T-Mobile's newly released Sidekick 3, made by Sharp (SHCAY
), is likely to prolong the product's winning streak. It's about 20% smaller than the previous version and weighs just 6.7 ounces. It has an ample 2.6-inch screen that swivels up neatly to reveal a small QWERTY keypad, one which you type with your thumbs.
Perhaps the nicest innovation of the Sidekick 3 is a tiny trackball just to the right of the screen that you can use to navigate all the Sidekick's features. This replaces a scroll wheel on the Sidekick 2, and it's the easiest way to move through a handheld device I've ever tried. Roll the ball toward you to scroll down a Web page. Push it, and you open applications.
But the true delights of the Sidekick 3 are instant messaging and e-mail. I'm not talking about phone-to-phone text messages -- cryptic shorthand you can decipher only if you were born during the Clinton Administration. I'm referring to real instant messaging, the way millions of folks communicate via PCs. The Sidekick 3 comes loaded with IM software from AOL (TWX
), MSN, and Yahoo! (YHOO
). Type in your user name and password, and you're chatting away. I set it up during a lunch break and was instantly in touch with pals on MSN's Messenger software. The only challenge was typing fast enough on the small keypad to keep the dialogue moving, something I got better at with practice.
E-mail is a bit trickier. Things went smoothly as long as I was e-mailing from the T-Mobile account that comes with the device. Setting up Sidekick to get mail from a home account supplied by my local Internet provider was more trouble, but eventually I got it going. One drawback: The Sidekick can't grab e-mail from servers protected by firewalls, so it won't work with most business accounts.
The newest model connects to the Web using a semi-fast network known as EDGE, which is a far cry from broadband on a laptop but fast enough for light browsing. The Sidekick's screen is generally adequate for the task, depending on what site you're trying to hit. I had no trouble using Google (GOOG
) to find the address of a local restaurant, but my 11-year-old struggled to goof off on a graphics-heavy game site -- defeating the whole point of goofing off.
Another first for the Sidekick: This third iteration includes a digital music player. Sharp has built in a pretty good speaker, so you can share your music with a buddy without having to share your earbuds. True, the Sidekick is no iPod. But at least you won't have any problem finding the song you want to listen to -- the 64-megabyte miniSD card that comes with the phone holds only about 15 of them. I recommend upgrading to a larger card, especially if you plan to take pictures, as these are on the same card.
A big drawback of the Sidekick 3 is that it's a power hog. That's understandable, considering you can use the device to Web surf, instant message, play music, and -- oh, yeah -- make phone calls. T-Mobile says the talk time is now 4 1/2 hours and the standby time is three days, but you'll be hard-pressed to go more than a day without recharging. Once I neglected to recharge the device overnight and was stuck the next day with a useless brick in my pocket.
T-Mobile charges $300 for the device with a two-year contract, $350 with a one-year contract, and $400 on a pay-as-you-go plan. You'll also need to buy a data plan on top of your regular phone service, which runs $30 a month. It ain't pocket change, but whoever said being hip was cheap?Steve Wildstrom is on vacation.For past columns and online-only reviews, go to Tech Maven at www.businessweek.com/technology/wildstrom.htm By Jay Greene