T-Mobile Sidekick 4G hands-on: Can Android bridge the Sidekick gap?

T-Mobile shut down the Sidekick service, but is continuing the branding. The first Android-based device in this line is the Sidekick 4G from Samsung.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

T-Mobile decided shut down the Sidekick service, but announced they would still have Sidekick branded models that ran the Android OS. The first in this new line is the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G from Samsung. After using the device for the last several days I have to say I am highly impressed with this new Sidekick and am confident that it will serve as a great device for those Sidekick fans who were worried about the end of the Hiptop devices. You can check out several images of the new device, including comparison shots with older Sidekick models in my image gallery.

My oldest daughter was a huge Sidekick fan and those are her older Sidekicks you see in my image gallery. I wanted her to use this one for a week to 10 days, but she is swamped with AP courses right now and studying for the SAT so you will just have to read my take on the device. I may be able to convince my middle daughter to try it out for a bit, but we'll see. I did have her take a look at the pearl/magenta one T-Mobile sent and it definitely piqued her interest just based on the appearance and hinge mechanism.

Image Gallery: Check out product images of the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G made by Samsung.
Image Gallery: Sidekick 4G
Image Gallery: Back of the Sidekick 4G

In the box and first impressions

The T-Mobile Sidekick 4G comes in the now standard rock solid and slim box that T-Mobile has been using for its latest smartphones and it is decorated in vibrant colors and labeling. The back lists some of the main features, the box contents, and both the Android and Samsung icons. Inside the box you will find the Sidekick 4G, battery, A/C charger, USB cable, Start Guide, and Terms & Conditions pamphlet.

The Sidekick LX 2009 was actually an excellent piece of hardware with a beautiful display, but some of the older Sidekick models felt a bit cheap. Thus, I wasn't sure what to expect with this one and am very pleased to say Samsung did a fantastic job with it and the hardware is excellent. The device is all plastic, but it doesn't feel cheap. You will find white, black, brushed bronze, and pink used on the device. The hinge design is unique and slick while the six row keyboard may very well be the best on any mobile phone today.


Specifications for the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G include the following:

  • Android 2.2 Froyo software
  • 1 GHz Samsung Hummingbird processor
  • Quad band GSM (850/900/1800/1900) and dual band UMTS/HSPA+ (1700/2100)
  • 3.5 inch WVGA (480x800) capacitive touch display
  • 576 MB RAM, 512 MB ROM
  • microSD card slot with included 2GB card
  • Dedicated buttons around the display for Back, Start, and Search areas
  • Full 5 row QWERTY keyboard
  • 3 megapixel camera with video capture capability
  • Integrated GPS receiver
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n)
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • 3.5 mm headset jack
  • 1500 mAh battery
  • Dimensions: 4.61 x 2.32 x 0.61 inches and 6.49 ounces

The T-Mobile Sidekick 4G has specifications on par with other Samsung Android devices, like the Galaxy S line, and unlike Sidekick models in the past that always had fairly basic specifications you shouldn't be wanting with this device. The camera is fairly basic, but that has always been the case with Sidekick models and this is still better than what they had in the past.

Walk around the hardware

When you first hold the Sidekick 4G, it seems like a fairly typical Samsung Android device with lots of buttons. You will find five different hardware buttons/controls on the front surrounding the display. The buttons are designed to be used primarily in landscape orientation with the white stamped icons on black plastic. Unfortunately, there is no backlighting on these buttons so I was often hitting the wrong ones as I navigated around the device. I doubt this will be a concern for Sidekick users though as they tend to be able to use all the buttons on their Sidekicks without looking anyway.

Rotate the device into landscape orientation and starting from the top right you will find buttons for the Menu, optical joystick with action button, Back, Jump, and Home. The optical joystick works well and may be used a lot more by current Sidekick owners than I used it since I preferred to just tap on the display

A front facing VGA camera is available in the upper right of the display (in portrait orientation) for video calling. The camera appears in the upper left in landscape orientation.

On the right side you will find the microUSB port and cover along with a physical camera capture button. There is nothing on the top or bottom since these turn into the right and left where you place your fingers when in typical landscape mode.

The 3.5mm headset jack, volume buttons, and power button are on the left side. A 3 megapixel camera and speaker are found on the back. The whole back comes off to reveal the battery, SIM card slot, and microSD card slot.

The real magic of this device is the very slick hinge mechanism that may be as much fun to play with as the flip and rotate mechanism that my daughter loved on her older Sidekick devices. Samsung and T-Mobile made a rock solid hinge that does take some effort and practice to pop up quickly. It really is good and I find myself sliding it back and forth quite a bit. It is like a larger Nokia N97 hinge mechanism.

The QWERTY keyboard is excellent with five full rows of well spaced keys that have extended feedback so you know you are entering text. There are keys for Alt, Shift (2 of them), @, ?, Google Voice Actions, emoticons, and more. Double space after a word enters a period too. I am thinking about a device just because of the great keyboard.

Walk through the software

The Sidekick 4G is a Samsung Android 2.2 device with a customized user interface that mirrors some of the Sidekick experience. You can customize the jump button for 26 different letters and numbers so you can use the device without even tapping on the display.

It has a hip custom lock screen with the time and two ways to slide the display to access different utilities.

You will find Group Texting and Cloud Text utility to broaden the consumers ability to stay in touch via messaging. T-Mobile also provides the device with the DriveSmart system. This service helps prevent distracted driving by providing automatic incoming cal and message management that sends notes to callers and senders letting them know the recipient is driving and unavailable. You can get the DriveSmart Plus service too, which gives parents advanced controls and has the service activate automatically (rather than manual activation).

Other apps and utilities included on the device are:

  • Allshare (DLNA Samsung utility)
  • Amazon MP3
  • Files
  • Highlight
  • Samsung Media Hub (Integrates YouTube, T-Mobile TV, Slacker)
  • Samsung Media Room
  • Slacker Radio
  • Mini Diary
  • T-Mobile TV
  • TeleNav GPS Navigator
  • Theme Changer
  • ThinkFree Office (Full creation and editing Office suite)
  • Qik video chat
  • WiFi Calling

The majority of these utilities improve the user experience and I don't have any issues with them being loaded on the device.

The Exchange account support is better than plain Android, but is the same as what you see on other Samsung Android devices and cannot compete with the HTC Sense utilities.

Pricing and availability

The Sidekick 4G is coming soon, but we do not yet have an official launch price of the device. TmoNews posted that the Sidekick 4G will cost $99.99 after $50 mail-in rebate or $379.99 for no contract pricing. I don't need another Android device, but it is compelling since it is fast and the keyboard really is fantastic.

Final first thoughts on the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G

I actually used the WiFi hotspot function of the Sidekick 4G to record half of the last MobileTechRoundup podcast and enjoyed the fast HSPA+ speeds on this new Sidekick. The Sidekick 4G was fun to use, but I am so used to large screen devices now that I don't think I could go back to a 3.5 inch display. I also have pretty much gotten over hardware QWERTY keyboards and am not sure I want them taking up so much space on my device.

This new Sidekick should ease the worries of Sidekick fans who thought the brand was going to die out with the LX 2009. The hardware closely matches and improves on the last Sidekick models while giving consumers the full Android experience. Samsung makes solid Android devices and this device even had me thinking about picking one up with the excellent keyboard, 4G support, and messaging optimizations.

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