Wireless-industry types like to talk about "smart phones" as if these souped-up, Internet-capable, multifunction cell phones all have the same IQ. But they don't.
Some, barely brighter than average, offer only basic address-book and calendar programs, plus the ability to run a few add-on programs. But with just a phone keypad, they remain read-only devices; you might check your e-mail on these things, but you wouldn't want to write much of it.
T-Mobile's Sidekick II
(The Washington Post)
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___Personal Tech E-letter___ Washington Post personal technology columnist Rob Pegoraro answers reader e-mail and expands on themes he touches on in his weekly newspaper column. The e-mail version of this weekly feature includes links to the latest gadget and software reviews.
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Others go too far in the opposite direction; they're really handheld organizers which have had a speaker and microphone soldered on. They're fine Web browsers but terrible phones.
So far, PalmOne's Treo 600 has done the best job of balancing voice and data use. But the Treo is about to have company; early this fall, T-Mobile will introduce a smart phone with some of the same thoughtful design as the Treo -- and a couple of clever features missing from PalmOne's handheld.
This Sidekick II -- developed by a Palo Alto, Calif., firm with the oh-so-hip name of Danger Inc. -- is on the chunky side as cell phones go, at about 5 1/8 inches long by 2 3/8 inches wide by 7/8 inch thick, but it still easily slips into most pockets.
The distinguishing feature of the Sidekick II is its swiveling screen. This color screen stays exposed, allowing you to jump online quickly. But when you need to enter text -- to dial a number or type out a message or Web address -- the screen flips out to reveal the keyboard.
Unlike the two models that T-Mobile has sold since 2002, the Sidekick II adds a built-in digital camera. It's also a good deal thinner than its predecessors, if slightly longer. Its price hasn't been revealed; the older version currently on sale goes for $200 after a $50 rebate.
Despite its odd appearance, the Sidekick II feels natural to talk with -- unless you open the screen, in which case you should use the included hands-free kit. Its keyboard, a bit like a BlackBerry handheld's, is wide enough to allow reasonably comfortable and fast thumb typing. Likewise, the LCD screen, just over 2 1/2 inches diagonally, is wide enough to make reading Web pages or e-mail practical and mostly pleasant.
The included Web browser rearranges Web pages to eliminate side-to-side scrolling; that can make them unusually long to read, but a speed-scrolling shortcut -- hold down the menu button as you spin the Sidekick II's jog-dial wheel -- eases moving around them. Unfortunately, the "back" command is buried in a submenu and can't be selected with a keyboard command.
E-mail access offered a similar mix of versatility and oversight. Danger's software supports the two major standards, POP and IMAP (the latter means it also can access AOL accounts), but the keyboard shortcut to tell it to check your mail now doesn't have a corresponding menu item, meaning users might miss this command entirely.