News and commentary on gadgets and technology: mobile phones, pda's, Tivo, Treo, digital cameras and photography and lots more gadget nirvana.
T-Mobile Sidekick Vs. Handspring/PalmOne Treo 600

Many of you have read about my love-hate relationship with T-Mobile’s Sidekick and its lack Outlook synch capability.  Almost a year ago I had gotten tired of waiting for the ability to synch my contacts, calendar, and task list with my Outlook data and tried out a Blackberry for a few days.  Alas, although the Blackberry synched effortlessly with Outlook, it was missing other critical features, some of which could have been gotten at significant cost, but others not for any price.  I went back to the Sidekick.

More recently, on the Sidekick Yahoo! Group that I started, someone who seemed to have some inside information suggested on the Sidekick said that in order to get Outlook synch on the Sidekick we would have to let T-Mobile know that we wanted it.  Apparently such a capability was available and being offered by other carriers, but T-Mobile had yet to implement it for some reason which was unclear.  Unfortunately, T-Mobile is the exclusive carrier of the Sidekick throughout most markets in the U.S., and so most people here could not simply take their Sidekicks to another carrier who would give them the features they wanted.  Anyway, this user’s comments motivated me to create a petition to help garner more publicity for the lack of synch and hopefully to show how desirable a feature it was.  While the petition itself did not get a whole lot of signatures (around 150 at last count), it did garner some press.  More importantly T-Mobile finally came out with their first official statement regarding synch, and it held out no hope that they would ever offer it for the Sidekick!

Right around this time, a friend offered me his AT&T Treo 600 at a price I couldn’t refuse.  Luckily one can find information about how to “unlock” the phone on the internet and soon I was using it with my T-Mobile account.  I was able to try the Treo out a little before actually buying it, and after about a week, I finally decided to give up my Sidekick after over a year and a half with it in favor of the Treo.  What follows is a in-depth comparison of the two devices focusing on the areas I find most crucial to a phone with internet capabilities.  Obviously many people will not share my priorities and so my decision is only that - my decision.  I’m not recommending or suggesting everyone opt for a Treo 600 over a Sidekick, but hopefully this comparison will provide you with enough useful comparitive information to make your own decision on which phone would be a better choice for you.
To summarize my main criteria, Outlook synch was of primary importance.  All Palm devices, going back to the first ones from close to 10 years ago, have always had synch capability, and eventually Outlook synch once this Microsoft product gained some popularity.  As noted, the Sidekick doesn’t synch nor does T-Mobile suggest it ever will.  Secondly, there are literally thousands of applications for the Palm platform, with new ones  popping up all the time.  This open development environment promises to erase most of the limitations that the Treo has.  The Sidekick has less than 20 applications that one can buy (or if savvy enough download), and this very closed development environment is suffocating.  One of the central applications on these devices is the web browser.  The Treo’s browser supports JavaScript, which many sites require in order to be viewed.  The Sidekick’s browser does not support JavaScript.  Finally, the reception on the Treo 600 is significantly superior to the Sidekick’s.  Of course the Sidekick has some important things going for it over the Treo which I now miss, but, as I said, the tremendous amount of third-party software and services available can expand the Treo’s capabilities way beyond what it comes with out of the box.  Some of these advantages to the Sidekick include a better keyboard, a larger screen, push email, better instant messaging, better multitasking, a great online no-brainer backup system, and overall a more elegant user interface.

History:  The Sidekick came out first in October of 2002 in a monochrome model.  In June of 2003 a color model was introduced which was basically the same except for the capability to take slightly better pictures via an external camera, slightly expanded memory capacity, and of course, a color screen.  Also a tri-band model was introduced a bit later but this was sold mainly in European markets.  Handspring has made various Treo models for years, and their latest incarnation, the Treo 600, came out in October of 2003.  It was the first Treo to have a faster ARM processor and the latest OS5 PalmOS operating system software, which allows for more complex and faster applications.

Form Factor: the form factors of the two phones are not hugely different.  The Sidekick is about a quarter inch thicker and longer, but the Treo is just a bit wider - that is if you align them to match.  Also, the Sidekick kind of bulges in the middle, which makes it combursome for some people to use as a phone, although I never had an issue with this personally.

The Screen: the Sidekick’s screen is noticeably larger, as well as in a �landscape’ or wide-screen format as opposed to the Treo’s perfectly square screen. This aids in displaying some web pages which are already being cramped way more than what they were probably designed to handle.  Also the Sidekick screen, being wider, can hold more pixels, and it does in fact - 240x160 as opposed to the Treo’s 160x160.  Finally the Sidekick’s Screen can display 65 thousand colors as opposed to the Treo’s three thousand.  I can’t say the color difference is very noticeable, but having red-green colorblindness, maybe I’m not the best judge!  What I do know is the extra resolution of the Sidekick does make a difference in being able to have more readable text and better layout for web pages.  The one advantage of the Treo’s screen is that it is touch sensitive, so you have a whole other set of inputs to get it to do what you want instead of relying on the navigational buttons or keys. The other nice part about the Treo's screen is that it is very bright but also has a dimmed view which still gives off enough light to see it in a dark room.  The Sidekick's screen's backlight is either on or off and even while on it is less bright than Treo's dimmed mode, but still perfectly viewable.

Treo:Treo Screen
Sidekick:Sidekick Screen

Keyboard: the Sidekick’s keyboard is truly one of the best out there for a phone or PDA.  It is comfortable, with enough space that I never hit a wrong key.  It is a normal qwerty layout so those of us who are touch typists can get pretty quick with it.  The Treo’s keyboard, while admirable for the small amount of space it occupies, simply is not big enough to handle extensive amounts of typing.  Ok, maybe having it for a couple of weeks is not enough time to judge by, but I definitely have a lot more trouble with mistyping than with the Sidekick, and I have pretty small hands.  Then again, I’ve read reviews of the Treo from people who claim to have big hands who find the keyboard just fine, so go figure!  Part of the problem, I think, is that it requires more effort on the Treo to actually depress the keys than on the Sidekick.  But also, there’s just less room to put keys, because of how the Treo is laid out – in a more vertical way whereas the Sidekick is horizontal.  Because of this, the only characters you can get to come up on the Treo’s screen without having to do somehwhat awkward key combinations are the letters of the alphabet, a period, and a carriage return.  On the other hand, there are a bunch of workarounds which make this situation much less of a negative than it would have been otherwise.  First, there are a number of applications you can download that can aid in typing, including one called TextPlus that allows you to type coded shortcuts to produce longer words, programs that actually suggest whole words or phrases based on the few letters you start to type and then insert them on command, and another called KeyCaps600 that will let you hit a key twice in order to type the character you normally would have to use that more cumbersome two-key combination to produce.  There are also numerous external keyboards you can buy that will work with the Treo and give you something approaching full-size keyboard for a PC (albeit in a small package perhaps a bit smaller than a laptop’s).  Of course much of the software and all of the external keyboards will cost you, so take this into consideration.

