T-Mobile Color Sidekick : 07/15/2003
by Ralph J.
I was introduced to the T-Mobile Sidekick (Black & White) by a
friend who has been using it since it came out some time ago. I was so impressed
by it that I jumped to buy the newly released Color Sidekick (CSK). At $299
($149 at Amazon.com with a rebate) the CSK seemed like an excellent deal
considering other devices in its class. I must also add that PCWorld considers
the CSK to be World Class: Best of 2003.
Everything necessary is included in the package, the device, hands-free headset, leather case, USB cable, AC charger, and the manuals. After a description I will give my thoughts, pros, cons, etc. Please note that the real name of this device is the Danger HipTop, and in West Coast markets it is known as the SunCom HipTop. For the record, this is version 1.
First impressions are always important and I was very pleased with the aesthetics of the device. Although a bit bulkier than most phones it has a decent sized, extremely sharp screen, that swivels, yes it swivels, to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard with a D-pad. Besides the keyboard the device also has 3 larger buttons on the outside and a multipurpose jog-dial. The display, incredibly sharp, always displays the time, reception, battery life, network connection and if any messages have been received, via email, AIM or phone messages.
The device has a speaker on the right
hand side and a small microphone on the left so you can easily hold it up
to your ear as you do a traditional cell phone; however, many choose to use
the included headset. All the applications sync up to a web site, called
the ‘Desktop Interface’ supplied by T-Mobile that allows you
to manage your address book, calendar, to-do list, pictures and your notes
from one easy to use web interface. The device, as of yet, does not allow
for syncing to PC based applications such as Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes.
According to Danger, Inc. this is a project in the works. T-Mobile has some
excellent plans designed specifically for this device; they range from $29-59
a month. All plans include unlimited data; the only differences are the amount
of voice minutes they provide. I chose the $59 plan, which includes 600 Anytime
Minutes as well as Free Nights and Weekends. I don’t think anyone has
better service offerings for a device such as this, and even if they do they
are extremely expensive for unlimited data. For pricing and quality of the
device and its services a 10 out of 10.
The device takes a bit of time to get used to, as it has so many features and it can be a bit overwhelming to navigate. A couple minutes playing with the 3 outside buttons the jog-dial will make you an expert in no time. The three outside buttons are Menu in the upper left having a diamond under the text, Jump in the lower left with a circle under the text and Back in the lower right with a large X under the text. The symbols are used in the different applications to reference those buttons without having to enter the entire text. The jog-dial sits right above the Back button. Most of the applications are menu-driven, that’s where the three outside buttons come in handy, as well as the jog-dial. There are a multitude of shortcuts that as you learn them will make most tasks a lot quicker. My review of the features is in order of their appearance on the main-menu of the CSK.
The AIM client is beyond excellent. It has a very intuitive interface, very easy to use, allowing you to have various simultaneous conversations with ease. It is very similar to the popular PC client, which allows you to save more than on screen name and it allows you to see your entire buddy list, as opposed to most mobile phones, which required a new group called “Mobile Device.” This feature gets a 9 out of 10. I give it a 9 because I think its great, but who knows, Danger, Inc. may surprise us.
The next great feature is the email client, which I must admit, for a device this size it is incredible. The is a full fledged email client allowing you to check the T-Mobile provided email address, plus up to 3 other addresses of your choosing. The best comparison is Outlook Express; it is a very lightweight client that serves its purpose. It allows for the creation of folders for sorting mail. The client also has the ability to display certain attachments such as images, PDFs and Word documents. The text-message client (called Phone Messages) is also seamless. Both applications allow you to search through the address book, right from the application to find the email address to send to or the phone number to send a text message to. These two messaging features get a 9 out of 10, I am not sure there is anything better out there, but there is always room for improvement. Impress us Danger, Inc.
Next on the menu is the Phone option. The main-menu is actually a semi-circle known as the Jump Screen. It can be reached from any application by pushing the outside button Jump. Pressing this button “jumps” to this screen but automatically highlights the middle-most option, which is the Phone. It is possible to search the address book from within the Phone application to call. There is also an option to look at the most recent calls and your 9 phone number presets, which can also be accessed from just about every application by pressing the Menu key along with the number associated with the preset (Menu-1 automatically dials your voicemail). Yes it is a bit odd when you hold the CSK up to your ear, it is difficult to access the keys, and this is why most people choose to use the included headset. Reception for voice calls is bit mediocre, yet as PCWorld words it, “we’re data people.” Some calls may have a slight echo even when you have all 5 bars of reception. I also find myself hearing some weird loud-pitched sounds once in a blue moon, kind of like the sounds you used to hear when you had a dial-up modem back in the ‘90s. I give this feature a 7 out of 10. Yes this is a device geared more towards data, but I think that voice quality can be greatly improved and for cryin-out-loud!!!
