The voice call just got re-invented. Sidecar is an ambitious app that goes well beyond video chat apps like FaceTime or Skype and builds on apps like Pair, which lets you share various items like photos, your location and more with another person. Basically, Sidecar lets you call and share what you're doing while you're talking -- including things like real-time video, photos and location. But how well does the app work?
Sidecar Video Demo
Sidecar keeps things plain and simple during setup. Fire up the app, and the first thing you'll see is a welcome splash page with an invitation to set things up. Click through (using the big yellow Begin button) and you'll find yourself looking at an activation screen.
Fill the fields out with your mobile number, first and last name (last name is optional) and email address (also optional), and you're ready to start using the app.
Sidecar uses your own mobile number to identify you as a unique user, and goes into your address book to check if any of your contacts are also Sidecar users. If it detects that a certain mobile number among your friends is a user of the app, it grabs the contact and places it in a special Sidecar Contacts tab on the lower right corner of the app. Additionally, if any of your friends register with Sidecar later on, they'll automatically appear within this contact list.
Making Calls with Sidecar
Once you've got the app all set up, you're ready to make a Sidecar call. Tap on a contact within your Sidecar contact list, and the app initiates a VoIP session with your friend.
Incidentally, Sidecar also makes it possible for you to call anyone in the U.S. or Canada for free, even if the recipient of the call is not a Sidecar user. You can use the Dialer tab to input a number, and after the call ends, the recipient will receive a text message inviting them to join Sidecar. Outside of the US, you can chat with Sidecar users via the usual VoIP setup.
Within a call, Sidecar let us tweak audio settings, too; we tapped on the lower right corner of the app to access these. The app let us mute a call, choose whether we wanted to use Bluetooth or our handset, turn our speakerphone on, or activate the Smart Speaker feature. Smart Speaker detected whether we were holding the phone up to our face -- after which the audio source would transfer to handset audio.
Another feature we like in Sidecar was its call log. The app recorded the date and time of our conversations with a friend, and if we shared photos or locations, it saved that too. We could view these items anytime after we ended our call.
Sidecar's "See What I See" Video
Sidecar's main user interface is similar to that of a rotary dial phone, with four functions arranged in a circle. "See What I See" -- sharing real-time video within a call --is front and center on the app. You can initiate any of the features yourself, or get invited by the friend with whom you are speaking. Once you receive an invitation, you can choose to view it now, or save it for later.
We fired up See What I See and the feature used our iPhone 4S' back-facing camera to record our surroundings. There are two translucent buttons at the top of the app while using See What I See: a shutter button for taking screenshots of the current live picture (the image was saved into our Camera Roll), and a pause button to pause the real-time video.
Sharing photos within Sidecar works similar to See What I See. We tapped on the appropriate circle within the app's rotary dial phone UI, chose from two options for the picture source (Take a Photo, Choose from Library) and shared our image.
Sidecar also let us decide whether to view a photo our friend sent now, or later. A helpful feature within the app automatically created an album of shared photos within the particular session, which is displayed as a thumbnail grid (though we could only see the pictures we received, not any of those we sent).
Once photos are saved to Sidecar's automatically generated library, the app lets you share the photo through email or Twitter, or save it to your library.
Sharing Your Location on Sidecar
To share our location using Sidecar, we tapped on the button labeled Location in the main UI. Assuming you gave the app permission during setup, Sidecar can use your smartphone's integrated GPS to locate you and beam that pin over to your friend. Your friend can also share his location as well, which you can choose to view now or later when you get the notification.
Sharing Contact Information
We shared another person's contact info with a friend by tapping on the Contact button on Sidecar's main UI. From here, we could scroll through our regular address book to select a contact to beam over.
Just like all the other functions within Sidecar, when we received a contact we could choose to view it now or later.
Whisper Text Feature
Another handy feature within Sidecar let us send pop-up messages wherever we were inside the app. To use Whisper Text, we tapped on the Whisper button that sits in the lower left corner of the app in a nav bar.
Afterward, a keyboard appeared which we used to tap out our message; then we sent it instantly to the friend we were chatting with. Presumably, this feature is for sending private messages within the app that you don't want everyone else around you to hear.
We found some glitches within the Car app that made our experience a little buggy. Once, we tried to share what we saw then exited the app, and our friend was still somehow able to accept and see through our smartphone's camera, even if the picture wasn't live on our screen at that time. It was a little disconcerting to know that it was possible for the app to be using our smartphone's camera without our knowledge. Other minor bugs included the Whisper Text bar floating mid-screen after we minimized the keyboard, and general sluggishness on our iPhone when Sidecar was running in the background.
Despite some early bugs, we give Sidecar kudos for being the only app of its kind: A VoIP app that lets you seamlessly share all sorts of items within a call. At this point, only time will tell whether the app will gain enough of a user base to give it the momentum it needs. We believe Sidecar has plenty of potential because it changes the way we communicate and streamlines the number of steps it typically takes to share things like photos and your location. It's certainly worth a download for its (free) price. As of today, the app is live on the iTunes Store and on Google Play.