Treo:Treo Screen
Sidekick:Sidekick Screen

Other buttons: the other buttons on the Sidekick include a scroll wheel and three buttons that select, exit, and go to the main menu/launch screen.  Pressing these buttons in certain combinations will disable the keylock, or enable it, bring up a dialogue box to mute the Sidekick, and other basic functions.  The scroll wheel is used like a cursor key or a mouse’s scroll wheel to move between different menu items, form fields, paging up and down, moving to different applications in the launch screen etc.  The Treo equivalent to the scroll wheel is a “5-way navigator” which is a circle that you can press in 4 directions and a button in the middle for making selections.  This works pretty well except that not all applications (third party ones anyway) support this button, and so in some case you will have to use an included stylus to tap on the touch screen or just tap it with your finger.  The Treo also has for buttons that have always been part of palm devices.  They are shortcuts to main applications like the phone, the calendar, etc.  However, you can reassign them so that they go to whatever application you want.  There’s also a button to turn wireless mode on and off, which is useful when your data connection has gotten hosed and you need to reset it.  Another button lets you mute the phone with a click instead of having to do this via a software interface.  And finally there are volume buttons to increase or decrease ring volume or talk volume.  The volume, mute, and wireless on/off buttons are not available on the Sidekick.

Reception: for a phone, this is obviously one of if not the most critical aspect.  If you don’t have reception you can neither talk, nor can you do anything on the internet.  The Sidekick has gotten notoriously poor reception from the beginning - at least on T-Mobile.  I can’t count the number of dropped calls I experienced, or how reception would be at four bars one moment, and zero the next, while sitting perfectly still on a park bench.  Part of this is due, no doubt, to T-Mobile’s network quality, but not all of it, since other phones I owned and used with T-Mobile’s service did not have the same problems.  In fact, the Treo does seem to get much better reception in the same places that I had very poor reception with the Sidekick.  While it can still be flakey, going from zero bars to 4 and back in a few seconds, it tends to hold a better average signal and for longer.  One example of this is that I not only have a phone signal, but a data signal 80% of the time at work with the Treo, whereas I was lucky if I could get a signal 20% of the time with the Sidekick.  Of course people who spend all their time in a four-bar area will probably not care, but when you do venture out with a Sidekick, watch out!  The other aspect of reception is how many “bands” your phone has, because this has an affect on where you can use it.  Phones for Sprint and Verizon  use a protocol called CDMA that is used mainly in the U.S., so if you get a Treo model from one of these companies than the number of bands you have aren’t really relevant.  However, GSM phones (through T-Mobile, Cingular, and AT&T) can work in other parts of the world if they support the right bands (frequencies).  The GSM Treos for these carriers are “quad-band” meaning they support all the GSM bands that are in use in most countries throughout the world, so if you want to use your phone outside of the U.S., you can do so fairly easily, although you may need to contact your carrier to arrange for it and you will definitely have to pay pretty high per-minute rates that don’t get to come out of your free minutes.  The Sidekick that is available in the U.S. is only a single-band model that only works in North America.  Unless you have managed to get your hands on a tri-band model, which I don’t believe is available in the U.S., your Sidekick will be useless throughout most of the world.

Build quality:  I have no way of objectively measuring this, all I know is that I had to replace my monochrome Sidekick once and my color Sidekick twice.  I know many who went through half a dozen replacements or even more.  Of course you don’t hear a lot from people who haven’t had problems, that’s just the nature of complaints.  I have heard rumblings from some that they had to get replacements for their Treo as well, but it doesn’t seem to be nearly as prevalent as the Sidekick.  I haven’t had any problems with the Treo yet, and the one I have is getting close to six months old.  The previous owner is not someone who treats his gadgets with kid gloves either.

User Interface: the user interface of the Sidekick is definitely one of its nicest benefits.  Danger, the company that designed it, consists at least partially of Apple expatriates, and Apple has a reputation for great design.  The Sidekick uses a program “launcher” that shows a semicircle of icons which rotate on and off the screen and into “focus” in the middle by a scroll wheel so that they can then be started by just pushing the scroll wheel like a button.  All the programs run in a nicely multitasked environment.  You can go into the web browser, choose a site to go to, then go read email or send some instant messages until you are notified that the browser has loaded your site at which point you can go back and view it while people continue to send instant messages, etc.  You can get notified like this for new email, new instant messages, and new loaded web pages, no matter what application you are currently using.  The Treo, on the other hand, was not built with this degree of multitasking, although you can duplicate some of this with some third party programs, just not out of the box, and it’s not as elegantly implemented.  The Treo comes with the standard Palm launcher, but you can download many others which add more style and functionality.  Do any of these equal or exceed the only one available for the Sidekick?  That’s a matter of taste, of course, but I find the Sidekick’s launcher simple, elegent, and very slick.  The launcher may not even be that critical depending on how you use the phone, since on the Treo you can assign shortcuts to any key on the keyboard.  Want a shortcut to your web browser, just assign it to the �W’ key and then all you need to do is hold that key down for a few seconds and voila!

Built-in Applications:

Web Browser: the Sidekick’s web browser does a decent job at displaying web pages.  This is partly due to a proxy server technology that Danger uses which shrinks images down and strips some incompatible code to make the pages come up faster and with few if any code problems.  Unfortunately, the one big problem with the Sidekick’s browser is that it doesn’t support JavaScript, and believe me, there are quite a few sites that simply won’t work without JavaScript support. The Treo’s browser, called “Blazer” does support JavaScript, and so with it I can now get to my bank account information among other critical sites which I couldn’t with the Sidekick.  Blazer out of the box doesn’t render pages as fast as the Sidekick, and many people, including myself, get a skewed view of its speed.  But T-Mobile does offer a proxy server which does basically the same thing as that for the Sidekick, they just don't advertize this very well.  Once you set the proxy to this server, pages come up just as fast if not faster that the Sidekick.  I just did a test with Yahoo!'s main page and it took the Sidekick 38 seconds to load and Blazer only 27!
Instant Messenger:  the Sidekick’s instant messenger feature is an extremely accurate replica of AOL Instant Messenger, and AOL is the only messenger service it supports, although you can alternately set it to use AOL or ICQ (which is now owned by AOL), but not both at the same time.  Again, there are applications in existence which will allow you to communicate with the other services, but T-Mobile does not offer these to their customers and who knows if they ever will.  The Treo doesn’t come with any instant messenger software, but there are several you can download for an additional cost. Several of these can access multiple services simultaneously.  The nice thing about one of these, Verichat, is that even if you don’t have a data connection via your phone, it provides a facility to keep you logged in and if someone sends you a message it will be forwarded to your treo via an SMS text message, which doesn’t require a true data signal to receive. 

Email:  The Sidekick is the only device outside of the Blackberry that I know of that offers push email out of the box.  “Push” means that when someone sends you an email, the server actually goes out and finds your phone (like a telephone call) and “pushes” that email to your phone.  Thus you generally get emails almost immediately after they are sent.  The Treo does not have this capability and so it has to be either manually told to go and check for new email, or with some mail programs set up to go check on scheduled basis.  The process of fetching this new mail can also take a while, depending on how you are doing it.  There are some programs out there that get around this limitation to one degree or another.  For example, with a program called “TreoHelper” you can set your email service to actually forward your email to your phone’s SMS email address and then each time you get an SMS (which does get sent out in a push method) it optionally will force your email program to go check for new mail.  It’s not nearly as elegant as true push though.  There are companies out there that do make a true push solution for the Treo, like Good Products, and its been rumored that Research in Motion, the makers of the Blackberry, are porting their software for use on the Palm platform.  There are also different ways to retrieve email based on standard protocols like POP and IMAP.  The Treo’s included mail application only does POP, but there are several third-party tools that let you do full IMAP synching, synching with exchange directly, and Lotus Notes as well.  The Sidekick is a bit less streightforward.  The Sidekick comes with its own email account which has its advantages and disadvantages.  The advantage is that if one doesn’t have an email account, you get a free one, and if you have other accounts, you can pull alla of these into one central Sidekick account easily.  The disadvantage is that you have to configure these various email accounts to get pulled into your Sidekick and that means POP, which means that your email on the Sidekick will not be in synch with the email on these other accounts.  The Sidekick is supposed to support IMAP, but when I set this up with my IMAP host, it only retrieved the mail like POP, it did not actually synch things the way true IMAP would – deleting the files off the server as you delete them off your device, etc.

