The number keypad is definitely improved over the original. No longer flat, the Ocean 2's keypad has nice defined ridges and all the keys are raised above the surface. There's also a lot more room between the bottom row of the keypad and the lip of the phone. Similarly, the QWERTY keyboard is improved as well, with a more spacious layout and bigger keys. We were able to thumb-type text messages quickly without a lot of mistakes. Our only complaint is that the spacebar is located between the V and B keys instead of underneath them, so it takes some getting used to.
The Helio Ocean 2 is big on size as well as features. Indeed, the Ocean 2 is one of the most feature-rich handsets we've ever had the pleasure of using. But before we delve into that, let's get started with the essentials. The Ocean 2 comes with a quite generous 4,500 entry address book with room in each entry for six phone numbers, four e-mail addresses, three instant-messenger usernames (for Yahoo, AOL, Windows Live, and Google Talk), a MySpace ID, a Web site URL, a street address, notes, and details like title and company information. You can assign contacts to groups, or pair them with a photo or one of 19 polyphonic ringtones. If you enter in your contacts' IM handles, you can then see if they're online when you scroll through the contacts list.
Other basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, voice commands and dialing, instant messaging, a calendar, an alarm clock, a calculator, a to-do list, a notepad, a stopwatch, a wake-up call alarm, an alarm clock, a world clock, a tip calculator, a voice memo recorder, a unit converter, and a speakerphone. More advanced features include PC syncing, a USB mass storage mode, plenty of e-mail and messaging options, built-in GPS, EV-DO, over-the-air address book sync, and stereo Bluetooth support.
As with the original Ocean, the Ocean 2 comes with a full HTML browser, but the Ocean 2 improved on it by adding tabbed browsing, page zoom, and a mini map. With tabbed browsing, you can bring up a tab view that lets you scroll through all your open tabs, similar to the interface on the iPhone's Safari. We also like that there's a text-only mode that will help load pages faster, and we like that you have access to typical browser options such as Find in Page, Refresh, Save Screen, and more. The optical sensor touchpad makes it easier to scroll through Web pages, but it does get tiresome after awhile because of the lack of screen real estate. Another nitpick is that we would like some kind of Home or End function so you can quickly return to the top or bottom of a long Web page. The Helio browser is proprietary, but you also have the option of using Opera Mini on the Ocean 2 if you don't like it.
To go along with the new browser is something new called Helio Connect. This feature brings one-click access to multiple social networks and media-sharing sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr. You can also use Helio Connect to set up a built-in RSS reader with your desired newsfeeds. To get started, just access the Helio Connect page by pressing the optical sensor. From there, you enter in your log-in information to any of the social networks or set up your RSS reader. After that, you never need to enter that information in again; you're just automatically logged in. Helio Connect also has an Activity tab where you can view all the latest activity from your social networks and RSS feeds.
Since it has GPS, the Helio Ocean 2 comes with a wide variety of location-based applications and services. They include Google Maps, which has traffic information, step-by-step driving directions, and an integrated search engine for local businesses; Garmin Mobile, a full-featured GPS application with moving turn-by-turn directions; Buddy Beacon, Helio's friend-locator service; and Microsoft's TellMe, a GPS-based search with voice recognition so you can tell it to "Find me the nearest gas station" and it'll bring up the information for you. Plus there's a whole set of WHERE widgets that'll help you find relevant local information like a local pub finder or the cheapest gas station, which are all integrated into the Helio's browser.
One of the highlights of the Ocean 2 is that it has a messaging dashboard interface Helio calls the Ultimate Inbox. This in-box incorporates access to all the major Web e-mail services (Yahoo, AOL, MSN Hotmail, Gmail), Helio Mail, EarthLink Mail, all of your own personal POP3 or IMAP e-mail accounts, all your IM messages, and all your text and multimedia messages, compiled in one convenient dashboard. It even supports Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync for corporate e-mail, contacts, and calendar entries.
Like the original Ocean, the Ocean 2 comes with a Smart Dialer feature. Simply type in whatever contact name you want, and the Ocean 2 will bring up that contact's phone number so you can either call or text him or her. If you choose to type in something completely different, you can then hit Search and the phone will bring up a page full of relevant search results from Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, and Yelp. The latter is especially useful when you're looking up a restaurant location and you want to use the Ocean 2's GPS functionality to find out how to get there.
Now on to the multimedia features. The Ocean 2 has a pretty decent music player, with features like shuffle and repeat, preset equalizer settings, a sleep timer, and the capability to add and edit your own playlists. It supports WMA, MP3, and AAC audio formats. We're a little disappointed that the Ocean 2 does not have external music player keys, but it's not a huge deal breaker. The player interface is pretty simple, with the album art in the middle and the typical player controls along the bottom. You can load music onto the Ocean 2 via the PC sync software or you can purchase and download music from the Helio Music store for about $1.99 each--the price includes a PC download as well. Speaking of the Helio Store, you can also download or stream video clips from content partners such as NBC and ESPN. The Ocean 2 has a nice 2GB of internal storage but you can always download more to the microSD card.
We're a little disappointed that the Ocean 2 didn't bump up the camera to a 3-megapixel shooter, but the 2-megapixel camera isn't too bad. Settings include six resolutions (up to 1,600x1,200 pixels), three quality settings, five white balance presets, a night mode, a self-timer, five color effects, geotagging, multishot mode, and fun photo frames. Photo quality was not too different from the previous Ocean. Images seem sharp, but the colors look a bit washed out. We also miss having a flash. After you take the photo, you can either save it for later or upload it to any of your media sharing sites via HelioUp (like Flickr, Facebook, or MySpace). You can then add tags or descriptions to the photo, even the aforementioned geotag metadata.
If you want to customize the Ocean 2, you will have plenty of options. Not only can you change the wallpaper and screensaver, but you can also change the sounds and alert tones of everything from key presses to the slider action. You can save any Web image from the browser and make that the wallpaper if you wish, and you can use any MP3 you want as a ringtone. But if that's not enough, you can purchase and download more as well as "answer ringers" (ringtones your callers hear) and "video ringers" (short video clips that play for incoming calls) from the Helio Store. The Ocean 2 comes with a few games--demo versions of Midnight Pool 3D, Brain Challenge, Guitar Rock Tour, Big Trouble on Little Earth, Age of Empires III, and 3D Fortune Golf--but again, you can download more if you want.
We tested the Helio Ocean 2 in San Francisco using Virgin Mobile's service. Call quality was amazing; our callers said it was close to landline quality, with nary a static or blip. Even when we used the speakerphone, call quality was loud and clear, and our callers couldn't even tell we were on speakerphone. We also had no problems being understood by automated voice recognition systems.
Music quality was impressive as well. The speaker quality doesn't really do justice to the music though, since there's not a lot of bass and it sounds a bit hollow, so we would recommend using a headset for better quality.
As for EV-DO speeds, we're quite impressed with how fast we were able to load Web pages and download music. For example, we downloaded a 4-minute song in just under a minute, which is quite speedy. We also managed to stream video without a lot of buffering, but the video clips themselves look a bit grainy.
The Helio Ocean 2 has a rated battery life of 5.4 hours talk time and up to 10 days standby time. It has a tested talk time of 6 hours and 45 minutes. According to the FCC, it has a