T-Mobile – Sidekick II review

PDA phone with keyboard and large screen
Photo of T-Mobile – Sidekick II
£free to £49.99 depending on contract

Imagine a mobile phone that looks like a pocket-sized games console. Imaging adding a diary appointment to that phone and having it update a Web-accessible backup automatically. Now imagine that same phone with a built-in keyboard, Web browser, e-mail and instant messaging software, and a camera. You are imagining the Sidekick II, available exclusively from T-Mobile.

It’s a weird looking device, with a feature set that has some obvious and annoying omissions. But the idea is strangely compelling despite that.

The Sidekick II is big for a phone. At 130 x 66 x 22mm it gives your average PDA a run for its money, and weighs more than most of those too, at 184g.

It has a huge screen (60mm wide and 40mm high), placed right in the centre of the hardware, flanked on left and right by banks of buttons, a roller and a navigation pad. You are meant to hold this thing in two hands lengthways like a games console, where the buttons fall easily under your thumbs.

Held in this way, you push the screen towards you at its top right corner with a forefinger, and it flips right round at considerable speed, revealing as it does the rubber keyboard it protects. The mechanism is smooth, surprising and satisfying to use.

On-board software includes a fair bit that is text-centric, including e-mail, SMS, note-taking and AOL Instant Messenger. There is also MMS software, a diary, to do list and contact book, Web browser and a game built in.

The camera takes images at resolutions up to 640 x 480, but not video. You can make voice calls, but we found holding the Sidekick II to our ear to do so felt a bit ridiculous. A mono earbud – there’s no stereo output – and speakerphone are your alternatives. There is no Bluetooth support.

The Sidekick II supports Java and you can download games and other content, but there is only 16MB of built-in memory and no flash support, so don’t expect to go mad with your downloads.

Probably the best thing about the Sidekick II is that you get an e-mail address with it and a chunk of password-protected Web space which provides access to all the data that the Sidekick II itself does.

You can add content to the device and it is immediately sent to the Web space, and that includes pictures taken with the built-in camera. Similarly, entering information in the Web space means it gets replicated on the Sidekick II. It is instant backup, and when we were testing the Sidekick II it worked perfectly.

The problem here is sharing information with your desktop address book. There’s no direct support for PC synchronisation, so you have to import tab-delimited files via the Web space, which simply won’t be practical for managing ever-changing diary and contact databases.

Company: T-Mobile

Contact: 0845 412 2401

It all adds up to an interesting device. As far as it goes the Sidekick II performs its task well, unless you want to make voice calls or synchronise with a desktop computer, in which case it is only slightly less ergonomic to use than a chocolate teapot. And its lack of ability to play music will reduce its appeal to its young target market. It is clever, but it needs to shrink in size and grow in features to be a real success.