T-Mobile Sidekick 2 Review / Danger Hiptop 2 Review

by Reads (260,827)
  • Pros

    • Easy to use

  • Cons

    • Not a good PDA replacement


The T-Mobile Sidekick 2, also sold as the Danger Hiptop 2, is a fun-loving converged device.  This device is targeted at consumers in the 16 – 30 year old age range.  It is not being marketed as a corporate style business device, but rather a phone, internet and camera converged device for every-day life outside of business.  Ironically though, the Sidekick 2, priced at $199 in the U.S., is more innovative, usable and clever in certain ways than the palmOne Treo 600 or HP iPaq 6315, converged devices targeted at grown-up business users willing to spend $600.

 

T-Mobile Sidekick 2 / Hiptop 2 With Screen flipped open and AOL IM application open

Specs

First let’s go over the specs.

  • Form factor: Flip screen (Opens to expose QWERTY keyboard. Closes for compact storage)
  • Size: 130 x 66 x 22 mm (5.1″ x 2.6″ x 0.9″)  (Width x Height x Depth)
  • Weight: 184g (6.2oz)
  • Display: 240×160 pixels, over 65,000 colors (16-bit color), Transflective TFT screen viewable in bright sunlight
  • 5-row QWERTY keyboard , dedicated number row , dedicated 12-key dialpad area , includes easy access key for @ symbol
  • Backlit screen and keyboard with light sensor
  • Integrated VGA (640 x 480 pixel) camera, supplemental LED for close-range illumination , night mode setting for darker environments, convex mirror for self-portraits
  • Navigation and Controls
  • Scroll Wheel with push capability
  • Send/End buttons (with page up/down capability)
  • Directional pad
  • Control buttons: Menu, Jump, Done, Cancel, Volume up/down, Power , Application-specific shoulder buttons
  • Front and back speakers
  • Speakerphone
  • 12-voice polyphonic sounds
  • Vibration Motor
  • GSM/GPRS radio Tri-band (900/1800/1900 MHz) Multislot Class 10 functionality
  • Wireless off “airplane mode”
  • Memory: 32 MB RAM, 16 MB Flash
  • Battery, Rechargeable internal Lithium polymer battery
  • Interfaces: Audio jack, Power jack, Lanyard attachment

You’ll have to forgive the fact I can’t even tell you what processor is in this device.  I’ve hunted the Danger.com website (Danger is the inventor and designer of the Hiptop device) for such a specification, but the fact is Danger just doesn’t care for people to know this.  And to be honest, it just doesn’t matter, Danger makes no apologies for the fact this piece of hardware is not on the cutting edge with speed, it doesn’t need to be.  It performs everything it needs to very fast and you simply don’t need the latest 624MHz Intel XScale processor for the functionality provided

Hiptop 2 or Sidekick 2, What’s the Difference?

Some of you may not be familiar with who the company Danger is and how the Sidekick 2 is related to this company.  Danger is a company based in California that a couple of years ago designed and released a device called the Hiptop, the predecessor to the Hiptop 2/Sidekick 2 being reviewed here.  T-Mobile bought the right to sell the Hiptop under their own branding and called it the Sidekick.

Danger is a one trick pony in terms of products, it has designed only the Sidekick and now Sidekick 2.  They have designed these devices and then relied upon manufacturing partners to actually make the device based on specifications provided by Danger, and then they rely on wireless carriers to sell and market this device.  Sharp signed a deal with Danger to manufacture the Hiptop 2, so they’ve got a great manufacturing partner there.  In the U.S. T-Mobile and Suncom market and sell the Hiptop 2 to their customers.  T-Mobile sells it as the Sidekick 2 and Suncom sells it as the Hiptop 2.

There is no difference between the Sidekick 2 and Hiptop 2, same device with a different name and slightly different logo design on the case.

What Does the Sidekick 2 Do?

The Sidekick 2 is best termed as a converged device, some might call it a Smart Phone, but in general that term is reserved for a business type of tool.  The Sidekick 2 is a converged device that provides the following built-in functionality:

  • Cell Phone (GSM, uses a SIM card)
  • E-mail device, send and retrieve email wirelessly.
  • Web surfing device, browse anywhere on the web using the built-in GPRS radio
  • Instant Messenger device using built-in AOL IM software, if you are familiar with AOL IM and have buddies on that messenger system then you’ll love the functionality the Sidekick 2 provides in regards to this.
  • Built-in VGA camera allows you to snap photos and then email them to yourself and friends.  You can also upload them to a Danger provided server location.
  • Basic Personal Information Management (PIM) device.  Not half as robust as PDA software on the Palm OS or Pocket PC platform, but built-in Calendar, Address Book, Notes and To Do list provides the basics.
  • Gaming device, you can play a basic space shoot ’em up or purchase other games by downloading them wirelessly.