Personal Information Manager (PIM) softare – Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, etc.: These applications provide the core organizational/practical functionality for both corporate users but also those of us who have pretty busy lives outside of work and just need a good way to keep everything in your head.  These utilities on the Sidekick, while functional, are somewhat basic and have some truly crippling limitations in certain cases.

Contacts: the Sidekick’s contact application lets you enter up to 2,000 contacts, which is enough for the vast majority of users, but I suppose for some users, especially salespeople, it would be a limiting factor.  The Sidekick has distinctive ring capability, but you will only be able to use the ringtones that T-Mobile offers.  You can’t import your own creations.  You can also assign one of about a half dozen or so icons representing various kinds of people (a brunette woman, a dark-skinned man, etc.)  to a given contact.  I was able to assign a few of these before it became pointless.  How distinctive can you get with a half dozen faces (most of which will only very vaguely represent the real person)?  You can specify a note for a contact – my normal use for this would be directions to the person’s house – but unfortunately the note can only be  255 characters long, which is really not that much to work with.  The Treo’s contacts application on the other hand lets you use as much memory as you want so you can have as many contacts or as large a notes field as you want within the constraints of your free memory.  It allows you to assign not only distinctive rings to your contacts, but you can also assign a picture to as many as fifty “favorites.”  These pictures can be imported via the camera, or from digital images you might have on your computer.  While this doesn’t seem like it would be all that amazing of a feature, more of a bell or whistle, it is very helpful because your brain (or at least MY brain) can understand who is calling from an image in a fraction of the time that it takes me to read the actual name off the caller id.  All you need is a glance and your phone can be halfway accross the room and you can still recognize the face of someone you know instantly.  There’s even a third party application called LightWav that eliminates the built-in limitation and lets you assign pictures and even video clips to all of your contacts, even if you have 10,000 – given sufficient memory of course!

Calendar:  the Sidekick’s calendar is your basic calendar and works pretty much as expected.  Again, the notes field is limited to 255 characters, so it really can’t be used in a more advanced way – say to include meeting minutes within a meeting event, or to take notes so that you can later look up a meeting and read what was said.  The Sidekick lets you assign icons to various events, but they are only viewable when you go to the event, not in a day, week, or month view of all events.  Moreover, you have a very limited number of icons at your disposal, so you end up using ones (if you use them at all) that aren’t really only distantly related to the type of event.  The Treo’s Calendar is also pretty basic, and doesn’t even include icons, but it does have more views than the Sidekick's and has a different type of event called a “floating” event which combines a check-off field of a task with an event so that if it doesn’t get checked off manually on the day it’s scheduled for, it keeps showing up on subsequent days until checked.  Also, the Treo doesn’t have the same text limits as the Sidekick and, as with all of these built-in applications, one can buy many third party applications that can expand them to an incredible degree.

Notes and Tasks:  again, the basic theme here is that both devices have pretty basic functionality but the Sidekick has some crippling limitations on the size of the text fields, whereas the Treo doesn't and can also be greatly expanded in functionality with the use of third-party applications, albeit usually at an added cost.

The Phone: a phone is a phone is a phone, right?  Yes and no.  For the most part, this is true.  Both the Treo’s and the Sidekick’s phone interface have minor issues which are a little annoying but for the most part function as they should.  Mainly the difference is with the reception, which as noted the Treo wins hands down.  A couple of other items of note here include the fact that the Treo has a speaker phone while the Sidekick does not, although the Sidekick’s volume can get so loud that its easy to hear someone on the other end of the line even in fairly noisy environment – I mean not just if you’re the one talking on the Sidekick but if it’s your friend whose talking on it and you’re near him. 

Third Party Applications:  as I mentioned earlier, the Treo has thousands of third party applications.  After all, the PalmOS operating system has been around for close to ten years!  The development environment is very open and people are developing new applications for it all the time.  Unfortunately, the Sidekick has a much more closed environment and hasn't even been around for two years yet.  There are developers creating applications for the Sidekick, but they can’t just publish these and let people download them because there is no way for the average Sidekick user to download an application onto their device without going through T-Mobile’s tight controls on what they decide they want to offer or not offer.  The Sidekick has a system called the “Catalog” which presents applications (and ringtones) that T-Mobile has hand-picked to either sell, or in a few cases to give away.  Although the Catalog has an easy interface so that all one has to do is navigate into it, pick an application and then choose “buy,” it also makes it impossible to try out an application before you buy it, something that’s almost universal in the Palm universe (as well as in the world of personal computers). If you do buy a program and then something goes wrong with your Sidekick and you have to get it replaced, you’ve also lost the application and have to buy a whole new copy of it! (* correction!  Apparently I was mistaken about this, you can redownload the applications if something goes wrong and you will not be charged) There are currently all of 8 applications in the catalog and half of them are are games.  Other than the games there is an SSH client, a calculator, an alarm clock and an application to retrieve AOL mail if you have an AOL account. On the other hand, if you have some technical abilities, you can actually sign up as a developer for the Sidekick and you will then be able to download third party applications to your device outside of T-Mobile’s tightly-held Catalog system.  This, supposedly, voids your warranty, but no one has reported being refused a replacement when something goes wrong with a Sidekick that has been opened up to enable downloaded applications that aren’t in the Catalog.  Nonetheless, the steps involved in modifying the Sidekick to do this and the actual process of downloading and installing these applications is by no means easy.  Even when you do get it working, you find you still have only about 50 downloadable applications total, with a big chunk of these being games.  No doubt some are very useful and expand the device greatly, but still no where near the amount that the Treo can be expanded without nearly as much effort.  A few killer apps (for me anyway) that I now have access to on the Treo that I didn’t on the Sidekick include Audible Manager (for listening to my audio books), Pocket Quicken, Pocket Tunes (listening to MP3’s), blogging tools which allow me to post blog entries (including pictures) with just the Treo, Quicksheet, which lets me view Excel files, and I am seriously looking at a mapping/GPS software and hardware.

