Original Sidekick retro phone review [video]

Some of you who follow me on Twitter will know I’ve been running a series of retro phone reviews over on PhoneDog’s YouTube channel. Today was one of particular interest to TmoNews readers and T-Mo fans alike. So I though I’d share it with you.

Having originally launched in 2002, the T-Mobile Sidekick became of the most instantly-recognizable phones on the market. Its iconic 180-degree rotating display and awesome physical keyboard made it stand out in a market full of candybar style and flip phones. There really was nothing else like it. It went through many changes throughout its life as a range, eventually ending up as a Samsung-made Android device which was a pale imitation.

The original model featured monochromatic display, a scroll-wheel which lit up in all the colors of the rainbow and even shipped with a plug-in camera. It was geared to be a fun, communication-centered product.

Things were already going downhill before Danger’s infamous server crash of 2009. And two years later, in 2011, the company pulled the plug on the very thing keeping old Sidekicks running. Now, any old Danger Sidekick is nothing but an expensive and rare paperweight. I couldn’t use any of the web-based services on this old device, and that made me sad.

I’ve written before how much I’d love T-Mo to bring back the Sidekick range, and I know many out there will agree with me. It was never market-leading, and never sold in astronomical numbers. But it was awesome, iconic and quirky. If any manufacturer did decide to give it another go, I’d buy one in a heartbeat. As long as it had the 180-degree mechanism and the physical keyboard. Anything without those two key ingredients isn’t a true Sidekick.

What do you guys think? If you could pick a manufacturer – in a completely make-believe, never-gonna-happen dream world, who would it be? For me, I’d love to see a BlackBerry-made device. After all, they’ve got nothing to lose anymore. And they have – for sure – released some unusual devices. Storm anyone?

Let me know your thoughts below, or grab me on Twitter: @PhoneDog_Cam

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  • Rose Yvette Mosher

    Looking back at it, the original G1 looks a lot like a sidekick. At least it does to me.

    • Cam Bunton

      It does.. I think the G1 was closer to being a Sidekick than the Sidekick 4G was.

      • UMA_Fan

        Completely true. T-Mobile really dropped the ball with the Sidekick 4G. It was one of the most Google searched things period of the year it was released and they come out with a device that’s low end on specs at the time. Kiddie form factor. Also a lame marketing campaign.

        Someone needs to sit those product managers down and tell them if there was any device you could throw high end specs at with a premium screaming form factor and expect it to sell it was the Sidekick brand of all things.

        As Steve Jobs would say there’s a lot of crap in the market and the sidekick 4G was definitely it.

  • kiltedchef

    Sony’s Zuma z100. Loved that little card deck sized phone with the jog dial on the side. Sure it is crude by today’s standards but it was AWESOME back then

  • Mike Palomba

    I always wanted a sidekick but I had verizon at the time.

  • Willie D

    Seems a lot of execs at TMobile are trying to push Sidekick again, but what made it so iconic is the popularity, the services and at a time smart phones were business oriented, this was the coolest thing that wasn’t high cost, or a feature device. That was all killed off by BlackBerry which converted Sidekick users in droves and again by Android. The device itself is no longer revolutionary and frankly, outdated and uninspiring. I wish we could move on.

    • schweddyballs

      Lol we have moved on, danger went out of business, samsung all but forgot about the sidekick, what do you mean? The sidekick is dead, no tmo execs care about the sidekick lol

  • trife

    Loved this device, even though I never had data coverage lol. I drove 2 hours across the state to get one, since only 2 or 3 stores in all of Michigan had them in stock at the time.

    Looking back, good god that thing was a BRICK!!

    • J Cav the Great

      I remember being able to sit my phone down….heat a burrito in the microwave and come back to see the page just finished loading..lol

      • trife

        Yes! I distinctly remember a night at the bar after I just got it. My friends were all excited to check it out and after about 5 minutes of trying to load up some webpages, we quit playing with it lol.

        It’s pretty nuts to think about how far technology has come in such a short amount of time.

  • jusfire

    I so remember selling those thing back in the day. Had a huge base of deaf customers that were very loyal since they really didn’t have anything else out there like the sidekick.

    • J Cav the Great

      I took ASL 1 and ASL 2 back in college..both professors had sidekicks..

  • J Cav the Great

    I would buy a new sidekick if it had top tier specs and I designed it…This would be the Perfect opportunity for Sharp to make a comeback…

  • Jeremy

    Love the Star Wars posters!

  • stl user

    i had to replace 3 of them within a year due to hardware failures. t-mobile gave me $100 credit to trade it in for a sidekick II.

  • stl user

    i loved my sidekick until i bought a used blackberry 8700g. it made the sidekick seem like a child’s toy.

