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Review: Sidekick LX 2009

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May 12, 2009, 8:03 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sharp brings a wealth of improvements to the latest Sidekick in the LX 2009. Messaging and the display dazzle, but some features fizzle.

Form

Is It Your Type? 

For the Sidekick crowd, this probably isn't a question you need to answer. The real question is more apt to be, is the LX worth upgrading to from your current Sidekick. Beyond the Sidekick faithful, the new LX offers some features that previous Sidekicks didn't that are likely to attract new users. Could you become a Sidekick convert? Let's find out.

Body 

 

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I've never been a fan of the Sidekick line's ginormous size. None of them has been dainty, and the new LX is no exception. It's a big phone. It brings back memories of the HP calculators I carried to physics class in high school, and that's just not cool. It's also heavy. Yes, you can put it in your jeans pocket, but only if the pocket is large. Size and weight aside, the LX is a definite improvement over previous generations of Sidekick hardware. It is slightly thinner than its most recent predecessor, but that's not saying overmuch. Fit and finish are much better, and the overall quality of the device feels like it has been upped several notches. The soft-touch paint job on the back feels comfortable and the phone is tight all around.

There are so many buttons on the LX that novices might not know where to start. To the Sidekick faithful, they are mostly the same. Holding the phone horizontally, you have two on the left side of the screen for the main menu and options. Between them is a D-pad (with earpiece speaker built-in). The D-pad has four high ridges that make it easy to find with your left thumb. To the right of the screen you have the X key, end key, trackball, send key and OK key.

All of the buttons have the exact same amount of travel and feedback and since each has its own patterned texture, they are easy to find. I found the trackball to be very responsive without having to make any adjustments to it.

The swivel action of the screen was the stickiest of any Sidekick I've used. I am not sure if this is because my review unit has been fully broken in yet, or not. I really had to press hard on the bottom of the screen to get it to pop open. Even then, it stopped about 90% of the way open, and I had to adjust it the last 10%.

The QWERTY keyboard is OK, but not fantastic. Because the LX is so wide and has the two rounded humps at the ends of the phone, I really felt like I was reaching more than I should have to get at the keyboard. On top of that, the keys are spread very far apart. This makes them easy to find, but you really have to reach around to get at them. I feel that with the LX your thumbs are going to get a much more serious workout than on many other QWERTY devices. Lastly, the buttons have minimal travel and feedback. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to hate on it. It works just fine. I just prefer different style QWERTY keyboards.

On the bottom of the LX (when held horizontally), there are several buttons and ports. To the far left is a nice 3.5mm headset jack that fits most stereo headphones. Then there are two separate buttons to control the volume. These two are a little bit hard to find, as they are built quite flush to the surface. They also have little travel and feedback. Towards the right side is the power button. This one was easier to find and had better travel and feedback. Last is the miniUSB port for charging and data transfer.

On the top side of the LX are two more buttons. The one to the left is a shortcut to the messaging department, and the second is a two-stage camera key. Both have good travel and feedback.

If you want to swap out the microSD card, you have to remove the back panel of the phone. Thankfully, the card is accessible without removing the battery.

The Three S's 

Screen

The LX's display is one of the best I've seen. It measures 854 x 480 pixels, which Sharp terms FWVGA (Full-Wide VGA). Numbers and acronyms aside, it's friggin' gorgeous. Text and icons practically jump off of the display. The display is super sharp, crisp, and colors and details are amazing. Simply put, the display alone is worth the cost to upgrade. Want to read it outside in full sunlight? No worries!

Signal

The Sidekick LX can grab GSM/EDGE and T-Mobile 3G signals. Now that T-Mobile's 3G network is up and running in the U.S., the company has done a good job of blanketing the NYC metro region with it. That said, the LX had 3G signal pretty much everywhere I took it. It never lost T-Mobile's signal entirely and only once did it lose 3G in favor of EDGE. It also survived the NJ vault test (the local Shop Rite, a known cell signal killer). No matter where I carried the LX, it had signal. More importantly, it was always able to make/send calls, send/receive messages, and connect to the mobile web. I didn't miss any calls at any point with the LX.

