T-Mobile Sidekick 3: Conclusions
Published: Tuesday, June 27, 2006
After the last three Sidekick 3 updates (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), which mostly focused on Danger’s new feature additions and their performance, there are still a few details worth sharing with you: my big-picture impressions and opinions.
Over the past year and a half, the Sidekick 2 has garnered a very specific reputation: it’s perceived as the data-ready cell phone of choice for celebrities and younger users. Danger and T-Mobile have done just about everything possible to cultivate this image, seeding Sidekicks to the likes of Paris Hilton before the Wall Street Journal, for example, and creating ad campaigns that look more like cartoons than lifestyle or serious pitches. So despite the device’s seriously impressive technology and interface, there’s been one obvious and very unfortunate consequence: many adult business users pooh-pooh the platform without even trying it.
What I’m here to tell you is this - believe these words or discount them, but here they are - I used my Sidekick 2 as much last year as my personal iPod, which is to say, “every day, several times or more.” Many of the articles you’ve seen on this web site were originally typed on a Sidekick 2. Numerous pages from last year’s Free iPod Book and two Buyers’ Guides were written on the Sidekick 2. I could go into much more detail on this point, but it should suffice to say that the Sidekick 2 was the single most valuable business tool I owned last year - more than my laptop computer. My personal experience is part of the reason that three iLounge editors currently use the SK2 actively, with another one or two on the fringe of becoming converts.
And it’s important to note one other key fact: unlimited data service for the phone has cost me only $20 per month - good luck saying that with a company other than T-Mobile, or even coming close. What the $20 has bought me is AOL Instant Messaging and e-mail access from almost everywhere I’ve traveled. It’s let me send unlimited text messages to my girlfriend’s cell phone - and receive them from her - even when neither of our phones are in great reception areas. And it’s let me access the Web in a highly readable, convenient way for everything from iLounge to world news to movie listings. Plus, it’s a legitimately great phone when I want to make actual phone calls. All of these disparate features are tied together with a simple, nearly intuitive interface; it takes a lot to make a hybrid data and cell phone that even Paris Hilton could understand.
Simply put, the Sidekick 3 is better - much better - than last year’s model. I’ve laid out a number of the reasons in the past three reports, but to recap the key points, it feels faster, lets you navigate its menus faster, and actually accesses the web, e-mail, and related data services faster than before - each at about 2-4 times prior speeds, which weren’t bad before. It adds Bluetooth 1.2 so that you can use popular wireless headsets, a 1.3 Megapixel camera for superior still photography, and a music player - if you want to use it. The inclusion of a miniSD memory card slot (packed with a photo- but not music-useful 64MB card) and user-swappable battery improve the package even more. Each of these features worked, and well, during my testing.
It’s of lesser but not trivial importance that Danger has improved the SK3’s aesthetics, too. With much more black and brighter silver surfacing, plus the taller, thinner design, and glowing integrated track ball, the new Sidekick looks better than the SK2, and more professional, in every way. It has retained the prior model’s illuminated keyboard, six face buttons and joypad, but made them look less conspicuous than before, without compromising their functionality in any way. In fact, the keyboard is a little easier to use, thanks to superior plastics and slightly better key spacing. Overall, it’s not as breathtaking visually as what people have expected from the much-rumored Apple iPhone, but in every other way, if there was an Apple logo on this product, people would be knocking each other over to try it.
There are most certainly ways that Danger and T-Mobile could have improved the Sidekick 3 even further. Some reviewers have griped that the camera should be able to record videos, and there should be even more user-installable applications. Others have lamented its phone-only Bluetooth utility and its lack of functionality as a wireless modem. In my view, these features would be nice, but they’re frankly not necessary. A higher-resolution, brighter screen would have been great, but I can live without it given the unit’s solid battery life, size, and fully adequate web functionality. Given three fixes, I would have cast my vote for a part-time cover for the camera’s lens, meatier top and bottom buttons - the only feature to step backwards from the SK2 - and a lower price. Also, T-Mobile’s $400 starting price without contract strikes me as crazy high for a telephone, and I won’t sign a 2-year contract just to save a measly $100. Loyal Sidekick 2 customers should be getting a substantial discount off that amount, but really, T-Mobile needs to make that price lower to bring more people into the tent. Despite my concerns a couple of years ago, the company’s data service has been generally reliable for the Sidekick, and when it’s had occasional hiccups, its customer service has proved to be pretty good, too.
For these reasons, after using the Sidekick 3 - and I don’t feel this way about any other phone out there, current or future - I’ll be forking over my $400 without much hesitation. Unlike all the people out there that Danger and T-Mobile have yet to convince of the Sidekick’s value, I know two things: I can’t find a device better suited to both my business and personal needs, and there’s no comparably equipped data device I know of with a $20 unlimited plan. After using the Sidekick 3, I consider it as necessary for 2006 as its predecessor has been since 2004. Until and unless Apple releases something comparable, this is the phone I’ll be carrying - and typing on - every day.
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