In order for all of these internet based wireless functionality features to work, you’ll need to pay an extra $20 on top of your existing T-Mobile plan if you are already a customer.  If you are not a customer of T-Mobile you’ll pay $29.99 per month for the data service and $.20 per/minute for a local call.  There are other plans available, checkout the T-Mobile Sidekick 2 website for alternatives: http://www.t-mobile.com/promos/sidekickII.asp.  The Sidekick 2 uses GPRS radio communication to access the internet.

Design

The Sidekick 2 is indeed a uniquely designed device.  The flip up screen rotates clockwise after giving a little lift at the bottom.  In a word, this screen design is fantastic.  I still get a kick out of flipping the screen, the geek in me is tickled each time I do this, if you like attention it’ll also get people looking at you and asking questions too.  By rotating around, the screen is able to take on a form factor of being somewhat external to the device as you type on the built-in keyboard while browsing the web or instant messenging friends.  Rotating the screen back so it’s cradled in the device again means it serves as a very nice display for phone status or viewer for other functions you can perform without needing access to the keyboard, such as camera usage.  The way the screen actually springs around into place would make you think it might propel right off of its hinge eventually.  After a while you become convinced such a disaster will not befall the device and are happy it is so reactive when being flipped open.  A Danger representative I met assured me they tested the screen thoroughly to make sure it was rugged enough to be flipped open thousands of times without a hitch.

The Sidekick 2 is about as wide as two fun-size Nestle Crunch candybars and almost twice as thick (view larger image)

Overall the device looks somewhat like a cross between a digital camera and a handheld gaming device.  Call me old by making this reference, but when I first started using the Sidekick 2 I had flashback to holding a Sega Game Gear device (Click to View Sega Game Gear Picture).  No Sonic the Hedgehog on this thing though.  Many people have commented to me that the Sidekick 2 looks just like a digital camera.  When viewed from the backside, it absolutely does.  But this device is most certainly not first and foremost a camera as the resolution is only VGA, but this feature does make a lot of sense for the target audience. 

Come to think of it, when first looking at the Sidekick 2 it doesn’t look like a phone at all, there’s no obvious speaker or microphone on the front-side.  Tricky design work lead to Danger putting the speaker in a control button on the left-hand side of the device and the microphone is a small hole on the right-hand side of the device, just above a scroll wheel control.

The casing on this device is pure plastic, the coloring is light-grey.  Although the plastic casing means this device isn’t rugged, that’s not too much of a concern.  The plastic case keeps the weight down and also keeps the price down.  The device does not feel flimsy in anyway either.  The plastic is thick and molded in such a way that it does not flex anywhere on the device.

On the top and bottom of the device are rubber strips that serve as grips.  These grips can also be removed and replaced with various color grips.  This is so you can add your own style.  Personally I’m not too worried about putting orange strips along the top and bottom of something I use as a phone device, but it’s there in case you do care.

Usability

The most important aspect of a converged device is its usability.  Melding the functionality of multiple devices into one and making it simple to use still is a challenge.  Danger has made this device one of the simplest and most straight forward to use converged devices out there.  The fact they have tight control over the device by providing their own operating system and consistent user interface actually goes a long way in helping to achieve this.  The User Interface and applications on this device are all coded in Java and run on the devices own OS and virtual machine.  The graphics have a Japanese anime feel to them, so they’re certainly not complimentary to a tool being used in a corporate environment.

But in addition to making the software interface easy to use, the buttons on the device are very straight forward and easy to learn.

Let’s go over the input buttons available. 