Sound

Call quality was the first disappointment I experienced with the LX. There was a constant hiss, whether listening via the earpiece, speakerphone, or Bluetooth headsets. Despite the hiss, I had no trouble understanding those I spoke to on the phone, and vice versa. The earpiece and speakerphone can be made loud enough that you needn't fear missing calls or not being able to hear people. The volume was definitely there. Ringers and notifications can definitely be amped up.

Battery

I can't complain about the LX's battery life. I had no trouble keeping it alive for three days at a time with regular use. Increase your text volume, Facebook syncing and web browsing, and you'll probably see that dip to two days. The fastest I was able to drain the battery was in just under two days (44 hours), and that was with some serious call usage. The real killer is Twitter. If you set your the LX to check your Twitter account too often, you'll see some serious battery drainage.

Basics

Menus 

The Sidekick LX 2009 keeps the familiar semi-circular carousel from Sidekicks past. Use the scroll wheel to sift through them one at a time, or the D-pad on the left to jump five selections at once. What I find is weird is that the circle doesn't keep going around. It stops at the top and bottom, rather than just recirculating the choices. This seems a silly limitation to me.

With each selection, swiping the trackball to the right often shows you several different actions you can take for the given menu selection. For example, if you track right with the messaging app highlighted, you'll be able to open either the text messaging or picture messaging apps.

The trackball and basic navigation are easy to master. Figuring out how the Menu key (upper left corner of the phone), Back key and X keys do will take some practice. The Menu key is the real powerhouse button on the LX, and is your gateway to all the extended options for each application or service on the phone.

What's absolutely ridiculous about the Sidekick is all the noises. Every time you do something in the menus, it feels like you are unsheathing a sword, re-sheathing it, or walking around in a suit of armor with all the clanks, clinks and clunks. Of course, that can all be silenced, but still.

What really bugs me is that the LX completely fails the one-handed test. Because so many of the features and functions require you to press buttons on both the left and right sides of the screen, there's no such thing as quickly performing actions one-handed.

 

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Calls/Contacts 

Calls

I hate holding phones sideways to make calls. It conflicts with the traditional notion of what I consider a phone to be. Because the LX offers no option (at least that I could find) of displaying information on the screen in portrait orientation, you have to hold it sideways to make calls (and do everything else, for that matter).

That gripe aside, you can access recent calls (and your contacts) without the need to open the phone. That saves a lot of time. Scrolling around, it is easy to find what you're looking for. Using the Menu button lets you do pretty much whatever you want with a phone call log or contact once you've selected it. You can't perform detailed searches (aka, type in a query) with the phone closed, though. For that, you have to open it up. You can, however, subject yourself to the punishment that is dialing via the trackball. I'd suggest avoiding it. It sucks.

Sound can easily be transferred to the earpiece, speaker, or Bluetooth if you so choose. The Sidekick makes most essential calling features easy enough for anyone to figure out.

 

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Contacts

The contacts application is fairly robust. Each contact entry is loaded with options to customize how they appear. You can add phone numbers, email, IM, web sites, street addresses, notes, job title, company, birthday and anniversary. Each of these can be customized further with ringtones, alerts, and labels.

You can import contacts already stored on your SIM, or add them piecemeal if you wish. Of course, the LX comes with T-Mobile's MyFaves calling plan, which makes managing at least five of your contacts that much easier. There is a specific button on the lower left corner of the LX's face that can be set to automatically take users to the phone application or the MyFaves list. Your choice.

 

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Messaging 

Messaging is where the Sidekick LX 2009 really excels. Nearly every mode of text-based communication is represented: SMS, MMS, IM, email, social networking and so on. No matter which angle you like, the Sidekick provides it.

SMS and MMS are found in the same folder, where you can check the number of unread messages before entering either inbox. The SMS/MMS features are good enough, though I was surprised to discover that the LX doesn't support threaded messaging. That seems like it should be a no brainer at this point for the Sidekick line. I also don't really understand why SMS and MMS messages are placed in separate inboxes. I'd prefer to see all short messages lumped into one inbox. I like how easy it is to insert emoticons or text templates.

