The Helio Ocean is a stylish, feature-packed phone. Its innovative dual-slider design allows for both a standard phone keypad and a full keyboard.
Although it lacks Wi-Fi, it offers fast EvDO data access, Bluetooth, built-in GPS, and a great do-it-all message centre that combines text, IM and email. You also get an easy-to-use 2Mp camera (with flash) that can record video.
Overall, we're impressed with this fun phone. The only drawback we found with the $295 (about £150) Helio Ocean was occasionally fuzzy or hollow-sounding audio in our informal test calls to various numbers (all within the US). Whether the cause was the call carrier Sprint or Helio's local service in San Francisco or a hardware limitation in the phone itself, we couldn't say. Calls from a Treo (with AT&T service) to the same numbers generally sounded better.
Another minor issue: battery life for the Helio Ocean was only fair in our tests, lasting 5.5 hours (we test for a maximum of 10 hours).
Still, the Ocean is a pleasure to use. The dual-slider design presents large buttons for phone dialing in portrait mode, and the spacious keyboard in landscape mode makes for smooth email and other text entry. Most applications (some games being the exception) automatically adjust the 2.4in, 240x320-pixel display when you shift from portrait to landscape and back again, and assorted buttons on the front and edges of the phone let you quickly change the volume, stop and start music, and perform other functions.
A free, downloadable Google Maps application works with the Ocean's internal GPS to display your current location and use it as the start or end point for directions. Although it isn't a full-blown portable GPS program, it's still useful enough to convince us that the next phone we buy should have some sort of GPS, no question. The also-free "Buddy Beacon" GPS app shows your location and that of any friends using Helio phones, if you enable the option.
Not free by any means is a just-released Garmin Mobile program, which does bring full GPS features such as dynamic routing and voice directions. Since it currently costs a ridiculous $3 per day, however, we'd suggest sticking with the less-functional but free Google Maps. Another nice freebie is the Helio UP utility, which lets you easily upload pictures or video straight to Flickr, Helio's own site or YouTube right after taking them.
A handful of other downloadable Java apps, some free and some paid, are available, but Helio's selection is limited. Typically you'll have to shell out a monthly fee of $3 or $4 for the paid programs, too.
Third-party sites such as Heliocity and Mobile GMaps are just now stepping in to fill the gap, though, with free Helio versions of the Opera Mini browser and an alternative map program. These non-Helio designed apps aren't yet able to use the Ocean's keyboard or landscape layout, but that may change.
In general, Helio's selection of games is better than its assortment of utilities, and the games are fairly priced; those we looked at cost $1 for a seven-day trial run or $6 to buy.
As for built-in apps, the Helio Ocean sports a serviceable web browser, a music and video player, a nice contacts database, and an excellent message center. The browser lacks an address bar, but scrolls quickly through a page when you hold down the click wheel. Zooming in or out is easy, as well. Pages load quickly over the EvDO connection, but we wish the phone would automatically disable the screen-blanking power-save feature when we're browsing.
We couldn't ask for anything more from the Helio Ocean's impressive message centre, though. It's a snap to grab AOL, EarthLink, Gmail, Windows Live or Yahoo email or have an IM chat over AOL or Yahoo. You can also sign up for Helio's email client or download a free applet that can pull email from a Microsoft Exchange server. What's more, after setting up any of those accounts, you can easily synchronise your phone contacts with those stored online.