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Android, Mobile Phone

Review: Samsung Sidekick 4G From T-Mobile

I was in the market for a new mobile phone last year, after having more or less worn out my OG Droid.  Seeing I use my phone a lot for mobile IT work, so a good dedicated keyboard was hugely important for me.  After some research, Samsung’s Sidekick 4G (model SGH-T839) stood out head and shoulders above the crowd for it’s five row keyboard – very similar to the original HTC Dream / G1 keyboard.  The hardware specs are middling, but my needs are also middling so this wasn’t a tragedy.  I would have liked a larger screen and a camera flash, but unfortunately if a good keyboard is your main criteria, the field is pretty sparse.  So here’s my take on the good, the bad and the ugly after using it for 9 months:

  1. A Caveat
  2. Unlocking & Rooting
  3. User Interface / ROM
  4. Keyboard & Trackpad
  5. Microphone & Speakers
  6. Camera & Picture Quality
  7. Battery Life
  8. Hardware Overview
  9. Full Tech Specs

Firstly, a caveat: I am using this phone in Canada, so most of the native T-Mobile features aren’t available as I’m on a different network.  In Canada,  WIND Mobile and Mobilicity operate on the same 1700/2100 band (AWS) as T-Mobile and allow users to bring their own phones.  I went with WIND solely because they have a slightly broader coverage of the Edmonton metro area.  Their customer service is definitely sub-par, but they are actually quite experienced with Android phones and got me up and running very quickly.

For those who are interested, I bought the phone off of eBay for $215; the seller was a total sweetie 🙂  Be forewarned that if you buy it from an actual eBay store (for instance, thegizmotrader) you’ll have to pay the shipping company to act as your import broker.  For UPS, this is an outrageous $40 that you pay to UPS over and above what you actually pay to the seller for shipping and handling.

Unlocking & Rooting

Unlocking is dead simple, it took me two minutes.  There’s good documentation here for Windows users (Linux users should be able to follow the same guide and adjust accordingly).  A less technically savvy person might have to fumble around a bit longer, but even so I would expect the average user to be able to unlock this bad boy in under thirty minutes.

Rooting was also a piece of cake.  I wrote a rooting guide for Linux users, and you can use SuperOneClick if you’re a Windows user.

User Interface / ROM

I found the native UI to be laggy and ugly in the extreme, and since I couldn’t use most of the T-Mobile features anyway I dumped the native ROM and tried out several alternates.  All of the ROMS are based off of the T-Mobile ROM as the hardware APIs aren’t available for building one from scratch, but they are heavily tweaked and optimized.  I eventually settled on Glorious Overdose as the best of the lot – clean and zippy interface, all the bloatware stripped out and extremely stable.  Kudos to ayoteddy and sduvick!

Keyboard & Trackpad

Without question the best keyboard currently on the market from any manufacturer.Samsung Sidekick 4G

The buttons are well spaced out and have great clicky tactile feedback, and it’s very easy to thumb-type very quickly on them.

The laser touchpad is pretty decent, but it can be a bit slow to respond.  It can also be used as a button to click on screen elements instead of using your finger by simply pushing on it.  It’s way better than a D-pad, but I still find the original G1’s trackball to be the best mouse substitute.

Microphone & Speakers

The handset microphone works very well, people had no trouble hearing me and reported that the sound was of excellent quality.  Ditto for the speaker, excellent sound and quite loud.  The speaker phone, which I use a lot when I need my hands free to work when doing technical support, is decent but not spectacular; sound is a bit tinny.

I can recommend the BlueAnt Q2 Bluetooth Headset for use with the Sidekick.  It’s feature packed, inexpensive, and works even better than my original Plantronic Voyager Pro.  It has a native Android app that also enables some nifty features like reading your SMS messages to you over the headset as they come in!

Camera & Picture Quality

Rear camera:

The camera is definitely middle of the line at 3MP, but the video quality is decent at 720×480 @ 30 fps.  The biggest disappoint is the lack of a flash; it will take pics under low light conditions like at a night club, but the results are usually rather grainy.  Pictures are of decent quality in good lighting conditions, and the focusing and shutter speed are good.

