Review: T-Mobile Sidekick 4G

April 21, 2011, 4:45 PM UTC

There’s no going back.

Top: My old Sidekick 3 circa 2007. Bottom: T-Moblie Sidekick 4G from Samsung

I’m sure somewhere deep inside of Google (GOOG) headquarters, Android head Andy Rubin has been checking out the new Sidekick 4G by Samsung.  Rubin, of course, headed the Danger outfit that designed the original Sidekick before they were purchased and destroyed by Microsoft in 2005.  Today, after ridding itself of Microsoft’s Sidekick, T-Mobile is launching the Android based Sidekick 4G.

As a Danger Sidekick user from 2003-2007, I too have been checking out T-Mobile’s new Sidekick 4G for the past week.  When I heard that T-Mobile was resurrecting the form factor with an Android 2.2 OS built on a Samsung Galaxy S platform, I was pretty sure this would be my next smartphone.

But things aren’t always what they seem.


Samsung and T-Mobile did an amazing job matching the Sidekick 4G aesthetics, both in hardware and software, to the previous Danger versions.

As strange as it may sound, I was much more productive (with messaging anyway) on my Sidekick 3 than I was on the iPhone that replaced it or any subsequent Blackberry or Android device that I’ve owned since.  Some of that could have been in the four years of continuous usage I had with Danger products. Also, touch screens are more versatile but aren’t as reliable for typing.  As with regular typing, I didn’t need to look at my Sidekick keyboard while I was typing.

So the good news in this regard is the new Sidekick 4G has the same 5-row keyboard, including shortcuts, as the previous Sidekicks.  It is easily the best Android keyboard I’ve ever used, beating the previous champion, the Sprint Epic 4G (also made by Samsung).

Unfortunately, the rest of the experience melds the current Android experience and the previous Sidekick experience in unflattering ways.  For instance, the buttons that normally are on the bottom of an Android phone are now spread around the outside of the SK4G device.  That, in itself isn’t a bad idea, but in doing this, the Sidekick 4G no longer has a search button for instant Voice Search and Actions.

This is something I use on Android many times a day and it is now entirely gone.  I think T-Mobile doesn’t realize the importance of Voice Actions because they’ve also stripped the MyTouch 4G of that capability, replacing it with their own less powerful utility.

To get the Android OS to operate the way a Sidekick does, Samsung and T-Mobile have built a pretty crazy overlay that puts everything in the funky Sidekick theme.  That will appeal to tweens and the hip-hop sect that embraced the original Sidekick.  For those with more refined font and color palettes, the theme will be a turn off.

More importantly, the crazy overlay will also mean that it will take much longer to get Android updates to this device (if they happen at all).

Worst of all, the overlay isn’t holistically beneficial. The original Sidekick’s menu was a simple one-dimensional slide through 10 programs, the most important ones in the middle.  Meanwhile stock Android presents itself in a 2D grid that can be slid up and down.  The combination of these two systems is confusing to users like me who’ve used both and prefer one or the other.

As the week wore on, I got used to this interface but I’m not entirely convinced that it is overly better than either stock Android or Danger’s original.

Perhaps my biggest issue with this device is a hardware gripe: The screen doesn’t pop up very easily in this new Sidekick.  The old one took a finger flip, which not only was super easy but contributed to the ‘hipness’ .  This Samsung device is more of a two-handed peeling of the screen.  I imagine with use, the parts will wear and the process will get easier.  For now, I like the older version.

Bottom line: For people like me who’ve moved from the Sidekick platform eventually to Android, this is a reminder that there is no going back.  Technology has moved on.  Stock Android with large touch screens is the new way of doing things.

However, for Tweens who’ve never used Android or people coming from the old Sidekick, the new Sidekick 4G is a great way to hit the ground running with Google’s OS.