  • Cellphone Chris

    The Sidekick line was immensely popular in the US, particularly with the young tech crowd. T-Mobile and Danger did a great job with marketing by getting this device in the hands of taste makers; there were scores of courtesy Danger accounts set up for celebs. It’s remains the best device line I’ve used, but for none of those reasons. A few things to note:

    There were several iterations of this device. The original with the monochromatic display was replaced quickly by a color screened version in 2003. It was followed by the Sidekick II, Sidekick Slide (lower specs and msrp), Sidekick 3, Sidekick EX, and Sidekick LX. Several designer limited editions were released (Mr. Cartoon, LRG, Diane von Furstenburg).

    The greatness of the Sidekick was rooted in the OS. The device allowed the user to multitask by holding the Jump button and a qwerty key. These shortcuts would open a default app for each key (email, browser, IM, etc.) and could also be customized. Danger’s servers handled email (@tmail.com) and saved app/ringtone purchases, media, and contacts in the cloud. If a device was lost/stolen, once it was replaced, a single sign-on would restore data. Users shared photos on hipalbum.com, a site created by a Sidekick fan which was essentially a Sidekick version of Instagram. OS upgrades came via OTA updates. This was 12 years ago. Before anyone thought up the word “smartphone”. When data was delivered over GPRS. 1G.

    The original devices and software predate iOS and Android. They also represent the first OS-derived app store, and the first cloud-based mobile OS for non-business users (that I’m aware of). Apparently, this innovation was impressive, as Danger was purchased by Microsoft. In short order, Microsoft had a massive server failure that caused a global data outage on Danger devices and lost customer data such as contacts, photos, & email, the majority of which were never recovered. This major failure marked the beginning of the end of the Sidekick.

    Many users migrated to BlackBerry, the next logical choice for a device with a qwerty keyboard. Those that were more brave gave a new device a shot, the T-Mobile G1. A device similar to the Sidekick, considering that it had a funky mechanism to reveal it’s keyboard, was exclusive to T-Mobile, and had a brand new OS named Android that nobody had ever heard of. The rest is history.

    Considering that T-Mobile owned the Sidekick name, they did try to revive it years later with the Sidekick 4G, a midrange Android device manufactured by Samsung. Although it had a similar form factor, it had none of the soul that made the originals great.

  • KijBeta

    Kyocera has recent experience with Android phones with a qwerty keyboard. If they beefed up the specs to a near equivalent flagship phone, and got their designer to work overtime to make the flipping screen durable, I think they are the most likely to do something like that in real life.
    Now in some strange dream world, I would like to see LG make it with some thin bezels and imaginative yet very useful button placement designed for thumbs on the keyboard (landscape).

  • Cellphone Chris

    Saw this article and knew I’d end up commenting. The Sidekick line was immensely popular in the US, particularly with the young tech crowd. T-Mobile and Danger did a great job with marketing by getting this device in the hands of taste makers; there were scores of courtesy Danger accounts set up for celebs. It’s remains the best device line I’ve used, but for none of those reasons. A few things to note:

    There were several iterations of this device. The original with the monochromatic display was replaced quickly by a color screened version in 2003. It was followed by the Sidekick II, Sidekick Slide (lower specs and msrp), Sidekick 3, Sidekick EX, and Sidekick LX. Several designer limited editions were released (Mr. Cartoon, LRG, Diane von Furstenburg).

    The greatness of the Sidekick was rooted in the OS. The device allowed the user to multitask by holding the Jump button and a qwerty key. These shortcuts would open a default app for each key (email, browser, IM, etc.) and could also be customized. Danger’s servers handled email (@tmail.com) and saved app/ringtone purchases, media, and contacts in the cloud. If a device was lost/stolen, once it was replaced, a single sign-on would restore data. Users shared photos on hipalbum, a site created by a Sidekick fan which was essentially a Sidekick version of Instagram. OS upgrades came via OTA updates. This was 12 years ago. Before anyone thought up the word “smartphone”. When data was delivered over GPRS. 1G.

    The original devices and software predate iOS and Android. They also represent the first OS-derived app store, and the first cloud-based mobile OS for non-business users (that I’m aware of). Apparently, this innovation was impressive, as Danger was purchased by Microsoft. In short order, Microsoft had a massive server failure that caused a global data outage on Danger devices and lost customer data such as contacts, photos, & email, the majority of which were never recovered. This major failure marked the beginning of the end of the Sidekick.

    Many users migrated to BlackBerry, the next logical choice for a device with a qwerty keyboard. Those that were more brave gave a new device a shot, the T-Mobile G1. A device similar to the Sidekick, considering that it had a funky mechanism to reveal it’s keyboard, was exclusive to T-Mobile, and had a brand new OS named Android that nobody had ever heard of. The rest is history.

    Considering that T-Mobile owned the Sidekick name, they did try to revive it years later with the Sidekick 4G, a midrange Android device manufactured by Samsung. Although it had a similar form factor, it had none of the soul that made the originals great.

