We've had lots of time to use, re-use, and digest every feature available on the Helio Ocean. We've done UI videos, hardware galleries, handset sharing tutorials and sync tutorials, but what you really want to know is what we think of it. Here's our review, broken down feature by feature so you can easily see the ones that matter the most to you.
Idle Search: By far, the coolest and most useful thing on the Helio Ocean is its ability to search right off the idle homescreen. Like Spotlight on a Mac, it can search through multiple things, namely, your contact list, or any of the websites the Ocean supports: Yahoo, Google, Google Maps (using the phone's Java version), Wikipedia, Yelp and Amazon. If Helio is smart, they'll let the phone do the idle search from a customizable list of websites.
Instant Messaging:The addition of the slide-out keyboard and new IM apps is fantastic, but we're bummed by not being able to have more than one AIM account online simultaneously. You can do MSN, Yahoo and AIM at the same time, but there's no Google Talk even though there's a GMail app. Oh, and you can't turn off the AIM alert sound unless you silence the entire phone. And you can send photos over IM, which I believe is a first for a native phone IM client. TXT and SMS screens are great, too. And you can get to the text messaging quickly by pressing down on the d-pad, while a long press down will open a new text/pic message.
Email isn't push (yet—exchange may be coming soon) and you can't set up check intervals, but we have heard talk about Yahoo offering push email like they will for the iPhone. UPDATE: It's push for Yahoo! AOL and Windows Live. But the fact that you can check Hotmail, AOL Mail, GMail, Helio mail, Yahoo Mail, and Earthlink mail all from your phone is fantastic. (Plus standard POP3 and IMAP.) Plus, there's deep integration into other apps like the camera so you can send pictures from any of your accounts from the Photo Album screen.
Camera: The 2mp camera captures images at 1600x1200, and downward. The shots are grainy, and dull, compared with those from the Nokia N series phones and the Cybershot Sony Ericsson phones. But they're a lot better than most. A lot better, frankly. The best thing is the Helio Up mode, which uploads your tagged photos to an online album, tagged with descriptions and even GPS geotagged metadata. The controls are great: white balance, multi-shot modes, flash, effects and frames,
although the frames didn't work (UPDATE: They work at the low res 240x180 photo setting) and the controls should have been accessible without digging into a menu. Video is recorded at 320 x 240 and 176 x 144 for MMSing.
Keyboard: I didn't think it was as great as I did back at CTIA when I only used it for a few minutes. Instead of being luxuriously spaced like HTC phones are, it's more like walking in an attic crawlspace—cramped and uncomfortable. The sidekick 3 is better in some ways, like the rubbery keys and bigger spacebar, but the prominent @ symbol on the Ocean is nice. But you won't be able to type as fast as you could on some other phones like the Sidekick or HTC's. Still, it gets the job done very well and should be more than enough once you get used to it.
Sliding Keypad: The keypad is one of the most high-profile differences in the Ocean. I read about its special triangle spring that pulls both the backlit QWERTY and the keypad open and closed with the quality "thunk" of a BMW car door. I don't know if I need the dialpad if I have the QWERTY. Dialing is annoying on a keypad (see the Hiptop, and the cramped top row of the Ocean's keyboard) but 95% of the time, I'm using a speed dial. If they could make the phone slimmer, and lose the middle layer, I'd go for it. But Chen disagrees. All in all, the QWERTY is pretty damn nice.
Battery Life: With all the additions present in the Ocean, one item we wish had been improved was the battery life. It's an issue with the older Helio devices as well, with all the UI flashiness, the 3G, and various other apps running, you'll be lucky to have the phone last a day on heavy use. Not to mention if you do a lot of calling and media playback.
GPS/Buddy Beacon/Google Maps: These are fantastic features carried over from the Drift, which is also GPS enabled. However, Buddy Beacon doesn't work in landscape mode, and we wish they'd settle on having either Google Maps or Mapquest (buddy beacon) instead of two separate mapping suites. But being able to locate exactly where you or your buddies are is priceless.