  • Cancel Button – located on the top right of the device, dismisses any changes you have made to a text or dialogue box.
  • End Call Button – located in the vertical center on the right-side this button has a picture of a button with the receiver hanging up, so it’s obvious what this button does!
  • Scroll Wheel – located in the vertical center on the right-side this button is my favorite.  Rotate it up and down to highlight items on the screen.  In web browsing mode it scrolls through the screen and moves the cursor through hyperlinks.
  • Answer Call Button – located in the vertical center on the right, simply push this button to answer an incoming call or confirm you want to dial a number.
  • Done Button – Located on the bottom right-hand side of the device.  Hit this button to go back to a previous screen, or to accept and confirm user input.
  • Jump Button – Located on the bottom left-hand side of the device.  Push this button to go back to the Jump Screen, or what I would call the Home Screen, an area that allows you to get to all applications.
  • Directional Pad – Located in the vertical middle left-hand side of the device.  Use this button to navigate within text fields and for games.
  • Menu Button – Press this menu button to open up a menu of items available within the current application you are using.
  • Volume Control Button – Located on the bottom left-hand side of the device.  Simply use this button to increase and decrease volume.
  • Power Button – Located on the bottom right-hand side of the device.  Simply use this to turn the device on and off.
  • Shoulder Buttons – Located on the top of the device, these buttons are used for Back and Forward when in the browser application.  These buttons do different things depending on the application you are using, and for some apps are not used at all.
  • 5-row Qwerty Keyboard – The 5-row keyboard is located behind the screen upon flipping it up.  This keyboard is the most usable built-in thumbpad keyboard I’ve ever used.

 

A closeup of the left-side buttons

 

A closeup of the right-side buttons

All of these buttons are nice and big, with icons that indicate what they do.  The buttons have good tactile feedback when pushed.  In addition to this, the audible feedback that a button has been pushed is consistent throughout applications.  So if you hit delete when dialing a telephone number or when entering a note in the “To Do” application you’ll get the same audible noise to indicate you are deleting something.

The device buttons are particularly nice for browsing the web.  Click on the Menu button to jump to Bookmarks or Favorites.  Click on the bottom right button, or Back Button, to navigate Back.  Use the keyboard to type in information into a webpage in a very easy manner.  The scroll wheel and D-pad lend themselves beautifully to scrolling up and down on a web page.

Phone

The phone on this device is not stand-out, but works well in general.  The Sidekick 2 uses GSM for voice communications.  The phone is tri-band (GSM 900/1800/1900).  I’ve been using the device with T-Mobile service in New York City and haven’t had trouble hearing callers and have had no complaints from people on the other end of the line being able to hear me.  The T-Mobile service in New York City is so-so and I just give it a fair rating as from time to time you’ll get one bar of reception or lose service completely, even when outside, and that’s just not acceptable in the largest city in the U.S.  The Sidekick 2 also has a speakerphone, the speaker for which is located on the back of the device.  In order to dial a number you can flip up the screen and use the dedicated number pad keyboard after entering the phone application, or you can call up a numeric display on the device and navigate through the numbers using the scroll wheel or D-pad to enter numbers.  Using the on-screen numeric display eliminates the need to have to open the screen to dial a number, something which I find burdensome and awkward because you can’t hold the device to your ear if the screen is open.  You can also dial a number by navigating to your Address Book, locating a person and then clicking on their name after which you will be prompted with the choice to call them or not.  Using a recent call list or missed calls from within the phone application can also be used to dial out.

Web Browsing

Viewing such things as sports scores on the web (British Premiership league soccer results are being displayed in this picture) is an example of a task well suited for this device (view larger image)

The web browser on this device is decent and has nearly all the basic functions you’d need.  It offers bookmarks, favorites, forward and back browsing of course.  It does not offer javascript support, but since most of the sites you’ll visit will need to be optimized for mobile devices anyway, this isn’t a big drawback.  Given the size of the screen and resolution (240×160 pixels) you won’t have much fun navigating websites for typical desktop PC based browsing.  Sites such as www.CNN.com, www.WeatherChannel.com or www.ESPN.com will look horrible and impossible to navigate on this screen.  Instead try Yahoo Mobile (http://mobile.yahoo.com/) or BBC Mobile (http://www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/web/index.shtml , which happens to be my personal favorite for news).  The color screen makes for an enjoyable web browsing experience as opposed to the original Hiptop device which was colorless.

AOL IM

Using the built-in AOL IM application you can sign on using an existing screen name and see all the buddies you have on your normal PC based AOL IM application.  You can have up to 10 conversations going at a time. I don’t know too many that are that popular (although I’m sure you exist) or can multitask to that degree.  Fear not, you get all the same sound bites on the Sidekick 2 as you get on AOL IM desktop version.  You can put up an away message and all that good stuff.  Using AOL IM is actually really conducive to such a device, it’s very easy to type messages using the built-in keyboard so you can jam away at conversing online while sitting on the bus or passenger seat of a car with no problems whatsoever (noticed I said passenger seat, trying to IM people while driving is a really bad move).  The use of AOL IM is of course reliant upon a GPRS connection, but since messenger applications don’t require much bandwidth then your conversation really will be instant and no problems that you might get with web browsing where waiting for page download can sometimes take up to 10 seconds.