Operating System/Architecture:  the Treo uses Palm OS5.2, which is based on the popular Palm platform that’s been around for close to 10 years.  It is stable for the most part, but certain applications can sometimes cause problems requiring resets.  You can install new applications by simply transferring them onto the phone via a “hotsynch” which just transfers the files over a USB cable (or infrared or a modem or wifi).  You can also tell it to transfer directly onto the external memory card if that’s available, allowing for extra room, however most applications can’t actually run off the card, but rather have to be transferred at least temporarily to the main memory or RAM of the Treo.  The Sidekick runs a proprietary operating system that is Java-based.  It is very stable and nearly impossible to crash. As noted, Tmobile has kept a tight reign on application development and very few applications have made it out to the general public, unlike the Palm platform’s thousands of titles.  While the Sidekick cannot be expanded in this way, it does have some interesting advantages over the Treo in terms of data management.  Basically, the phone works as a portable container of various kinds of data that it mirrors or synchs with Danger’s server.  This client-server relationship has a third wheel – that of the “Desktop Interface” which is a web portal to the data.  This enables one to view, add, change, and delete all of your data (contacts, events, tasks, notes, photos, and email) on a web browser connected to the internet.  The advantage is if your phone has lost power or is out of signal range, or you left it at home by mistake, but can still get to the internet via some other method like a modem, or a terminal in a cyber cafe, or your office network, etc., you can immediately access all your data. This client server model also makes backing up irrelevant.  You simply have a permanent copy of your data on Danger’s servers and even if your phone is lost, destroyed, or loses all power, the second you have a working Sidekick again and type in your username and password, all of your previous data as well as all your settings from web bookmarks to distinctive ringtones to shortcuts are all re-synched and its like nothing ever happened.  The Treo, comparatively, is a pretty much stand-alone device.  If something happens to it, you’ve lost your any data and program settings that you've added or changed since the last time you performed a hotsynch.  There are utilities that do times backups either to your computer via hotsynch or to an external memory card, but most of these come at an additional cost. 

Camera:  the camera for the color Sidekick is fairly limited at 320x240 pixels, or a scant 1/12th of a megapixel.  What’s more, there is some horrible distortion around the edges of the picture where the camera seems to lose focusing capability.  Camera phones are generally not known for their quality, but the Sidekick’s is probably toward the bottom end.  The camera is also external and so ads to the dimensions of the camera.  It’s small enough that it can fit on a keyring, though, which provides added entertainment if you get into the habit of twirling it around your finger on the lanyard that comes with the Sidekick, as I used to do obsessively.  The other limitation is that for the Sidekick you can only keep 36 pictures in memory total.  You can save these onto your computer at any time in order to free up these slots for taking more, but it just doesn't give you a lot of room before you have to "reload" so to speak. The camera is also an extra cost at $39.99.  The Treo’s camera is built into the phone, and takes a much better picture than the Sidekick’s, mainly because of its higher resolution - about 1/3 of a megapixel (640x480).  Some people actually have gotten some excellent results with the Treo's camera, even when printed on 4x6 paper, but don't expect anything close to what you would get from a dedicated digital camera.  You have no exposure control, so things get blown out easily, especially on the Treo.  The Sidekick's camera can't take anything in low light, while the Treo generally pushes the CCD sensitivity really high and that just results in more digital noise. With the Treo you can take as many pictures as memory allows, and you can offload them onto an external memory card which will give you considerably more capacity.  One thing that will give you a quick boost is to decrease the jpeg compression of the Treo camera with a third-party program called Qset.  The default compression is set to 65%, but setting it to 90% gives a considerably better picture while not increasing the file size significantly.  Here are a couple of shots of the same scene:

The above was taken by the Sidekick and was only modified in Photoshop with Auto Levels.

This photo was taken by the Treo, then changed with Auto Levels in Photoshop, and then finally resized DOWN to be the same size as the Sidekick's.  As is expected, the picture looks clearer due to its higher resolution, however, it is also overexposed.  There are supposedly ways to avoid overexposing and other limitations of the Treo's Camera, but I haven't learned how yet.

This photo is the from the Sidekick again, but this time it's been blown up a bit to be a similar size to the Treo's native resolution as seen in the photo below:

The clarity difference is a bit clearer in the larger images, as well as the Treo's overexposure.

Battery Life:  The Treo is rated to have a much better battery life than the Sidekick, but it’s hard for me to judge at this point.  I try to keep it charged as much of the day as possible.  The one advantage the Sidekick has in this department is that you don’t have to have the backlight on whenever you are using it.  The Treo, at least as far as I’ve been able to tell, has to have at least a low-level backlight on when you are doing anything with it, even using it as a phone.  Of course, you can shut it off, but then you can’t see the screen so can’t do anything, and you can’t shut it off while you’re on a call.

Accessories:  many more third party manufacturers are out there making accessories for the Treo than for the Sidekick.  There are a few cases for the Sidekick, the external camera, a wall charger and a car charger, but that’s about it as far as stuff made specifically for this device.  Other than cases, chargers, and syncing cables for the Treo, you can find external keyboards, headphone adapaters that let you listen to music as well as carry on phone conversations with the same set of standard headphones (not hands-free type), there are devices that let you send the audio of the phone to a car stereo (or home stereo for that matter) via radio transmission.  You can even hook up a GPS mouse to the Treo and have it serve as a navigator in your car.

Cost: this is one category which the Sidekick wins hands down.  The Sidekick retails for $300 with a new service contract and currently has a $50 rebate if you buy it through T-Mobile's website making it only $250.  If you already are a customer of T-mobile you will probably pay $300 unless you have been with them long enough to qualify for a loyalty credit amounting to at most $75.  Currently you can get the Sidekick from for just $69.99, including various rebates, but you have to be a new customer to T-Mobile to do this.  In the past, these rebates have allowed for even lower prices on the Sidekick, but always with the caveat that you have to be a new subscriber.  Current T-mobile customers will not be able to buy the Color Sidekick for under $225, unless you find it probably used or refurbished on eBay, Amazon Marketplace, etc. As I’ve said, applications for the Sidekick are still scarce and don’t usually cost more than $5-10, so don’t expect to spend lots of extra money on these.  Of course if you are a ringtone fiend, you could end us spending $50 or more, especially if you get some of the more expensive ones that can be as high as $4 a pop.  The Treo is a whole different story.  It is offered now on all major U.S. carriers, and each has a different price.  If you want to buy a Treo without signing up with a new carrier, you can expect to pay between $550 and $700 retail, although I have seen discounts for as low as $450.  If you do switch carriers, you can get some significant discounts as with the Sidekick., for example, will, as of the writing of this piece, sell you a Treo 600 for $299 through Cingular, $369 through Sprint, and $499 through AT&T.  T-Mobile does not sell the Treo directly so you must go directly through PalmOne to get it.  Verizon has just started selling the Treo to it’s business customers, and theoretically should start selling it to consumers as well eventually.  As far as additional harware and software for the Treo, one could easily spend in the hundreds of dollars, exceeding the price of the Treo itself.  This is the other edge of the sword, an even sharper edge at that!  One can expand the Treo in great leaps and bounds over what it comes with.  Some of these have a great bang for the buck, like some of the freeware or shareware that only costs $5-15.  But even with these lower-cost items, it starts adding up after a while.  I’ve already spent more on software and accessories than I did on the Treo itself, although I got the Treo highly discounted from a friend). Some of the additional software and hardware that I’m looking at would push this to three or four times the price of the Treo!  Out of the box, the Treo does a great job, and one can add some critical functionality for a fairly low price, but it is a slippery slope!  When individual programs are fairly cheap, your resistance to buy isn’t all that great, especially after using it for a few weeks and finding it extremely useful.  So, while all of these applications are a big benefit, they do end up expanding the total cost of the device significantly, this additional cost (as well as the additional cost of the Treo itself over the Sidekick) will prevent a significant chunk of the market from opting for the Treo over the Sidekick.  When the new models of both of these devices come out in the next 1-5 months, the current models should be discounted further, which will at least make the devices themselves more comparable in price, but of course the additional software and hardware for the Treo won't get any cheaper!