I would like to group the next four applications into one category. The address book, calendar, to do list and notes are Personal Information Management (PIM) applications. The address book is extremely detailed allowing you to enter just about every conceivable piece of information for your contacts. It is also possible to dial a number, send a text message, or send an email from within the address book. You are also able to add an icon for each contact, when you receive a call the icon will appear next to the name of the person. The calendar is also very thorough allowing you to see the information in 5 different views, upcoming events, by day, by week, by month and by year. Create an appointment or a task and assign the date and time and a reminder if you like. The to-do-list is also excellent, nothing complicated, create a task and assign a due date. Notes are also very easy, just a place to quickly write a fast memo. The PIM applications are automatically synchronized with your web Desktop Interface and vice-versa. This is a nice feature because it allows faster editing and entering of calendar events as well as contacts, notes and tasks. 8 out of 10. The PIM apps are great, but how about a calculator? How difficult is it to add a calculator? That one is common sense.
The next application is the camera app that allows you to take and send pictures (JPG) using the optional camera attachment that connects in the same place that does the headset. The camera app is straightforward and easy to use, plug the camera in take your picture. The screen on the CSK is very good, however the quality of the picture is actually much better than what you see. Once you take a picture you can select one or more and email them, right from the camera app. This application also syncs to the Desktop Interface allowing you to send pictures from a PC using the web. Unfortunately you cannot change the quality or size of the picture taken and you are limited to 36 pictures. 8 out of 10. Maybe an option can be added so we can change the quality and size of the pictures, therefore increasing the number of pictures we can take and save.
Games, everyone loves games. Guess what? Sorry, no good games. When I first purchased the CSK it had five games, 4 arcade style games that made you think, the most popular being a knockoff of Tetris called Bubbles. The fifth game is a knockoff of the old Asteroids, called Rock & Rocket. On June 26th an Over-The-Air update was issued which removed the four-arcade style games, the cheesy Rock & Rocket remained. Needless to say the uproar that went out in the CSK forums. 4 out of 10, no need to explain.
Customization, isn’t that important? Danger doesn’t think so. Yes you get some ringtones that you can use; you can even assign one to each number in your phone book. But guess what? Your stuck with what is there, you cant even go online and buy ringtones. You can’t change the wallpaper or the color palette. You can upload games or other applications to the device. Nothing, zippo, zilch. That’s horrible. Danger c’mon more development those are the things that make us enjoy our PDAs and mobile phones, all work and no play makes us dull boys and girls. A big fat 0 on customization!
Overall I think most of the applications are great and they play nice together being integrated across the whole device. Meaning that you can do things from other places, like send email from the address book by selecting an email address, or placing a call from the address book by selecting a number. You will find features like that throughout the CSK. Reception is excellent for all data applications, a bit mediocre for voice but still very good. Overall, for applications and reception, the device gets a 53 out of 80.
I already mentioned a couple things about the physical device. The buttons are laid out very well and the inclusion of a QWERTY keyboard really helps use all the features well. The battery is cannot be changed, no problem it has an excellent life, almost 3 days with continuous use and no charge. The battery monitor was also updated and is much more accurate now. I ran the device almost 6 hours with no bars of battery life. The device also includes a USB port and an IR port. The USB cable is included with the device but right not it is only used for debugging and reloading the system in the event of a device failure. Since nothing is really saved onto the device this is actually not too bad an idea. Quick, guess what the IR port does? Nope, sorry your wrong, it does NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING! I will show respect because at least it is included, meaning that maybe if someone decides to in the future it will have some use. Also, how about allowing us to upload games, applications, ringtones and wallpapers to the device via the USB port? Wouldn’t that be a great idea?? I think so! And one more thing, the speaker is like the size of my thumb, you should hear how loud the ringers are, why is there no speakerphone!!?? HELLO!!?? Speakerphone would be a great feature. I will give the device itself, hardware-wise a 6 out of 10.
The CSK has excellent potential; I don’t think there is any device in the market that has the potential of this device. Danger, Inc. needs to address those couple of things, especially the customization issues quickly. The CSK has a strong developer community, I don’t know why, seeing that all we’ve seen from them is the loss of the fun arcade games. Although I scored this device a 69 out of 100, I think it’s an excellent device with enormous potential; yes there are a couple things that need to be worked out, but I am sure that Danger is going to impress us and knock us off our feet in the coming months.
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