Reviewed July 8, 2008 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
The Sidekick LX isn't exactly a new device, but in June of 2008, T-Mobile rolled out a software update that added some features most coveted by Sidekick users. These new features include video recording, playback and sharing capabilities; enhanced web browsing and A2DP support, all of which are commonplace among competing devices in this class. Of course it’s hard to group Sidekick LX with any other device except the Sidekick family given the unique messaging features, backend support and cult (and sometimes glamorous) following. This software update is available to all current Sidekick LX users with a Sidekick data plan and it’s an OTA (Over The Air) download.
The Sidekick LX is a quad band GSM phone that’s manufactured by Sharp exclusively for T-Mobile. You will need to pick a Sidekick service plan in addition to the individual or family voice plan to use data and other services, and the Sidekick LX has support for T-Mobile’s MyFaves feature.
A Phone, An Iconography
Like uniquely designed clothing, the Sidekick messaging phones have found themselves into the hands of teenagers, famous people and teenage famous people. Measuring 5.2 x 2.4 x 0.7 inches, the Sidekick LX isn’t a small device but the trademark swivel WQVGA screen and the very useable full QWERTY keyboard make up for the large body. The Sidekick LX not only can house a widescreen display and a roomy keyboard, but also has room for large call send and call end buttons, 4 menu keys, a front facing speaker/earpiece that also functions as a four-way d-pad and a backlit trackball. And since space is abundant the Sidekick also provides two shoulder keys that can launch the applications of your choice, volume keys and a power button. The 1.3 megapixel camera is on the back of the device and under the battery door, you will find the microSD card slot (no need to take out the battery). The SIM card slot is under the battery.
The Sidekick LX isn’t the sexiest phone we’ve seen, but as long as celebs like Paris Hilton, Eva Longoria and Hillary Duff keep flashing their Sidekicks on the red carpet or at night around town, it doesn’t matter. After all, this texting-centric device was at the forefront of the mobile social networking and continues to have a foothold in connecting circles of friends. The Sidekick LX is not only a good texting device but also a good voice phone. The device has very strong RF and gets full signal strength in strong to moderate coverage areas, and gets half of full signal strength in marginally covered areas. The phone sounds good on both the incoming and outgoing ends, and has never dropped a call in the Dallas area.
Just like other feature phones, the Sidekick LX supports common call management features such as call waiting, caller ID, call forwarding and speed dialing (2-9). The Sidekick LX comes with a wired stereo headset and has built-in Bluetooth for working with Bluetooth headsets and car kits for hands-free calls. Voice through the included wired headset is excellent: loud and clear. We also tested the phone with Bluetooth mono headsets including the Jawbone 2 and the Plantronics Explorer 330. If you are getting the Sidekick LX, don’t get the Jawbone II Bluetooth headset as they don’t work well together. The outgoing voice on the Sidekick LX via the Jawbone II headset sounded like a “broken pay phone” as our call recipients described. The Plantronics Explorer 330 sounded much better on both incoming and outgoing ends. The voice was a bit tinny on the outgoing end, but otherwise good and loud.
Friends at Your Fingertips
The Sidekick devices have always been about staying in touch with friends via messaging and the Sidekick LX is no exception. The Sidekick LX supports SMS, MMS (including video, up to 2MB of photos and videos), email and IM for AIM, Windows Live and Yahoo! Messenger. The address book has good integration with the messaging applications and you can compose messages or chat via IM with one-click while in the contacts application. Although you can store 2000 contact entries, you can only save 130 messages on the Sidekick. The mailbox on the Sidekick will start giving you notifications to delete older messages after you’ve reached 100 messages. Once your text message mailbox is full, you can no longer create messages. You can set the mailbox to delete older messages automatically so that you don’t have to keep track of how many messages you have to delete.
Fun with Music and Video
The Sidekick LX is a very capable music phone even in today’s music phone market. The built-in media player can play MP3, WMA, AAC, MIDI, AIFF and WAV files. You can use the included USB cable to side load music to your Sidekick or copy your music files to microSD cards (the microSD slot supports SDHC). The music player supports repeat, shuffle and album art, and it offers several shortcuts to speed common operations. The Sidekick LX can multitask while playing music and it has a standard 3.5mm audio jack. How is the sound quality? The built-in speaker is pedestrian, and it can’t compete with some recent LG and Samsung phone speakers. But when you use the included wired stereo headset or a Bluetooth stereo headset, the music comes to life with full, loud and clear audio. Audio quality via headsets is excellent and can hold its own against good music phones like the LG Chocolate.
