Forget everything you know about mobile phones, because the Sidekick II isn't like any mobile you have ever seen. It doesn't look like one, and it doesn't behave like one. It's big, it's got a wildly clever design feature that lets it hide a keyboard away, and it's more about messaging than about phone calls.
There's a lot the Sidekick II can't do, like share information directly with a desktop computer or play music. But it has one potentially indispensable trick -- it automatically makes backups to a rather neatly designed Web site, which you can use from anywhere.
The Sidekick II is exclusive to T-Mobile and costs up to £49.99, though it is free on some Web 'n' walk tariffs.
The Sidekick II is an unusual-looking mobile phone, even putting aside the fact that it is larger than any handset we've seen for a very long time. At first glance it actually looks more like a games console than a phone, because each of the short edges houses three controllers, while in the middle is a fairly large 66mm (2.6-inch) screen.
Things get more confusing when you encounter the Sidekick II's exceptionally likeable 'flip'. If you push gently at the top right edge of the screen it swivels round on a hinge at its top centre, to reveal a keyboard. Swivelling the screen back is slightly less elegant and wow-ish, but very easy.
Note that the screen always faces outwards, so it's nice that the Sidekick II comes with a carrying case that helps protect it. You will need this, because whether you have its screen out or in, the Sidekick II is chunky hardware -- it weighs nearly 200g. You aren't going to be able to tote it tidily in a pocket all the time. It'll need a second home in your bag.
Those side controllers are for getting around the handset. At the four corners of the hardware are buttons for calling up menus, getting quickly to the main screen, and generally jumping around. On the left is a square navigation pad, on the right a roller flanked by call and end buttons.
There are a few more buttons embedded in the rubberised strips that sit along the top and bottom long edges of the Sidekick II. On/off and volume control are along the bottom, shortcuts to the MMS and camera software are along the top. There's a 2.5mm headset jack, power jack and mini-USB connector on the right edge. You can't do anything with the USB connector straight out of the box.
The screen offers just 65k colours, and is at its best indoors, though it is reasonable outside. The keyboard stretches across an area 75mm wide by 40mm tall. The keys are rubbery and fairly small, but well spaced. There is room for a separate number row above the main Qwerty keys, but not for a dedicated number pad for dialling calls in the traditional way. Instead, for hand-dialling you use a range of keys that share their letter with a number and a third symbol. The keyboard is okay to use for tapping out SMS messages, but you probably won't want to hand-dial very many voice calls.