Jeff Alexander
The new Sidekick 3, will be a big favorite of young mobile messaging fans everywhere.
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 6/21/2006 8:23:02 AM ET 2006-06-21T12:23:02

A few months ago I found myself on a cross-town bus in New York City at 3 p.m.  It was rush hour for 100 or so young teens on their way home from school.  Nearly every one of them was using a cellular phone.

The majority of the kids were using T-Mobile Sidekicks — the oddly-shaped e-mail device disguised as a cell phone.

I’d bet those school kids would be jealous if they saw the brand new Sidekick 3 I’ve been testing.

Unless you’re younger than 8 years old or older than 30 you know exactly what a Sidekick is.  The handheld communications device, which is shaped like a bar of soap, enables those with nimble fingers to type text messages at breakneck speeds.  Oh yes, it’s also a tri-band GSM world phone.

The keyboard, one of the best you’ll find on any portable device, resides underneath the nifty color screen.  You have to flip open the screen, 180-degrees on its axis, to get to the QWERTY keys.

There are all sorts of things you can do with your Sidekick.  You can send SMS messages (MMS is optional); IM friends; surf the Web; check your address book, calendar, to do list, or your notes — all while playing music, taking pictures, playing games or actually making a call.

Impressive technical specs
The Sidekick 3 is 20 percent smaller than its older brothers but is still on the large side for a cell phone (5.1 by 2.3 by 0.9 inches, 6.7 ounces).  The other major hardware changes include a fast new ARM9 processor and a trackball instead of a scroll wheel.

As for other new hardware features, the Sidekick can handle EGDE network text speeds – faster than the ancient GPRS system, but not as fast as EV-DO offered by Verizon and Sprint.  Then again, those guys charge a small fortune for that EV-DO connectivity.

There’s also built-in Bluetooth 1.2, a new MP3 player, a mini-SD card slot (up to 2GB), a 1.3 megapixel camera with LED flash, and a huge, rechargeable battery pack (1500 mAh) which takes up a good amount of space inside.

You now have a choice of IM services available on your Sidekick.  You can use any of the big three — AOL, Yahoo or MSN Messenger — and keep as many as 10 different messaging sessions going at the same time. 

Sidekick also uses new technology to make browsing Web pages a lot quicker than ever before.  Plus, there's a spiffy new phone-PC interface that makes combining information easy.

Up and running
The learning curve for the device is average.  Not too hard - not especially simple.  Sidekick 3 takes a day or so to master – even less if you’re a Sidekick 2 user now.  Becoming a Sidekick pro is a snap.

Everything worked as advertised, and these days, that’s not always a given.  Sidekick 3’s slightly smaller size is a big improvement.  Actually, anything more they can do in the future to make it fit in a shirt pocket will be appreciated.

As for the price?  T-Mobile is offering this handset for the same price as the older model: $300 with a two-year contract, $350 with a one-year deal.  It is also available for pre-paid users.  Monthly charges remain the same: $29.99 for unlimited data in addition to your voice/minutes plan.  The low monthly prices alone should be enough to sway you if you’re on the edge. 

And if you’re over 30 and in the market for a new smartphone, don’t be put off by the Sidekick 3's teen appeal — especially if you don’t use or need Microsoft Exchange mail.  The Sidekick might be just what you’re looking for.  Plus, the under-30 crowd will think you're very, very cool.

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