As for email, scrolling past the email icon on the LX's home screen gives you a view of up to 8 unread messages. You can see the total number of unread messages and then the sender and subject line of the emails. In order to read any of them, you need to open the email app. The LX supports the usual gang of POP3 clients, including Gmail, Yahoo, Windows and AIM. You can also use Exchange-based email if you wish. Creating and signing into new accounts is a breeze, though it is limited to a total of four email accounts.

The LX is a powerful IM device. You can log into multiple IM accounts (AIM, Windows or Yahoo) simultaneously, and send messages from all three. The IM service also supports the ability to send pictures.

Last up in the messaging department is social networking. The LX has MySpace, Facebook and Twitter clients on board. As with other mobile versions of these tools, they provide limited access to the popular sites, but enough that you can accomplish the basics. Sending messages and updating your status is easily done. One thing I noticed: the Twitter client appears to be a resource hog. It was very slow, laggy and unresponsive, even with full 3G signal. I do like how the most recent Twitter feed updates will appear in the social networking folder of the LX without forcing the user to actually open the Twitter app.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Extras

Music 

The music player didn't impress me. It offers no more features or functionality than any other mid-range device, and even lacks some. Loading music is a snap, as is sorting through playlists and your library. Music that is dragged-and-dropped onto the memory card from a PC automatically shows up in the music player without any need to refresh it.

The media player can fill the entire screen complete with artwork (which looks great on the high-rez display), or be set to mini-player mode. Music can be shuffled or looped through the LX's controls in several different places, including via the menu button or the on-screen buttons. Incoming calls pause the music, which resumes after the call is ended. You can also multitask, meaning you can use the phone's other features while listening to music.

I was disappointed to find literally no options for controlling the sound. That means no EQs of any sort, no sound enhancements, no special features of any kind. Music can be listened via the speaker, regular stereo headphones, or stereo Bluetooth headphones. I found sound quality through the speaker to be acceptable for short periods of time, but it didn't light my fire. Regular, wired headphones are always the best option. The stereo Bluetooth headsets I have reacted well to the music player and generally sounded good..

In the end, the music player performs the basics, but doesn't push any boundaries. (Also, the inability to use the music player one-handed makes it pretty frustrating.)

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Camera 

Camera

The camera is easily found in the LX's menu system, but it's faster to just press the camera button on the side of the phone. It takes about 2 seconds to launch. I like the way most of the controls are laid out. They are easy to reach without too much digging through the menus.

Similar to many touch phones, the viewfinder of the LX's camera is flanked by most of your basic settings. Use the trackball to zoom around and make the selections/adjustments that you want. Most of the features are simple and easy to grasp at a glance. The options aren't extensive, but they will be enough to satisfy most people.

One adjustment that I really liked was the ability to set the LX to macro mode, which means it can take pictures of things really close up. I was able to get the LX to focus on subjects mere inches from the lens.

The LX takes about a second to focus and shoot most images, and another second to process and save them before returning to the capture screen. In all, the experience of using the camera is pretty good.

As for video, the controls for the LX's video camera are very basic. You can change the resolution to high for unlimited recording, or low for limited, MMS-optimized videos. That's about it. Otherwise, just point and record.

 

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Gallery

The LX makes sharing photos a breeze. There's a dedicated "send last captured" button built into the camera's home screen. Press it, and you can choose to send it via email, Facebook, audio postcard, MMS or Bluetooth. Not bad.

There's another button to take you the main gallery. Images are viewed in grid fashion, with up to six visible at any one time. Use the trackball to highlight an image, and pressing the menu key lets you send it, delete it, file it move it, whatever you want without opening the image file itself.

With an image open, you can use the trackball to scroll sideways through your library, which is appreciated. There's a little progress bar at the bottom of each image to give you an idea of where you are in a given library.

