Name: T-Mobile Sidekick 4G
Price: $99.99 w/ two-year contact
The Backstory: The mobile landscape was completely different in 2002. There was no iPhone, no Android, and RIM had just launched its BlackBerry line of phones three years earlier. There was no Facebook or Twitter. No apps and no true "mobile web". But there was the T-Mobile Sidekick: A device that resembled a modernized version of Motorola's two way pagers with a serviceable keyboard and a cool monochrome screen that would swivel open. It helped usher in the era of "always-on" communication, as users were able to stay in contact with friends via AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. During the early 2000s it was the coolest phone you could buy. Every celebrity—from Fabolous to Paris Hilton—had one.
Then came the smartphone revolution. BlackBerrys gained popularity outside of the cooperate world; Apple released the iPhone; Microsoft purchased Danger, gutted it, and attempted to use its knowhow to build a new messaging phone called the KIN which was discontinued months after its release; then Danger CEO, Andy Rubin, left and started another company called Android which would be purchased by Google. Combine that with a raft of uninspired Sidekick models released by T-Mobile, and it's easy to see how it became the Allen Iverson of smartphones by the time it was discontinued in 2010.
Now it's 2011. Andy Rubin's Android and Apple's iPhone are killing the game; BlackBerry, which once ruled supremely as the de facto messaging phone, is fighting to stay relevant; people communicate through Twitter and Facebook more than AIM and Yahoo!; Microsoft's moved on to a whole new mobile strategy; and T-Mobile has brought back the Sidekick. This time around, the Sidekick is made by Samsung, lost the swivel screen, and, in an comedic, what-goes-around-comes-around sort of way is now running Android. The question now is: can the revived Sidekick do battle with the legion of other Android phones out there?
• Good build quality, form factor: Take a look at the vast majority of Android-powered phones and you'll notice that they all look very similar. Most of them are thin black slabs with a huge screen and no physical buttons. The Sidekick bucks that trend and instead attempts to reprise the classic Sidekick form factor. And it works. Its plastic body doesn't feel high-end, but it also doesn't feel as if it'd break or shatter if it slips out of your hand at a party.
• Great keyboard: Danger and RIM taught us that you can't have a good messaging phone without a good keyboard. Samsung took heed and outfitted the Sidekick 4G with a well-spaced QWERTY keyboard. We wish the buttons were a little more raised like old SKs, but typing proved to be one of the best experiences we've had on a mobile phone. Thanks to its familiar form, your thumbs naturally find the keys. We found ourselves typing faster than we do on our regular phone after a day.
• Messaging Options: To drive home the point that this phone is meant for messaging, the SK comes with a number of communication apps built-in. There's a Group Texting app that, well, let's you text in Groups. QIK comes pre-loaded so you can use the front-facing camera to video chat. There's also a "social address book" that puts all your Facebook, Twitter, and other contacts in one place.
• Impressive specs: For a mid-level Android device, the SK packs in a speedy 1GHz Hummingbird processor, 1GB ROM, and 512MB of RAM. It comes with a 2GB SD card for storing music, pictures, and video.
• Responsive touchscreen: It's small, yes. But the touchscreen is a much-welcomed addition to the Sidekick. Navigating everything from home-screens to web pages is made easier thanks to the ability to swipe and touch the screen.
• Unobtrusive Android Skin: As a whole, we're pretty against all Android skins, finding them pretty useless, but the custom interface Samsung threw on Froyo works well considering the device. "Phone", "Apps", and "Contacts" are given neat little short cuts, whole each home screen is accessible by either swiping or pressing one of the seven bars at the very bottom of the screen. At the lockscreen you can either swipe down to go back to whichever page you were just using, or swipe up to a page where you can put different app shortcuts.
• No true 4G: We found surfing the web on the Sidekick 4G to be sluggish at times. It's no secret that T-Mobile has been pushing a 4G charade, and it shows here.
• Awkward directional pad: Good thing there's now a touchscreen because the miniature directional pad is inaccurate, slow, and awkward to use. Many times we found ourselves using the D-Pad only to get frustrated and remember there's a touchscreen.
• Weak display: We didn't expect Samsung to throw in one of its AMOLED screens (well, I kind of did), but we expected something better than the washed out 3.5-inch, 480x800 pixel TFT display that comes with the phone. Even with brightness turned all the way up, it still seemed dim. And don't expect to use the phone in bright sunlight; you'll be hovering to find shade just to read a text message.
• Software lag: Occasionally, we found Android to be sluggish. Not depressingly slow, just surprisingly so considering its internals are so quick.
• Phone dialer: The phone screen only works horizontally. Want to dial a number? You're going to have to lead landscape mode.
Final Say: No matter what form-factor or feature set you're looking for, there is an Android handset that fits the bill. So is the Sidekick 4G a standout? We think so. Sure, it's just another Android phone with a physical keyboard, but, by our estimation, it has one of the best forms and the best keyboard of any Android phone. It also packs in a load of features, like a 1GHz processor and dual cameras, for a very small price ($100). Is it as good as the old Sidekicks? Hard to say. However, it's not hard to say that the Sidekick is still one of the best messaging phones. Yes, it has stigma attached to it as smartphone has-been, and it may never regain the reputation is once had, but the Sidekick 4G is one of the best phones for the price available now.