T-Mobile Sidekick users were probably a bit stunned when it was announced that data service for the popular messaging handheld would cease on May 31. Though the interruption of service is certainly inconvenient, it doesn’t mean the end of the Sidekick–quite the opposite, actually. The T-Mobile Sidekick 4G, which will be available April 20 for $99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate, pumps new life into the Sidekick line with the addition of the Android operating system, a touch screen, and enhanced messaging features, among other things. As with the previous models, the Sidekick 4G won’t be for everyone, but we found a lot to like about it. Read on to find out if it’s right for you.
Though Samsung has taken the reins from Sharp, the company wisely kept a lot of the design elements that made the Sidekick a Sidekick. The T-Mobile Sidekick 4G still has the landscape-oriented slab form factor and it’s about the same size (2.4 inches wide by 5 inches long by 0.6 inch thick) as the Sidekick LX 2009, but it’s a bit more streamlined since there aren’t as many gaps or protruding buttons. As a result, the phone feels smoother and slips into a pants pocket more easily.
The Sidekick 4G has a plastic construction and feels relatively lightweight but solid. We miss the soft-touch finish found on the previous Sidekick, but you do get a textured surface on back along the left and right side, making it easier to grip the device when you’re using the keyboard.
Another aspect taken from the old Sidekicks are the four navigation controls that occupy each corner of the handset. Gone are the dedicated Talk and End buttons, but you still get the home, menu, back, and jump keys. The jump key will bring up a view of your most recently used applications. There’s also an optical joystick that doubles as an OK button as well. However, it’s rather small, so we found it difficult to use for scrolling through lists.
Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on the joystick for all your navigating needs because the Sidekick 4G has a 3.5-inch touch screen–a first for a Sidekick. The addition of the touch screen makes it easy to launch apps and scroll through the various home screens and menus. You can also quickly zoom in on Web pages and pictures, thanks to the pinch-to-zoom support. In general, images and text looked sharp on the 480×800-pixel display. That said, videos looked a bit murkier compared with some of today’s higher-resolution screens.
Of course, two hallmark features of all the Sidekick models were the moving screen and the keyboard. The Sidekick 4G has both, but with regard to the former, the smartphone goes more the way of the Sidekick Slide with a slider design. It’s a bit different in that you don’t need to slide the screen all the way up. Instead, with one good push, the screen pops up and sits at a slight angle. It’s a pretty smooth action, and the “pop-tilt” hinge feels quite sturdy, so we don’t have any major concerns about long-term durability.
Once open, you have access to the five-row QWERTY keyboard, and as we’ve come to expect from Sidekicks, the keyboard is excellent. There’s ample spacing between the bulbous buttons and they provide a nice tactile feedback, so we were able to type quickly and with very few mistakes. We also appreciate the presence of the number row and dedicated keys for emoticons, the @ symbol, and voice commands. You can also create shortcuts using the combination of the jump key and a letter. Some are already preset–for example, pressing the jump key and the M key will launch the music player–but you’re free to create more. If you don’t need to write a long message, the Sidekick 4G also offers the Swype virtual keyboard.
Rounding out the device are a 3.5mm headphone jack, a volume rocker, and a power button on the left side (when held in portrait mode) and a Micro-USB port and camera button on the right. We found the placement of some of these buttons to be troublesome. Most notably, when trying to capture an image using the camera button, our palm would often hit the power button and thus lock the phone before we could snap the picture, which got to be quite annoying. The 5-megapixel camera lens is located on back sans flash, and you’ll find the microSD expansion slot behind the battery door.
The T-Mobile Sidekick 4G comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a preinstalled 2GB microSD card, and reference material, and you can purchase the smartphone in either matte black or pearl magenta.
* User interface and software
Recognizing the need to replace the older devices and come up with something that fits into today’s market, Microsoft and Danger made a joint decision to shut down the Danger service and transition to a new mobile platform. As a result, the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G now runs on the Android operating system, more specifically Android 2.2.1.
Sitting on top of Froyo is Samsung and T-Mobile’s custom Kick UX interface. It’s different from anything on other Android phones and caters more to the Sidekick’s younger target audience. You can customize the seven homescreen panels with various themes and wallpaper that are slightly flashier than most.