Sidekick LX review

I have a thing for the iPhone, if you couldn’t tell. But before I drank the Kool-Aid, I was a Sidekick man. What does it mean to be a Sidekick man? It means you give up a lot to get great email and instant messaging services and few, if any, third-party applications and very little freedom. Huh. Kind of like the iPhone, except without the messaging.

So when I got the LX last week, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it. After all, I had already abandoned the SK3 and SK ID for the charming animations of the iPhone. So what if the iPhone didn’t have native AIM on the iPhone — there were a few apps that kind of worked. So what if the iPhone didn’t have a solid, real keyboard. I could handle that. So what if the iPhone wasn’t one of the best casual messaging phones on the market? It had some good points. Umm… It was covered in chrome?

Then came the LX. This latest incarnation of the Sidekick is in truth trivially different than its predecessors, but the changes they’ve made in the aggregate are compelling if not striking. Size-wise, the LX is about as big as the Sidekick 3. It feels slightly thinner, but not by much. Generally, it feels like the same case, only refined and colored. In general, the LX feels the way it’s name implies: luxurious. I know. It’s just a phone, but the single color exterior and chrome band around the edge are nicely understated.

If you couldn’t tell from photos, the back of the brown LX has a faux-leather pattern. The leather is actually gummy plastic and offers an easy-to-grip surface, something the iPhone is sorely lacking.

There is a USB port on the side along with all of the standard buttons on the bottom and top. A full sized audio jack makes me very happy and there are fancy little mood lights under the chrome on the edging that light up when you get a message or begin to charge the phone. They’re very unobtrusive, so don’t think you’ll be distracted by them. The squirrel ball, as I like to call it, is standard SK3 issue.

The keyboard is quite nice, using the TRS80 bubble keys we all know and love. They are well spaced and easy to tap even with my meathooks.

The real star of the show is the screen, however. It’s amazing. It makes all other Sidekicks look like Atari 2600s. The screen, which uses Sharp Aquos technology, is bright, crisp, and extremely readable. It not only makes email reading much better it makes images and the UI instantly readable and understandable. The screen is great.

The Danger operating system itself is virtually unchanged. This is a good and a bad thing. It is bad because it’s basically the same damn phone as the SK3 and SKID. This is good because all the things Danger has done right over the years remain, even if you have to put up with little third-party app and sync support and locked down ringtones and themes.

This has always been my pet peeve with the Sidekick series — it is locked down tighter than a drum. Fortunately, there’s not much else you really want to do on the SK aside from IM your friends and send email, so that’s acceptable. However, it does mean for limited OS X support as well as few “productivity” apps, but what those apps could be I couldn’t tell you. This phone does two things well, and Danger wants to keep it that way.

The processor is a bit peppier in this iteration, ensuring you don’t get much lag if you’re swapping between tasks in the OS. AIM and email work exactly the same and if you know all your key shortcuts you’re golden. Users of SK models will take to this model like a duck to gravy and there are no surprises. The phone has a 1.3-megapixel camera with flash and supports MicroSD, albeit through a slot buried under the back panel.

Now, for the $1 million question: should you upgrade. If your SK3 is old, the battery is worn out, and you’re willing to pony up $299, go for it. You will love the new screen. If you’re a first-time SK user, get the LX. If you’re fine with your SK3 or SK ID, wait until we look at the Slide or just hold off until your screen falls off or something. This is not an earth-shattering upgrade.

What the LX has done is remind me why I love the Sidekick series. It’s simple, easy-to-use, and stylish. The keyboard adds an amazing level of fluidity to everyday communication without the rigmarole of similar smartphones. And, I can say this with absolute certainty, the Sidekick IM support is the best there is. Nothing — I don’t care if it’s under WinMo, Palm, or Symbian — offers a similar and more immediate experience. Plus it comes with a carrying case.

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