UPDATE: This "first impressions" review was written after a relatively short time with this Android smartphone. A more complete version based on extensive testing is available here:
While it may bear the same name as the old "Sidekick" phones built by Danger Inc. before that company was bought out by Microsoft a few years ago, the new T-Mobile Sidekick 4G has little in common with it's ancestors. Besides having a new manufacturer -- this model is being built by Samsung -- the new Sidekick also has a massive set of internal upgrades, taking it into the realm of a true smartphone.
After a brief time with this smartphone, I'm ready to share my first impressions, and a full review will be available when I've had time for complete testing.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Sidekick 4G is built along fairly common lines: a large central screen which slides out to reveal a thumb keyboard, allowing you to switch between a traditional phone shape and a large keyboard suitable for messaging and data entry.
The biggest difference between this and similarly built models is that the Sidekick, being a primarily messaging-oriented device, is more explicitly designed for comfort when in landscape mode. The screen is exactly mid-way along the device to make the keyboard comfortable for both thumbs to reach; buttons are on either side of it for ease of access while positioned this way. The corners are also rounded to better fit against the hand.
The button placement does make it a little harder to use in portrait mode, since then, you have needed buttons on either end of the screen.
The build quality is what we've come to expect out of Samsung's smartphones over the last few years: it looks good, it feels good, and it's highly usable. At first glance, I worried about the keyboard, because the buttons seemed rather flat. As it turns out, I was worried about nothing--the keyboard is not just usable, but extremely good, with great key feedback. In fact, it's among the most usable thumb keyboards I've come across.
Part 2 of this preliminary review covers the performance of the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G, and also includes a preliminary conclusion. Don't miss the Image Gallery
This is Part 2 of a multi-page review. Part 1 of this preliminary review covers the design of the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G. And don't miss the Image Gallery
Let's start with the basic hardware. The T-Mobile Sidekick 4G is based on a "Hummingbird" chipset: a 1GHz Samsung processor, coupled with a PowerVR SGX540 graphical processor. This is the same setup which drives much higher-end devices such as Samsung's Galaxy S, and it boasts some of the fastest graphics performance on any modern smartphone.
And it shows. The Sidekick's performance in everything I've yet asked of it has been glassy smooth, ranging from streaming video to light gaming. I haven't put it through any more strenuous testing yet, but that will come later.
While the Sidekick runs on Android OS 2.2 (Froyo), it also has a customized user interface, and a couple of added navigation features. In other words, if you're familiar with how existing Android devices work, you'll still have a little bit of a learning curve getting used to this thing. Fortunately, it's not that large. The differences are entirely cosmetic, so you don't need to worry about existing Android software not working.
One thing that has been a mystery up until now is the amount of memory that the Sidekick 4G comes with -- not only is this not listed in the online spec sheets, it isn't found anywhere on the box or in T-Mobile's official press material. I had to dig into the device's settings to determine that it comes with a little under 500 MB of available memory out of the box. While not impressive compared to the multi-gigabyte figures boasted by higher end devices, this is still a lot more than most low-end Android phones come with. In comparison, the LG Vortex ships with less than 200 MB of internal memory available.
The Sidekick does also come bundled with a 2 GB microSD card -- not a lot of memory, but enough to provide lots of space for apps and a certain amount of music. If you want more, you can also get yourself a much higher capacity card, up to 32 GB.
As you might imagine for a messaging-oriented phone, the Sidekick has some special features in that regard. The most obvious is that the keyboard actually includes shortcut keys for common emoticons, like the ":-)" smiley and "<3" heart.
Much more substantial though are the two T-Mobile specialty apps. "Group texting" lets you host a conversation by text messaging between multiple people, even on different carriers, all of whom are able to read and respond. "Cloud texting" is an extension of your T-Mobile account that lets you send and receive text messages through their website from other devices, such as a desktop or laptop, even if you don't happen to have your phone with you at the moment. I haven't extensively tested these features yet, and as of this writing, the "Cloud texting" website isn't online yet, but I'll have comments for that in the full review.
My first day with the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G could be summarized as "generally pleased." It has satisfying hardware both on the internal specs and external design. It's well thought out, and has the potential to stand out from the pack.
Over the next few days, I'll be giving it a more complete and intensive examination, including battery life testing, in depth feature explorations, and a full roundup of all the positives and negatives.