T-Mobile Sidekick 3

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The T-Mobile Sidekick has been making friends ever since its launch in 2002, and why not? Celebrities and normal humans alike have discovered that the two-handed device, with its characteristic swivel screen, is a lot easier to use than a BlackBerry, Windows Mobile PDA or even a Palm Treo. It can pull off most of those other handhelds' e-mail and messaging tricks, and has a carefully crafted allure that even the famed Crackberry would envy (hip-hop styling + high demand + limited availability + Paris Hilton = must-have). Rather than burn out, this four-year old phenomenon is getting hotter with the Sidekick 3.

Previous Sidekick users (who, along with other existing T-Mobile customers, will get the first opportunity to buy a Sidekick 3), will notice that the new model has some key features. The left-hand control is still a standard directional pad, but the right-hand now sports a trackball where it previously had an up-and-down dial. The result is much faster navigation. Along with a speedier processor and removable battery, the new Sidekick also has Bluetooth connectivity, so that you can use a wireless earpiece, which means simultaneously increased safety and coolness. The Sidekick is also smaller, but don't get too excited: it's still too chunky to fit comfortably in the front pocket of your jeans.

Unlike its predecessors, this Sidekick lets you sign onto AIM and Yahoo and MSN messenger simultaneously, and hop back and forth from message to message. For e-mail, Yahoo, Gmail and others can be loaded into the Sidekick's e-mail program, although Hotmail can only be retrieved through the device's web browser. The browser, incidentally, left me unimpressed — especially with the chaotic way it rendered such important sites as MySpace, IMDB and Time.com. But when you combine three IM accounts and multiple e-mail streams, topped off with unlimited text messaging, you won't have time to surf the web anyhow.

This is the first Sidekick that can play MP3s. You drag tracks to the included 64MB MiniSD card (you can always buy a larger one), then stick the card into the Sidekick and in an instant they're all displayed, categorized by artist, album or song title. It plays MP3s, but nothing you bought on iTunes or a Windows-powered music service. Still, I was startled by the rich sound of its single buried speaker when I tried out the Rolling Stones' dynamic "Moonlight Mile." I let the song play and jumped back to check my e-mail, and at that moment as I stared at all my points of contact, with my tunes acting as a soundtrack, the Sidekick 3 vibe hit me.

This reassuring feeling only grew when I looked over the Sidekick monthly rates. A typical T-Mobile voice plan is 1,000 minutes for $40, adding $20 for unlimited e-mail, text messaging, web surfing and instant messaging. That's $60 per month, $25 per month cheaper than Verizon Wireless's starter plan for the Motorola Q. Sure, the Q has a sleek form and a very fast connection to the web. But the Sidekick has a friendlier interface, not to mention that je ne sais quoi we call Paris.