Front camera:

A basic VGA cam, it handles video conferencing apps like Skype well.

Battery Life

Mediocre to poor, depending on your use.  Definitely not for heavy use, as it won’t make it through the day without a charge.  I keep mine plugged in at the office or in the car, and usually have ~85% battery at the end of the day.  However, with heavy use and no on-the-go charging, it usually dies by dinner time.  Even with light use you’d still need to charge it over night every day to ensure you had enough power for the next day.

Hardware Overview

Definitely not a powerhouse, but again good enough for an average user or technical user like myself.  If you want a gaming platform, this is not your phone (though video and audio are quite good).  It has only a single core and 512MB of RAM.  If it wasn’t for the fantastic keyboard and the nifty pop up screen, this would be in the ‘cheap free phone with sign up’ category.

GPS often takes two to five minutes to lock on, somewhat longer than average in my experience.  However once locked, it rarely loses it.

Radio is excellent, I get a 3G signal even in the concrete elevator shaft in my office building.  The phone is in fact 4G capable, but most carriers in Canada don’t have much coverage for 4G as of yet.

Full Technical Specifcations for
Samsung’s Sidekick 4G (model T839) for T-Mobile:

(credit: GSM Arena)

General 2G Network GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
3G Network HSDPA 1700 / 2100
HSDPA 2100
Announced 2011, March
Status Available. Released 2011, April 20th
Body Dimensions 127 x 61 x 15 mm
Weight 162 g
Keyboard QWERTY
Display Type TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size 480 x 800 pixels, 3.5 inches (~267 ppi pixel density)
Multitouch Yes
– Optical trackpad
Sound Alert types Vibration, MP3, WAV ringtones
Loudspeaker Yes
3.5mm jack Yes
Memory Card slot microSD, up to 32GB, 2GB included, buy memory
Internal 1 GB ROM, 512 MB RAM
Data GPRS Yes
Speed HSDPA, 7.2 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps
WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot
Bluetooth Yes v3.0 with A2DP
USB Yes, microUSB v2.0
Camera Primary 3.15 MP, 2048×1536 pixels, autofocus
Features Geo-tagging
Video Yes, D1 (720×480 pixels) @ 30 fps
Secondary Yes, VGA
Features OS Android OS, v2.2 (Froyo)
Chipset Hummingbird
CPU 1 GHz Cortex-A8
GPU PowerVR SGX540
Sensors Accelerometer, proximity
Messaging SMS(threaded view), MMS, Email, Push Email, IM
Browser HTML, Adobe Flash
GPS Yes, with A-GPS support
Java Yes, via Java MIDP emulator
Colors Matte black, Pearl magenta
– SNS integration
– T-Mobile TV
– MP4/H.264/H.263 player
– MP3/WAV/eAAC+ player
– Organizer
– ThinkFree Office document editor (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), PDF viewer
– Google Search, Maps, Gmail,
YouTube, Calendar, Google Talk, Picasa integration
– Voice memo
– Predictive text input
Battery Standard battery, Li-Ion 1500 mAh
Stand-by Up to 456 h
Talk time Up to 6 h 30 min


  1. mathew 2014-03-18 14:05

    i was curious to know….

    when using the phone were you able to use data in canada. i had an older sidekick and with it unlocked i could only text and talk and wasnt able to use network services to use facebook/surf.. does it have an email app bult in so i can push to my email service to get my emails or would i need to go and log in manually

    • Tyler Style 2014-03-18 14:15

      Yes, I could use data in Canada. There are several factors that determine whether or not you can use data; if you’re roaming on your US plan, for instance, it may not include roaming data. Or if you get a Canadian SIM, you may not have a plan that includes data.

      The SK4 is a standard Android 2.3 (?), and comes with both the standard “Mail” and “Gmail” apps preinstalled; you can get any number of other email clients apps off of Play. I recommend K9 myself.

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