It's so hard to keep a good secret these days. Just ask T-Mobile. Word of its new Sidekick model, codenamed Gekko, got out months ago and was all but confirmed when the ruthless blogosphere got hold of some internal T-Mobile documents about the upcoming model. Well, today, the wraps were officially taken off the new model. Simply called the T-Mobile Sidekick, it's the first Sidekick to debut since device manufacturer Danger was acquired by Microsoft. The Sidekick isn't a revolutionary, new product but we think there's enough there to attract the young, hip messaging fanatics.
The big highlight is the new level of personalization. While we saw some of this in the T-Mobile Sidekick iD, where you could swap out color bumpers, the Sidekick lets you not only change the color but also allows you to add your own graphics, images, and designs to the outer shell, making it completely unique and your own. Shells cost $14.99 for two or $9.99 each. Beyond looks, the Sidekick also ships with all the new features that were introduced with the Sidekick LX software update, including stereo Bluetooth support and video recording and playback, while keeping its strong messaging capabilities. For these reasons, we think the Sidekick will be a hit with its target audience of young T-Mobile customers looking for an all-in-one communication device. The T-Mobile Sidekick is available starting today in select stores and online for $149.99 with a two-year contract after rebates and discounts.
Of all the current Sidekick models, the T-Mobile Sidekick most closely resembles the Sidekick LX; it is just a smaller and lighter version. It measures 4.7 inches wide by 2.3 inches high by 0.7 inch deep and weighs 5.3 ounces. It feels comfortable in the hand, with a nice solid construction. Of course, the big design news is the level of customization. Unlike the T-Mobile Sidekick iD, which only allowed you to change the color of the outer edges, you can swap out the entire "shell" with different color plates as well as add your own custom design or image. All Sidekicks will ship with an extra green shell in the box.
To pick or create your own shell, simply visit www.sidekickshells.com. From there, you can choose from a selection of predesigned shells or you can start with a blank slate (you have a choice of black, white, or pink as a base color) and upload your own graphics or images to add to the back. I had the opportunity to design my own shell, and much to the dismay of my T-Mobile contact, a University of Oregon alum, I placed a USC Trojan logo on mine. The whole process was easy and pretty fun. Sadly, I had not received my custom shell at press time.
Given the more compact size, the Sidekick has a slightly smaller 2.6-inch WQVGA display, but features the same the 65,000-color output and 400x240 pixel resolution of the LX. We wish the screen was a tad bigger, but nevertheless, text and images look sharp and vibrant. Plus, you can change up background themes and font sizes to your liking. The Sidekick doesn't have a touch screen, so there are a number of external controls that allow you to navigate through the menus and perform functions. To the left of the display, there are Menu and Jump buttons and a directional keypad that doubles as the phone's speaker. Meanwhile, on the right, you have a Cancel button, Talk and End keys, an OK button, and the trackball navigator.
On top of the unit, there are two function buttons that perform different tasks depending on which application you are using, as well as a mini USB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The volume rocker and the power button are located on the bottom. As we've noted in our other Sidekick reviews, we found these controls a bit hard to use since they're pretty tiny in size and set flush with the phone's surface. The camera lens is located on the back of the phone minus a flash or self-portrait mirror and finally, there's a microSD expansion slot, but you have to remove the back cover to access it.
With the exception of the Sidekick Slide, the T-Mobile Sidekick has a swivel-screen design where if you nudge the upper-right corner or the lower-left corner of the screen, the display will rotate a full 180 degrees and expose the full QWERTY keyboard. The keyboard itself is similar to the one found on the Sidekick LX. There's plenty of spacing between the keys, and we were able to easily compose messages. We did find that the top row of number buttons were pretty close to the edge of the bottom of the screen, so there were occasions our thumbs bumped against it. The good news, however, is you can now dial numbers without having to use the keyboard. There's an onscreen dialpad that you can access using the track ball (actually a bit time-consuming, so it might be easier to just use the keyboard) and you can also scroll through your address book and select and call contacts.
The T-Mobile Sidekick comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, a 512MB microSD card, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The T-Mobile Sidekick doesn't bring any unannounced, new features to the handheld, but it does ship with all the enhancements that came with the Sidekick LX software update--most notably, video recording and playback and stereo Bluetooth support. As a phone, the Sidekick offers quad-band world roaming, speed dial, call forwarding, three-way calling, a call log, a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, and text and multimedia messaging. The Sidekick's address book holds up to 2,000 contacts, with room in each entry for five numbers, an e-mail address, an IM account, a Web URL, a street address, and notes. For caller-ID purposes, you can pair an entry with a photo, a group ID, or one of 18 ringtones. You can also add contacts to a Favorites list, which is separate from T-Mobile's MyFaves plan. The Sidekick does support MyFaves to give you unlimited calling to five contacts, regardless of carrier. Plans for MyFaves start at $39.99 a month.