The Americans have fallen in love with the Sidekick, and there's no denying that its full Qwerty keyboard makes firing off texts and emails painlessly simple. We even found ourselves rather partial to the. But the world of mobile phones has moved on, and the Sidekick 3's average flip-out screen, weak multimedia features and frankly ugly design make it little more than a bargain basement BlackBerry wannabe.
The Sidekick 3 is only available from T-Mobile, from free on its Flext 35 package to £160 pay as you go. Unlimited Web access via T-Mobile's Web 'n' Walk package costs £7.50 per month.
Pick up the Sidekick 3 and the first thing that comes to mind, with a shudder, is Nokia's ill-fated N-Gage gaming handset. There's something about its chunky build, multitude of plasticky buttons and distinctly average display that feels old-fashioned. Despite a neat switchblade flip-out action, the 66mm (2.6-inch) screen is seriously under-pixelled for today's multimedia world, particularly on a phone that's shooting for heavy Web users.
With the screen shut, you can navigate the Sidekick 3's graphical menus using either the left-hand, four-way pad or the right-hand trackball. This feels awkward at first, but you'll soon be zooming around. Dedicated Menu, Jump, Cancel and Done buttons speed things up further -- this is one responsive handset. The Menu button, especially, is worth singling out -- it acts as a kind of 'right-click' mouse button, pulling up extra options that always seem to be just what you're looking for.
There are also handy gaming-style shoulder buttons on the top, and volume controls on the bottom. And don't forget the Qwerty keyboard, revealed by flicking the screen to the left and up, through 180 degrees. Keys are certainly small, but they're no harder to use than on a BlackBerry, with the possible exception of the number keys at the top, which are a shade too close to the screen.
Don't forget that the Sidekick 3 is designed as a messaging device. If you want to make a phone call to a new number not stored in the address book, you have to flip open the screen, dial on the tiny keyboard, then flip it shut before they answer -- not good.
The on-board Web browser uses EDGE for a decent 2.5G speed boost, and makes the best of the bright, landscape-format screen. Pages are reformatted to fit the low-res display, which can mean some hunting around for content, particularly on Web sites using frames.
The Sidekick 3 is fine on basic sites, but forget about exploring the outer (or even the inner) reaches of Web 2.0. Streaming audio doesn't stream, YouTube videos stubbornly refuse to load and the whole of MySpace was blocked by T-Mobile's nanny-ish Content Lock.
The email application is fast, functional and can open smaller JPEG, MP3 and text attachments, but you can't then save these files to the phone for use as wallpaper or in the media player. What's worse, your inbox is limited to a miserly 8MB, even if you have a huge miniSD card in the expansion slot (hidden under the battery cover if you're having trouble locating it). This is no business-focussed BlackBerry.