The Sidekick remains an attractive break from the norm, but it lacks too much by way of features to represent a truly appealing proposition
Automatic back up of data
Easy messaging features
Memory card supplied
Large and heavy
Low quality camera with no video
Lack of 3G limits multimedia facilities
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It's been an ultra-trendy gadget of choice for US hipsters to keep up with their emailing and messaging. But the Sidekick has yet to really make its fashion mark in the UK.
By slimming down and smartening up its latest version, T-Mobile is obviously hoping the Sidekick Slide will at last kick-off a trend among young mobile users for easy to handle messaging and browsing.
The T-Mobile Sidekick Slide is the first of the Sidekick models to be produced by Motorola rather than Sharp. It's 25 per cent smaller than the previous Sidekick 3 model, but it's still a hefty 156 grams - a bit of a handicap in a market where slim is in.
The Sidekick Slide still works on the Danger Inc.-developed operating system. It's not been upgraded to 3G, however, and has a disappointingly low-spec 1.3-megapixel camera - without video recording capability too - as part of a gadgetry roster that's lightweight for a tech-savvy youth phone.
Despite Motorola's fingerprints on the chassis, some of the design traits seen on previous Sidekicks are echoed here. Chief among these is a large display under which is hidden a Qwerty keypad.
Here, Motorola has trumped its Sidekick 3 predecessor with a more detailed 2.4-inch 320x240 pixels QVGA screen. This slides up revealing the 47-button keypad. This contains a row of numeric keys that can be used for tapping out phone numbers, plus a phone pad shaped collection of numbers doubled up on character keys.
The keypad is at the heart of the Sidekick's raison d'etre as a multi-tasking messenger. It does push email, with users able to register automatically for a special Sidekick account and use their own online email accounts.
It does instant messaging too, with Yahoo! instant messaging pre-configured. And it does the usual text and MMS messaging too. The keypad is comfortably usable, even though keys are small. Some additional ALT characters are hard to spot with the colours used on the keys (blue on black), but for its size the pips aren't bad.
Motorola has given the Sidekick more high street-cred by decking out the new device in a slick black casing, trimmed with purple edging. The purple theme continues behind the keypad, while the back panel has a rubberized feel, making it a more grown-up looking device than its predecessors; its now appears more PDA than teenager toy.
Looks aren't everything though. To really appeal to its UK youth target audience, T-Mobile is promoting the device for its web surfing prowess, so users can check out social networking sites on the move. The idea is that this delivers an always-connected messaging and browsing experience.
Another selling point of the Sidekick is its ability to store and replicate all your contacts, messages, calendar appointments and other organiser entries automatically online. Images too are uploaded when you snap them and save them to the phone.
And all this happens without the user having to press any magic buttons or select menu options - it's all behind the scenes. You can make changes online will appear almost instantly back on the handset.
Back home on the device itself, the user interface is based around a carousel-style main menu "Jump" screen, with various sub-menus accessible from here.
The icon-based graphics are certainly youth-orientated. Operating the device involves using a combination of keys on the corners of the fascia, alongside a clever trackball on the right panel and a four-way navigation pad on the left. Additional short cut keys - for quick access to messaging and camera functions - are located on the top side of the device.
Checking for additional options for functions usually requires users to search drop down menus for lists of can-dos. These submenus usually show shortcuts to options that require multi-key combinations. Not the most intuitive of interfaces.
Like previous Sidekick models, there's an underwhelming air to some of the features, particularly the 1.3-megapixel camera. This would be a let-down in anything but an entry-level phone nowadays, particularly as it lacks even basic video recording facilities.
The camera's imaging quality is fairly basic, so wouldn't be suitable for more than cursory snap-and-sending. Not a great come-on for the target youth audience.
Using the camera (and in the menus), you'll also notice that the Sidekick Slide tells you how much space for pics you have left. The Sidekick Slide's memory allocation is parsimonious here, with just 1.75MB reserved for images. Similarly, other apps - such as calendar, contacts and email - have portions of the onboard memory pre-allocated.
