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08. 01. 2007

Helio Ocean vs. iPhone

helio-ocean.jpg

Now that the initial excitement over the iPhone has tapered off some, I believe reality is sinking in and some iPhone converts and admirers are newly appreciating the virtues of other smartphones. Among the Popcrew who couldn't resist the iPhone when it came out last month, I would say Evan is the one most in love with her iPhone one month later (I always knew she was the least cynical of all of us).

While I've used an iPhone, I haven't yet bought one for myself. I was tempted to when I first played around with the browser, which is so far superior to that of any other phone that I've considered getting an iPhone just for web browsing (in which case, I wouldn't even bother using it as a phone). On most other phones, I'm always too impatient with the compromised functionality, slow speed, and appearance of web pages to bother with it except when I'm really desperate and nowhere near a computer. On the iPhone, you get full web pages, and can zoom in and out with a pinch of your fingers on the screen. It's lovely and so fast (who knew there were so many wi-fi hotspots all over the place?), and I never get tired of the futuristic feeling of browsing endlessly through Bluefly on it during lunch. I've even seen Mia pubish posts on Popgadget directly from her iPhone - we've never been able to do that on any other smartphone.

I got my Helio Ocean a month before the iPhone release, and while web browsing on the Helio doesn't compare to the iPhone, the Helio still comes in way ahead of other smartphones I've used. The 2.4 inch screen, with QVGA display and 260K colors, is simply beautiful (albeit much smaller than the iPhone screen), and with the click-free search feature, you can search the web by typing in your terms on your idle screen without first opening up a search box. I find that I browse a lot more often now because it doesn't take many steps to get to what I'm looking for.

helio-ocean-slide.jpg

My initial attraction to the Helio Ocean had to do with its dual slider feature. The full sliding Qwerty keyboard for messaging and browsing in landscape mode takes care of my Sidekick envy and makes texting much speedier. I've heard some men complain that it's a little too compact for their manly fingers, but most women probably won't have this problem.

The separate sliding, vertical, numeric dialpad makes the Helio Ocean feel like a real phone. I like punching in numbers (which I do in order to ensure that I don't forget crucial phone numbers). It would be nice to have a favorites screen pop up with numbers I dial often for times when I'm in a hurry (I can never remember which speed dial numbers I've assigned to people), but this complaint falls under the category of "you can't have everything."

For me, typing on the on-screen keypad on the iPhone is an exercise in frustration, and I can't imagine anyone with bigger fingers trying to send quick emails on it. I seem to hit the wrong key with every other letter (Evan, by the way, says this is ridiculous, she never has problems typing on the iPhone). Admittedly, I've made a compromise in choosing a fattish dual-slider device over the ultra slim iPhone. One of the costs of a dual slider keyboard is that the three pieces it takes to make it work also result in a heavier (5.6 ounces) and thicker (.86 inches) device.

helio-inbox.jpg

Beyond the comparative look and feel of the two devices is the more important reason I favor the Helio over the iPhone. The Helio Ocean handles all of my accounts for emailing, texting, and instant messaging right out of the box. Before I had the Ocean, I'd always struggled with messaging because I could never get all of my email and instant messaging services on a single device. This drove me insane. Now I have integrated messaging on one screen -- my Popgadget email (supports POP3 and IMAP), Gmail, AOL (and AIM), Yahoo email and Messenger, and Windows Live (and as of last week, Microsoft Exchange, but for a price - see link below). The iPhone just can't compare for messaging. While the threaded, cartoon-bubble SMS application on the iPhone looks nice, it can't yet do IM (only through web-based clients), and the email application can't delete multiple messages, which would be murder on my sliding fingers when you get as much spam as I do.

The 2.0 megapixel camera (with built-in flash and digital zoom) takes decent enough pictures (basically what you would expect from a 2 megapixel phone camera). What I like is that I can use my photos as screen savers. The camcorder takes the usual blurry phone camcorder videos, but as someone who's never had a camcorder in a phone before, I'm having fun playing with it. The 200MB internal memory is expandable via its microSD card slot, so I'm not worried about using up my storage. The iPhone has no camcorder and you can't send your photos from it via MMS.

My favorite toy on my Ocean is the built-in GPS with Google Maps. Sitting anywhere, I can find out where exactly I am (yes, sometimes I just don't know), find out where the nearest gas station or restaurant is, get directions. Now that I have my Ocean, I no longer carry around my separate portable GPS (I'm paranoid about getting lost). The Ocean also comes with Buddy Beacon, which lets you track your friends and lets them track you. The iPhone has no GPS, which is too bad considering the screen is so nice and big and displays maps beautifully.

The Ocean is marketed as a personal multimedia entertainment center (supports MP3, AAC, WMA, MPEG-4, H.264, VOD, and MOD), with EV-DO support enabling fast downloading, and external stereo speakers and stereo Bluetooth support. I'm not so enamored of the idea of listening to music or watching videos on a cell phone -- horrible battery-draining activities. Besides, I don't know why I'd bother when my iPod nano has what seems like perpetual battery power on a single charge. In this respect, I don't know whether the iPhone is superior, as no one I know has given up their iPods in favor of listening to music and watching videos on their iPhone at the cost of fast diminishing battery power. Battery life on the Ocean is only fair, but I've heard people complaining that their iPhones get far less talk time than advertised.

A downside common to both devices is the dearth of additional applications to play with. I now appreciate my old Treo again for those features that my new smartphone lacks (oh, how I miss my bank statements on Pocket Quicken, my spreadsheets, my eWallet for keeping passwords, and the mountain of other applications I used to fool around with).

So, while I do love web browsing on the iPhone, web browsing isn't the primary - or even the secondary - cell phone function for me. For calling and messaging, the Ocean does a much better job for me, and the GPS function is something I can't imagine giving up now that I have it.

The Helio Ocean sells for $295 (for new users) on the Helio website.

Links:
Brian's iPhone review: iPhone: Initial Thoughts
Mia's iPhone review: An iPhone photo diary
For another comparison, see the gadgeteer's comparison of the iPhone to the Treo 680.
From Ars Technica, Helio Ocean now supports Microsoft Exchange.

Posted by Hoyun    Category: accessories | highlights
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Comments (3)

Jane:

This phone looks awesome but what service is it on? I think I heard that goes off of Sprint, which isn't very good in my area.

Michael:

Yep, Sprint it is. Technically Helio is their own service, but they are an MVNO or Mobile Virtual Network Operator that piggybacks on the Sprint network.

Dani:

Jane,here is the thing Sprint here in Minnesota runs mostly the coverage,but when I don't have Sprint is goes into the secondary coverage which Verizon,Alltel and US Cellular.I love my Ocean because I have the All-In plan and I don't have to pay for anything else because its included and I pay $99 and I got my Ocean for $150 by going into Invicta Wireless(www.heliobuy.com) They have really good service and they threw in a free car charger,just for asking.Helio dealers are pretty flexible,so you just have to work with them to get the best deal

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