You cannot use ICQ or MS Messenger on this device, but as far as I can tell the target audience for this device is young and AOL IM is more popular with the young crowd anyway.

Address Book and Synchronization

Since this is a GSM based device it uses a SIM card so you can import contacts from your old phone simply by dropping the SIM card into the Sidekick 2 and then importing them using a procedure outlined in the instruction manual.  You can easily enter contacts into your address book and include simple information such as the persons name, phone, email, web address, mailing address and notes.  Using the keyboard makes it easy to enter a new contact.  After the contact is added you can quickly navigate through your address book and with two clicks of a button call them.  Once you’ve entered a person in your address book they will also be available via something called your online desktop interface.  Quick explanation of what this “online desktop interface” is.  Basically, Danger has provided this service in which all of the information you enter into your device is synched back up to an online server within seconds.  This information is then available to you via a website that has the same login and username you use on your Sidekick 2 device for email.  When you first get the device you’re taken through a setup wizard that has you select a username and password – it’s easy, so don’t worry about that being too much of a hassle.  I find being able to access information that is on the device via a website is somewhat handy, I especially like the fact all the pictures you take on the device are uploaded to the server as well.  Makes for easy download.  But really what this functionality provides is an excuse for the fact some wireless carriers don’t want you to plug in a USB cord to the Sidekick 2 device to synch with Microsoft Outlook.  Danger promised synch capabilities with Outlook for this second device and although it was not available at release of the device, there is now a 3rd party application that offers this ability.

A company called Intellisync (formerly PumaTech, www.intellisync.com) has made such software that does allow you to synch your Sidekick 2 with Outlook.  In order to get this software if you are with T-Mobile you will need to pay $9.99 for the download.  You have to go to your personal Sidekick 2 site and click on the link “Download Intellisync” to get this application.  So the good news is that Outlook synch is provided, but it is dependent on the carrier as to whether they make this available and supported, and it will cost you extra and little documentation exists.  If you have a Mac and want to sync with this device, well sorry, there is no such possibility.

Email

When registering the Sidekick 2 device you will choose a username and password.  The username you choose then gets you a username@tmail.com email address.  What I don’t need is another email address.  Thankfully you can setup downloading pop mail from other servers.  You can add up to 3 other accounts so you can download email from them while on the go and also respond to emails.  The email client is straight forward and easy to use.  You can receive file attachments such as images, word docs, pdfs and Excel.  When I sent a Word document to myself I actually received it in HTML format on my Sidekick 2 device, so quite a clever conversion takes place at the Danger server location to convert documents from Word to HTML.  Since there is no application to edit Word or Excel documents you’re limited to just viewing such attachments.  No big deal really, this is not a business oriented device and the fact you can still view a Word document that is sent to you but in an HTML format is good enough.  You can limit the size of attachments you receive so that you don’t initiate a download of some email with a huge 10MB attachment that would take forever to download over a GPRS connection.

Sending and replying to email is part of the course.  Sending picture attachments for images on your device is doable.  It’s really a great tool for quickly responding to emails while away from your computer.  Due to the fantastic keyboard on this device, typing out an email is not painful but actually can be quite quick.

The one major downfall that excludes this device from being a good business tool is that corporate email access is not supported.  If you are a student or using this device for non-work related activity this will be no big deal.  Also, if you are a small business owner or employee then you are likely just using a standard SMTP/POP mail setup anyway and this device would enable you to check and respond to email while on the road.

Screen

The 2.75 inch (diagonal) screen on the Sidekick 2 is, as I mentioned before, most innovative in its flip up style.  When speaking about the backlight and actual viewing of the screen though, you get ample colors but not ample backlighting.  The screen is somewhat dim, if you’re not in the sun this screen is in general bright enough and you won’t have problems seeing it.  Go outside though and you’ll be trying to angle the device correctly and shielding the screen from the sun if it is out.  Having a really bright screen though would drain battery life much faster, so given the fact you’ll want this device to stay powered all day it makes much more sense to keep the screen brightness down and battery conserved than having a blazing bright screen and a battery that’s sucked dry in a couple of hours.

