capsule review

Sidekick 2008 Smart Phone

At a Glance
  • T-Mobile Sidekick 2008

    PCWorld Rating

    A slimmer, sexier take on the Sidekick, but it's so narrowly-focused that it's only meant for kids.

The Sidekick 2008 has the best cell-phone keyboard I've ever used, and its trackball lets you whip through messages at lightning speed. Even so, that isn't quite sufficient to sway me to T-Mobile's newest hipster smart phone. Why? I blame the poky EDGE network, the phone's limited productivity uses, and the fact that I'm apparently not young enough.

The newest Sidekick measures 4.7 by 2.3 by 0.7 inches; it's roughly the same size as the iPhone 3G, but a little thicker. The Sidekick 2008 is a refined Sidekick LX that costs about $50 less than its predecessor (when you sign up for a two-year plan, the 2008 model costs $200).

Anyone familiar with Sidekicks will be happy to know that the interface and all of its handy shortcuts have pretty much carried over from the Sidekick LX. The phone's features continue to evolve: For example, it's a snap to add more e-mail accounts (AOL, Windows Live, Yahoo, and POP/IMAP e-mail such as Gmail--but don't try to get the corporate-oriented Lotus Notes working). I've also been a big fan of how Sidekick handsets easily integrate instant messaging (AIM, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo) with fewer hiccups and slowdowns than on other smart phones I've used, and the Sidekick 2008 is no exception.

I found the phone comfortable in the hand. It feels solidly built, with its formidable keyboard hidden beneath the 2.75-inch screen.

Audio sounded good but a little muffled in my tests. The microphone didn't pick up a lot of ambient noise, and the Sidekick felt all right pressed against my face. And, according to the PC World Test Center's battery tests, motormouths can gab for just shy of 9 hours before the Sidekick needs a recharge--good enough for the unit to earn a score of Superior in comparison with other PDA phones we've evaluated recently.

You also get Bluetooth support for stereo headsets if you don't like the wired kind; and, if you plan to use this phone as your primary MP3 player, you can plug any headphones into the 3.5mm jack. The player supports the audio formats you'd expect (WAV, WMA, MP3, AAC) and some video formats you might not (3GP and simple-profile MP4).

While the Sidekick line has never been known for stellar images, the Sidekick 2008's 2-megapixel camera is capable of snagging 1600-by-1200-resolution photos. No flash, mind you, but it's still good for casual snaps. The camera can capture video, too, but only in 20-second clips.

Unfortunately, along with a lot of the old things I like, many annoying issues linger in the newest Sidekick. The Sidekick's Danger OS remains constrained and sluggish. Maybe I'm a little spoiled by the ability to hack Windows Mobile 6.1. The Sidekick still can't read Microsoft Word documents--a feature that has been lacking since the first Sidekick hit the scene. And the T-Mobile EDGE data network crawled along at insufferably slow speeds when I browsed the Web.

My greatest frustration with the Sidekick is its wasted potential: It could be much more than just a kid's phone. Oh, sure, I could drop $10 for Intellisync so that I can move my Outlook contacts over to the device, or I could dig up the small handful of productivity apps that hide in the download store. And that store holds some gems, such as Melodeo's Mobilcast for grabbing podcast feeds, but even that app needs to get the kinks worked out (audio hiccups and unfulfilling lists of podcasts). For the most part, though, you're choosing from apps such as "Flirting 101," "The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Getting Girls," and a blinged-out digital timepiece for your phone's screen-saver mode. Together with its customizable removable backplates (gotta love the leopard-print shell!) and the default Web bookmarks to places such as PerezHilton.com, everything about this phone screams "teen." That's a far cry from the Sidekick's original billing as a data communicator.

I'm not saying that the Sidekick 2008 is a bad phone--not at all. In fact, I wrote this entire review on its perfect little keyboard (in the body of an e-mail message, of course, since the phone doesn't support Word documents). It's just disappointing that after all these generations on the market, the Sidekick has been relegated to fashionista status.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    A slimmer, sexier take on the Sidekick, but it's so narrowly-focused that it's only meant for kids.

    Pros

    • Best keyboard on a phone
    • Trackball makes for easy navigation

    Cons

    • Pokey EDGE network for data
    • Still doesn't support Word documents
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