The Sidekick is overall quite snappy in some ways, and rather slow in others. Navigating between applications is fast and I didn’t really see any delays, but the web browser was surprisingly slow to render even relatively simple pages.
The circular user interface works rather well, with icons that identify each category on the left, and additional information (such as the number of unread email messages) on the right. When you get to the right spot, just press in the trackball to make your selection — simple and effective.
Call quality is good, no complaints here. Callers on the other end of the conversation can generally tell that I’m on a mobile phone, but there weren’t any problems with background noise, not being able to hear, etc.
The speakerphone does sound a bit distorted, but that isn’t too surprising and is roughly on par with other devices I’ve tested in the past.
Out of the box, the Sidekick LX doesn’t have much a productivity focus beyond the excellent email capabilities and the web browser. Adding up to three new email accounts (AOL, Windows Life, Yahoo, or POP/IMAP) is fast and easy. Each account gets its own tab, and everything works flawlessly. If you’re a major email addict like me, you’ll love the experience on the Sidekick. You can also purchase Sidekick Sync from the Download Catalog (there’s a $4.99 per month subscription fee) if you need the ability to link up with your corporate Exchange server.
The web browser is something of a disappointment. It’s adequate, but relatively slow, and there is no way to scroll from left to right, which is pretty bizarre considering the Sidekick’s large display. That means that if you regularly visit sites with navigation boxes on the left (such as Brighthand), you’re going to be in for a LOT of scrolling up and down — every time you hit a link to read another story, you’ll have to scroll past all of the navigation boxes to get to the content you’re trying to access. It’s a major pain and means that you may not get as much use out of the browser as you may think.
There is a built in Organizer that includes calendar, tasks, and to-dos, and though it works fairly well for basic purposes it doesn’t really compare to the Outlook experience on Windows Mobile devices. You can also download a calculator and Bing search apps for free, and there are a few other applications available for purchase (some requiring a monthly fee) such as an alarm clock, a mobile journal, an expense tracker, and a spreadsheet. Choices are relatively limited at this time, but new applications are sure to be available in the future. Applications you’ve already purchased are identified with a green checkmark.
Like just about every mobile device out there these days, the Sidekick LX comes with a music player that allows you to queue up songs by artist, album, or genre. Sound quality is excellent, though if you’re using headphones you might want to turn down the volume before you put them on. By default the Media Player starts at 50% volume, which I found to be almost deafening. In a quiet environment, about 10% volume is plenty — though that could be due to the fact that all of the sample tracks were rock and (extremely) heavy metal.
Gaming is fun, with graphics comparable to what I’ve experienced on my iPod Touch. The demo unit came with Bob’s Journey: Lake of Doom, a platformer with fun, bright graphics and simple to use controls. I also downloaded Blockade, a Breakout-style clone that is fairly slow moving, but with excellent graphics and sound effects. The selection is relatively small at this time, but you can’t go too far wrong with Bejeweled, Tetris, or Ms. Pac Man.
Watching video is a bit more disappointing. I tried out a few YouTube videos from my favorite makeup artist (sorry, not geeky!) and was really surprised at the extremely poor quality. There weren’t any network issues that I could tell; video didn’t stop to buffer, etc. and playback started very quickly. But the videos didn’t play out in full screen and were extremely pixelated, to the extent that I couldn’t tell the difference between the Before and After shots when foundation had been applied to one side of the model’s face and not to the other, for example.
Even stranger, the audio didn’t exactly synchronize with the video, which gave a weird “badly dubbed foreign movie” vibe to the whole thing. I know that the problems were *not* due to poor source quality, as I have watched many, many videos produced by the same makeup artist on my laptop, iPod Touch, and other mobile devices and have never experienced issues like this before now.
One other thing I noticed is that when I plugged in my headphones, I often got some weird hissing, such as when I was waiting for a YouTube video to load, between music tracks, etc. There was also some popping at a couple of points, but nothing too major.
The 3 megapixel camera generally takes really good photos — crisp and clear, with good detail and color saturation. I did notice that a few of the shots I took had problems with overexposure in part of the frame, especially on very sunny days when my subject was in partial shade.
Overall I’m pleased with the quality, and while the Sidekick can’t replace a high resolution digital camera, it will certainly work in a pinch since you’ll likely always have it in your pocket.
Additional options include an LED flash and video capture at 320×240 resolution, plus there’s a handy one button option to send the last photo captured via email, Facebook, audio postcard, or text message.
Social Networking/Staying Connected
This is where the Sidekick LX really shines. Want to chat with your friends using AIM, Yahoo, or Windows Live Messenger? How about Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter? The Sidekick LX has it all, and I was impressed with how well integrated the experience really is. That point was brought home when I was browsing the web and I got a little pop-up notification at the top of the screen that one of my Windows Live Messenger contacts had just signed out.
If I were more involved with social networking beyond the occasional tweet, then I could see how much easier/more connected I could be with the Sidekick. I’m not a huge fan of the seemingly endless carousel of icons, but as I scroll through the various options I know at a glance if I have new email, or if there’s a response in one of my chat sessions, new voice mail, or the like.
Battery life is good, which is incredibly important with a device like this, which is so much more than a mobile phone. Heavy use over the course of the day can bring the battery meter below 50%, so I would plan to charge it every night just to make sure. If you just make a few calls and send a few texts, and don’t do much in the way of watching videos or other power-intensive tasks, it will last two to three days.
One thing to note is that the battery gets pretty warm with extended use, which is something I haven’t noticed on any other mobile device I’ve reviewed. I don’t know if that’s a cause for concern or whether it’s just a problem with the loaner unit I was sent for this review — as you can probably imagine, demo units tend to suffer a pretty high level of abuse when multiple different people test them out in the course of just a few weeks.