Image: T-Mobile Sidekick 3 and the LG Chocolate
With more parents allowing their kids to have cell phones, it’s time to take a look at two of the more popular brands on the market and see how they fare — the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 and the LG Chocolate.
By contributor
updated 9/6/2006 12:01:07 PM ET 2006-09-06T16:01:07

It’s a given that kids going back to school need to be well equipped. It’s not just about clothes or school supplies, or even cars (though that’s always a plus). Technology figures as prominently as ever in back to school necessities.

With more parents allowing their kids to have cell phones, it’s time to take a look at two of the more popular brands on the market and see how they fare — the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 and the LG Chocolate.

For students, like in everything else, they want their techie accessories to be fashionable and functional. But if it’s a choice between flashy and functional, they’ll probably go for the functional.

That doesn’t mean the functional is going to hit all the marks wanted by the typical student. Wireless companies are vying for this demographic, thinking the best thing must be to cram everything into it and make it an all-in-one. That does and doesn’t work for a couple of reasons — mostly because iPods are the dominant music player and the music players featured on most phones won’t come close to usurping it’s dominance.

In high school, all you care about is connecting with your friends, and this generation has found new ways to do it — IM, MySpace, texting — generally non-verbal communication since it gives them more opportunities.

And if that’s the most important thing to your student, then go for the T-Mobile Sidekick 3. For sheer ease of keyboard tapping and sending IM’s, text messages and e-mails, it’s the hands-down winner. The thing about the Sidekick that works fairly well — especially if you have smaller hands — is the keyboard. Your thumbs go to town almost as well as a regular keyboard. IM’ing is a breeze.

And besides, everyone on “The Hills” has a Sidekick. Isn’t that reason enough? It is one phone that’s definitely made the rounds of the paparazzi’s favorite victims, though their Sidekicks tend to be more blinged (maybe they have the Juicy Couture version) like Paris Hilton’s or Lindsay Lohan’s.

Video: Back-to-school gadgets

It’s also chock full of other useful applications that you’ll probably find standard on most phones nowadays: an address book, calendar and games. But it also comes with a 1.3 megapixel camera (not so great for indoor photos), a music player and a Web browser.

The screen for the browser is actually quite clear, with pictures that download on Web sites coming in clearly. And it has a mini scroll ball that actually makes it quick to navigate through pages. Nice.

It packs all of these bells and whistles into a not-quite-so-sleek design that feels a lot heavier than its 6.7 ounces. This is the Sidekick’s only real drawback: its heft. It’s kinda like carrying a mini laptop. When it’s open and you’re rolling on the IM’s and texting, it’s great. Then comes hauling it around.

While the fashion trend goes toward big bags, this won’t be a problem. But try slipping one of these babies in an evening clutch, and it’s gonna be clunky. But how often will your typical high school or college student be stepping out so formally?

It’s a little frustrating as a phone — unless you use your Bluetooth wireless. But even then, that technology drops off. So as a phone, not so great. But it’s got a speakerphone, and if you plan on mostly texting, it’s the one.

And if price is an issue, then it’s got to be considered some kind of investment, with prices hovering around the $300 zone.

The LG Chocolate is about the size of a less-than-satisfying candy bar, but its design is genius. It’s pretty much got everything you expect from a phone and is also Bluetooth-compatible but it’s got the cool slide action — Matrix reborn — and a screen that’s oh-so-easy on the eyes. The graphic component of the Chocolate is sweet. Seriously. But it takes a little while to work the keyboard. Students who are already adept at typing on the usual 1-9 keyboard should have no problems with this one.

Like the Sidekick, it comes standard with the three most popular IM platforms: MSN Messenger, AIM and Yahoo! Messenger. And it’s also got a Web browser, but after being spoiled by the Sidekick’s screen (next to the Chocolate, it’s like going from a 20-inch plasma to a 50-inch HDTV) it’s hard to get used to. The Chocolate has a video function, which comes in handy if you’re on the go and you want to send a quick moment to somebody. Same with the camera, although it’s difficult to focus and ends up being blurry more than not.

The Chocolate really tries to sell itself as an all-in-one, but again some things come up short: namely, the music. It’s going to be hard to convince users to part with their iPod. But if there is a mobile library they don’t want to be parted with, with the option of answering calls or texting on one device, it could be very convenient. It’s certainly the right size to slip into any purse or pocket, and it’s pretty sturdy.

And the price is right: as low as $75 after rebates (thank you!).

It takes a little getting used to, roving around the keys and hitting the wrong buttons. It’s not as user friendly at first as it appears. Its battery life is on the short side and it hasn’t got a speakerphone, but it does respond to voice commands, which seem to work pretty well.

Different students have different needs — international students or travelers may want a quad band phone, commuters the Bluetooth — but all of them want functional form. So for day to day living — if that living includes constantly keeping connected to friends (and occasionally, the anxious parent) then go for the one that you’re most adept with. Let your fingers do the walking.

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