Editor's Note: As of August 2006, Helio has released an update to the Kickflip that adds an instant-messaging feature to the phone. It was not available at the time of this review.
Along with the Hero, the Kickflip is one of two models released by brand-new cell phone carrier Helio, which launched in May 2006. A joint effort by EarthLink and Korea-based SK Telecom, Helio is a mobile virtual network operator that rides on Sprint's high-speed EV-DO network, while offering its own line of phones and services. It appears to be targeting the younger crowd with its hip marketing campaign focused on Web and multimedia features, as well as the phones' unique and stylish user interface. Helio also ups its youth appeal with a feature exclusive to its phones: integrated access to the mobile version of MySpace, the popular social networking site. Manufactured by Korean company VK Mobile, the Kickflip shares many similarities with the Hero in terms of features but certainly not in design. It's definitely the slimmer and sexier of the two and is probably the one to get if you're considering a Helio phone. The Kickflip costs $250, which we find rather expensive, especially when you factor in Helio's monthly fees and its target demographic.
The cute and curvy Helio Kickflip is one of the more fashionable phones we've seen to date. Perhaps taking some style points from the iPod, the Kickflip has a very minimalist body; it's pearly white with silver accents around the sides, and its front face is graced by only its large display when closed. While the Kickflip won't compete with the Razr in terms of thinness, it's a pocketable phone, measuring 3.88 by 1.96 by 0.98 inches and weighing 4.47 ounces. Its rounded corners and overall curves resulted in a cozy feel in the hand, though when open, it feels a little awkward held up to the ear. The Kickflip lives up to its name; the phone's swiveling action results in a very satisfying "kick" when it swings open and close, either to the right or to the left.
As we mentioned, the display on this phone is quite large, measuring about 2.2 inches diagonally. Showing off 262,000 colors and a 240x320 resolution, the QVGA screen is marvelously sharp and saturated with color. Unfortunately, it didn't fare so well in sunlight, where we were hard-pressed to see anything without shielding the screen. On the left spine of the phone are the volume buttons, a TV-out port, and a USB port, while the bottom has a Micro SD card slot and a headset jack. The right spine is home to a dedicated camera button, as well as music player controls such as rewind, play/pause, and fast-forward. The latter gives the Kickflip an advantage over the Hero, which doesn't have dedicated player buttons. On the back of the phone, you'll find the camera lens with a flash. Sitting on top of the lens is the macro mode toggle, which you can turn on to take better close-up shots--a great feature not normally found on camera phones. There's also a self-portrait mirror on the back, but it's accessible only when the phone is open.
When open, the phone reveals the keypad and the navigational controls. The navigational controls consist of two soft keys, a four-way navigation toggle, and a middle OK key marked with the Helio logo. The toggle acts as a shortcut to the browser, applications, video and music, text messaging, and the Helio on Top service. Below these controls are the Send and power/End keys, followed by a voice-recorder button and a Back button. The numeric keypad is arranged in a grid, and all buttons yielded easily to pressure and were textured enough to navigate and dial by feel. The user interface is exactly the same as the Hero's, and you can read more about it in our review.
The Kickflip's feature set is also very similar to that of the Hero. You get a 2-megapixel camera with flash, the wireless browser, a music player, a voice recorder, a speakerphone, vibrate mode, EV-DO support, and a video player and recorder. The address book can hold as many as 1,200 contacts (compared to the Hero's 500), each of which can accommodate five numbers, two e-mail addresses, a birthday, an anniversary date, a memo, and photo caller ID. You can also organize your contacts into groups and assign them with one of 21 polyphonic ring tones. There are the usual text- and multimedia-messaging features, but sadly, the phone doesn't support instant messaging--a huge oversight for a phone designed for the younger crowd. Rounding out the features are e-mail, a calendar, an alarm, a calculator, world time, and a notepad. Like the Hero, the Kickflip doesn't have Bluetooth, which we found similarly disappointing.