T-Mobile and Samsung have teamed up to revive the Sidekick line of social-networking devices. The Sidekick made waves in the early days of the mobile phone revolution, offering streamlined access to all of your favorite instant messenger services and text messaging options right in your pocket, allowing you to stay connected with your social life on the move.
This time around, the Sidekick 4G is made by Samsung and is bringing Android along for the ride. Let’s take a closer look at the Sidekick 4G and hopefully make the decision-making process a bit easier for you as you look at this device as a potential purchase.
In The Box
The Sidekick comes out of the box with everything you need to be getting along with and in contrast to devices like the Atrix 4G, accessories for the Sidekick are pretty much limited to carrying cases and screen protectors.
Inside the box you will find the Sidekick, an AC wall charger, a USB data transfer cable and a 2GB microSD card with standard-sized SD adapter. Also included is the obligatory Starter Guide; nobody actually knows the contents of the guide because they have never been read before. The box itself is actually designed in a similar way to that of the Sidekick itself, tying the Sidekick experience together nicely.
Right off the bat, the Sidekick 4G differentiates from other Samsung-made devices by deviating from the somewhat expected lightweight, plastic feel. The device, while definitely retaining the all-plastic design, feels very durably undoubtedly due to the hardware keyboard and the mechanics to keep that boy moving.
When holding the device upright, as seen in the image below, let’s run through the buttons. On the left side of the device sits the power button which doubles as the button to lock the screen and above that is the volume rocker and headphone input. The lock/power button felt rather inconveniently placed to us, and it took us a while to get used to where it’s at when we set the phone down.
On the right side of the device you will find the dedicated camera button and micro USB port. The camera button is nice, coming from a device without one. When at the home screen, pressing the camera button will launch the camera itself. The button is pressure sensitive like most point and shoot digital cameras; pressing the button partially will focus the image and completing the press will snap the photo.
The front of the device, sadly, lies our greatest disappointment in the Sidekick 4G. The button placement here feels anything but fluid and natural. From bottom left to bottom right, going clockwise, we have: Back, Jump, Home and Menu. The front buttons just feel out of place and it took us quite a while to get into the movement of hitting the right button because they defy natural assumptions of placement.
The Jump button, while a nice idea, would have been better served as a Search button. The Jump button is designed to give you quick access to your most used applications, but we have found it simply more effective at wasting space on the front of the device. Most devices seem to have the front four buttons dedicated to Home, Back, Menu and Search – there’s a very good reason for this; it works well.
The Sidekick Flip and Hardware Keyboard
Let’s face it, T-Mobile’s Sidekick line of devices are synonymous with unnecessarily-cool-looking flips to expose the hardware keyboard and we all love it. The Sidekick 4G is no exception to this rule. The device doesn’t have a flip so much as an upward slide.
The hardware keyboard is used in landscape orientation, of course, and to expose it, the user must simple press forward on the bottom frame of the screen a few millimeters. The mechanics of the Sidekick do the rest, springing the keyboard open as seen in the photograph above.
The keyboard itself is an extremely sturdy little fellow that we’ve absolutely fallen in love with using. At first, coming personally from a strictly software keyboard device, it took me a day or two to really come into my own using the hardware QWERTY. This is a learning curve that I do not attribute to the device itself, but to my own tendency to lean towards software keyboards.
The keyboard is responsive and as I became more accustomed to using it, I never found myself missing keystrokes or making input errors due to the keyboards orientation. The keyboard features a search button which, by default on the home screen, will take you to a Google search input box.
The back of the keyboard also has the T-Mobile and Sidekick logos emblazoned on it so you’re still looking sharp, even with the keyboard open (see photo above).
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a major proprietor of front-facing cameras. I just find it much more convenient to send a text or make a voice call rather than throw my visage up on the small screen. Many of my friends and relatives do not have voice calling on their devices so I really don’t have much use for it. I did, however, take the 1.3MP front-facing camera through the rounds and it help up like a true hero. The picture quality is less than desirable, but as this is not the primary camera for photo taking, that isn’t really a concern.
The Sidekick comes preloaded with Qik for video chat, which serves the purpose very well. The combination of Qik, 4G speeds and the front-facing camera provide for a pleasant video chat experience.
As for the primary camera, we’re looking at a 3.2MP camera which is a bit disappointing only because 5MP has quickly become the standard. Another disappointment was the lack of a flash on the primary camera. We are happy, however, with the overall quality of the photographs which can be seen in a panoramic shot below taken with the Sidekick 4G as a sample.
CPU and Storage
The Sidekick 4G has a Samsung 1Ghz Cortex A8 Hummingbird CPU on the inside which helps to zip the Sidekick along in your day to day tasks. The device has 512MB of RAM and runs Android 2.2 so as far as speed, the device is fairly quick. Designed to be a mid-range Android device, we’re not disappointed that the Sidekick doesn’t come with a dual-core CPU because it just doesn’t need that kind of power. The device is built as a social networking, messaging style device and for to that end; the 1GHz Hummingbird fits the bill nicely.
Running the device through Linpack, we got: MFLOPS – 12.781, Time: 6.56 Seconds.
The Sidekick has 8GB of internal storage and comes with a 2GB Samsung microSD card. The microSD compatibility means that the device storage can be expanded up to 32GB, making for a total of 40GB if you need that kind of storage.