The Idle Screen/Home Page: The home page shows the time, battery life, network status, and a few controls, but largely, it's wasted real estate. A good number of the Ocean's competitors, like most of the N-series phones, Windows Mobile phones, Palm devices, Hiptop, and soon the iPhone put deep function on page one, I expect Helio's custom designed phone to meet this level of UI. Right now, you can tweak it out with a world clock or falling icons, like kitties (very cool, seriously) or lightning bolts, video wallpapers, or different clocks. I'd like it if Sky and the Helions put surf/snowboard/weather reports on the opening page, if not a direct line to the main menu's functions. It's nitpicking, but I think Helio need to consider this stuff if they want to beat out the boring old business phones.
Media: The Ocean is a passable media phone with external controls
(which don't actually activate the music)(UPDATE: long presses do the trick, and they are designed this way to avoid the phone playing "My Humps" in your pocket, which is unfortunate if you're into that kind of thing), and you can load 2GB of music onto it with the microSD card, but it won't be nearly as robust as the iPhone. Plus, the $1.99 tracks are kind of pricey, especially seeing what Sprint is doing with the Upstage and their $1 pricing. The streaming video quality isn't great either, but it's passable enough to make you still want to watch. As for multi-tasking, you can't listen when you're doing anything other than browsing.
Data Sync Support: The cool thing about Helio—you can switch between handset on the website. Some suggestions.
Data Syncing and phone switching from the devices themselves, not a website accessed by a PC. The Sync thing is a problem. Right now, you can upload, by CSV to the Helio website, your address book. And you can do an over the air merge of your online address book with your phone. But what you can't do is sync your contacts between phones easily, nor can you sync with your PC except through manual importing. There is also the question of Mac support. Mac users and Helio users seem to be of the same demographic, so this seems critical, the way it's critical for Sling and TiVo. And yes, syncing is another problem with the industry, but if Helio wants to destroy the competition, that's just something they should keep in mind. Oh, there's no way to cal sync either. UPDATE: Hit the sync button in the contact menu and it does a two-way sync between phone and Helio's online data. Sweet! Let's get that in real time!
Browser: Helio's new browser makes HTML surfing easier in two ways: Zoom out to 50%, or by providing a window map of the entire page for easy scrolling. (Nokia has this.) I like the browser, but wish the zoom out went to about 30%, and was easier to access. The window'd map mode is great. It's active when you load a page, and turns off once you select a region to read on. Perfect. The network itself is slow to start but quick after. I suspect that the connection handshakes every time you click a link, because Sprint's network is blazing fast, as you've heard me say before. As I've said plenty of times, the first people to get YouTube on a mobile browser (flash support is key), on 3G, will be big winners in my book. Oh, clicking to RSS feeds brings you to Google's news reader. Cool.
Apps: Even though you get Buddy Beacon and Google Maps for free, Helio still charges you for various other things. For example, you have to rent the Accuweather weather app for $3.99 a month. Also, there's no blogging software that lets you blog to Wordpress or Movable type.
Games: The games that are available are decent for cellphone games, but most of them don't work in landscape mode so you'll be playing just like any other cellphone. The dpad orientates itself on the left when you flip it 180 degrees from the QWERTY perspective. Most games aren't landscape now, yes, but there's Lumines and others, and more will come.
Multi Phone Support: One great thing about Helio is that you can switch your number between various devices. We documented the number-sharing process, but in essence, you can have your Ocean when you feel like doing more messaging and emailing, but switch to the older and slimmer Heat or Drift if you just want a phone for taking calls. Just tick off a radio box online and you're all set. Much easier than swapping out SIMs.
Accessories: The Helio's headphones are of fair quality, plugging into the small mini jack, and equipped with the microphone. I like that its wrapped in cloth, and gray. The best accessory is the Metal and Suede Helio cellphone charm that serves as a screenwipe. Stylish. If you ask me, the first company to include several charms with their phones will do pretty well. People are superficial like that.
Calendar and Organization: The bad news is that you can't sync your calendar to your Mac or PC, even though exchange syncing may be coming soon. Nobody wants to maintain two different calendars with their schedules on it. There's also no task list, so if you wanted to use this phone as an organizer, it'd be kind of a stretch. You've also got apps like stopwatch, unit conversion, world time and wake up call, which acts like an alarm that regular people can use.
Our final recommendation would be: buy it, but only after you consider our caveats. If there's one or two features you really need, but aren't met but the Ocean, then you're better off somewhere else. Otherwise, this is a fantastic multimedia messaging phone with features that are hard to top.
Helio Ocean [Gizmodo]