Thankfully, T-Mobile is supplying the Sidekick Slide with a 512MB MicroSD memory card in-box (the phone will support cards up to 4GB). This boosts capacity for tunes as well as imaging, as the Sidekick Slide also checks in with a music player.
The music player supports MP3, AAC and WMA formats. You can add tracks to the memory card by dragging and dropping when connected with a supplied USB cable. Tracks are listed in various familiar MP3 player categories, and you can create playlists.
You can call up onscreen a Mini Player onscreen music controls panel, or use drop down menus or key combo shortcuts to operate it. Not the most elegant mobile music player interface we've seen, but effective.
Tunes play loud through the back panels mono speaker and come across pleasant enough through earphones (there's a stereo pair supplied, with a 2.5mm jack socket offering upgrading opportunities).
Unfortunately, the Sidekick doesn't offer the option to use stereo Bluetooth headphones; it doesn't support the A2DP protocol, nor does it allow image or music file transfers using Bluetooth - only vCards. Again, that's a disappointing part of the spec which seems unnecessarily dated.
The main selling point of the T-Mobile Sidekick Slide is its email and instant messaging capabilities, and for a non-smartphone, youth orientated device it works pleasingly. It's fast at delivering messages and the push email appears to work smoothly.
One issue is attachment file size. Anything over 3MB is bounced back to the sender without the Sidekick user getting notification (smaller sized files that break your own limit are at least acknowledged with a message from the server).
That could be frustrating to some users expecting a desktop-style email experience. Some attachments - Word documents, images and PDFs - can be viewed on the Sidekick, and audio files can be played too, though video isn't supported.
The on-board Danger browser is designed to reconfigure and compress web sites to optimise them for mobile screens. Without 3G onboard, this should speed up rendering of sites. In practice, though sites were pulled up fairly rapidly, the performance of the browser was mixed.
Simpler sites rendered OK; you can scroll down the page and see all your info without having to navigate side to side. But more complex sites were problematic; large spaces replacing frames, lots of scrolling (though you can use shortcuts for faster page scrolling). It doesn't do Flash, so sites like YouTube can't be fully used.
Again, while it's acceptable for some sites, and useful to get the internet on a mobile device, there are other devices out there that do the job more effectively with more flexible options; the Danger browser could do with an update.
We can see potential young users getting frustrated with the compromises, particularly when friends with regular Nokias, Sony Ericssons and Samsungs can do it better (albeit on smaller screens).
The T-Mobile Sidekick Slide has the capabilities to play games - there was one pre-loaded on our review sample, Bob's Journey to the Center of the Earth, and you can download more direct from the phone. There are other downloadable applications, wallpapers, ringtones, etc. that you can get from the device, some for free.
In terms of basic call performance, the Sidekick Slide offers fine quality, reflecting the Motorola imprint. Signal holding is good too. Battery life didn't quite live up to the quoted at 7 hours talktime and 6.5 days standby; 2 or 3 days standby with a fair amount of usage was our take on this.
Overall, the T-Mobile Sidekick has some features that could appeal to its target young audience. The size is one drawback, though a dazzling feature set and performance can sometimes offset the chunky-factor.
Unfortunately, the Sidekick Slide, like previous Sidekicks, is hampered by an underwhelming array of multimedia features - such as the under-speced camera, limited Bluetooth and absence of video features.
Messaging is generally a good experience (attachment limits notwithstanding), and the remote auto syncing is a great idea for the youth target audience. But the browser is limited, especially when improved mobile browsers on both 2.5G and 3G phones have raised the bar for what how you can surf on a phone.
So while there are some good points, the Sidekick Slide doesn't deliver significantly more to attract users than previous models. The mobile market moves quickly, and Sidekick is lagging behind.
Ease of use: 6
Call quality: 9
Value for money: 6
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