Expandability:  Because the Treo takes SD memory, you can greatly improve its storage capacity, enabling you to store a hundreds of songs, or thousands of pictures on a larger card.  I can download a bunch of audio books onto the device, totaling dozens of hours worth at the higher quality setting on just a 256MB card..  The Treo is also supposed to be able to read SDIO cards, which enable certain types of hardware functionality, such as high-speed wireless internet (WIFI), or GPS, but from what I’ve read, most of these cards require more voltage than the Treo can provide.  The Sidekick, unfortunately, does not really have any expandability, unless you consider the external camera an expansion.  It does not take any external memory.

The Future: yes, this is a review of how the current models compare, but there’s been a lot of buzz recently about the new models of both of these devices, so I thought I’d touch briefly on this because it might just change your decision.  The FCC recently approved a new Sidekick model which is currently being referred to as the “Sidekick II.”  Here are the main new features/improvements that have been determined by the various Sidekick internet forums, including the Sidekick Yahoo! Group and, although none of these have been confirmed as of the writing of this piece:

  • Better build/Reception – the new model will be made in Japan by Sharp, who has a lot of experience making consumer electronics of decent quality.
  • Better Camera – a built in one this time with the same resolution as the current Treo camera plus a flash and a mirror to help compose self-portraits.
  • Built-in speakerphone
  • Additional buttons for gaming, volume control, answer and disconnect
  • Slightly redesigned keyboard for use with T9 input.
  • Thinner (but slightly longer) form factor – the swivel screen will also pitch up a bit pointing more towards the user, rather than staying at the same angle as the rest of the phone.
  • Smaller, redesigned scroll wheel – the current scroll wheel has been known to break.

Notably missing are external memory, bluetooth, and infrared.

Pictures of the new Treo (variously known as the Treo 610, Treo 660 and Treo Ace) were recently leaked and various rumors have it debuting as early as this month but probably not until August or September at the earliest.   It is rumored to have the following new features:

  • Thinner form factor
  • Better keyboard - soft keys and curved
  • A much faster processor
  • Bluetooth support
  • Better screen - 320x320, 65,000 Colors
  • Better camera – 1.2 megapixel plus Video capture capability
  • Additional buttons including answer and disconnect
  • New and improved web browser

Notably missing are Wifi capability, better keyboard, and more internal memory. 

A final note: I really enjoyed my time with the Sidekick.  It was at times enormously frustrating, but the device is undeniably very elegently designed.  It’s just limited in so many ways and the kicker is that Tmobile has held it hostage and won't let developers the fredom to publish what the market demands and bring the Sidekick to a new level  The number of programs out there for the Treo make up for some of its limitations, even if some of these are still less in elegance as compared to what the Sidekick has out of the box.  My main thought here is that the sky’s the limit with the Treo.  There are so many great developers and companies out there creating new applications all the time.  But the Sidekick is basically the same device that Tmobile and Danger introduced almost two years ago.  Yes, software upgrades have helped some of the functionality (it didn’t even have cut and paste functionality for the first year it was around), and the color unit added color.  A few applications have given us more functionality, but that’s about the extent of the improvements.  T-Mobile’s refusal to have an open development environment for the Sidekick as well as their refusal to offer Outlook synch, has driven me away, and I know many others.  In my opinion Tmobile views the Sidekick as a cool device for teens and twenty-somethings that don’t have schedules and only care about instant messaging, ringtones, games, and a cool-looking/sounding phone.  They’ve felt it necessary to alienate everyone else who might have slightly different priorities but still love the Sidekick and could be using it for everything they need from a phone and a PDA.  But then, if some of us old fogeys are carrying around the Sidekick, it won’t be as attractive to an 18-year-old, right?  Of course I think they are cutting off their nose to spite their face.  Now that I have a Treo, I can take it to Cingular/AT&T once my contract is up and Tmobile has lost not only me, but my wife and father-in-law as customers on their family plan  That's over $100/month including data services that T-Mobile would forfeit.  With the Sidekick, because of the special servers involved, you have to stick with Tmobile as your carrier – it simply will not work with another GSM carrier in the U.S., with the exception of Suncom in a few markets in the Southeast.  I am having a lot of fun with the Treo, and I'm liking it more and more, but I just wish that the decision was purely based on it being a better all around phone as opposed to it being about how to avoid a carrier that has clamped down on features for a device it offers for some arbitrary marketing decision made by a clueless executive.

posted Tuesday, 13 July 2004

A visitor made this comment,
You wrote a very good review and comparison of both devices. It was, for the most part, objective and impartial.

After a year and a half with the T-Mobile Sidekick, my wife and I left. We both started with the B&W last January, switched to color in June, and went through multiple refurbs due to hardware issues. I'm a Java programmer by living, I was in the developer programmer for Danger, and I was partially to blame for cognet.

The lack of production sync, hardware issues, network issues, and Danger/T-mobile's inability to deliver became too much to bear. We left T-Mobile for Cingular, we left the Sidekick for the Motorola V600 (used in combination with our Sony Clies and laptops via BT).

Good review! :)

Ken [[email protected]]

comment added :: 14th July 2004, 11:25 GMT-05
Levi Wallach made this comment,
Thanks. Just one question - what's "cognet"?

Visit me @

comment added :: 14th July 2004, 11:33 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Basically, "IRC for the Danger hiptop"

Cognet was originally written by Daniel Sachs to allow IRC on the Sidekick. It's comprised of a server (python scripts) that establish a session to an IRC server, cache, and relay to a client (Java) on the Sidekick. It was further enhanced by Jake Bordens, Kevin Elliott, Leigh Klotz, and I to allow more features and control.

The sourceforge project is at:
although nothing's been publicly released, users can retrieve code through the anonymous cvs.


comment added :: 14th July 2004, 15:50 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Interesting review. I'm still with my color sidekick. One of the issues you missed that is important to me is cost. I got my Sidekick for $50, and I pay just $40 per month for service. When I can get a Treo with service for that, I'll consider it.


comment added :: 15th July 2004, 10:38 GMT-05
Levi Wallach made this comment,
Thanks Rob, you're right, I did touch on the added expenses a bit, but didn't have a section on total cost, which probably is needed. I'll try to add that in when I get a chance.

Visit me @

comment added :: 15th July 2004, 10:41 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
I have had the treo for about four months now after giving up my sidekick. I find it to be better by leaps and bounds. It feels more comfortable for me as a phone and as i travel alot for my job the contact synch and quad band functionality is very helpful. I am not happy with Tmobile either, but a friend of mine relayed some horror stories when dealing with ATT's data plan. They limit you to 8mb and i average over 20!

David Yu

comment added :: 30th July 2004, 11:15 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
I don't know about the Treo 600, but I switched to the Sidekick after sending in my earlier B/W Treo for its fifth replacement in 12 months. It also sucked at synchronizing with my Mac. My experience with my Treo- and their astonishingly poor service department- was so bad that I vowed I would never use their products again. I _love_ my Sidekick, and I disagree that it is only for 18-year old kids who just want to text-message: I'm a 40-something professional with a very busy life that I could not organize without my Sidekick. I don't understand the synchronization complaint: the key selling point of the Sidekick for me is that is is _always_ synchronized, since it backs up to the phone's own website. Even after I managed to get my Treo to synchronize with my Macs, I found that is was difficult keeping two computers and the phone all synched. OK, it takes a few more clicks than it should to enter an appointment on the Sidekick website interface, but the benefits of having all machines in agreement far outweighs that minor hassle.

Just my $0.02 worth. Thanks for the comparison.

