Of all the mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) targeting the youth market, Helio has been getting the most buzz. A joint effort by California-based Earthlink and Korea-based SK Telecom, Helio launched earlier this year with a slick marketing campaign that emphasized its offbeat phones and unique, hipster-friendly features.
Though its launch devices, the Hero and the Kickflip, largely delivered on those promises with MySpace Mobile integration, video and music downloads, and a flashy interface, we weren't impressed by their lack of Bluetooth. Fortunately, the new Helio Drift is different. Manufactured by Samsung, the Drift not only features Bluetooth and instant messaging, but also offers built-in GPS technology for applications like Google Maps. The Helio Drift is available for $225.
At first glance, the Helio Drift seems a lot like the other Samsung sliders we've seen. In fact, we found it reminiscent of the Samsung SCH-U420 Nimbus in terms of size and style. On closer inspection, however, we noticed the Drift has rounder edges and softer contours, resulting in a very comfortable feel in the hand. And while we wouldn't call it sleek, it's still quite an attractive handset with its all-black exterior. Measuring 3.8x1.8x0.7 inches and weighing 3.53 ounces, the Drift is compact, lightweight, and easily fits in a pocket or a purse. There is a slight lip underneath the screen that acts as an anchor when sliding the phone open and closed, though you can open the phone by simply pushing the bottom end of the phone upward. The sliding mechanism was really smooth, and we found that we could open and close the phone with one hand.
We've been impressed with the quality of the display on previous Helio models, and the Drift does not disappoint. The 2.12-inch QVGA 262,000-color display is stunning and provided an excellent showcase for Helio's colorful menus. As on the Kickflip and the Hero, the interface has bold and modern graphics arranged in a circle, instead of the traditional grid. You can't adjust the screen's brightness or contrast, but you can adjust the screen's backlight time, the font size, and the style. On the left spine of the phone are the volume rocker, a music player button that can play and pause music, a voice-memo button, and a microSD card slot. The right spine is home to the headset jack, the charger jack, and a dedicated camera button. The camera's lens, flash, and self-portrait mirror are on the back of the phone.
Underneath the screen is the navigation array, which is made up of two soft keys; a four-way toggle that doubles as a shortcut to a Web browser, a games menu, messaging, and the video and music menu; a middle OK key; the Talk and End power keys; and the back/cancel key. The alphanumeric keypad is revealed when you slide the phone upward. Slider phones seem particularly prone to flat and slippery keys and the Drift is no exception. Both the navigation array and the alphanumeric keypad are slippery and pretty flat to the surface. Though we wouldn't recommend dialing by feel, the keys did have slightly textured edges and gave nicely to pressure.
Before we delve into the Drift's improvements, let's begin with the basics. The Drift has an impressive 1,000-entry address book, and each entry can hold up to five numbers, an e-mail address, a birth date, a home address, and a memo. You can personalize contacts with 1 of 20 polyphonic ring tones, organize them into a caller group, and assign them a photo or video caller ID. Other features include text and multimedia messaging, instant messaging, e-mail, speed-dialing, a calendar, a to-do list, a wake-up call feature, an alarm clock, a speakerphone, a vibrate mode, a calculator, world clocks, a unit converter, a notepad, a microSD card slot, built-in speakers, a stopwatch, high-speed 3G support, stereo Bluetooth support, a Web browser, and a voice-memo recorder.
As with other Helio phones, the Drift has tight MySpace Mobile integration. (Read more about it in our review of the Helio Hero). There's also a dynamic news-feed aggregator called Helio On Top (H.O.T.) that displays the latest headlines from Yahoo News, Yahoo Most Viewed, IGN Mobile, MTV Mobile, and Fox Sports, as well as promotions from the Helio download store. H.O.T. displays these headlines along the bottom of the main display when the phone is in standby mode. Pressing the OK button will launch a larger view of the aggregator, and clicking a news headline will lead you to the actual story. While we certainly appreciate the news-feed aggregator feature, we were disappointed that you still cannot add your own feeds. Helio's Internet offerings are pretty widespread, including Yahoo Search and shortcuts to a variety of news and shopping sites (CNN, Digg, and eBay, to name just a few), as well as the ability to download music videos and ring tones. You can also stream video clips from TV shows (network partners are ABC, Fox, MTV, Ripe TV, Spike, and VH1), movie trailers, viral videos, and more. Music videos cost $2.50 each, ring tones cost $1.00, and video ringers cost $2.99 each. You can buy one for yourself, "Gift" one to a friend, or "Beg" for one and ask a friend to get it for you.