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T-Mobile Sidekick LX review: T-Mobile Sidekick LX

T-Mobile Sidekick LX

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Bonnie Cha
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Bonnie Cha

Former Editor

Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.

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OVR
7.7

T-Mobile Sidekick LX

The Good

The T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009 features a beautiful, high-resolution display and has a thinner design. The handheld also offers 3G, GPS, Flash video support, and Twitter and Facebook integration.

The Bad

The GPS integration is a bit clunky, since you can't find your location within Microsoft Live Search. T-Mobile's 3G network isn't as widely available as other carriers, and there's no integrated Wi-Fi. The camera's picture quality wasn't the best, and video playback was poor.

The Bottom Line

With the design improvements and addition of features such as 3G and GPS, the T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009 graduates from a simple messaging handheld to a real connected, all-in-one communication device for the younger crowd.

Though they share the same name, the T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009 should not be confused with the original T-Mobile Sidekick LX, which it will eventually replace. The Sidekick LX 2009 is a stand-out with its slimmer design and gorgeous, high-resolution display, but more than that, it brings a host of new features to take the messaging handheld to the next level with the addition of 3G, Flash video support, GPS, and Facebook and Twitter integration. The GPS wasn't the most accurate and we still would have liked to seen the inclusion of Wi-Fi, but other than that, our complaints were minor.

While it's definitely still more for the high school and college crowd, the Sidekick LX 2009 has grown up to be more than just a device for sending text and instant messages. Plus, its thinness gives it an edge over the similarly featured Helio Ocean 2, while the integration of social networking sites makes it more attractive than the AT&T Quickfire. Current Sidekick owners will get first dibs on the new device. Online presales start now for a price of $199 with a two-year contract. For everyone else, the T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009 will be available in stores nationwide and online on May 13 for $249.99 with a two-year contract.

Design
Manufactured by Sharp, the T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009 keeps the same overall look as the rest of the Sidekick family but holds the title of being the thinnest Sidekick to date. The handheld measures 5.1 inches wide by 2.4 inches high by 0.6 inch thick and weighs 5.7 ounces, but don't equate slim for flimsy. According to T-Mobile, it has put the device through rigorous testing and found that it's four times more durable than previous versions. Also, the Sidekick LX is still tall compared to other cell phones and smartphones, so while thinner, it's not the most petite handset.


The T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009 is the thinnest Sidekick to date.

The Sidekick LX definitely feels solid in hand though; plus, it features a soft-touch finish to give it a nonslippery texture instead of slick, plasticky feel. Sharp also added small grooves on the back of the device where you can rest your index fingers when holding it. Doesn't seem like much of an addition, but it's a nice little touch that makes for a better ergonomic experience.

The smartphone is available in two colors: carbon or orchid. However, if you're not a fan of the colors, you will be able to create custom shells for the Sidekick LX, much like the T-Mobile Sidekick 2008, and T-Mobile's even added the option of laser etching the case. Custom shells will be available starting this summer.

In addition to being the thinnest Sidekick, the Sidekick LX 2009 also boasts the largest and sharpest screen to date. Based on Sharp's Aquos technology, the WVGA display measures 3.2 inches with an 854x480-pixel resolution. We were extremely pleased with the sharpness and brightness of the display. Images and Web pages looked smooth and colors jumped off the high-resolution screen.


The Sidekick LX 2009 boasts a large, high-resolution display.

The user interface will be familiar to Sidekick users. From the main screen, you have shortcuts to the device's main functions, including e-mail, Web browser, T-Mobile MyFaves, Communities, and media player. There's also a Quick Find feature that acts like a universal search function on the Sidekick. You can, of course, customize your background with different themes as well as change the font size.

Surrounding the display are the same navigation controls as the previous Sidekick LX. To the left, there are the Menu and Jump buttons and a directional keypad that doubles as the phone's speaker, and on the right, there is a Cancel button, Talk and End keys, an OK button, and the trackball navigator. On top of the device, there are two function buttons that perform different tasks depending on which application you are in; when you're on the home screen the left key opens your multimedia message in-box while the right key acts as the camera activation/capture button. The bottom features a 3.5mm headphone jack, volume buttons, a power on/off key, and a Mini-USB port.