Chris [[email protected]]

comment added :: 30th July 2004, 11:50 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Hey, I just bought a Treo 600 from Verizon (it cost $400 with discounts, so I'm going to be heartbroken if the 610/Ace really does come out in a few months).

But even though I'm paying all the extra bucks for the data connection, I have no idea how to make it do the one thing that I really want. I'm a reporter who needs to file stories on deadline via e-mail.

I want to write them on a laptop and then sync with the Treo, and then be able to send the file (either as a word document or other simple text) out through e-mail. It sounds simple, but I haven't got a clue as to how to make it happen.

Any suggestions?

Isaac Guzman [[email protected]]

comment added :: 30th July 2004, 13:05 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
The Sidekick Color has a higher resolution camera than the black and white Sidekick, I have a black and white and I believe it's camera is closer to 100x100 pixels for it's photos.


comment added :: 30th July 2004, 13:41 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
I tried reading your article but I couldn't stand it. What the hell is "synch" supposed to stand for?? Synchronize? Perhaps you mean "sync" to stand for syncronize. Hmm.


comment added :: 30th July 2004, 13:50 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Perhaps he meant sync for "synchronize." Syncronize is not a word, perhaps checking your own spelling before correcting others is in order, and truly was that really so hard for you to wrap your head around that you couldn't stand to read the article?


comment added :: 30th July 2004, 15:18 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Using "syncronize" is incorrect, synchronize is the correct spelling. Though I agree the abbreviated version has become widely used as "sync".


comment added :: 30th July 2004, 15:44 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
You should mention that the Sidekick can be had for as low as $20 a month, and even that includes UNLIMITED net usage.

I would love to switch to a treo, but I'm not going to spend $200/month just to get all my spam.


comment added :: 30th July 2004, 16:12 GMT-05
Levi Wallach made this comment,
James, I'm not quite sure what you're talking about. I spend the exact same amount on my phone as I did with my Sidekick. I am in a family plan that costs $70 or $80 for THREE phone lines and then on top of that I pay an additional $20 for unlimited data. The Sidekick is the same. This is through T-Mobile of course, so other providers may charge more for data. Maybe you are talking about just using the Sidekick as a data device for $20 per month. Maybe you can't do this with the Treo - you have to get a phone account as well? I don't know, but to me the Treo is pretty good as a phone, so I would never consider buying yet another device just to have for a phone and have the Treo for just data. The whole name of the game is convergence and the Treo is quite good at it!

Visit me @

comment added :: 30th July 2004, 16:49 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
You list "Better keyboard - soft keys and curved" as a feature of the Treo Ace, then say that notably missing is a better keyboard.


comment added :: 30th July 2004, 20:07 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Great review. Well written and informative.

My wife and I bought a treo each and have a shared minutes plan on Sprint. We pay $105.00 per month for 1800 minutes to share and for unlimited net access and picture mail for both of us. Based on what we were paying for our previous plans separately, we figure we'll get back our costs of the treos in 14 months.

Thanks again for the information.


Jerry Freeman [[email protected]]

comment added :: 31st July 2004, 01:53 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
I still have the first visorPhone by handspring using the visor edge. One feature that I like about it is the call history, I can see hundreds of calls going back 2 years... among many benefits to that is you don't have to immediately place new numbers in your phonebook...

Question;? Does the new Treo or Sidekick have that call history ability


wisewiz [[email protected]]

comment added :: 31st July 2004, 08:19 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
FYI - If you have Sprint PCS Vision and you chose the Pro Pack - the Business Connection software will push email onto your Treo if you want it to. It will also give you access to your contacts and entire inboxes via an Exchange Server - very useful.

Drew [[email protected]]

comment added :: 31st July 2004, 08:48 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
GREAT Article. Very informative. I recently turned in my Sony Clie and am now in a state of confusion. I am trying to find the best item for me, cell phone and Pda in one. This article has helped me a great deal in clearing my thoughs! Thank you for taking the time to write it. My though procces is towards the treo 600 but i also want to take a look at the Nokia 6600, and Erikson p-900. If you have any information or views on either of these products please let me know =) I have a gift card in my pocket that is causing me seriouse itch.. and i need to spend it!

Greg [[email protected]]

comment added :: 31st July 2004, 11:57 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Chatter for the Treo 600 does IMAP Push, I use it daily and it is very good and cheap! ($20 one time/ no reoccuring fees)

My only complaint about the 600 versus the Sidekick is the 600's vibrate is very weak. The Sidekick has it beat there.


comment added :: 1st August 2004, 11:55 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
I heard that the Treo 600 only has a 120 x 120 screen and that normal PDA screens are 320 x 320. Is this true? and if so how is that going to affect third party programs? Do you need to buy Treo specific producs or can you use your old ones?


comment added :: 1st August 2004, 13:10 GMT-05
Levi Wallach made this comment,
I just wanted to address some of the comments that have been coming in.

Wisewiz, the Treo does have a call log. I can't confirm whether there's a time limit on it, but mine goes back I believe until I updated my firmware (about a month ago).

Drew, every day I hear about new email solutions for the Treo. There are definitely a ton of these. Unfortunately going through all the choices would require another article at least as long as this one!

Greg, unfortunately I have never used a p-900 or a Nokia 6600, but I wouldn't be opposed to writing a similar article comparing them if someone were kind enough to send me a freebee ;-) If you did find this article useful and you plan to buy your phone through Amazon, it would be great if you could use one of the links in my article as I will get a couple of bucks.

Pete, Chatter's $20 one-time fee only became public a few days ago - a couple of weeks after I posted my comparison. Before that it was a monthly fee. I have taken a look at the new app and it seems to work ok, but it made my Treo incredibly sluggish in general. It's still early beta and I may have set something in not the best way, so I'm not writing it off. As I said above, there seem to be new email solutions coming out for the Treo constantly. Right before the new imChatter was announced, another email program, Mailwave, was announced. It is also in beta and does IMAP and push-via-SMS. I've tried that too and while it is also still in beta, it has its plusses and minuses and also has a monthly fee tacked on. I fear that while many of these apps address certain issues well, none will be a perfect solution for everyone. They all have pluses and minuses, be they price, speed, features, etc. I think we will really have to wait until there is a Treo with a multi-threaded OS (PalmOS 6) that allows for email functionality that is closer to the Blackberry or SK...

Visit me @

comment added :: 1st August 2004, 13:16 GMT-05
Levi Wallach made this comment,
Greg, if you read the section titled "screen" in my comparison, you'll see I mention the Treo has a 160x160 screen. I wouldn't say that "normal" PDA's have 320x320, although that is becoming more popular at least with Palm devices. Screens that are rectangular often go up to 320x240 because that ends up being exactly 1/4 of VGA (640x480). The screen size is one of the Treo's weak points, but other than being small, it is bright and has decent color, but yes, this is one area that could stand improvement and according to the rumours the next Treo will have a 320x320 screen...

