By David Ponce
The Kickflip from Helio is like the gorgeous girl who started getting ready for prom a little too late, and had to leave with no makeup on and a wrinkly dress. In other words, it’s a great handset and a promising service, and I’m sure that once it matures, in a few months, it’ll kick some serious ass. But for now, a somewhat buggy software, coupled with a relatively starved-for-content multimedia store put a dent in what would otherwise have been a flawless performance.
I had the chance to take the phone for a spin in New York City (for a moblogged blow-by-blow, read this article) and take advantage of all the features. Come inside for all the gory details.
The device itself is beautiful. It’s pearly white, and its lines are soft and clean. It opens through a spring assisted ambidextrous swivel, which, to be honest, quickly becomes addictive. All you need is a gentle nudge of the thumb, and it opens all the way. Also, the screen automatically reorients itself every time you open. Very cool. For a quick Engadget-made video of this action, follow this link. This alone scored some brownie points in my book.
Once open, it reveals a large elegantly backlit keypad with fairly big keys (definitely suitable for anyone with meaty thumbs). The screen is gorgeous. It’s 2.2 inches and 320 x 240, with 262k colors. Pixels are barely visible and images are crisp and clear.
On the sides, you can find a USB, and TV-out ports. There are buttons for controlling media (pause, play, etc.) and two arrow keys that are application dependant. Finally, on the bottom, you can find a slot for a T-Flash card and a 1.5mm jack for headphones; nicely enough, the phone comes with a 1.5mm to 2.5mm adaptor so you can use any headphones you want.
The custom menu screen is a welcome change from the square icon matrices of other phones. It’s pretty, and it’s easy to find your way around.
There’s a 2MP camera with a click-on/click-off flash. Covering the lens is an ingenious (if somewhat dubious) switch to go from regular mode to “macro” mode. The pictures it takes are nice, but not print material. You can add multiple effects to the picture as you take it, and some of these are quite impressive.
Unfortunately, the phone is rather on the thick side, measuring 3.9 by 2 by 1 inches and a little hefty as well, at 4.5 ounces. You certainly notice it in your pocket. Battery life is okay, though not great. With fairly heavy use, (involving picture taking, calling, web surfing) I was able to go a day and a half before I needed to recharge. What’s more, the battery meter depletes in three thirds, making it hard to get an accurate estimate of how much battery is left, before there’s too little.
Voice quality was fair. There was a high pitched hiss on some calls, though the people I was speaking to could hear me perfectly and couldn’t tell it was a cellphone.
When playing multimedia, the speakers were adequately loud, though a little tinny. The video quality, however, was disappointing. On the few music videos I downloaded, pixelation was severe enough to make watching them rather annoying. On the plus side, I hear the Hero (another Helio handset) has a video co-processor that might get rid of that problem.
I played one 3D game, and it was indeed three dimensional. No anti-aliasing, sure… but it looked nice.
Perhaps the biggest problem, hardware-wise, is the lack of Bluetooth. Not only does this make PC-phone interaction wirefull, it also makes it impossible to use those oh-so-stylish (please note sarcasm) Bluetooth headsets.
All said, the handset is a solid piece of hardware. It’s pretty, comfortable to use and replete with good features. Video quality isn’t great and battery life could be improved, but I’d still give it a thumbs up.
The Service And Software
Here’s where things get a little hairy. Let me start with the good.
The integration with MySpace was flawless. It’s easy to login, it’s easy to post, and pretty much a no-brainer to do anything MySpace related. I was able to upload pictures, make posts (read them here), accept and deny friends (some weird people out there…), read profiles and otherwise MySpace the living hell out of me. (For the record, I’m not a MySpace person, but well, there you have it.)
Another feature I liked, was the ability to either buy, rent, gift or beg any multimedia content. Begging is fun, and sure to become a favorite of parents everywhere.
Okay, now the less good stuff. HOT (Helio On Top), an application for displaying headlines directly to the “desktop” looked promising. It gives the software a facelift and looks slick. However, it’s still in Beta… and it shows. Long story short, it disables many of the phone’s functions, is quite buggy and I had to disable it within fifteen minutes. A representative tells me they’re working feverishly to fix it, and there will be an update soon.
The music video store is okay, but only features a few hundred offerings. There is no music store yet, though it will be launched later this year. You can also stream shows from ABC (featuring Jimmy Kimmel Live, Lost, and oddball news), Fox Sports, Rocketboom (video podcasts), Adult Swim and a few others, though it would take me just a couple hours to get through most of it. Mind you, it was fun to start a stream, go fullscreen, then swivel the phone closed to get a great widescreen show. Again, video quality wasn’t stellar, but adequate.
Surfing the web the regular way (by this I mean by directly entering a URL) didn’t really work at all. The only way to visit another webpage than the ones already integrated into the system was by doing a Yahoo! search and clicking on one of the results. The phone did a decent enough job of reformatting pages to fit on the screen.
I won’t get into the PIM and productivity areas of the phone, simply because this is not that sort of phone. It’s not a smartphone, and it’s not aimed at businessmen. It’s for the 18 to 34 group that want a cool phone with cool service. It hits that segment, there’s no doubt, but it looks like there was a little haste-to-market.
Also, there are many things I didn’t test. I didn’t try to transfer media from the PC to the phone (there’s special software for you to download) or the other way around. I didn’t try the TV-out for lack of the appropriate cable. If there’s enough demand, I might give the PC sync a go.
My gut feeling is that it’s just a little too soon to make a final decision on Helio. At this point, the rig needs a little polish. The phone is great and the service promises to be just as engaging, but it’s not there yet. Software bugs need to be sprayed, and content needs to be fluffed up. I still feel like the positive outweighs the negative, though that’s a judgement call.
– Great phone design with addictive swivel action
– Gorgeous screen with more than adequate resolution
– Seamless integration with MySpace
– Gifting and Begging
– 2MP camera
– HOT application still in Beta
– No music store yet
– Pixelated videos
– No Bluetooth