Camera

The Sidekick 2 actually looks like a camera from the back-side

The camera is nicely integrated into the Sidekick 2.  As I mentioned before, the device actually looks like a camera when viewed from the backside.  There is a built in flash and a night mode so that when you’re taking a picture at a concert or in a restaurant and the lighting is low, there’s an actual chance the picture will come out!  However, since the resolution is only VGA you’ll be hampered by low resolution and resulting grainy images.  In my opinion, anything below 1.2 Megapixels for a camera is kind of useless.  But for random shots, I suppose this will suffice.  It’s easy to snap a picture when you enter the camera application.  The screen turns into a viewer and you simply push the button on the very top of the devices right-hand side so it even feels a lot like taking a picture with a real camera.  Below is a picture I took of a sunset from Terminal 3 of JFK airport in New York.  As you can see, it’s a fairly fuzzy image but good for capturing a random memory.  Once you’ve taken a picture you can opt to email it to a friend or family member in a matter of two clicks.  You can store up to 36 images on the device and those images are also replicated up to the server space you have on the Danger servers, this allows you to login to your online desktop and download pictures you have taken from there too.

Example photo taken with Sidekick 2 (view full size image)

Keyboard

The 5-row QWERTY keyboard on the Sidekick 2 is excellent; it’s really easy to drill out messages with your thumbs.  I honestly have never used a thumb pad that is as usable as this one.  The keys are spaced far enough apart so you are not hitting two at once yet the keys are still big enough that they are easy to push.  Travel on the keys is good; you’ll know when you’ve pushed a button without having to look at the screen.  Certain buttons that are used a lot for internet based communication, such as the @ symbol, have their own dedicated keys.

Battery

The Sidekick 2 uses a Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery.  Battery life is decent for the Sidekick 2.  T-Mobile advertises about 4.5 hours of talk time and almost 3 days of standby time.  In my experience I actually got around 5 hours of talk time and my standby time of 3-days before needing a recharge was accurate.  I actually got in the habit of charging this device at the end of each day, so having a dead battery was never an issue.

Complaints

The memory on this device is somewhat limited at 32MB of RAM and 16MB of flash storage.  This keeps you limited to 1,000 contacts in your address book and only 36 photos can be stored on the device at one time.  The kicker is, memory is not expandable in any way.  Any PDA you buy on the market today will allow for expansion via a memory card format such as Secure Digital, Compact Flash or Memory Stick.  The Sidekick 2 does not allow for flash memory cards.

Having a built-in MP3 player would have made a lot of sense on this device.  There’s no doubt the target audience is the type that’s interested in music in a digital format and listening to tunes on the go.  But there is no audio player or way to get music to the device, and the memory is so limited you couldn’t fit more than 4 or 5 songs on at the max anyway.  The Sidekick 3 would serve well to expand on the built-in memory available, or allow for Flash memory expansion, and then feature music file playback capability.

The synch capabilities of this device, although there, are not well documented and not well advertised.  T-Mobile even states in the instruction manual to leave the USB synch  port alone and that it’s for developers to use only.  There is also no way to synch your device with a Mac.

The final complaint I personally have about the device is that the outside logo branding and graphic UI design is too childish for my tastes.  This is kind of a big one.  I’d feel pretty embarrassed taking this into a corporate board meeting and having my cohorts see a screen with two Japanese Anime style characters on the screen.  It just doesn’t look professional.  The graffiti style Sidekick II logo on the back is a turnoff too.  Maybe I’m an old curmudgeon for saying such a thing, but I am still in my twenties so hopefully that’s not the case.

Conclusion

The Sidekick 2 is a fun converged device with a lot to like.  It’s easy to use, has a great keyboard, the form factor is innovative and can keep you connected in various ways to your friends and family.  It is not a good replacement for a PDA, unless all you demand of a PDA is the most basic of applications.  At the price of $199.99 this device is actually a bargain for what you get.  Compared to the Treo 650 or iPaq 6315 that cost well over $500, you get a device that performs the same core functions.  The Sidekick 2 also comes bug-free, I experienced nothing that would suggest there’s a bug anywhere in an application or in the OS.  The fact the OS is proprietary means you’re highly limited in what you can do outside of what’s included, but that means Danger has tight control over the device and keeping consistent look and feel between applications.  I wouldn’t recommend this device to somebody that works in a corporate environment — professionals such as lawyers and doctors that want a converged device to use for work should skip this too.  But for those in small businesses or if you’re a young person that wants to stay connected with email all the time then this definitely could be for you.  AOL IM junkies of course would be thrilled by the Sidekick 2.  Being able to bring up a map, weather or check the latest news on the web is a great feature too.  So overall, a thumbs up to getting this device if you think it would serve your needs and can afford the monthly data plans offered by your wireless carrier.

Pricing

The HipTop 2 / Sidekick 2 is available in the U.S. currently and should be available in Europe very soon.  At the time of this review the Sidekick 2 is available for $199.99 from select retailers


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