Even though I heard T-Mobile was horrible (they have massively improved since), I decided to walk into one of their stores in October of 2002. I saw a device that was shaped like a bar of soap. It had a black and white screen that swiveled over to reveal a thumb board that was easier to use than any other at the time. I bought it, fully knowing I was going to return it. Still, the one week I spent with the SideKick was a lot of fun.
It was a phone. It could play games. You could also surf the Internet at fast (for then) speeds with T-Mobile’s GPRS network. Since the text and images were rendered in black and white, web pages loaded faster than they did on comparable devices such as the Treo on Sprint or the iPaq Pocket PC Phone.
There was a camera attachment available for the SideKick, even though viewing pictures on a monochrome screen wasn’t ideal. Still, having a camera attachment was cool for the time. Remember folks, this was 2002. I remember playing Asteroids for hours a day at work (yes, I had one of those jobs). The SideKick made texting fun, even though it actually cost a lot more to text at the time.
The SideKick had an introductory price plan of $39.99 a month that gave customers unlimited data usage plus 200 anytime voice minutes and 1,000 weekend minutes, all with free long distance. It was obviously aimed at the young and “cool” crowd; you would never see an IT Director at a major company using one of these things. However, for the next five years or so, you would see many young adults at Starbucks or a college cafeterias with a SideKick.
The next version of the SideKick (August, 2004) was in color. It featured a far more robust email app with a built-in VGA camera. The color screen was excellent (for its time) until you decided to use it in direct sunlight. To be fair, most phones weren’t “sunlight friendly” at the time. I didn’t purchase this just for the sake of returning it, but I had a friend who had one and using it was just so much fun.
T-Mobile came out with upgraded versions of the SideKick, but the “coolness” of the device wore off with the arrival of smartphones such as the iPhone or Windows Mobile devices that had an even better keyboard. Still, the T-Mobile SideKick is an iconic item that belongs right next to the Treo in the Museum of Smartphone History.