Having fun hanging out with your friends? How about snapping a photo to remember the moment? The Sidekick LX’s built-in 1.3 megapixel camera with flash is there to do just that. The photos will serve as mementos best viewed on your phone rather than computer monitor. You might get away with sharing the photos online if you keep the image small because the photos quality is sub par at best for a 1.3 megapixel camera. The photos have lots of noise, look dark and lack detail. One of the main new features that the June 2008 update provides is video recording capability. You can record long videos (depends on microSD card space) or short videos (20-second) and you must have a microSD card in the slot to record video. The video quality is also hindered by poor camera performance. Videos look blocky and lack color and detail. The audio is in sync with video though. You can download a 280k sample video in .3gp format here.
Web and Organizer
Even though the Sidekick LX works only on EDGE, data is very snappy. Mobile web sites load quite fast, even with ton of images. The web browser has been improved and renders sites faster and prettier. It also offers a “mini page” mode where can select the part of a page you wish to view. While these are very good improvements, the browser still has trouble loading full HTML sites (non-WAP sites).
In addition to the address book, the Sidekick LX also has calendar, notes, to-do list and an alarm clock (this is a new feature added by the June update as well).
Sidekick, the Hero?
The Sidekick LX is the flagship device in the Sidekick family and is by far the best Sidekick device we’ve seen. It has a large and bright WQVGA screen, very useable QWERTY keyboard, good RF, fast data, and a very good music experience. The large body may not be your cup of tea but the design is cool for many diehard Sidekick users. The June feature update added some important features (video recording, A2DP and alarm clock), and even though the video quality isn’t that good compared to feature phones with better cameras, Sidekick users have waited for a long time for video, especially video messaging. If you are a Sidekick ID user looking to upgrade, the Sidekick LX is the natural choice; unless you are a diehard Tony Hawk fan also, in which case you should save your pennies for the Tony Hawk limited edition of Sidekick LX coming this summer.
Pro: Great phone reception and fast data speed. Very nice display and roomy keyboard. Great audio quality via wired headset and Bluetooth stereo headsets. microSD card slot supports high capacity cards (we tested 8GB AData card and it worked fine).
Con:Sub par camera. Web browser still needs improvement to work with full HTML pages. No voice dialing.
Price: $249.99 with 2 year contract after rebate. $399.99 without contract.
Display:65K color TFT LCD. Resolution: 400 x 240 pixels (WQVGA). Diag.: 3”.
Battery:Sharp rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery. 3.7V, 1540 mAh. Claimed talk time: up to 6 hours; claimed standby time: up to 4 days.
Performance: Texas Instruments OMAP 331 processor, 200 MHz. 64MB internal memory. Address book can store up to 2000 entries.
Size:5.2 x 2.4 x 0.7 inches. Weight: 5.8 ounces.
Phone:Quad band GSM phone, 850/900/1900/1900 MHz bands. GPRS/EDGE for data. T-Mobile exclusive in the US.
Camera: 1.3 megapixel CMOS camera with flash. Image resolutions: 1280 x 1024, 640 x 480 and 320 x 240. Can record video with audio. 176 x 144 resolution, can record 20-second short videos or long clips depending on the storage space on the card.
Audio:Built-in mic, speaker and 3.5mm audio jack. Media player included for playing back MP3, AAC and WMA music files, and 3GP video files. Support vibrate (Buzz) mode. Supports Bluetooth A2DP.
Networking:Bluetooth v2.0. Supported profiles: Headset, Hands-Free, A2DP and OPP (vcard).
Software:Sidekick proprietary UI with Jump screen. PIM applications include address book, calendar, to-do list, notes and alarm clock. Media Player included. Bob’s Journey game pre-installed. Web browser and messaging include.
microSD card slot, SDHC compatible.
In the box:The Sidekick LX phone with battery, a SIM card, a 128MB microSD card, USB cable, AC charger, wired stereo headset, carrying case and printed guides.