T-Mobile Sidekick 4G review

Our love affair with the Sidekick brand phone goes way back.  For some it was their first step into a new era of smartphones.  For others they saw it as a fad.  However it was in that foundation of a smartphone that built a lot of what we see today in the smartphone world.  When the Sidekick first came out from T-Mobile it was built by a company named Danger and manufactured by Sharp, and it was the messaging phone of choice.

Today after all the ups and downs of the company the Sidekick has returned and the founders of Danger, namely Andy Rubin (founded Android) and design director Mattias Duarte (built Honeycomb after helping craft both the Helio Ocean and webOS for Palm), have had a chance at resurrecting the franchise of the Sidekick again.  Now with the power of Google behind them can the Sidekick return to the Sidekick of old or does it fall by the wayside with so many other potential smartphones?  Find out now.

 

Hardware

 

 

Now the Sidekick itself design wise had a few ways to go.  Go back to the original and have a rotating slider type of phone or go new school with a slider type style that we have come to know in other phones.  Well they picked slider and I must say I wish they would have gone with the rotating face.  I liked it and it was very unique.  The slider variation is ok but at times when people would try to slide it open would have a hard time doing so.  That isn’t to say the rotating face was simpler it was just looks wise a lot more appealing. 

Looking at the phone in a whole with its plastic frame and dark brushed metal trim it manages to be both stylish and utilitarian in design.  It is a thick plastic phone that bucks the trend of trying to slim down and be more pocket friendly.  This phone was built to be a messaging machine and it does that very well.

In today’s smartphone world you are inundated with great screen resolution choices, from AMOLED display to qHD display, but Samsung just kept it simple and stylish with a quality LCD screen.  At 3.5 inches of screen space, which in contrast a lot of people are used to the 4+ inch screens, it might be a bit off putting but the Sidekick uses every bit of space admirably.  The pixel push is at 267 pixels per inch and that means you are barely looking at pixels at all.  The quality of the screen itself is very appealing to the eye and didn’t make me feel like I was getting a headache at too MUCH HD in my face.  Plus you have that Gorilla Glass sheet helping with touchscreen input making sure you aren’t going to scratch up your work area.

One thing I have missed is the trackball.  I just loved that lil guy and it made scrolling through webpages and menu items that much easier.  Going around the edges of the device you will see a flap covering the microUSB port, the 3.5mm headphone jack, the pesky power button and the volume rocker buttons as well.  Also you will see a dedicated camera shutter button that felt squishy and mushy when pushed.  But alas without the trackball we have the optical trackpad but it just feels like it is lacking in the scrolling department.

You can really get a sense of the Sidekick’s hardware in landscape mode, as that seems where it shines the brightest.  Rotating the phone ninety degrees allows you to access that famous QWERTY keyboard and I must say that keyboard is very nicely designed.  The great thing about the slider hinge is that once you move the hinged part ever so slightly up it really SNAPS up to attention.  While I will miss the rotating head design the Sidekick probably has the best hinged design I have seen in a slider phone.  I have to say that once you get the phone snapped open into position there is little to no doubt whether or not the phone is open.

The keyboard layout is very well thought out and the keys themselves feel very nice under your thumbs.  You also get a clicking noise everytime you press a button so trying to sneak in a text message at school might get tough, but people will always find a way.  One thing I would ask is that the next keyboard keys be a bit fatter and more rounded to give your thumbs a bit more room to press down onto.  I liked the smiley face key as I can see a lot of kids getting a ton of use out of that button. 

 

 

Battery and software performance

 

The one thing I will say for Samsung is that they aren’t shy to put their own spin on Android – replacing stock user interface with some of its own designs whether we want them or not.  However, since Galaxy S II they have made a better effort of making the change a little more easier to tolerate.  The uniqueness starts at the lock screen where you are met with two different options, scroll up to go to the Jump Screen or scroll down to Unlock and go to the Main Menu.  That is something very different and very cool. 

