Another much-anticipated feature on the Helio is the introduction of Helio On Top, a dynamic newsfeed aggregator that displays the latest headlines from Yahoo and IGN (available as a free download). While we certainly appreciate this cool function, a big downer about this feature is that you can't add your own feeds, though Helio says it will add more news sources in the future. Helio's other Internet offerings include downloadable music videos and streaming video clips from TV shows, movie trailers, sports shows, and so forth, with more to come. You can download music videos at $2.50 a pop, and the streaming is free. We were very impressed with the audio quality of the clips, thanks to the built-in full-duplex stereo speakers, but as with most video-capable phones, the clips still looked a little blurry and faded.
While Helio doesn't have its own music store at this time, you may choose to upload your tunes via a USB connection. In order to transfer them to your phone, you'll have to download the free Media Mover application from Helio's Web site. Media Mover is extremely user-friendly, and we transferred MP3s from the PC to the Hero with ease. The music sounded crisp and clear whether we listened with the included earbuds or the phone's stereo speakers. You can also upload WMV and AVI movies, and the software will translate them into the appropriate format for the phone. Do note, however, that the Hero supports only MP3, AAC, WMV, and AVI formats. The capacity also depends on the size of your TransFlash card, as the internal memory of the phone is capped at 70MB.
The Hero's 2-megapixel camera produced decent pictures: a little blurry but still far beyond the VGA-quality photos of most camera phones and a touch better than photos from a 1.3-megapixel camera. You can take pictures in one of three resolutions (320x240, 240x320, and 240x180), five white-balance settings (Auto, Outside, Cloudy, Fluorescent, and Bulb), three quality settings (Super Fine, Fine, Normal), a multishot mode (up to 9 shots), and five camera modes (Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Portrait-Landscape, and Night), as well as with flash or no flash and six effects (None, Gray, Sepia, Purple, Blue, Green). You can also set the self-timer, turn on or off the preview screen, choose a Ready Sound (such as "Cheese!"), and set the shutter sound. The video recorder took expectedly low-res videos at 176x144 resolution.
The Helio phone is rife with customization options. You can also download more ring tones and graphics from Helio's store. Two games are included on the mobile--Lost Sister and a MidnightPool3D demo--but you can download more as well.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) Hero in San Francisco using Helio's service. Call quality was great on both ends, and callers said they couldn't tell we were on a cell phone. Once again, the stereo speakers really helped and made the speakerphone stand out among the competition. The Helio Hero comes with a wired headset made specifically for the phone, as well as an adapter in case you want to use your own. Downloads were speedy, as was the streaming media, though it took a little while to get started. We also experienced the occasional system lag when navigating through multiple menus.
The Helio Hero has a rated talk time of 3 hours and a tested talk time of 2 hours, 50 minutes. The rated standby time is 8 days but we got 10 days in our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Hero has a digital SAR rating of 1.3 watts per kilogram.