Helio is by far one of the sexiest MVNOs on the market today, thanks to the company's innovative marketing campaign, the slick user interface on its Korean-made phones, and supported features such as MySpace Mobile access. Late last year, Helio upped the ante on its handset offerings when it introduced the admirable Helio Drift, the company's first ever handset with built-in GPS technology for applications like Google Maps for Mobile and Buddy Beacon, Helio's friend-locator service. And now the company goes in another direction with a lower-end version of the Drift called the Helio Heat. It has a more streamlined design and still has the built-in GPS, but we weren't fans of the electrostatic touchpad buttons. That said, the Heat is markedly less expensive than the Drift at $150 (the Drift is $225), making it the cheapest phone in Helio's lineup. It also comes in both Onyx Black and Gold colors.
If the Helio Drift had a face-lift and a tummy tuck, the result would look very much like the Helio Heat. While they are both Samsung sliders, the Heat is slimmer and sleeker than the more staid-looking Drift. Measuring 3.6x1.8x0.6 inch and weighing 3.17 ounces, the Heat doesn't quite have the curves of the Drift, but it makes up for that with its smooth corners and compact design. On the other hand, its slight glossy finish does make it more prone to fingerprint smudges. Thanks to its small shape, it fits neatly in the hand as well as in the pocket. We found it best to push the bottom end of the phone upward to slide the handset open. As for closing it, there is a slight raise on the upper edge of the top navigation button that your thumb can use as an anchor to slide the phone downward. It was easy to perform both maneuvers with one hand.
Though rather small at 1.99 inches, the QVGA 262,000-color screen on the Helio Heat still managed to wow us with excellent image quality. Colors looked really sharp on the screen, which came in handy when scrolling through Helio's colorful menu interface. As on all Helio phones, the interface on the Heat was easy to use, with graphical menu icons arranged in a circle. The phone's left spine is home to a volume rocker and a play/pause button for the media player. The end/power key and dedicated camera buttons are on the right spine, while the 1.3-megapixel camera lens, a self-portrait mirror, and flash are on the back of the phone when the slider is open.
While the four-way navigation toggle below the display consists of normal keys, all the other controls are touch sensitive. Similar to those found on the LG VX8500 Chocolate, these "buttons" don't have a tactile feel and can be seen and activated only when the phone is powered on. There are two soft keys, the send key, the back key, and dedicated music player controls. As with most touch-sensitive keys, there was nothing to delineate one key to the next because of the flat surface. What's more, the lack of tactile feedback resulted in quite a few mistakes; either we found we were tapping a button too many times or not enough times, and this was after we had fiddled around with the touch-sensitivity settings. Also, the touchpad locks up on you if the phone is closed and when you're on a call to prevent accidental misdials. While this is commendable, it also means we either have to press the play/pause button to break the lock or slide the phone open if it was closed.
As for the navigation toggle, it doubles as a shortcut for the Web browser, the games folder, messaging, and the video and music folder, plus there's also the middle confirmation key. As with the Chocolate--the end/power key's location on the spine is inconvenient. We kept hitting the back control when we tried to hang up a call. The alphanumeric keypad is revealed when the phone is slid upward. While the keys are rather flat, there was still some texture in between each key, which allowed us to dial easily and with confidence.