Of course, two trademarks of the Sidekick are the swiveling screen and full QWERTY keyboard. To flip the display and expose the keyboard, you nudge the upper-right corner of the screen. However, the Sidekick LX 2009's swiveling action isn't quite as smooth as previous Sidekicks. First, it requires quite a hard push to open it and then it doesn't quite lock right into place. It's not a deal breaker, but something we noticed while using the device. We should also note that Sharp and T-Mobile have replaced the four LED notification lights that adorned the four corners of the Sidekick LX 2008 with a single LED that lines the bottom edge (in closed position) of the display. The trackball navigator will also light up to notify you of new messages, Twitter updates, and more.


We found the Sidekick's QWERTY keyboard easy to use.

We've always been fans of the Sidekick's spacious keyboards and the Sidekick LX 2009 is no different. The buttons aren't the biggest, but there's plenty of spacing between them so we had minimal mispresses while typing messages. If anything, the keys were a little stiffer than we like, but overall, we had a good experience. The buttons provided a nice tactile feedback, and there's a dedicated number row in addition to another set of numbers that shares space with some letter keys and highlighted in pink (blue on the carbon model).

Finally, on back of the device, you'll find the camera and flash, and behind the battery cover is the microSD expansion slot. The T-Mobile Sidekick LX comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 1GB microSD card, a stereo headset, a protective pouch, a recycling bag, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

Features
In the past, we've been a little critical of T-Mobile for not adding enough features or enhancements to new models, but this isn't so much the case with the T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009. To start, it's the first Sidekick to have 3G, offering faster data speeds for Web browsing, streaming media, and more. It also nicely complements the added Flash video support on the Sidekick's HTML Web browser, so you can view sites like YouTube. T-Mobile has rolled out its UMTS/HSDPA network to 130 cities and plans to expand to 100 additional cities by the end of 2009. (You can find a coverage map here). Unfortunately, if you're out of a coverage area, you're stuck with EDGE as your only connection source since the Sidekick LX does not offer integrated Wi-Fi.

The LX's voice features include quad-band world roaming, speed dial, call forwarding, three-way calling, a call log, a vibrate mode, and a speakerphone. Like T-Mobile's other handsets, there's support for myFaves, which gives you unlimited calling to five contacts, regardless of carrier (plans start at $39.99 a month). The Sidekick's address book holds up to 2,000 contacts, with room in each entry for multiple numbers, an e-mail address, IM handle, notes, and more. You can also add contacts to a Favorites list (separate from myFaves). For caller-ID purposes, you can pair an entry with a photo, a group ID, or a custom ringtone. Finally, the Sidekick offers Bluetooth 2.0 with support for stereo Bluetooth and file transfer.

More than voice, however, the Sidekick is known for its messaging capabilities. Like models before it, T-Mobile ships the LX 2009 with its own T-mail account as well as support for Yahoo, AOL, Windows Live, and POP3/IMAP4 accounts. Shortly after the smartphone's launch, T-Mobile will also make available Exchange ActiveSync support so you can hook up your Outlook inbox to the Sidekick. The carrier said it expects to offer this option in the "coming months," but did not give specifics on pricing as of press time. When ready, the client will be available through the Download Catalog. Also, while the Sidekick LX offers an always-on push e-mail solution for real-time message delivery, you can have even faster communication with contacts via the three preloaded instant messaging clients: AIM, Yahoo, and Windows Live.

Of course, social networking sites have provided even more ways to stay in touch with friends and family, and the Sidekick LX 2009 really embraces the trend by preloading the device with several of the most popular social networking sites, including MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. The last two apps are new additions and for the most part, act like their PC counterparts by letting you check and respond to your friends' statuses, update your own, upload photos, and more.

With Twitter, you can set up the app to check for new tweets at different time intervals (5 minutes up to one hour) and you'll receive visual and audible notifications (if that's your preference) for new updates. If you're doing something else on the phone and a new Twitter update comes through, it will even briefly display a running ticker across the top of your screen with the new tweet and then change to a little "t" in the upper-right corner of the screen as a reminder until you go into the Twitter app to check it. The last tweet will also appear on the Communities home page. While not perfect (for example, there's no way to manually update your Twitter feed, and we found that the Communities page didn't always display the newest tweet), T-Mobile did a nice job with the integration and notification system.

