We're tempted to say "yes" based on looks alone. Android's got no shortage of landscape QWERTY sliders, and some of them even boast pretty fancy builds, but the Sidekick 4G's matte, soft-touch plastic frame, accented sparingly with a dark brushed metal trim, manages to simultaneously be stylish and utilitarian. It's a thick plastic phone in a world that increasingly idolizes supermodels like the iPhone 4 and Xperia Arc
, but every part of its shell is purpose-built for tactile control, and we're mostly happy with the trade-offs.
Samsung may have not seen fit to equip the Sidekick 4G with one of its fancy AMOLED displays
, but it certainly dug up a pretty fantastic standard LCD here, which washes out slightly at off-angles but otherwise aquits itself admirably. Of course, it's only got 3.5 inches of real estate, which can be quite the adjustment if you're used to 4+ inch slate phones or even 3.7-inch QWERTY sliders like the Droid 2
, and there's enough more than enough bezel on the Sidekick 4G to suggest that the smaller screen might be a cost-cutting measure. That said, you're looking at 267 pixels per inch here -- which means you're rarely looking at
pixels at all -- so it's not bad, just not really suited to multimedia. It's pretty nice for touchscreen input, though, with a responsive capacitive digitizer (tracking five points of contact) underneath a smooth Gorilla Glass
Whether held in the left or right hand, the Sidekick 4G is comfortable to grip in portrait mode, and most critical controls are easy to reach -- the bottom (or left) positions the nice, firm volume rocker right beneath your upper digits, a 3.5mm headphone jack at the very top, and the power button at the bottom where you can press it with pinky or palm. Up top (or right) there's a rotating flap covering the microUSB port, and a somewhat squishy two-stage camera shutter button that can nonetheless assist in taking single-handed pics. There's also an optical trackpad on the front that makes a little bit of sense in portrait mode, but isn't really sensitive (nor accessible) enough to scroll through more than the occasional webpage. We miss our trackball.
Landscape mode is where the Sidekick's hardware is obviously designed to shine, as the handset's large, clicky face buttons don't make much sense in the vertical -- and of course, once you spin the phone ninety degrees, you'll be able to access the Sidekick's famous QWERTY keyboard, though sans the familiar hinge. Historically, the only Hiptop that ever shipped without that trademark swiveling display was dead on arrival
, but we can joyously announce that that stigma is no more, as the Sidekick 4G has one of the most ingenious and rock-solid sliding hinges we've seen on a smartphone yet. Push the bottom lip of the display upward roughly a single centimeter, and the mechanism leaps forward with a satisfying snap, propelled by an spring-loaded, all-metal crossbar that simultaneously props up the display at the correct angle and shields its cable ribbon. There's not a hint of play in any direction, nor any question about whether the device is fully opened or closed and though we initially missed our spinning screen we eventually had to admit this one is nearly as cool.
We've tried every Hiptop keyboard made, and while this isn't the best we've ever used -- the Sidekick II's all-rubber matrix is hard to surpass -- Samsung's Sidekick 4G beats the pants off any QWERTY keyboard we've used on an Android machine. You pay a hefty premium to get this kind of real estate, but look at the result: a spacious, staggered five-row keyboard with a dedicated number row, easy access to commas, periods, questionmarks and the all-important @ symbol, and if you're 15 years old (or 15 at heart), an emoticon key too. The domed keys are rather noisy in use, a little shallow and a tad stiff, which can lead to some thumb fatigue after a while -- a little extra padding might have been nice -- and the placement of the Search key tripped us up from time to time when we intended to hit Shift instead. Overall, though, Sidekick lovers will be right at home; with just a couple days of re-training ourselves, we were touch-typing 35WPM (without errors) on the QWERTY keyboard.
Though still decidedly made of plastic, even the back cover of the phone shows some thoughtful design. It sports larged textured grips to make absolutely sure you won't easily drop the phone while typing, and it's thin and flexible enough to easily pry off the rear without requiring excessive pressure. Underneath, you'll find the same user-replaceable 1500mAh battery Samsung uses in all its mid-range smartphones (Transform, Intercept, Craft, etc.) which should make finding replacements easy and cheap, as well as easy access to the included 2GB microSD card (but unfortunately not the SIM slot).
Software, performance and battery life
Samsung's never been particularly shy about skinning Android -- replacing parts of the stock user interface with ideas of its own design -- and for the most part, we've tolerated its TouchWiz
skins without really understanding the point. Starting with the stellar Galaxy S II, however, it seems there's finally a mandate to make change exceedingly functional and pleasing to use, and we have to say, the Sidekick 4G's interface (based on Android 2.2.1) is pretty dang cool. Filled with translucent blue parallelograms and text that vaguely evoke Honeycomb
(and by association, Tron), every part of the UI has seen a stylish overhaul, and it's both seriously eye-catching and fairly useful. The lock screen, for instance, returns you to your content when you slide the lower blade down, but fling the upper blade skyward and it can automatically launch any app or shortcut of your choice.