    • Cam Bunton

      Awesome feedback. It’s such a shame these devices weren’t more widely available. It could have been such a “big” device. But back in those days, the global tech scene was much more fragmented than it is now. There were many phones isolated to a couple of carriers in a couple of countries. Many, many exclusives. This was before iPhone came and changed it all.. Some of it for the best. Some of it for the worst.

    • Leslie

      Oh man this post is life!!! Makes me really miss it! Great post!!!

  • Mark

    Just wondering: would an old Sidekick still work on Tmo strictly for talk and text? What about MMS?

    • schweddyballs

      If its danger OS, it will still talk and text, but data and mms dont work because danger used a platform just like blackberry still does. when they go offline so do their phones. Only the samsung sidekick 4g still uses data and mms on our network

  • iOSX

    I remember going into a T-Mobile store to buy a Sidekick Slide in 2008 (to replace my Motorola RAZR), and the guy said to me, “The Sidekick is a piece of crap” and convinced me to buy a BlackBerry instead.

  • Rick Rudge

    I remembered seeing the Sidekick in all of the T-Mobile brochures, but only saw a few deaf people actually using them. I agree with the previous poster that the Sidekick was a marvelous technology for the deaf community. My deaf coworker wanted one and got some hand-me-down Sidekick-want-to-be that never worked. He eventually went with a Blackberry and is now using a Samsung S5, still through T-Mobile. They really had a great idea, especially making it available to kids on a pay-as-you-go basis. It was smart marketing.

  • Jay

    Would love to see another Sidekick coming from T-Mobile. It was my first ‘smartphone.’ Everything else has been an Android. Though Android is a more refined OS, Sidekicks had more soul. Loved all the flashing lights and chimes that would go off every time there was a notification.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/ImpyChick pantlesspenguin

    It was the Sidekick line that got me started as a tech lover. Before the Sidekick I only used cheap flip phones. Two of my best friends we’re sign language interpreters at the time and had Sidekick 3s. I played around with them and finally got one of my own. From there I got the LX and LX09. I jumped to the BlackBerry 9700 after the Great Sidekick Outage. It would be interesting to see how the Sidekick line would have developed had MS never bought Danger.

  • god

    God bless the sidekick

  • http://credmau5.com/ Justin Credible

    I used the hiptop 2 on Fido for years (the actual Danger name of the product is hiptop, only T-Mobile re-named it “Sidekick”) and to this day NOTHING compares to the OS and keyboard ease and speed. I miss it! When Fido pulled the plug on bringing the hiptop 3 to market there were a lot of sad Canadians.

  • Jon

    Cam thanks for all of this nostalgia you’ve just hit me with. So many awesome memories I have with using that device. I really miss my old sidekick it would be awesome if someone brought it back. Samsung tried but it wasn’t the same.

  • Justin Hamilton

    I was a beta tester for the original device, it was a beauty.
    After the colour sidekick, my next phone was the G1.
    I love the way technology evolves, especially on these devices we use every day.
    I never thought I could live without a physical keyboard, now I don’t know if I could live with the added bulk of one.

  • charlieboy808

    Wow… Memories. I had the original Sidekick Color. I bought it off of some kid who’s parent bought it for him. He thought it was too big. So I bought it from him and I was hooked. The keyboard, the ability to be connected to the internet at all times, and at the time Unlimited Data/Texts for just $20. That was basically the only phone then that had it. It was one of the original devices that made “the cloud” make sense. Sure, Blackberry had their own technology but it was Danger that really made “the cloud” make sense.

    I had bought every single Sidekick but the original Black and White and the SK:ID. I was very very disappointed when Andy Rubin left as that was the start of the fall to the Sidekick line, but now with all the development in Google’s favor, I can’t complain too much. I just wish someone would bring back the best Keyboard ever made for a mobile device ever. Sure, the last model didn’t “kick” out to the side but the keyboard is what made the device the best to me.

    Random memories for me would be my years working at Footlocker back in the day. Usually, in our store no one was allowed to have their phones on them while working. I however was happily carrying my phone around when I found out that we could do catalog orders for people from the website. So I started to have my phone on me at all times. If I couldn’t find a customer a particular phone in our store, I’d look it up on our website. If it was there, I’d put the order in over the phone and they’d pay in store and the shoes would be mailed to their home. Yeah, the boss thought that was genius. Honestly, they could have just put some form of internet in the store to let people order that way too LOL

    • Leslie

      Agreed, the Sidekick had the best keyboard hands down! Although when they put those rubber keys on the XL that was horrible I had to keep getting the keys replaced since they kept rubbing off lol.

  • Leslie

    Wow memories!!!! I had every Sidekick Danger out out, except the Slide! That phone was trash and not a true Sidekick imo.

    That said as much as I loved the Sidekick at this point if it was ever relaunched Id probably pass on it. It was cool when I was a teen/young twenties etc. I feel I’ve just outgrown them.