The Facebook app was also satisfactory, and we found that you could perform most of the basic functions of the PC version (poke, write on walls, upload photos, etc.). However, we did run into one problem. When we signed on to Facebook, the app alerted us to 46 new notifications and when we went to go look at them in our Inbox, it only displayed one onscreen. We scrolled down the non-existent list for the heck of it and that's when we discovered the other notifications. They would appear when scrolled over but then disappear after you moved to the next item; a bug perhaps? Finally, while MySpace Mobile isn't new, the Sidekick LX 2009 is the first Sidekick that allows you to upload videos to the app.

Another new feature is integrated GPS, which works with the preloaded Microsoft Live Search app to provide maps, driving directions, and business searches. You can even search for movie times and gas prices close to your current location or send your location to friends, which is really great. However, the integration of the GPS and Microsoft Live Search is a little clunky. You'd think you'd be able to find your location while using Microsoft Live Search, but you actually have to go to the main menu, tell the handheld to find your position, and then go back in the program to do anything, which just seems counterintuitive.


The Sidekick LX 2009 received a nice upgrade in the camera department with a bump from 1.3 megapixels to 3.2 megapixels.

The final area of improvement comes in the camera department. The T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009 gets a nice boost from its predecessor's 1.3-megapixel camera to 3.2 megapixels. That said, we can't say we were very impressed with the picture quality. There's a flash and auto-focus function as well as the usual camera options, such as white balance controls, various effects, and a choice of photo quality and resolution. You can even geotag photos with the device's GPS. However, images turned out a bit fuzzy. Coloring was satisfactory, though when we used the flash, it completely blew out the shot.


However, we were a bit disappointed in picture quality; images were somewhat fuzzy.

The camera also has video-recording capabilities with two recording qualities: high and low. We recorded a couple of clips on high quality, and they came out very low in quality. Clips were extremely dark and pixelated, not to mention that the viewfinder for the camcorder was a tiny little box. We certainly wouldn't count on the Sidekick LX for capturing your most important moments.

Other entertainment options include a media player that doesn't offer any major improvements. It continues to support various formats, including MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, AMR, and MIDI audio files and 3GP and MP4 video files. To get media onto the Sidekick, you can use the included USB cable and then drag and drop files from your PC to the Sidekick, which should show up as an external drive on your PC. The LX 2009 has 128MB RAM and 256MB ROM and its microSD expansion slot can accept up to 16GB cards. The Sidekick also comes with one preloaded game (Bob's Journey: Lake of Doom) and organizer functions (Calendar, Notes, and a To Do list) but you can always download more from the preinstalled download catalog, though the catalog seems quite bare at the moment.

Performance
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service, and call quality was good. We enjoyed clear, crisp audio on our side of the conversation with very minimal background noise. Our callers reported a slight echo, though nothing bad enough to prevent conversation. We also had no problem using an airline's voice-automated system. Unfortunately, speakerphone quality wasn't quite as positive. There was a bit of hollowness to the call, and it was hard to hear in louder environments, even with the volume at its highest level. We paired the Sidekick LX with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

The Sidekick LX 2009 was quite a responsive device with very little lag. The smartphone's HTML Web browser isn't the most sophisticated but it works, and T-Mobile's 3G network delivered some good speeds. It was able to bring up CNET's page in about 30 seconds, while CNN's and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in a blazing 5 seconds. A 720p HD YouTube video took about 10 seconds to load and buffer, but unfortunately, the viewing quality was pretty bad. Even though the sound and picture were synchronized, there was a lot of pixelation.

Aside from the aforementioned complaints, we had no major problems with the social networking apps. We were able to tweet and post comments on Facebook without any glitches, In addition, we were able to successfully set up and access our Yahoo e-mail account. The only major source of grief was the Sidekick's GPS. Sometimes it was dead on with our location and sometimes it was completely off the mark. On more than one occasion, it had us in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, so we then we would have to exit out of Microsoft Live Search, refresh our location, and then go back into the app to get directions, which was quite a time suck.

The T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009 has a 1250mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 5.5 hours (GSM)/3 hours (3G) and up to 8 days (GSM)/6 days (3G) of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get 6 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. We did notice, however, after a couple hours of using the various apps, GPS, and Web browsing, the battery life was down to about 50 percent so we'll definitely keep an eye on that as we continuing testing the device. According to FCC radiation tests, the Sidekick LX has a digital SAR rating of 0.847 watt per kilogram.

OVR
7.7

T-Mobile Sidekick LX

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7