Visit me @

comment added :: 1st August 2004, 13:22 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
My son is on the Color Sidekick and it broke down within 6 weeks of purchase, two weeks over the 30 day "guarantee." They KNEW these things were of poor quality before they even left the warehouse, and refurbished replacements are NO better than the garbage they sent out originally. Thank God Sharp is making the Sidekick II, which I need to get for my son when it comes out. However, I'm a Cingular customer and have been for years even when it was BellSouth, and I'm curious if anyone has looked at the soon-to-be-released Motorola A630 ?? It's being touted as the new rival to the Sidekick, being it has a great comfy keyboard, opens much like book style, and is also a phone when closed and has web capabilities. The thing about the Motorola A630 is that it would be available from Cingular and I believe also Sprint or Verizon? Not sure, but Cingular will definitely have it, so I'm tossing around the idea of getting rid of my regular cell using T9 which does me little good since I need to use text messaging and email much more than I do currently. I didn't want to spend about $300 on the Nokia 3300, which was awful to use when I tested it, so I was waiting to see what would be COMPARABLE to the Sidekick in the near future. I thought about the Treo 600, but I think the keyboard is a little too small for me (small hands but I'm a super-fast typist and suspect I would continue to be even using my thumbs LOL). I don't like that other Nokia model either, the one with the little screen in the MIDDLE of the keyboard -- too annoying to have to look past that when trying to concentrate on BOTH sides of the keyboard. I really dig the looks and functionality of the Motorola A630, and I may get that (prob. around $200-300) as T-Mobile service in my house is AWFUL, lucky to even have a CONNECTION at times, and I'm glad my son uses his only up in St. Augustine. Cingular is long overdue to have some type of device like this to fight the competition of the Sidekick II, and I'm wondering if anyone is familiar with it or has even taken a look at it, since it will be due out at about the same time as the SK-II. I'm not too keen on having a data plan that is NOT UNLIMITED, since my son only has the SK data plan with no need for a voice phone and pays only $30 a month (it's not $20 as originally reported) for unlimited data and web. I don't want to pay for only a certain amount of web searching and data and then come up with surprises when I go over the limit. If Cingular has an unlimited web time plan to add to the price, I would do that provided it didn't go over $60 a month. If that were the case, I would be better off keeping my regular cell phone for voice calls and messages if I needed to use it, and then for the extra $30/month, getting an UNLIMITED DATA PLAN for $30/month from T-Mobile, and just use that when I go out and need the web and talk to my son, since I use my home computer when I'm home and would have no need to use a SK in the house where the coverage is horrendous. I only pay the $29.99 now for the Cingular phone with rollover and free text messaging and email unlimited because I was grandfathered in many years ago, although people now are PAYING for those extra services to the tune of like $3 to $10 a month. So, if getting web capabilities added to my Cingular plan AND unlimited web usage is going to cost me OVER $30 a month, then I don't want the new Motorola A630 and will opt for just spitting for a new SK myself and having the option of using BOTH phones and using them for whatever purpose I need them for, especially if one battery dies, then I can use the other. T-Mobile would charge only like 20 cents a min. if I needed to use the phone in an emergency anyway. Any thoughts on the Motorola A630 being a dynamite replacement to the SK, even though the Treo is of course a Palm and has that (expensive) capability to upgrade it to what you want to do with it ??


comment added :: 1st August 2004, 16:19 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Isaac, you said: "I'm a reporter who needs to file stories on deadline via e-mail. I want to write them on a laptop and then sync with the Treo, and then be able to send the file (either as a word document or other simple text) out through e-mail. It sounds simple, but I haven't got a clue as to how to make it happen."

If you write the story in MS Word, and have Documents to Go on your Treo (should be on your install CD. You can upgrade to the latest version for a reduced price) and on the laptop (when you install Docs to Go, it puts some parts on the computer, and integrates with MS Word, & Excel), then you can tell Documents to Go to put the file on your handheld when you sync. If you have an SD Card, you should put the file on the SD card in native format (Word, not converted to palm format). Once the file is on your Treo, you can use Snappermail (not a freebie, but a very good e-mail program) to write an e-mail and attach the MS Word document to the e-mail, and send to whoever you need to.

In fact, if you get the Treo Keyboard, you can easily write the story on the Treo itself. That's what I do when I'm at meetings. The treo with keyboard acts as my mini laptop, I just type directly into an MS Word file through Documents to Go. I then e-mail the file to my work account (since I sync at home).

Hope this helps.


comment added :: 6th August 2004, 07:10 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
There are probably a great many reasons why the Sidekick is an interesting device but check out these reviews of the entertainment capabilities of the Treo 600 and you'll soon realize that there is simply no point of comparison with the flexibility built into the Treo 600.

Cheers, W.


comment added :: 15th August 2004, 20:50 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Forgot to congratulate you on a superb review!

Cheers, W.


comment added :: 15th August 2004, 20:51 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
What a tremendously helpful review. THANKS! Of course, hearing what the *next* models may include makes it hard to pull the trigger *now*....

One detail: If I have read their specs right, the Treo lets you have 5 different POP3 email accounts and the Sidekick 3 plus their own, for those few of us who care about such a thing. If I am wrong about that I would love to hear it.

Thanks again for helping so many of us you do not know.

Mike P.

comment added :: 15th August 2004, 21:47 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,

Ebonie [[email protected]]

comment added :: 16th August 2004, 17:20 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
I found pre-order forms for both Sidekick 2: and for Treo Ace:

Stuart Fish

comment added :: 23rd August 2004, 12:46 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Hmm, I wonder if Palm is bringing out a new version with Bluetooth support, and a screen with a larger resolution and color-depth. Also, it would be great if they give applications that synch will all common email/groupware applications - Outlook, Lotus Notes, Groupwise, Ximian Evolution, etc., or atleast if the Palm application can connect to all these different kinds of messaging servers.

Does anyone have info on:
1. New version of Treo 600
2. Bluetooth
3. Better screen
4. More capability to synch with groupware apps.

Thanks, and a great review man. Thanks again.

Wingy []

comment added :: 26th August 2004, 03:19 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Very helpful review. I'm trying to choose between SK and Treo, and you have given me lots to think about. The real problem is not wanting to buy just before the new models come out. I'm inserting the entire text of a New York Times review of the SK2 from August 4 below. Thanks again for a very helpful comparison.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
The New York Times

August 5, 2004 Thursday
Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section G; Column 1; Circuits; STATE OF THE ART; Pg. 1

LENGTH: 1308 words

HEADLINE: Another Try At Inventing Superphone

BYLINE: By David Pogue.

E-mail: [email protected]


HOW'S your relationship going? Do you find yourself baffled by your partner's opaque and quirky personality? Does the object of your affection keep you waiting when you're in a hurry? And above all, how well do the two of you communicate?

No, not your personal relationship -- that's easy stuff. How's your relationship with your cellphone?

As with humans, it's not easy to find a cellular companion that does everything you ask, cheerfully and reliably, and never lets you down. That doesn't mean manufacturers aren't trying, though. This year, communicators are all the rage: hybrid palmtop-phones with tiny thumb-driven keyboards for tapping out quick messages.

It's quickly becoming obvious, however, that nailing down a no-compromise design isn't easy. For example, the Treo 600 is slim and gorgeous, but its screen is very small, and its keys are the size of carbon molecules. Or, if body image isn't so important, you could get a Pocket PC phone or a BlackBerry -- but then you feel as if you're talking into a VHS cassette.

Then there's the Sidekick II, announced yesterday by T-Mobile ($300) and available in the fall.

The original 2003 Sidekick was like a high-school senior winning the science fair: full of potential, but not quite employable. Its designers' breakthrough brainstorm was to turn the slab 90 degrees, making it horizontal like a Game Boy. Now the keyboard could be twice as wide as, say, a Treo's, because the keys were no longer crammed into the phone's narrow dimensions. The screen was horizontal, not vertical or square as it is on most palmtops.

