By Sascha Segan  |  Posted 2006-06-21 Print this article Print

Think of it as the Sidekick 2 ½. After an 18-month wait, the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 slims down the hip handheld, bumps up the camera resolution, and adds an MP3 player. Although there are no breathtaking new features, the SK3 continues the Sidekick reign as the most usable, cuddly e-mail device around—truly, wireless e-mail and IM for dummies.

The SK3—which will be available on June 28 to existing T-Mobile customers and on July 10 to other folks—looks like the Sidekick II on a diet. Its noticeably narrower, at 5.1 by 2.3 by 0.9 inches and 6.7 ounces. Its longer and heavier, but slimmer, than the T-Mobile MDA and Palm Treo 700p. Like previous Sidekicks, the Sidekick 3 is studded with controls, yet it becomes intuitive quickly, almost like a gaming controller. Theres a cursor pad that doubles as an earpiece on the left, a trackball on the right, and buttons all over. A miniSD card fits under the back cover, near the battery—so yes, you need to remove the back of the phone to get at the card.

Put a little pressure on the bottom left corner of the big, 240-by-160 screen and it flips up—the Sidekicks trademark move—to reveal a keyboard thats even better than those of previous models. It has hard, domed little plastic keys that are easy to type on. (I found the rubbery keyboards of previous Sidekicks a bit off-putting.)

The Sidekicks greatest strength is Dangers fabulous user interface, which is pretty much unchanged from previous models. Think about it: This is the only e-mail handheld easy enough for Paris Hilton to use. Its the "iPod interface" of phones in terms of beauty and ease. The main menu is a wheel of icons, with clear, colorful explanations. Functions and options are in plain English. Sidekick experts, meanwhile, can jump to precisely the function they want with keyboard shortcuts. And theres no confusing PC software to install; you manage the Sidekick through a simple, clear Web interface.

The two flagship features are e-mail and IM. The Sidekicks e-mail client lets you merge up to three POP3 or IMAP e-mail accounts—but no Hotmail, Yahoo! or corporate e-mail—and delivers it to you in a "pushed" fashion, without you having to actively check your mail. Mail sent to T-Mobile tmail.com accounts arrives instantly; other accounts are stuck with a delay that can last up to 15 minutes. This is what originally made the Sidekick a "BlackBerry for kids"—though BlackBerrys have fully caught up, and have surpassed the Sidekick with their ability to merge both personal and business e-mail accounts through the excellent BlackBerry Web Client. The SK3s e-mail client will display JPEG attachments, play attached MP3s, and suck the text out of attached Microsoft Word and PDF documents, but not let you save those JPEGs and MP3s onto your device.

The IM application, which runs in the background, lets you log in with one screen name each to AIM, Yahoo!, and MSN at the same time. It shows your full desktop AIM buddy list, not the truncated list seen on most mobile phones.

SMS is a separate application from IM, and it doesnt thread conversations by sender. Theres no MMS application—instead of picture messages, you must send e-mail.

To those basic messaging functions, the Sidekick 3 adds a calendar, a 1.3-megapixel camera, and a music player. The music player, like so many things Sidekick, is beautiful, tremendously usable, and frustratingly low on features. You can play MP3s off the miniSD card by artist, album, or genre, but only MP3s—no AAC, WMA, or protected music files. The built-in speakers are plenty loud enough, and you can also listen on a wired headset, but you cant rock out with Bluetooth.

Read the full story on PCMagazine.com: T-Mobile Sidekick 3

Sascha Segan is PC Magazine's Lead Analyst for mobile phones and PDAs. He is responsible for testing, benchmarking and evaluating mobile phones and other handheld devices. Sascha joined the magazine in 2004 after covering consumer electronics for technology, travel and lifestyle publications, and editing the now hard-to-find book, 'I Just Got a Cell Phone, Now What?' He once helped cover an election in Africa using only a PalmPilot Professional with a modem and attachable keyboard as his traveling gear.

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