After more than a dozen iterations over the past nine years, the Sidekick brand rides again. T-Mobile today announced the newest Sidekick for a hip new generation as a custom Google Android device made by Samsung. The Sidekick 4G launches later this spring, and it’s far more smartphone than its predecessors.
The new Sidekick 4G shares design cues from the prior versions: a five-row hardware keyboard, flip-up display, and dedicated function buttons, one of which is for fast multitasking. Clearly it looks like a Sidekick on the outside, but that’s only half the story. The new handset shares many smartphone features and hardware specifications from the Samsung Galaxy S 4G: a high-end device I reviewed earlier this month and found to be a great handset.
Here’s what the Sidekick 4G inherits from its smartphone brother:
- Samsung’s 1 GHz Hummingbird processor
- A custom TouchWiz interface atop Android 2.2 (Froyo)
- The 21 Mbps HSPA+ radio
- Pre-installed Facebook and Twitter apps, with Facebook contact integration
The new Sidekick is the first with a touchscreen, but since the device is meant to be more affordable than the Galaxy S 4G, it uses a smaller 3.5-inch, Active TFT LCD instead of a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen. Another cost saver is the 3-megapixel camera sensor on the back of the new Sidekick, which should be serviceable for the target audience. Being a 4G phone, however, T-Mobile includes a front-facing VGA camera for video chat over Wi-Fi or mobile broadband.
T-Mobile and Samsung have also filtered down the smartphone software experience to the new Sidekick 4G. The device has full access to the Android Market and includes various media apps: Samsung’s Media Hub for television show and movie rentals, T-Mobile TV, YouTube, and Slacker radio. And the DriveSmart Basic application is pre-installed. When enabled, it senses when the handset user is driving and will route calls to voicemail or shoot a text reply to the caller.
1 / 4Sidekick 4G_front_open_menu
2 / 4Sidekick 4G_front_open_sleep screen blue
3 / 4Sidekick 4G_back_open_pearl magenta
4 / 4Sidekick 4G_back_open_matte black
What makes a Sidekick, however, is messaging. Two new apps will appear on the new device: Group Text and Cloud Text. Group Text is just what it sounds like: Multiple recipients can be part of a messaging conversation. Cloud Text, as it was described to me a briefing call earlier Monday, sounds reminiscent of the Google Voice platform I use for texting. With Cloud Text, Sidekick 4G users can start or continue a text conversation via a web browser. The device will seamlessly sync the full text thread between computer and handset.
T-Mobile hasn’t yet announced pricing, but company representatives point out that even with the smartphone features in the newest Sidekick, it’s meant to be an affordable handset for the teen crowd. Given that the higher-end Samsung Galaxy S 4G is currently priced at $199 with contract, it’s a safe bet that the new Sidekick 4G price will be lower. But this isn’t a slightly tweaked, feature phone with a slick messaging app and keyboard, nor is it a hobbled Kin, so I’d be surprised to see final pricing come in under $100.
Will the target audience go for a Sidekick 4G instead of a smartphone? If they’re into messaging, want fast mobile broadband and crave a fresh looking upgrade of the iconic Sidekick brand, I think they will — even with a few watered down hardware features. We’ll find out if I’m right later this spring.