Review: T-Mobile Sidekick 4G

Posted by CR H. on May 08, 2011

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Less than a year ago, T-Mobile seemingly killed the iconic Sidekick brand when it announced that sales of all Sidekick devices would cease on July 2nd, 2010. But here we are in May 2011 with a new Sidekick review for you guys. There’s a lot of new with the Sidekick 4G, like the fact that it’s manufactured by Samsung and runs Android. But does the new Sidekick live up to its branding? Read on to hear our thoughts!

Hardware

The Sidekick 4G will look similar to any past Sidekick users. It has the display, which flips out with a new hinge design (one which we think is superior to flipping hing of old), surrounded by buttons. There’s a back, menu, home, and special Jump Key. The icons for the keys are really confusing. The menu button is a bar graph, the home button is… actually, we haven’t figured that one out yet, the jump key is not something which invokes the image of quickly jumping into an app, and the back key is an arrow not at all pointing in the reverse direction. There is a physical camera button on the right side of the device that seems to be two-step, but the software doesn’t seem to recognize that capability. A small power button is opposite the camera button, and often gets hit inadvertently when opening the display to reveal the keyboard.

The display itself is rather small and the bezel surrounding it is quite large. At least Samsung managed to get a super low quality front-facing cam in there, along with numerous LED lights used for different notifications. The display quality is average at best. Samsung didn’t put in an SAMOLED panel, but instead opted for what seems to be the bottom barrel of LCDs. The resolution is the standard 800×480, which is rather low with qHD displays shipping en mass now.

The overall phone is rather bulky. Granted this won’t be a surprise to any past Sidekick users, but the phone is just too bulky for our liking. The build quality is also classic of Samsung, which is to say okay but way, way too plasticy. Thankfully, all is not bad with the Sidekick’s hardware. The hinge is really well built and we don’t doubt it will hold up to thousands of openings and closings. In classic Sidekick fashion, the flip is spring assisted, so you don’t have to push very hard to have the display pop open. Just be sure to have a good hold of the device as it’s a rather violent opening.

The keyboard on Samsung’s first Sidekick attempt is quite a good one. Using the standard five row layout, anyone who has used a Sidekick in the past will be right at home with the keyboard. We do think the spacebar could be placed better and sized better, but overall the keyboard is still fantastically done. While we wouldn’t give up a BlackBerry keyboard for the Sidekick’s, we’re sure many tweens and teens will absolutely love it.

Software

You won’t find any hint of Danger’s original OS on the new Sidekick 4G. Instead you’ll find a highly skinned version of Google’s Android 2.2 Froyo OS. We’re generally not fans of skinned Android phones, especially when the skin adds little to no actual value on top of what a stock Android experience offers. The Sidekick 4G is no exception to this.

Overall, the phone is slow and laggy. Apps, especially games such as Angry Birds, take quite some time to launch. Sometimes they crash before ever launching, simply returning you to the app drawer or homescreen. For running on a 1GHz Hummingbird CPU, the Sidekick shouldn’t be a slouch – but it is. Almost everything moves slow. And we think a good bit of the slowness is caused by the rather lackluster Sidekick skin.

The only piece of the Sidekick Android theme we actually like is the modified lock screen which shows the time in a pretty nifty way. Text isn’t great looking throughout the included Sidekick themes, and colors are generally quite dark. While teens may enjoy this, or at least not mind it, we’re not sure anyone else would like it – we certainly didn’t. Samsung’s built-in “Feeds and Updates” widget can only auto-update never or once a day. We recommend you just stick to never.

Not all of the UI was optimized to be used in landscape format, which seems quite odd to us for being a Sidekick device. The dialer app can only be used in portrait, which is annoying since you may want to use the phone in landscape while on a call. Our biggest gripe regarding portrait/landscape use is the fact that the phone can only be used in portrait mode with the keyboard flip closed.

For those of you interested in Quadrant scores, we only got 967.

Cameras

As we mentioned previously, the Sidekick 4G has a front-facing camera which is of rather low quality. But that’s to be expected with a front cam, and we’re glad to see Samsung even included it.

