The T-Mobile Sidekick III falls short

  • July 30th, 2006

It took a mediocre two weeks to realize that the T-Mobile Danger Sidekick / Hiptop III brings very little to the table in comparison to its predecessor – the Sidekick II. Generally speaking, new releases posses features and conveniences lacking from previous incarnations. Although the Sidekick III brings the added convenience of a [paltry] 1.3 MP camera, Javascript browser support, MP3 player, MSN Messenger, and a more compact housing footprint, there is little else to gloat about.

User interface shortcomings

sidekick buried menu items

The Sidekick / Hiptop III utilizes a single trackball for navigating menu items, links, or settings. The addition of the trackball alleviates the inconvenience of vertical / horizontal only navigation by adding the option to jump to items in a diagonal fashion. A most welcomed feature had Danger not decided to make use of the addition by burying applications into sub menus.

Habitual users moving from the previous Sidekick II will – as I was – feel somewhat disoriented now that popular applications are buried into sub menus [requiring a little more thumb action]. As far as productivity is concerned, Jump Shortcuts are the only way to access your favorite features without having to explore the interface for programs.

Browsing at a snails pace

sidekick browser and javascript

Unsure of what I may have been thinking what with my excitement over the press announcements of the Sidekick III, I’ve come to the realization that the browser is just as slow as the previous version. Maybe even slower now that the device supports Javascript. Loading 5thirtyone.com, the device chokes on the single Mint script, leaving me with no other option but to wait for the device to recover from locking up after loading the front page.

Why the device lacks EDGE support [in the Greater Seattle area] is beyond me. Knowing that the previous release was plagued with slow load times, T-Mobile & Danger should have attributed the GPRS internet connection as the root of the slowness issue. EDGE claims to have improved on loading times yet I have seen little change in the performance of the browser. Due to the speed alone, I rarely, if ever, load the browser for anything outside of directory assistance or directions.

IMAP? More like INOT going to work correctly

sidekick mail settings

In an attempt to stay actively in touch, the greatest use of this device is the included POP/IMAP mail client. There are a handful of shortcomings which I was hoping the SKIII would improve upon with this latest release. Sadly, the mail client has very much remained unchanged from the previous release:

  • No support for your own outgoing mail server. Every message is handled through Danger servers. This means that you will not have any local copies of messages sent from the device using – what you assumed to be – your own mail server. The only workaround is to CC messages to your personal account for archiving. This applies to both POP & IMAP.
  • The idea behind IMAP is that a user can access messages on a central server from a mobile device ala SKIII while retaining the message state (message marked as read from the mobile device will be shown as read from a desktop client). Despite toying with the available options within the SKIII for IMAP/IMAP SSL, the mail client failed to aknowledge or reflect unread / read messages. Again, with no support for you own outgoing mail servers, you can forget about retrieving sent messages unless the CC trick is used.

AIM – No way to hide

sidekick instant messaging

One of the strongest features which helps this device sell is the integrated IM functionality. With support for AIM, MSN, and Yahoo, most thumb tap happy messaging users will undoubtedly fall in love with the device. Unlike the MSN application which allows active users to hide their online presence by opting to be shown as offline, the AIM client offers no such functionality. Being the most popular messaging service, you can imagine the inconvenience of being online 24/7. Of course, there is the option of signing off, but how would contacts leave messages?

Why didn’t Danger implement the ability to set status to “Away” while allowing users to continue communicating with select users. If contacts do leave messages, the only option available to check messages is to remove the away message.

The trick: Set your away message and rotate the display partially to expose the reset button. Reset the device with a paperclip. Once the device boots back up, your status will display whatever away message you set prior to reseting the device while allowing you to communicate freely without the away message box restricting functionality.

Missing sync – You can say that again

Anyone interested in syncing their Sidekick III with local productivity solutions can nix expectations from the “I hope I can” list. The Sidekick / Hiptop III is very much as closed as its version II sibling was. The included USB cable does little else aside from mounting your device as a Flash drive from which to transfer images and music from the device. Check out my previous post on what to expect with the Sidekick III & OS X. The only solution to managing your day with the SKIII is by utilizing the desktop web interface or a 3rd party application developer.

Would I recommend the Sidekick / Hiptop III?

The Sidekick III is anything but professional. As a whole, the Sidekick / Hiptop III is a solid casual messaging device. With email, instant messaging, and text messaging, there are no excuses for staying out of the loop with friends & family. My hope is that future revisions of this device will accommodate the needs of users in search of a little more control over their communication options. Text message threading, personal outgoing email server configuration, a developer API without having to jump through network loopholes, and alternative AIM status messaging options are a just a few features that I would love to see in the Sidekick 4.