At its launch, the first-generation Sidekick LX represented a new high end for the franchise -- big shoes to fill for the 2009 model of the same name. Does it live up to the hype? More importantly, could this be the first Sidekick complete enough and robust enough to reach new audiences? Read on.
From a distance, the new LX might look like any Sidekick, especially the late-model LX and last year's Sidekick 2008; hands-on, though, it becomes a very, very different story. This is the first Sidekick we've used that feels like a genuinely high-end device, thanks in large part to a soft-touch coating with a tasteful, subdued metallic finish (we've seen both the Carbon and Orchid models, and those comments apply equally to both colors) and tasteful chrome accents on the top, bottom, and d-pad. In a way, this aspirational look could backfire -- Sidekick users tend to be young, independent, expressive individuals, and with the loss of the 2008's totally removable shell, that expression's currently limited to choosing between two dark, nondescript shades. Then again, T-Mobile raises an excellent point: the original batch of Sidekick users is all grow'd up now, they're in the workforce, and they need a device that looks as professional as they are -- and a device like this is an excellent opportunity to keep them in the fold rather than lose them to, say, a BlackBerry.
Sidekick users of all types will feel right at home with the LX's controls. Most importantly, the Menu, Jump, Cancel, and Done buttons are right where we all expect them to be, as are the d-pad and trackball. If we had our druthers, we wouldn't mind seeing the Send and End buttons swapped with the Cancel and Done buttons -- feels more logical, for some reason -- but we understand that that'd be blasphemy as Sidekicks go, and there's really nothing wrong with the current layout. All of the controls have great feel and tactile response, and because the LX is so large (more on that momentarily), there's very little risk of hitting the wrong one. There's a lot of attention to detail here, actually: the chrome accents on the d-pad that we mentioned before double as raised edges that help you "feel out" the four directions, for example.
On the top edge, you find the two shoulder buttons as you'd expect of any proper Sidekick. The right shoulder doubles as a camera shortcut key and shutter button, which means it has two detents -- the left only has one -- which can be a little annoying at times. Throughout the LX's interface, you find places where you can use the right shoulder to move through dialogs, but the two-detent press is disconcerting enough so that we found ourselves preferring to highlight and click with the trackball. This is another case where we understand exactly why Sharp had to do it this way -- users expect the camera shutter button in the upper right, and they did the best they could. The button gets a little harder to press with the screen open, so pics and videos are best captured with the phone in the upright and locked position.
Never mind the light bar, though -- let's turn our attention to that screen, that fabulous, mind-numbingly awesome screen. At a crisp, vivid 854 x 480, this is definitely one of the best displays to ever appear on a US-launched handset, competing up in rarified air with the likes of the Sony Ericsson X1. The viewing angle is essentially 90 degrees in any direction, and this might be the first device we've ever used where we're physically unable to pick out individual pixels without the aid of a magnifying glass -- it's just that sharp. By and large, your ability to maximize the usefulness of such an insanely high resolution on a 3.2-inch display is limited by the youthfulness of your eyesight more than anything else, and thusly, most of the phone's user interface is merely crisper -- not smaller and more densely packed than its predecessors. Web browsing benefits the most, which we'll get to shortly.
Twitter integration is quickly become a must-have feature for any smartphone or well-connected feature phone, and we're delighted to see that the LX's is top-notch. You can set the device to stay logged in and check for new tweets as frequently as every 5 minutes, displaying latest updates on the home screen and alerting you pretty much any audiovisual way you want. You can follow, unfollow, see profiles, view users' timelines, and pretty much anything else you can do from the full Twitter site, which vaults the phone at or near the head of the pack in offering a top-notch mobile Twitter experience. It froze up on us a couple times, but we're hoping this'll work itself out with an OTA update before too long.
As we said, the browser's a particularly great place to take advantage of wide VGA resolution, and fortunately, it does a commendable job of rendering some pretty complicated stuff we threw at it -- engadget.com, as a purely random example off the tops of our heads. Though a "screen-size layout" mode is available to squish everything within the horizontal bounds of the display, we preferred the full-size mode that kept rendering and navigating more true to sites' intentions. Navigating can be tricky with the trackball -- even when you're flinging it with maximum velocity, it doesn't move the cursor with quite the speed we'd like unless you have the speed / acceleration turned way up -- but fortunately, the "mini page" menu item can bail you out by pulling up a thumbnail that allows you to thumb across a page much more quickly. Considering that they've got to make do without a touchscreen interface here, this is about as good as it gets. Page requests took a while at times, despite the fact that we were always connected to 3G; we're chalking this up in part to the fact that everything moves through Danger's servers, but it'd be nice if they could tweak that to get it a little snappier.
Historically, it's always seemed like the Sidekick range is one or two major features short of being a serious contender outside of the typical Sidekick clique, and for the first time, the LX 2009 seriously bucks that trend in a big way. GPS and 3G are critical additions that seem to work pretty well here, and we're stoked to see what sorts of apps end up filtering into the download catalog. Add to that the promise of Exchange integration coming soon, and we're pretty confident that the recovering skater punks out there working million-dollar deals in Armani suits (read: us, except for the Armani and million-dollar deal parts) could get away with pocketing one of these day and night. Over the course of the last couple generations, the Sidekick's gone from a quirky phone to a great phone -- and the metamorphosis may finally be complete.