Telstra's hiptop 2 (aka Danger hiptop2) is identical in all but name to the Sidekick communicator that's become an iconic teenage accessory in the US (Sidekick is the exclusive brand of US and European carrier T-Mobile).
At first glance the hiptop 2 looks like a rather dated handheld gaming console. The elongated form measures 133 by 66 by 23 millimetres -- about the same size as a first-gen 3G videophone, although at 185 grams it's considerably lighter.
The face of this off-beige brickette is dominated by a 3-inch screen, although only 2.6 inches of that is available for the 240 x 160 pixel, 65K colour display.
Large buttons dot each corner of the case, with a four-way directional-pad navigator centred between the left side buttons and a scroll wheel at the opposite end. Four more controls sit under the rubberised bumper strap wrapped around the middle of the chassis.
It's when you pivot the display up and around with a canny tilt-and-swivel movement, revealing the QWERTY keypad beneath, that the ooohs and aaahs of your friends begin and everything about the hiptop 2 slips into place.
"Clunky" becomes "funky". The buttons fall naturally under your thumbs and fingertips, and after a few minutes of delightful discovery (our test unit was supplied without a manual, but we really didn't need one) almost everything about the hiptop 2 proves to be intuitive.
The corner buttons are labelled with icons to access the simple pull-down menu (it also acts as an accelerator for keyboard shortcuts), accept or cancel an operation or return to the "home" screen.
That page scrolls through the hiptop 2's various functions, but as an "always on" device it also displays status messages and alerts for background applications, such as the arrival of new e-mail or IM messages or when new IM friends log on.
The keyboard proved far more usable than we expected. The rubberised keys themselves may be small but their slightly elliptical shape, decent separation, positive travel and bounce-back easily made this one of the best keyboards of its type that we've ever used -- and with more than a decade of PDA-style devices having passed through our hands, that's saying something.
The keyboard could be frustrating for beefier blokes with supersized hands, but it's almost perfect for dainty teenage female fingers or even their polished fingernails.
When held between your hands it's a snap to tap out messages with both thumbs, although you can see why every conceivable SMS abbreviation would be used to minimise errors and boost typing speed.
The keyboard served well for two fingers when the hiptop 2 was sitting flat on a cafe table, but this means craning your neck down to see the screen as it has no vertical tilt adjustment.
Our earlier comments about the hiptop 2's dated appearance stem from the fact that this model was released in the US some two years ago and in July this year was superceded by the stylishly souped-up hiptop 3.
But no-one in Australia is going to buy the hiptop 2 for its looks -- rather, for the fact that the hiptop 2 makes them looks cool, thanks to its surprisingly full roster of features.