The Danger hiptop is a wireless Internet device/cell phone. Currently, the only way to get your hands on one is to buy one from T-Mobile (they rebrand the hiptop as the Sidekick).

The hiptop is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and has a flip-out LCD screen that reveals a full QWERTY keyboard. In addition, there are two large buttons on the left side of the device ("menu" and "jump") and one on the right ("back"). Also on the right is a transparent scroll wheel with multicolored LEDs behind it that light up to signify certain events, such as an incoming phone call or new email. The LCD screen is 240x160 pixels in size and can display 16 shades of gray. (A color version was recently released, although I haven't got my hands on it yet, so I don't know much about it)

Typing on the built-in keyboard is fairly easy. It's small enough and positioned in such a way that the best way to use it is to hold the hiptop with both hands and press keys with your thumbs. After a bit of practice, I was able to type reasonably quickly with few errors.

The hiptop's firmware contains several bundled applications, including a web browser, email client, AOL Instant Messenger client, address book, calendar, to do list, notepad, and several games. Also included is a camera and photo gallery application that can be used to take pictures with the included digital camera attachment. The resulting color JPEGs can be attached to emails sent from the device, although they're postage-stamp sized and not very good quality.

The most unique thing about the hiptop is the way it stores data. Despite having 16MB of built-in flash memory, the hiptop stores most of your data on Danger's remote servers. One benefit of this is that if you ever need to perform a hard reset or replace your device with a new one, you can retrieve all your data simply by entering a username and password. In addition, a security feature of the hiptop allows you to set a password that must be entered when the device is turned on. If someone enters the wrong password four times in a row, the device erases itself completely. Later, if the correct password is entered, it will restore your data from the remote backup.

Sadly, despite the convenience, this raises security concerns for some people. While Danger claims that the data stream between the hiptop and their servers is encrypted (and indeed, the hiptop supports SSL), the fact is that the data is still stored on their servers. Thus, you probably shouldn't enter any data into your hiptop that you don't want Danger (or anyone with access to Danger's servers) to see.

Another unique thing about the hiptop is that the hiptop operating system is based on J2ME, an optimized version of Java. When Danger releases the next OS update, which will support third party app installation, third-party developers will be able to write Internet-enabled Java applications for the hiptop. Also, due to the device's always-on Internet connection (as long as you're in range of a tower, that is), applications such as instant messengers, IRC clients, and SSH terminals are already being planned.

Web Browser

The hiptop web browser is one of the nicest I've used on a handheld device. It requests pages through a proxy, which does most of the heavy work of downsampling images, reformatting tables, etc. Despite this, the browser itself supports XHTML 1.0 and CSS, and generally does a very nice job of making even clunky, badly-designed pages readable on the small screen. It also has bookmark support, URL history and caching. It doesn't support JavaScript or Flash, however.

The hiptop turns into a real-life Hitchhiker's Guide when used with the E2 Mobile Interface.

Email Client

The hiptop email client is absolutely wonderful. It supports local mail folders, multiple mail accounts, and will display attached images, PDF files and Microsoft Word documents.

Officially, the client only supports POP3 mail accounts. However, it allows you to specify a mail server port to use, and if you specify port 143 (for IMAP) or port 993 (for IMAP/SSL), it will still succesfully connect and download email. I've checked my mail server logs and I can verify that the hiptop does indeed send actual IMAP commands and it actually authenticates through SSL, although it doesn't support server-side folders and treats your IMAP inbox just like a POP3 inbox. Still, it's a very nice hidden feature.

Of course, the client also sends mail, although it doesn't allow you to specify an SMTP server to use. It's possible this is changeable via another hidden setting, but I haven't found it yet.

AIM client

Unlike the AIM client built into some other cell phones, the hiptop's client actually communicates with the network via TCP/IP rather than via an unwieldy and slow SMS style protocol. It supports server-side buddy lists, of course, and the interface is very nicely laid out. Since the hiptop has a multitasking OS, you can connect to AIM, open a conversation, then switch over to your web browser for a few moments, and be notified via an icon in the title bar when you get a new instant message. Very nice.

Several hiptop owners have developed AIM bots to provide AIM gateways to IRC, other IM networks, and even SSH.

While there is no built-in support for protocols other than AIM, you can log in using an ICQ UIN and password and the AIM client will function as an ICQ client. Your server-side ICQ contacts will be supported, although you'll see their UINs instead of their nicknames in your contact list. Still, it's a useful bonus of AOL owning both networks, and it allows you to chat with your ICQ buddies via the hiptop. According to representatives at Danger, they are considering adding support for other protocols, and rumor has it that beta models of the hiptop included clients for the Yahoo and Jabber IM networks.

The Bottom Line

While it's got some problems (some users have reported bugs in the cell phone functionality and reliability issues with the LCD screen), the hiptop is a damn cool device. I love my hiptop and I'm glad I bought it.

Full retail price on the hiptop is $249, but if you look hard enough, you can find all kinds of rebates being offered via T-Mobile; perhaps even enough to get you a free hiptop with service plan activation.

The fact that I can now node while sitting on the toilet at work makes me indescribably giddy.

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