Note to readers: This review focuses mainly on changes between the Sidekick II and Sidekick 3. Here’s my original Sidekick II review for reference.
The new Sidekick 3 was released at midnight on June 28th, 2006 to current subscribers who qualified to upgrade their handset. If anyone reads my reviews on the site you probably understand how excited I was for it to be released. Needless to say I called them that same day and had them ship me one. I got the Sidekick 3 from T-Mobile on June 30th, a Friday… perfect day for a new toy, right before the weekend. I had to sign a 2-year contract to get the phone for $299 instead of $399, but I didn’t really care – I had to get it.
I spent that weekend evaluating my new toy, trying my best to not compare it to the Sidekick II, since that seems to be my gold standard for a cell phone with email/IM features. It was tough. There are good things and bad things about both phones. I’ll try to compare the two in this review since the unit has not changed a huge amount between versions.
The first thing I noticed taking the unit out of the box was how much smaller it is than the Sidekick II. They slimmed down the form factor about 30% overall. The phone is now silver with black accents. There are no more rubber bumpers on the top and bottom to customize, the buttons there are hard buttons which are smaller, and a bit harder to press in than the old style. I don’t mind much but it is more difficult to take camera shots with the SK3 since the button isn’t as big. This affords them to make the phone smaller, though, so it’s a small sacrifice.
The screen is the exact same screen found in the Sidekick II. It is a 240×160 pixel screen that has a reflective LCD (which makes it easy to view in direct sunlight, similar to the Game Boy Advance system from Nintendo). The only change is the decoration around the screen, which is black. The swivel out function to reveal the keyboard is similar to the old model only seems a little less fluid.
The battery life of the Sidekick 3 is comparible to the Sidekick II… which is nothing to write home about. The unit lasts about 1.5 days on battery if you use it for any internet functions, which isn’t great, but as long as you remember to charge it it’s a non-issue. There are 99 cent USB chargers for these on eBay if you search.
The keyboard on the Sidekick 3 no longer uses the soft, rubberized buttons that the Sidekick II had, it is more of a clear, hard plastic. This took a bit for me to get used to, but I’m not griping about it anymore after using it for a few days. It was just what I was used to that made it difficult to change.
The clear control pad/speaker from the Sidekick II has been replaced by a smaller, more square, black button. it’s function remains the same but since there is no longer a speaker on the back of the Sidekick for the speakerphone function, this new speaker serves that purpose as well.
The scroll wheel from the Sidekick II has been replaced by a roller ball similar to what’s found on the Mighty Mouse from Apple. This is a great upgrade from the scroll wheel, although it isn’t as precise. One functionality upgrade is that the roller ball can control both vertically and horizontally in web browsing and the entire interface, which makes it even easier to use the Sidekick 3 one-handed. In the Sidekick II, in order to move right or left in a field, you had to use your left hand on the control pad/speaker, now it’s all done in one controller on one side of the device.
On the back side of the Sidekick 3 is the new 1.3 megapixel digital camera. While much larger resolution than the Sidekick II’s camera (1280×1024 vs 640×480) the camera itself is typical of a lot of other cell phone cameras at 1.3 megapixel, which are all grainy and have weird issues with picture quality unless you turn them down to 640×480. Either way, the pictures look way better than the Sidekick II’s camera and it’s nice to be able to have such large pictures in a cell phone. If you’re in good light, the 1.3 megapixel camera isn’t bad. I’m just a snob about quality since I own a Canon Digital Rebel XT.
In order to store all those photos (and music – more on that later), the Sidekick 3 has a miniSD slot hidden underneath the back panel and comes with a 64MB miniSD card in the box. This is enough for around 60 pictures or so. You can buy up to a 2GB miniSD card at amazon.com for less than $70, which is quite amazing for the price.
The new EDGE high-speed data functionality is a welcome addition to the Sidekick 3. According to T-Mobile you can expect around 5x the speed of the old GPRS data service. I went to a few speed test sites and tested at almost 1 Megabit! This is amazing speed from a phone that doesn’t use WiFi. I was quite happy with that speed test. The EDGE data function comes in handy especially when browsing picture-intensive web pages, which wasn’t even practical on the Sidekick II. It also is very helpful uploading the large, 1.3 megapixel pictures from the digital camera, and downloading email.
The web browser application is pretty much exactly the same (to me, at least) as the one on the Sidekick II. The only difference is the ability to visit webpages that have a lot of pictures and actually have them load in a reasonable amount of time. It’s no wifi, but it is a lot better than it was.
The email application also is remarkably similar to the old version as well. I noticed absolutely no difference between the old version and the new one. This includes the annoying 6MB limit on email. Why they didn’t upgrade it or at least let you store some on the MiniSD card makes no sense to me, especially since one email in your sent box with a 1.3 megapixel picture attatched to it takes up almost 500KB of memory. This is a pretty major gripe for me. The email application overall serves it’s purpose well and it’s still the most intuitive one I’ve used on a phone.
New to the IM applications is MSN Messenger. The AIM and Yahoo clients from the old Sidekick are essentially the same. I use the AIM client constantly, and still think it’s the best implementation of it I’ve ever seen on a cell phone. The addition of MSN is a welcome feature to the communication options on the handheld. Now, where’s the Google Talk and Skype client?
The music player is another software feature which is new in the Sidekick 3. A very basic MP3 player is included that is similar looking to WinAMP. It’s nothing I find any particular use for, since I already have a much superior iPod, so I really haven’t used it yet. Unfortunately, I’ve found that MP3s you store on the device can’t be used as ringtones as of this time, this is a function of many phones (such as the RAZR and SLVR) that I wish was in this phone. Paying $1.99 for a crappy 8 second clip of the latest Chamillionaire song isn’t my bag of tea.
My favorite software app from the Sidekick II made a (delayed) return here, the Terminal application. For those not familiar with what Terminal is, it’s an app for controlling Unix/Linux computers via a command (shell) prompt. This function allows me to run all sorts of software on my web server directly from the Sidekick. I was scared it wouldn’t be back, as it was a downloadable application on the old Sidekick II. I used it all the time for chatting on IRC (internet relay chat), and it was a vital part of why I loved the old Sidekick II. Luckily, within a few weeks of launch, they brought it back and really made my day. The lack of Terminal was almost a deal-breaker for me when I switched units from the SKII to this.
There’s a great forum over at Hiptop.com that answers almost any question you could want to know about these devices, and has hidden feature lists and product manuals, to boot. I used that site to find out the unadvertised function in the Sidekick 3 that allowed me to take screen shots of my screen for this review (hint: it’s the button above the control pad on the left+shift+camera button). Go on over and visit them if you want to be a Sidekick expert.
I’ll end this review saying that one major criticism people have of the Sidekick series, the fact that it’s a very locked down device with a proprietary OS, is still in effect in this model. Personally, I feel like the applications Danger, Inc provides for the Sidekick, relating to it’s purpose (as a messaging device with cell phone capabilities) it succeeds in doing what it’s supposed to, without all the hassle that the Windows Mobile 5 PDA-style phones of the world add to the simplest of tasks (are you listening, T-Mobile MDA?).
+ MUCH faster internet functionality
+ 1.3 megapixel digital camera (see cons)
+ Support for bluetooth headsets
+ Smaller overall size
+ Great IM client support and Mail program
– Same 240×160 screen from the old unit makes web pages look BIG.
– Email storage on device is still stuck at 6MB.
– Bluetooth is only for headsets, there is no ability to transfer files.
– No MP3 ringtone support
– Grainy digital camera in low light (same as the Sidekick II)
– Web browser is compatible with most pages, but is still not good with frames.