The world of portable email used to be so simple. Suits had Blackberrys, geeks used sub-notebook powerhouses, and everyone else bought a Sidekick. While the others could be complex beasts, T-Mobile’s gizmo was so simple even Paris Hilton could use it.

Then the Blackberry discovered its fun side with the Pearl, and its stuffy image was no more. With its place in student rucksacks and A-list handbags under threat, the Sidekick has returned. And this time it’s gone multimedia. 

A familiar face

Fans of the series will have noticed that no major surgery has taken place, although small tweaks really improve usability. New hard keys on the QWERTY keyboard make it one of the best for typing while walking to the bus stop, and the addition of a Pearl-style glowing trackball makes the already pleasant OS a joy to navigate.

At 182g, the device still creates a significant pocket bulge, but that’s mainly to house the brilliant swivel screen. You just flick the bottom left-hand corner, and it flips 180 degrees to reveal the keyboard. Genius. On the downside, the screen itself hasn’t been changed, and looks grainy and dated.

Messaging maestro

This would be a problem if the Sidekick 3 had video ambitions, but it’s a portable messaging device at heart, and a great one at that. For email, you get a T-Mobile address plus the option of picking up mail from external accounts like Yahoo! and Hotmail, which handily have their settings stored for easy setup. It’s also now got support for MSN and Yahoo! instant messaging alongside AOL.

Having the full keyboard may be great for emailing, but isn’t so great for phone calls. To call, you need to open the screen, dial the number, close the screen, then use the D-pad as an earpiece. It feels like you’re calling on a UMPC. But at least its PIM features redeem it: all of your appointments and notes are backed up to a personal website on the fly.

Retro cheek

These days, the Sidekick’s talents don’t just stop there: the latest version makes a real stab at being a proper convergence device. Those stabs, though, are half-hearted at best. The web browser is decent, but only offers 2.5G speeds. There’s a perfectly serviceable music player with microSD expansion, but it only supports MP3 and doesn’t let you make playlists. And the 1.3MP camera is OK in daylight, but not so hot in low-light situations. 

And yet these features strangely bolster its retro appeal. Yes, its push email isn’t as good as a Blackberry and, yes, it’s hopelessly eclipsed for features by smartphones like the MDA Vario, but they fall short where the Sidekick 3 excels: ease of use and sheer charm. And that’s a killer feature in anyone’s gadget handbook.

Use it with…

Stuff Essentials – Bluetooth headphones

Stuff says... 

T-Mobile Sidekick 3 review

The Sidekick retains its title as portable emailing’s cult hero. Half-hearted multimedia extras don’t add much, but on-the-fly messaging has never been easier