One thing I did enjoy a lot is the contacts menu.  When you go into the contacts and find a buddy you can either swipe to the right you can call them or swipe to the left you can message your friend, right from the contacts page, good work!  You can also use the group text option and select a group of your friends and mass text them the same message all at once.   You can add voice recordings, events, GPS location, pictures, videos to anything you send.  You can even email or tweet all within the same interface. 

Some sad notes is that the Dialer app is only usable in portrait mode and doesn’t switch to landscape mode when rotated.  Also Samsung decided to us the Social Networking Sync (SNS) service to drop all your Tweets, Facebook and Myspace updates all into very useful areas on the home screen.   For example you have a home screen widget for your Twitter updates so instead of opening up the Twitter app and reading you got it right there on the home screen, however the downside is that it only syncs up your SNS ONCE per day!  That being said I am sure you will be using your Twitter apps and Facebook apps anyways so that isn’t that big of a deal.

Also, the UI is occasionally a bit slow — not lethargic by any means, but considering the Sidekick 4G has the guts of a Galaxy S (including a 1GHz Samsung C110 Hummingbird SOC with 512MB of RAM and PowerVR SGX540 graphics) and Froyo on board, we expected a bit more speed when scrolling around, and despite pulling down 5Mbps speeds over T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, the web browsing experience is a little off.   However, when we compared the loading speeds of the Sidekick and the myTouch 4G, we noted a difference in pages loading and rendering slower than we had thought.  After the myTouch had already loaded a page it took a few more seconds for the Sidekick to kick in. 

Call quality was doable over the earpiece and the speakerphone worked rather well and the reception was constant.  Battery life was optimal with minimal usage or moderate usage.  After a full days charge and some light reading, a couple games of Angry Birds and some downloading by the time we went to bed the battery had 32% life left in it.  Not bad I must say, almost comparable to the myTouch 4G. 

 

Picture Time with the Camera

 

 

The Sidekick camera, even with its 3 megapixels, is quite capable of handling some very good still photos and not too shabby video.  The camera itself handles autofocus quite nicely, and has a good sensor and some great image processing.  The pictures all have amazing detail, decent color balance and the exposure is accurate.  The real test is low-light performance and even then the Sidekick did decent, better than we actually expected.  Now you don’t get a flash with your camera but I am sure you can find a handy flashlight to help you with some light in certain aspects.

The video capabilities of the Sidekick 4g is a smooth 30fps, but caps out at 720×480 pixels (only SD).  The downside of the video is that there is no autofocus during recording and the audio is somewhat average.  The front facing camera is alright nothing really to write home about.

 

Pros:

  • Respectable Camera Quality
  • Crisp LCD screen
  • Social Media integration
  • Solid, sturdy, very capable phone

 

Cons:

  • Odd button placement for the Power Button
  • No Flash
  • No HD quality video with lack of autofocus taking video
  • Some apps not working in Landscape mode stuck in Portrait

 

Final Thoughts

The Sidekick 4G overall is a good entry level smartphone, and at $100 bucks it isn’t a bad deal either.  However some issues with button placements and lack of flash or quality front facing camera doesn’t make this a deal breaker just seems Samsung held back a little on some things.  The phone itself is stable, and stylish, feature-packed and is a solid phone for the price.  We won’t be going out on a limb if we said that this phone might raise the bar for mid-range smartphones and set a standard that other manufactures will now have to aspire to. 

Now it is time to dust off the Kyle Scientific Scale-o-Rama, and remember we calibrate this scale each and every time and adjust it to suit the needs of the technology or gadget we are reviewing.  So without further adieu we bring you the results and on a scale of 0 to 10 with 0 being the underpants of a homeless man and 10 being the thong of Mila Kunis we give the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G from Samsung a respectable 8.1 out of 10.  With some work and thought this phone could become a real contender but as it stands it certainly can hold its own against some of the big boys in the Android portfolio.

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