The rear camera, which lacks flash, clocks in at only 3MP. Even so, the images coming from the Sidekick were quite nice. With that said, the Samsung camera app is really slow (noticing a theme here?), and takes ages for an image capture to actually take place.

Battery Life

The Sidekick 4G packs an 1500mAh battery, which is more than adequate to get through a day with moderate usage. We were quite surprised, and impressed, to see Samsung include a standalone microUSB charger (along with a microUSB cable) with the Sidekick.

Voice Quality, T-Mobile, etc.

Voice quality on the Sidekick is phenomal. In fact, it’s the clearest and sharpest we’ve heard in quite some time. It really is a high point of the device for us. We were also quite impressed with T-Mobile’s coverage, often matching – or beating – AT&T and on par with what we see on our Verizon iPhone 4.

The Sidekick 4G packs an HSPA+ radio capable of 21Mb downlink speeds. Unfortunately, we never saw data speeds get anywhere near the theoretical maximum. In fact, we never saw data speeds reach anything over 1Mb down and 900Kb up. We tested the Sidekick just outside of Baltimore and outside of Philly, both areas which have HSPA+ “4G” coverage according to T-Mobile’s coverage map and the phone itself. Our Verizon iPhone 4 often hits the maximum real-world speeds seen with EVDO, capping out at 1.5Mb down easily. If you’re looking for super fast mobile data, we’re not sure T-Mobile is for you.

Pricing

The Sidekick 4G is available for $99 on a two-year contract with T-Mobile.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, we’re not sure who would actually buy T-Mobile’s latest iteration of the Sidekick. While the keyboard is quite nice, we don’t think that alone is enough to overcome the device’s other shortcomings – especially its horrible performance. If you’re a tween or teen thinking this is the Sidekick you’ve been waiting to upgrade to, or switch back to, we can’t recommend this device at all. If you want a really great hardware keyboard, grab a BlackBerry. But if you really want a Sidekick branded device and can deal with slow performance, a rather annoying skin which doesn’t add anything useful, and slow faux-G data speeds, maybe the Sidekick 4G is the device you’ve been waiting for.

CR H. (11 Posts) - Website | Twitter | Facebook


CR H. is avid about all things technology, especially in the mobile space. Credit for his love of technology goes to his mom who signed him up for ComputerTots at his daycare. CR is currently a full time student in Baltimore, MD working towards a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems. Student by day and IT consultant by night, CR surrounds himself with technology whenever possible. He’s especially fond of mobile phones, generally going through a device per month, but can always be found with at least one iPhone. His email is: CR(at)mobilitysite(dot)com, and you can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MRCUR

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  • http://twitter.com/techmobile_it/status/67278648717221888 techmobileaccount

    Review: T-Mobile Sidekick 4G http://bit.ly/m6t33G

  • http://twitter.com/mobilitysite/status/67278647739944960 mobilitysite

    Review: T-Mobile Sidekick 4G: Less than a year ago, T-Mobile seemingly killed the iconic Sidekick brand when it … http://bit.ly/m6t33G

  • http://twitter.com/carydc/status/67329782341304320 Cary D Conover

    Review: T-Mobile Sidekick 4G http://goo.gl/fb/r3eta #SAMSUNG #ANDROID

  • C_ariel_94

    Yes we care about the spacing and all that crap , to picky thats why i hate reviews , expect everything to be perfect . This phone is so worth buying haters ! lol

  • Joel V

    I have had many Sidekicks in the past, and this is better than all of them! For some time, I had been using a MyTouch, so I really like the Android OS. For them to combine my two favorite phones made a great phone even better! I love being able to download different apps. The first app that I put on my phone was the DISH Remote Access app. I love this app because it lets me stream live TV and recorded shows from my 922 SlingLoaded receiver to my Sidekick anywhere I am! As a customer and employee of DISH, I have been using the DISH Remote Access app for a long time! The Sidekick's 4G makes streaming even faster. I encourage anyone and everyone to take a look at dish.com/tveverywhere to get all the information on takings your channels with you everywhere you go!

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