Battery life on the Sidekick 4G isn’t the best but is certainly not the worst, either. We’re going to go ahead and forgo the figures that Samsung puts out as far as talk-time and standby time in exchange for a more realistic take on what battery life is like. We found ourselves needing to charge the battery pretty much every day. A typical day’s usage includes heavy Twitter use, receiving email and SMS consistently throughout the day and using the web browser and looking through the Android Market.
We can’t vouch for the talk-time wear on the battery life because we just don’t make voice calls nearly enough to give an accurate summary of that.
One thing we loved about the battery was that it charges back to full very quickly. We never had to leave the device plugged in for more than 45 minutes or so before we saw that happy green LED, telling us the device was back to full health.
The Samsung Sidekick 4G comes running Android 2.2 out of the box, although we’re hoping for a 2.3 update sometime in the devices future. We’re pretty realistic folks here and won’t be holding our breath for a timely 2.3 update. It’s a Samsung device, you see.
Unfortunately, the OS seems a bit sluggish perhaps due to the overlay Samsung has installed on the device. Over Android 2.2 is an artsy, slanted user interface that is actually quite attractive; albeit a little funky.
In the photo above, you’ll see the exclusive Spell Clock widget in action as well as a taste of the UI with the launcher buttons on the bottom.
One of the neat features is a native ‘Theme Changer’ application which basically just color coordinates some of your widgets, the launcher buttons and wallpaper in a color scheme of your choice. This is basically a celebrated wallpaper selector as it changes more than just the wallpaper of your device.
What would the Sidekick be without social networking? Samsung has included a fine complement of applications and user interface tweaks to really get the most convenient and enjoyable social networking experience you can get. The device comes pre-loaded with official Twitter and Facebook applications as well as Samsung’s proprietary widgets to keep you connected straight from your home screen.
Another really neat feature is the inclusion of a status updater right in the status screen that you pull down from the top bar. Above where where you’re notifications are listed is a handy little button that takes you to the Universal Composer where you can update your Twitter, Facebook or MySpace accounts with wonderful ease.
With the combination of social networking widgets, the status update in the Notification area and the hardware keyboard – we really can’t think of a device more suited to keeping up with your social life.
Cloud / Group Texting
Cloud texting is a neat addition that, while we haven’t found the need to use it, we can see how this will be a nice feature for many. Essentially, your Sidekick 4G is capable of sending text messages in the cloud, meaning that you can access the cloud texting website on your desktop, tablet, laptop or netbook and send messages to your contacts without having your Sidekick actually next to you.
While we will pretty much never not have our device right next to us, sometimes it is much faster to type on a laptop or desktop keyboard than the Sidekick’s hardware keyboard. The website features windows to keep all of your conversations in order neatly.
Group Texting is essentially a really convenient way to send one message to a bunch of people at the same time, without having to spend all week typing in every single number. This can be useful when sending a message to perhaps a group of friends meeting at a movie theater, a group of co-workers or your immediate family members.
The Sidekick 4G is very clearly geared towards people with a need to take their life on the road with them. One major aspect of most people’s lives is media and entertainment. We all have our favorite TV shows, films or video games and we like to be able to take those with us as much as we can.
The Sidekick 4G doesn’t revolutionize mobile media, but it does provide a nice experience for bringing our music and movies on the road.
The Sidekick features the ‘Media Room’ application which basically acts as a video player, music player and Slacker Radio hub.
Media room ties in the slanted style that the Sidekick has, which we really enjoyed as it brings the whole device together. Media room doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, but we do like having access to all of the movies and music on our device in one handy location.
T-Mobile TV / Media Hub
The Sidekick comes pre-loaded with T-Mobile TV which is basically a Hulu-like media-streaming application from T-Mobile. The device comes with a free 30-day trial of T-Mobile TV Prime, which gives you access to all of the applications exclusive content on demand.
Also pre-loaded on the device is Samsung’s Media Hub application which is essentially the exact same thing as T-Mobile TV. The app is offered by Samsung and offers a range of great features for streaming movies and TV shows from your device. Media Hub content that you download is tied to your account and not your device, so there is no risk in losing any of your content that you purchase.
Media Hub also gives you the opportunity to rent content, rather than purchase it. Rentals are required to be viewed within 30 days and once the content begins, you have anywhere from 24 – 48 hours to complete viewing. These requirements really shouldn’t be a problem for most people, however.
Streaming media on the Sidekick 4G is no sweat with the zippy 4G speeds so we can see these services ending up being used quite a lot.
All in all, we’ve had a generally pleasant experience with the Sidekick 4G. Day to day tasks feel very good and are complemented by the QWERY keyboard. The sliding motion to expose the keyboard feels very solid and consistent. The photo department could have been a little better but a 5-8MP camera would have also resulted in a more pricey device. We would have preferred a different orientation of the device’s primary frontal buttons but overall, it hasn’t affected our experience with the phone too powerfully.
Sitting at $99.99 with a new, two-year agreement; the Sidekick 4G is definitely a value. If you tend to find yourself updating your various social websites quite often throughout the day, we think that the Sidekick 4G would serve you well.
The hardware is going to be outdated very soon as dual-core CPU’s are sure to become the standard for mid- to high-range devices before 2011 is all wrapped up but if being on the cutting edge of the industry isn’t a priority for you, the Sidekick 4G will serve you well for quite some time.
We enjoyed using the device’s various social touches, from the Universal Composer to the Notification-area status update shortcut. The Sidekick 4G by Samsung serves as a highly pleasing installment in the Sidekick line of devices and we’re happy with the direction that Samsung has taken the iconic franchise.