 

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Photos/Video 

Photos

The Sidekick LX 2009 boasts the best camera of any Sidekick to date, at least, in theory. It has 3.2 megapixels, autofocus and a flash, so it should kick butt, right? Well...

Pictures I took outdoors looked good, for the most part. Sharpness and color were spot on, but sometimes details got a bit washed out (see the flowers). The camera handled white balance well enough (see fence shots) and drastic sunlight differences as well as any cameraphone.

Where the camera fails is indoors. The shots I took of the guitar, for example, are plain awful. Noisy, soft, and colors are completely inaccurate. Add the flash, and it only got worse. Indoor shots where ambient light is plentiful (see the keyboard) looked better. If you think you're going to get great shots of your friends in darkened bars or other environments, think again.

 

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Video

Video captured with the LX isn't bad. Outdoor video worked out best, with good colors and only a minimal amount of graininess and noise. Video captured indoors degrades quickly, and lots of noise and grain are introduced.


MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 596 KB

Browse/Customize 

Browser

The browser on the LX gets the job done in beautiful fashion, thanks to the ridiculously awesome display. Web sites simply look divine. Paired with T-Mobile's 3G network, browsing was speedy enough. I was able to get Google to load in about 3 seconds, but PhoneScoop.com took closer to 15 seconds.

Depending on the web site, the single-column view that the LX defaults to could make navigation painful. Thankfully, the LX's browser has a mini map that lets you jump to other sections of a web site more quickly that scrolling would.

Some minor settings (default search engine, Java on/off, etc.) can be controlled, and adding and jumping to your bookmarks is all self explanatory. I found zooming in and out to be a bit more difficult than on other devices. It just took too long to dig down in the menus and find the zoom controls. Many other phones have zooming as a top-level feature.

As far as browsers go, it certainly provides for a richer experience than that of most feature phones. You're getting a near-desktop experience at 3G speeds.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Customize

The LX can be customized as much as any other phone. Sounds can be added to just about everything, as well as turned off. I like that you can customize the sensitivity of the vertical and horizontal directions of the trackball separately. You can set any number of keyboard shortcuts for nearly all of the applications on the LX. You can also set the autotext functions and spelling to make sure it recognizes words you type, as well as control the size of the menu and dialing fonts.

Extras 

Apps

As with former Sidekicks, the LX has access to the Sidekick download catalog. This is a store customized expressly for Sidekicks, and features several dozen applications ranging from $3 to $6. They include entertainment, messaging and productivity apps.

Bluetooth

The Sidekick LX 2009 supports both mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets. Pairing was a cinch. Sound quality was so-so at best for mono headsets used for phone calls. Using stereo Bluetooth headphones for music showed an improvement when compared to the mono headsets, but it certainly didn't equal standard, wired headphones. The LX also supports a number of other Bluetooth profiles. I was able to pair the LX with several different PCs and phones no problem.

Clock

The default "keyguard" screen does not show the time in an easily readable way. A clock is there, buried in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. I could not find a way to alter this so that the clock would appear nice and large on the screen.

Wrap Up 

The Sidekick LX 2009's core competency is messaging. In this regard, it is a success. By bringing Facebook, MySpace and Twitter integration to the fold, all your messaging needs are met. SMS/MMS features are good, but not fantastic. The IM features are exceptionally robust. Unless you're used to business-supported Exchange email, the POP3 capabilities of the LX will be good enough for casual email.

The hardware upgrades, namely the display, 3G radio and higher-megapixel camera, are good improvements, though they don't all match the capabilities of some of the competition. The camera had below average low-light performance. The browser looked great, but wasn't as fast as it could be. The display is simply awesome.

My guess is, for the fervent Sidekick fans out there, none of these quibbles will matter much. It's a definite improvement over previous generations of Sidekick devices. For new users, however, I'd suggest you at least test other phones before choosing the Sidekick LX 2009.

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Subject Author Date
the predecessor xjittianx May 13, 2009, 8:07 PM
what bout the GPS? Ronaldthe1 May 13, 2009, 3:08 AM
 
 
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