T-Mobile Sidekick 4G gets priced, hands-on treatment

At CTIA 2011, we finally get a chance to check out the new T-Mobile Sidekick 4G in person and find out new details regarding pricing.

T-Mobile Sidekick 4G
The T-Mobile Sidekick 4G makes its first public appearance at CTIA 2011. Bonnie Cha/CNET

ORLANDO, Fla.--Slowly but surely, we're getting a more complete picture of the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G. Last week T-Mobile revealed the smartphone's feature list, and now the carrier has spilled the beans on pricing.

The new Sidekick will cost $99.99 with a two-year contract with unlimited data and after a $50 mail-in rebate. Alternatively, you can purchase the messaging handheld for $149.99 with a two-year service agreement and lower data plan, such as its 200MB data plan.

We got a chance to get hands-on with one here at CTIA 2011, and we like what we're seeing from the revamped T-Mobile Sidekick. Samsung has done a nice job of combining the old with the new, so it still feels like you're using a Sidekick while also getting something fresh.

In the hand, the smartphone feels lightweight. It doesn't feel quite as substantial as the later Sidekicks, such as the Sidekick LX 2009, but it still feels solid. The 3.5-inch WVGA display looks sharp and bright, and the addition of the touch screen makes interacting with the phone much easier, since you don't have to scroll around the menus using the trackball. You do get the four navigation buttons along each corner of the phone, and the jump key allows you to multitask easily.

One aspect of the old Sidekick you won't find here is the swiveling screen. Instead, the Sidekick 4G has a slider design with a spring-loaded hinge. Sliding the phone open was generally easy, and the screen securely locks into place at a slight angle, so it's easier to see when you're using the keyboard. The screen also doesn't rock back and forth when closed, which is something we've seen with other slider phones.

That said, we were a little apprehensive when trying to push the screen back down. It requires a decent push, and we were worried that we might break the hinge. We'll need more time with the device to really determine whether the hinge is sturdy or not.

Of course, one of the greatest things about the previous Sidekicks is the excellent keyboard, and we're happy to report that this tradition continues with the Sidekick 4G. It retains the five-row keyboard with a dedicated number keys, and though the buttons might look small at first glance, the layout is so spacious that it was really easy to use.

What about the move to Android? Overall, we think it was a good move and probably the right move. Running Android 2.2, the experience on the Sidekick 4G isn't typical of other Android phones. It uses the Samsung TouchWiz user interface but the company has done even more tweaking on top of TouchWiz, including changes to the lock screen, menu shortcuts, and wallpaper. It certainly won't be everyone's cup of tea, but the hipper, slightly flashier UI seems appropriate for the Sidekick.

The Android OS also just brings the Sidekick line into the present. Though it's not meant to compete with the higher-end smartphones, at least it now has features and capabilities, such as a more capable browser, better social networking integration, and more apps, to keep it relevant in today's marketplace. Though we weren't able to test out the enhanced messaging capabilities--Group Text and Cloud Text--on the demo phones, we think they're also good additions for the Sidekick line.

The only missing part of the puzzle is the release date, which we'll hopefully have soon, but so far, we think it will do pretty well with the young'uns.

 

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