Saturday, June 24, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Corrected version

Sidekick 3 is better than ever, but still needs more

Seattle Times technology reporter

T-Mobile Sidekick 3

Applications: Phone, Web browser, SMS, MMS, e-mail, instant messaging, address book, calendar, to-do, notes, music player, camera, games, catalog.

Display: Flip screen, 240 x 160 pixels

Keyboard: 5-row Qwerty, dedicated number row

Navigation: Uses trackball

Battery: Lithium ion

Memory: 64MB SDRAM, has MiniSD slot that supports up to 2GB card

Operating system: Danger OS v. 30.0; Java compatible

Size: 130 x 59 x 21.8 mm

Weight: 6.7 oz.

Source: T-Mobile USA

Unlike movies, where a sequel can be a huge flop, the latest version of the Sidekick could be a blockbuster.

For those who don't know, the T-Mobile Sidekick — considered "A list" for its celebrity cachet — is a cellphone with style. You grab it with two-hands, pop up the swivel screen and use the full keyboard to type e-mail, browse the Web or send text messages.

The T-Mobile Sidekick 3 is an improvement on what has been an already good thing. The new version maintains the features that made it popular, and new components make it more comparable to higher-end devices on the market today.

The first things to grab my attention were the integration of Bluetooth for a wireless headset and the addition of an MP3 player and a 1.3 megapixel camera with flash. I also noticed that it has a faster internal processor and a quicker network connection (using the higher-speed wireless EDGE network) to make downloads speedier and Internet browsing faster.

The engineers also added a Mini-SD card slot to add more memory capacity, which is mandatory, given the MP3 player and higher-end camera. The device comes with 64-megabyte card, but it's upgradeable to 2 gigabytes, which can hold a sizable music collection.

The Sidekick 3 is developed by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Danger. Unlike the stodgy, suit-and-tie BlackBerry from Research in Motion, the Sidekick is hip. It's priced at $300 with a two-year contract; $350 with a one-year contract and $400 if you prefer to pay as you go. For $20 a month, in addition to whatever voice plan you choose, you can get unlimited instant messaging, e-mail, text messaging and Web browsing.

At those prices, it can be significantly cheaper than a corporate device. It will be available Wednesday for current T-Mobile USA subscribers and launches more widely July 10.

Besides style and cost, the Sidekick may also be easier to use. And it definitely doesn't look like a Microsoft Windows Mobile-powered device. For example, the welcome screen features cartoon icons for each activity — e-mail, phone calls, Web browsing or text messaging.

The phone function is illustrated by a man wearing a jersey and a black jacket standing next to a stylishly hip woman; the music player looks like a 3-D picture of a car stereo reaching out of the phone; the e-mail icon is two simple white envelopes.

With functions clearly illustrated, there's no way to misinterpret what you are doing. Yes, using more advanced functions that aren't illustrated may take awhile the first time, but by the second go-around, you are a professional.

For instance, I took a series of snapshots of my dog chasing a ball. Afterward, I was able to select all of them to produce a slide show, where the device instantly moves to the next picture every couple of seconds. It took a second at first; now it's a breeze.

Although the device is a major improvement, there are a couple of things I found wanting.

For one thing, the device's form supposedly is sleeker and 20 percent less bulky than previous versions. But the size difference was hardly noticeable. It still feels large and a little silly holding it up to your ear to make a call. (Getting a Bluetooth headset could remedy this.)

You can also forget about calling or texting while driving. Although that is not the most responsible thing to do, I know we all do it on occasion. With the Sidekick, forget about it. I was not able to master much without two hands. Even flipping the screen open is hard.

Then there's the new trackball, which functions like a mouse to navigate on the screen. It will take some getting used to. Previous versions used a button that enabled up and down scrolling. The trackball adds speed, but I lost a little control.

As for functionality, the device does a lot to catch up to other mass consumer devices with a full keyboard. Most others offer high-speed networks and provide high-end components such as the camera and Bluetooth.

But I would point out a few places where the Sidekick falls short.

For instance, when I went to send the slide show to a friend, it refused, saying I could only send 2 megabytes worth of data at one time.

Also, the camera doesn't take video, and it doesn't offer full-track music downloads or any other fancy new multimedia service.

To me, the Sidekick's meat-and-potato user groups are impulsive and always on the go. I don't see why they wouldn't want to shoot videos or download a song. To get music on the device, the user has to load it on a mini-SD card, or transfer it from a PC using a USB cable. There's also no video service. Rivals Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextell and Cingular Wireless all offer short clips of concerts, news and comedy sketches.

When the Sidekick first came out, it was in a class of its own. There weren't very many devices aimed at the average consumer at reasonable prices. Now there's competition and consumers have a variety of options when choosing a full keyboard multimedia phone.

Consumers will have to choose carefully if they are in the market for a device like this. If there's one thing the other devices can't beat, it's Sidekick's popularity among the stars. You will be the cool kid on the block if you have the same phone as Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Jessica Simpson, Snoop Dogg and Serena Williams, all of whom showed up at T-Mobile's Sidekick 3 launch party in Los Angeles.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or

Information in this article, originally published on June 24, 2006, was corrected June 26, 2006. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 was immediately available to current customers. It will go on sale for customers starting June 28 and more widely available July 10.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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