Thursday, July 13, 2006

New York Times Sidekick 3 Review

The Next Generation's Take on the New Sidekick

Last week's e-mail column, regarding my temptation to "film" my daughter's dance recital using my still camera (despite a "no camcorders" rule intended to spur sales of the dance school's own DVD), generated over 400 messages in my In box and the Comments area at nytimes.com/pogue. They ranged from "Film away, dude -- stick it to the man!" to "What part of 'no filming' don't you understand?"

As usual, I was blown away by your articulate, passionate, creative approaches to the topic.

But you can (and should) read those comments on your own. Today's topic is, instead, the Sidekick 3.

And today's columnist isn't me. It's Bart Stein, a 19-year-old Brown sophomore who e-mailed me last spring and asked if I could use a summer intern. I sure could, and the deal has worked out great for both of us.

One day, unannounced, Bart e-mailed me his own take on the Sidekick 3--and it's good enough, accurate enough and, after editing, Pogueish enough that I thought it could stand on its own. It's therefore my pleasure to introduce you to a member of the next generation of tech reviewers: Bart Stein.

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Every hero needs a sidekick, a loyal companion who assists in times of need. Batman had Robin, the Lone Ranger had Tonto; T-Mobile is betting that the hero inside all of us will crave its latest gadget, the Sidekick 3.

It's the successor to T-Mobile's smash-hit cellphone, the Sidekick II, which became a cultural icon for the young and the hip. Legions of 18- to 35-year-olds marched to their local T-Mobile stores, convinced that if the Sidekick II was good enough for Paris Hilton, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg, it was good enough for them.

The original Sidekick, introduced in 2003, boasted a revolutionary design: it's horizontal, with a keyboard hidden behind a 180-degree swivel screen. Cool people everywhere rejoiced; finally, they had the e-mail features of a BlackBerry or Treo without the nerdy stigma.

Now, nearly two years later, the Sidekick 3 makes its debut ($300 for new customers; $30 per month for unlimited Internet, plus a voice plan). There's no revolution occurring here; the Sidekick 3 represents more of an evolution. And that's a good thing, because the fundamental design is still fresh and exciting.

The first thing you notice is the Sidekick's new, grown-up look. With a silver and black finish and an enclosure that, at 0.72 inches thick, is 20 percent thinner than the Sidekick II, the 3 somehow manages to look hipper and more sophisticated at the same time. The tight-jeans crowd should note, however, that it still feels slightly bulky (it's 5.1 inches wide), especially compared to Palm's latest Treo 700p and Motorola's svelte Q smartphone.

But the 3 is bigger for a reason: it accommodates a wide keyboard and large, ergonomic controls. A new trackball replaces the scroll wheel of the Sidekick II (the screen still isn't touch-sensitive), making it faster and easier to navigate the device's screens.

Unfortunately, that screen seems to have been disregarded by the forces of evolution. It's perfectly readable, but it's neither as crisp nor as bright as those of the Treo, the Q or other recent phones.

As before, the Sidekick 3's software is designed so well, you can practically navigate the menus with your eyes closed. There are standard Send and End buttons for making phone calls, and convenient volume controls on the bottom. Even the keyboard shows careful thought, with dedicated keys for numbers, and even a specific key for the @ symbol. After using the Sidekick 3 for ten minutes, you'll wonder why T-Mobile even bothered to print a manual.

The 3's new 1.3-megapixel camera is definitely a step -up from the II, but it has a few shortcomings. The photos are good, not great, and you can't record video. The low-res, not-so-bright screen of the Sidekick 3 will have you racing to your computer to see what the picture you just took really looks like.

The new music player is much better. At the moment, it plays only MP3 and WAV files (T-Mobile claims that additional formats will come soon); still, the player is a nice addition that works very well. Transferring music to the Sidekick 3 is seamless, though slow, over the included USB cable (the Sidekick 3 uses USB 1.1 and not the faster 2.0 version), and the sound is good both through the included headphones or the surprisingly loud, crisp speaker. Thanks to a faster processor, you can listen to music at full volume and take the highest quality picture simultaneously without a hitch.

With the new miniSD card slot, you can store as much as 2 gigabytes of pictures and music on your phone. That should be plenty for most people, although 2-gigabyte memory cards are pricey (about $90).

The Sidekick 3 operates on T-Mobile's new EDGE network, which purports to offer Internet speed that's two or three times as fast as a dial-up network (or a Sidekick II).

T-Mobile, however, might want to borrow Verizon's "Can you hear me now?" guy. Both voice and Internet service seemed spotty in New York City. Make sure you check out your local coverage before you buy (some cities don't even offer EDGE).

Since the Sidekick 3 is aimed at Generation Cool, it makes sense that one of the best features is instant messaging. You can hold up to ten typed conversations simultaneously (over the AIM, Yahoo, or MSN chat networks); synchronized light effects go off when you receive an IM.

There's also Bluetooth for wireless headsets and a new, replaceable battery that promises improved battery life. There are a few nits to pick. You're offered only four canned choices of background "wallpaper" -- a weird limitation for a "cool" device. And there's only one game (Rock and Rocket, the same one as on the original Sidekick).

Otherwise, though, T-Mobile's latest is a trusty companion indeed. And who wouldn't want a sidekick as cool, helpful, and fun as this one?

25 Comments:

At 8:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1st...

Sidekick 3 Rules!

 
At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love my SK3...I am so glad I have it.

 
At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's also another game built-in, to access it you go to settings, about Sidekick3, and when the credits start you press and hold menu, shift, and 8, at the same time. Then release and the game will come up.

 
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