The Hiptop, a hybrid mobile phone and handheld device that's sold in the US by T-Mobile as the Sidekick, looks set to finally make it to the UK.
Danger, the company behind the Hiptop, has been in talks with a number of mobile operators about offering the device, and although the company is not yet prepared to name names, it's confident of being able to do so soon. Moreover, the UK should get to see a new colour version of the Hiptop, rather than the mono version that has been around in the US.
Danger's triband GSM/GPRS Hiptop – a new colour-screen version – is set to launch in the UK, although carriers have not yet been announced
Essentially the Hiptop is about mobile communications, both data and voice, with data taking the upper hand. It comes with a suite of applications that includes AOL Instant Messenger (which allows up to 10 simultaneous chats), email and SMS messaging clients, and a Web browser. It is a triband GSM device, so it should roam worldwide. It also supports GPRS, and, according to Danger's chairman and CEO Hank Nothhaft, the data compression techniques it employs make 2.5G look like 3G. We've heard claims like that before, of course, but our limited hands-on time did not give us a real opportunity to test this fully.
As well as utilising the data compression tools, the Web browser delivers its HTML via a server that Danger claims reformats pages so that no horizontal scrolling is required on the 2.6in., 240-by-160 pixel, 16-bit colour screen. However, the technology coped poorly with a Web site we like to use to test such claims, which contains some 400-by-400 pixel graphics. It managed fine with better-designed sites featuring smaller graphics, and in both cases it reformatted pages nicely into a vertically scrolling layout. We suspect that experience will be mixed in the real world.
Also provided on the Hiptop out of the box are some PIM tools (an address book, calendar and to-do list manager), a basic note-taker, and a couple of games. There is 32MB of RAM for storing your own data and third-party applications. Danger recently released a Software Developers' Kit, which should mean that applications of all kinds emerge in due course. As with the existing version of the Hiptop, there is an optional digital still camera whose grabs can be emailed -- just like MMS, but without the interoperability issues.
The hardware is innovative and very ergonomic to use. The screen flips up in a rather idiosyncratic and appealing way. With the screen folded away, the device should sit quite happily in a pocket, its 180g weight putting it on a par with heavier handhelds. Getting data into the Hiptop using the built-in keyboard is reasonably easy. The keys are nicely raised and well spaced, so that even the large-thumbed stand a chance of typing out shortish emails as well as SMS messages. A scroll wheel is handy for navigating within applications.
The bad news for those wanting to use this device in conjunction with information stored on a PC is that there is no PC connectivity. Contacts therefore have to be keyed into the Hiptop itself, or to a Web page from which remote synchronisation takes place. This won't matter to non-PC users, but those looking for an innovative alternative to a handheld may see this failing as a show-stopper.
Many reviews will doubtless mention the ill-fated Pogo in the same breath as the Hiptop -- and not without reason, as the two devices share some key characteristics. Both feature non-familiar operating systems, are primarily communications devices, and seek a niche in the young-ish consumer market. If things progress in the UK as they have in the US -- where as the T-Mobile Sidekick, the Hiptop has gained as much market share from word of mouth as from advertising -- Danger's product could prosper.