Better yet, the Sidekick's designers conserved space by hiding the keyboard when you're using the thing as a phone. A touch on a screen corner made it snap open with a spring-loaded James Bondish twist, pivoting on its top left corner and revealing the keys.

Plenty of electronic lonelyhearts were enthralled by the brains behind this beast, but their relationships with it were often stormy. There was no speakerphone. The camera was a clunky snap-in piece. Worst of all, the earpiece was the hard plastic back corner. Using this sharp-edged appliance as a phone invited the painful condition known as Sidekick Earlobe.

The designers, from a company called Danger, returned to the drawing board, evidently determined to lick these problems. They have succeeded almost entirely.

At 0.9 inch thick, the Sidekick II is about 25 percent thinner than the original, making a much lower-profile pocket bulge. Unfortunately, it's also now a half-inch wider (5.1). True, your hands are now even farther apart and therefore even more comfortable. But if the Sidekick II's design entails a compromise, this is it: you're in no danger of mistaking this phone for a piece of Trident.

The super-crisp, bright color screen (240 by 160 pixels) is flanked by new controls -- a four-way navigation button on the left, a rocker for scrolling on the right -- that greatly minimize the necessity to flip the screen open for phone calls and games. (Unlike Treo and Pocket PC screens, the Sidekick's screen is not touch-sensitive. You highlight and select onscreen options using a rolling thumb dial. It works amazingly well.)

On the back is a digital camera, complete with a little baby flash. The pictures are standard camera-phone fare -- 640 by 480 pixels, nothing worth framing or even printing out -- but handy for firing off by e-mail. (You can see some samples at

Few phones make it more obvious who's calling you, either: for each person in your phone book, you can designate not only a photograph that pops up, but also an illumination color for the translucent four-way rocker and a distinct ringer sound.

The microphone and speaker are now on the front, which is smooth and comfortable for phone use. As usual with screen-front smartphones, you run the risk of smearing the glass with grease or makeup, but because it's not a touch screen, you don't worry quite so much about it.

Other improvements include a louder, clearer speaker, a redesigned radio for better reception, external volume buttons, programmable ''shoulder buttons'' at the top corners, better battery life (4.5 hours of talk time, 60 standby), and so on.

The Sidekick II can conduct up to 10 instant-message chats simultaneously (using Yahoo Messenger or AOL Instant Messenger). It can also slurp in messages from up to three standard e-mail accounts or America Online. You can use its excellent Web browser to check some Web-based mail accounts -- just not, alas, those that rely on JavaScript, like Hotmail and Gmail. You can open and view Word, PDF (Acrobat) and photo attachments, too.

Like magic (or rather, like a BlackBerry), it lists incoming e-mail messages in real time, as they arrive; you don't have to explicitly check your mail. Unlike a BlackBerry, however, the Sidekick is not a wireless duplicate of your desktop mail account. If you write a reply, you won't see it in your Sent Mail box when you get back to your PC.

Your appointments, address book, to-do list and notes, however, do get wirelessly synchronized with a special Web site that you can use to import your address book from Outlook and other programs. With the purchase of an updated program called Intellisync (Windows PC's only, due this fall), you'll even be able to keep this information synchronized wirelessly as it changes on your PC.

Aside from the cleverness of its physical design, what will strike you most is the overwhelming thoughtfulness of its software design. A hundred times in your first days, you'll wonder how to do something -- bookmark a Web site, change your e-mail signature, turn off the radio for use on an airplane. You'll take a wild guess, punch a likely button, and -- hey! -- you'll be right.

When you're typing, you can skip apostrophes and capitalizing the first words of sentences; the Sidekick does all that for you. Similarly, when you're typing an address, most communicators stop you in your tracks while you try to figure out what crazy Shift-Opt-Alt keystroke produces the @ symbol. But on this gadget, the @ symbol gets its own key. With every discovery like this, you'll feel like sending Danger an Amazon gift certificate.

All of this reflects a respect for your time, and a rebellion against software clutter, which will seem particularly familiar to fans of the TiVo, BlackBerry or Palm.

(Even the user manual is smart and funny. In one of the example screen illustrations, the subject lines in the e-mail In box include ''My Accord needs a new windshield'' and ''Ideas for a new horror movie about my toddler.'')

Now, T-Mobile's press materials always seem to bend over backward in emphasizing that this is not a business machine. It's aimed at cool under-35ers in big cities. (What shall we call them -- metrollectuals?)

The company may be trying to avoid unflattering comparisons with the BlackBerry. But apart from that business of wirelessly synchronized e-mail, why is it such a risky comparison? What business user wouldn't mind having a built-in camera, Web browser and speakerphone, which the BlackBerry lacks? What company wouldn't prefer to pay $300 per phone instead of $400? And who wouldn't rather pay $20 a month for unlimited Internet use (on top of a voice plan) instead of $40?

Finding nits to pick with this extremely successful device is a little like winning the lottery and then complaining about the taxes. But here they are: Only T-Mobile offers service, which may give you pause. You can't be online and on the phone simultaneously. And although there's a belt case, there's no screen cover, so you worry about scratching that screen.

Otherwise, though, this is one sidekick with looks, brain and personality. It's a delight to be around: responsive, respectful and very entertaining. And who wouldn't want a relationship like that?


Barry [[email protected]]

comment added :: 26th August 2004, 14:53 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
I just bought the new sidekick 2 and brought it to switzerland, when i turn the phone on ask me special code. help me. my imei it's : 010298000501138. My email is [email protected]

MAX [[email protected]]

comment added :: 23rd October 2004, 17:59 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
Best review i have ever seen about anything.


comment added :: 17th December 2004, 01:30 GMT-05
A visitor made this comment,
This was appearantly created before the sidekick II came out because it is thinner and also has a syncronize feature through intellisync and I love it.

tsistrunk [[email protected]]

comment added :: 3rd January 2005, 16:00 GMT-05
Levi Wallach made this comment,
Tsistrunk, you're right, if you read the entire review, I talk about the coming SKII, which came out in late September/early October, 2004. This was written in July, 2004. I got my wife an SKII and have used it a little and see that it is a more solid device, but some of the inherent limitations with T-Mobile remain, despite their finally being a synch solution. Unfortunately the Treo 650 (the next version of the Treo after the one mentioned here) is still not available except for Sprint, so I still can't write up a new comparison, but hopefully sometime in the next month or so I will be able to get one and do another updated comparison...

Visit me @

comment added :: 3rd January 2005, 16:06 GMT-05
Gretta Denise Williams made this comment,
My name is Gretta Denise Williams. I am deaf. I wld like to get one Sidekick2 Pager. How much worth cost for sidekick2 pager,huh?
comment added :: 14th October 2005, 21:41 GMT-05
Trey made this comment,
i want to unlock my sidekick, what is the special code?
comment added :: 28th October 2005, 09:57 GMT-05
Ashley made this comment,
well, I think this is a great article!!! Good job!
comment added :: 7th November 2005, 21:23 GMT-05
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Sidekick vs. Treo 600
Excerpt: "Many of you have read about my love-hate relationship with T-Mobile’s Sidekick and its lack Outlook synch capability. Almost a year ago I had gotten tired of waiting for the ability to synch my contacts, calendar, and task list with...
Blog: Lockergnome's Mobile Lifestyle
Date: Friday, 30 July 2004 04:19 PM

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