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July 11, 2003

Death to the T-Mobile Sidekick

Earlier this year I replaced my Blackberry 850 with a Sidekick which is a Danger Hiptop rebranded by T-Mobile. I had been happy with my Blackberry, as it did only one thing, e-mail, and it did it very well. The device was small, and the keyboard and scroll wheel worked well for me. But the promise of the Sidekick was that I would get Web, IM, multiple e-mail providers, phone, bigger screen, while keeping the keyboard and scroll wheel. It is a bit bulkier than the Blackberry. The Blackberry signal coverage had been OK, although many rural areas around here had no coverage at all. The Sidekick runs over GSM, with a coverage more or less similar to the Blackberry around here. Both service providers came with a flat-rate service, for the Sidekick around $50 and the Blackberry $40

The Sidekick architecture is a special one. The device mirrors the state of the servers at the Danger datacenter. The two can get out-of-sync a bit when the connection is broken, but they will resync on connect. If you want to upload something to the device you need to do this through the interface with the server, not directly with the device. This is also the main bottleneck. No matter how much unlimited bandwidth T-Mobile promises you, the performance is driven by the Danger datacenter servers, not the network latency/bandwidth.

After 5-6 months of usage I have had it with the Sidekick. On my mildest days I will tell you it is a piece of crap. This morning I will be returning replacing the device for the 3rd time. It is broken once again. And I am not the only one if you check the forums at Danger you will find that There are many people that have replaced their device multiple times.

There is a long range of complaints about Danger and the Hiptop that you can read about in other weblogs: FSCK, Tristan, tbp, Ed, Chuq. But there are also scores of happy users, as evidenced at HipTop Nation.

There are a few things the Sidekick does well: email (although with some flackyness) especially the handling of long emails with PDF and Word attachements. The IM client is good. The background downloading of web pages works well.

Things that didn't work for me (next to the hardware breaking and OS crashes):

  • The web interface is sloooooow. You send a request to the danger proxy server, which then fetches the webpage, renders its according to the capabilities of your device and then sends the page to the device. The servers are perpetually overloaded. To the point where you just don't use it anymore, except for emergencies.
  • the rendering of webpages is pathetic. Their interpretation of CSS is a very perculiar one
  • The antenna/radio is awfully weak. In-building you easily lose contact, a few skyscrapers and the device is out of order again.
  • The battery life is awful, the blackberry could easily go on for 36-48 hours, the side with using the phone barely makes it through the day. Use the phone in the morning and you can kiss the device good bye in the afternoon.
  • more and more

Add to this the trick that T-Mobile did by removing game software from the devices if a device came on-line, and suddenly the device becomes a whole less attractive.

I will look for something new later in the year. For the moment, I'll do without, or look for where I stored the blackberry...

Posted by Werner Vogels at July 11, 2003 11:50 AM

(n)echo button
Excerpt: Found him via a link from his weblog to my HipTop rant, but Werner Vogels has another (n)echo button on his website. Those amongst you who’d sent me an email asking me wether they may steal mine, his is actually...
Weblog: The Book Of FSCK
Tracked: July 11, 2003 02:54 PM

I would advise you to go for a Nokia 3650. It does alot of things well! Email, browsing the web through an Opera client (though that is buggy), FTP, MMS, loads of games, etc, etc. I'm extreemely happy with mine :-)

Posted by: Jim Corbett on July 11, 2003 04:36 PM

If you haven't looked at the Java APIs for the newer BlackBerry phones, you should. They seem very well designed with true integration into all aspects of the device. The phone itself (even the ones with the smaller display) may be a little bulkier than you'd want but...

I think T-Mobile or At&T has a special on them now for about $200.

Of course, that's all well and good if you want to program/futz around with your phone. If you just want email and games and IM (and *color*), you might be better off with the Nokia or ...

Posted by: Todd Smith on July 12, 2003 01:06 PM

How can i get a sidekick for a cheap price since
theres going to be no more made.

Posted by: Quain Mills on August 18, 2003 09:11 PM

I wholeheartedly agree with your description of the sidekick. I'm on my fourth "exchange" and I've only owned the sidekick 4 months! And, when you are finally able to reach the tech support person, after many layers of other reps, they act "surprised" there is a problem , and very condescending!

Posted by: DT on December 28, 2003 08:52 PM

I wholeheartedly agree with your description of the T-Mobile sidekick. I'm on my fourth "exchange" and I've only owned the T-Mobile sidekick 4 months! And, when you are finally able to reach the T-Mobile tech support person, after many layers of other T-Mobile reps, they act "surprised" there is a problem , and are very condescending!

Posted by: DT on December 28, 2003 08:55 PM

They need to make it to where you can download ringtones and games you only have 2 games and you get tired of playing those games

Posted by: lil $tuff on January 25, 2004 08:47 PM