone--but it works well enough. As noted, the Sidekick is loaded with functionality. Since this PDA is geared toward consumers rather than corporate users, you won't be able to get your company e-mail just yet, although T-Mobile says that it has a deal in the works. However, the device comes with an e-mail address, and you can add up to two POP3 accounts. The Sidekick is equipped with 16MB of RAM and 4MB of flash-upgradable ROM. The limited amount of memory--sorry, there's no expansion slot--means that you'll have to manage your e-mail judiciously and filter the attachments that you receive, though we should note that you can open and read Word, PDF, and JPEG files.
|The camera is optional but might be included with select service plans.||Get a little rest and relaxation playing Rock & Rocket.|
The Sidekick ships with a Web browser; AOL Instant Messenger; and organizer features such as contacts, a calendar, a to-do list, and notes. You also get the standard phone features, which include a call log; support for MIDI ring tones (12 songs and seven chimes are included); two-way SMS messaging; and some decent games, such as the Asteroids-like Rock & Rocket. You can import contacts from a SIM card and dial their numbers directly from your address book with the click of a button.
One nice thing about the Sidekick is its always-on access to the Internet. T-Mobile charges a reasonable $40 for an all-you-can-eat data plan--so long as you aren't using the phone. If you do make or receive a call while surfing, you'll be disconnected from the Internet. After the call ends, the Sidekick automatically logs back on to the Web, a process that can take up to 30 seconds.
|AIM to please: This should tickle the fancy of IM fanciers.||The USB (pictured) and IR ports aren't enabled yet.|
The unit ships with a headset, a charger, and a standard carrying case. An optional car adapter, a deluxe carrying case, and a camera attachment ($50) are available. If you catch the right promotion, T-Mobile may throw in the camera attachment for free, although it's really not worth paying for--see the Performance section for more info.
You'll also notice both USB and infrared ports on the side of the unit. At some point, these ports may offer additional functionality, but as of this writing, neither did. That leads us to a gripe: Currently, you cannot sync your desktop PIM (contacts and calendar information) with the device. Instead, you have to import or manually input your contacts from, say, Outlook to a password-protected, Danger-sponsored site. Once the info is on the site, your Sidekick will be automatically updated with the info.
In the future, T-Mobile will probably offer syncing capabilities and possibly a beaming solution. Also, for an additional fee, you'll be able to add downloadable, polyphonic ring tones; games; and wallpaper graphics. Danger says that it can update the device wirelessly, so you won't have to take it into a store for upgrades. Surfing the Internet on the Sidekick is a surprisingly good experience, thanks to the combination of a high-speed, GPRS connection and some compression technology on Danger's Data Services Framework. Web pages load about as fast as you'd expect from a standard dial-up connection, and articles are fit to the screen--you can view about 11 lines of text in a small font. We found the Web experience to be on a par with or even better than that of Handspring's Treo 300, which uses Sprint's 3G network.
|Upend the Sidekick to use it as a phone.||Alternate method: Plug it in and dial on up.|
The IM experience via AIM is even more impressive. The built-in keyboard makes it easy to type messages, and responses appear as quickly as they would with a dial-up connection on a desktop computer. You can have up to 10 chats simultaneously, and the Sidekick offers a full range of buddy-list-management features, including the ability to assign certain ring tones and light tones to specific buddies. Hopefully, other IM services, such as MSN or Yahoo, will become available.
As we noted earlier, don't expect much from the camera attachment, which snaps color pictures at a meager 120x90 resolution. Conveniently, you can store up to 36 images in your device gallery on your Web-portal page, which also holds your contacts. The Sidekick automatically sends pictures to the device gallery once you take them.
|Can I borrow a cup of sugar or a picture of a flower?||You can do a mess of messaging using AIM.|
Phone performance is a mixed bag. Using T-Mobile's GSM/GPRS service in San Francisco, we had a generally good experience. The Sidekick doesn't have a speakerphone, but if you're in a quiet room and you jack up the volume, you can hear voicemail and callers through the speaker without holding the unit up to your ear. However, we found that it was sometimes tough to hear callers when we were outside, as traffic and other background noises impinged on our conversations. That said, once we used a headset, callers' voices sounded loud and clear; they said that we sounded just fine, as well.
Battery life is acceptable but less than stellar, particularly in the standby department, where we were able to achieve only slightly more than two days, compared to T-Mobile's rated standby time of 60 hours. We hit the rated talk time of 3 hours, but you should be aware that using the data services a reasonable amount during the day will sap your talk-time minutes--you'll definitely want to recharge the unit at night. In other words, it's a good idea to keep the charger close at hand. Luckily, it isn't too big, but you wouldn't want to keep in your pocket.