Helio Ocean review: Helio Ocean

Unfortunately, there's no WiFi, but the EV-DO support makes up for that. The Ocean's built-in GPS support allows for applications like Google Maps for Mobile and Buddy Beacon (Helio's friend locator service). Please read our review of the Helio Drift for our take on these services.

One of the highlights by far on the Helio Ocean is its stellar array of messaging and Internet features. The Ocean incorporates access to all the major Web mail services (Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, MSN Hotmail, GMail), plus Helio Mail and Earthlink Mail all in one integrated messaging dashboard. Though it was not available in our test, Helio plans to add push e-mail from these Web e-mail services later on. Future plans also include Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync support for corporate e-mail, calendar entries, and contacts. Undoubtedly this will be the killer application for a lot of mobile professionals. You then can add additional personal POP3/IMAP e-mail accounts if you wish. The messaging dashboard also provides one-touch access to all the instant-messenger services like AIM, Yahoo, and Windows Live Messenger.

But the messaging dashboard isn't the only avenue to the IM application. If you have contacts with saved instant-messenger IDs, you can take advantage of the Ocean's unique "Presence Detection" feature that lets you see your friends who are online. Simply type in the contact's name from the home screen, and Helio's "Smart Dialer" will show the person's full contact information and icons to show whether your friend is online. We really loved this feature since it makes messaging so efficient.

The Smart Dialer also has a very smart direct search feature. Just type a Web search keyword from the phone's home screen, and you'll get a Web page full of relevant search results from a variety of sources. For example, we searched for "Britney Spears" and were presented instantly with results for downloadable ringtones and music from the Helio store, images from the Web, Wikipedia entries, and more. And thanks to the Ocean's built-in GPS functionality, you easily can search for nearby restaurants. We tried typing in "sushi," and it asked us if we were interested in finding a sushi restaurant in our neighborhood. Plus, there's a Yelp search tab in case we wanted to read the restaurant reviews as well. This rich array of search options is incredibly impressive and is quite possibly the ultimate reason to get the Ocean. And best of all, the full HTML browser on the Ocean makes surfing the Web a breeze. You can view and save Web images to the device, blow up a Web page to its original size, or shrink it to fit the screen.

Thanks to its EV-DO support, the Helio Ocean provides easy access to Helio's video/audio download and streaming service. You can purchase music via the Helio Music store and stream short video clips of TV shows and movie trailers. A song costs $1.99 each, and you can download it over the air as well as on a PC. The music player has a fairly basic user interface but it supports WMA, MP3, and AAC audio formats. The external music player controls are a big plus as they make it easy for us to switch through different tracks without a lot of menu navigation. Other music player features include six preset equalizer settings, shuffle and repeat, a sleep timer, plus the ability to add and edit your own playlists. We should note that though you can listen to music while surfing the Web, you can't do so when IMing your friends--quite a downside in our book. The Ocean also supports MPEG-4 and H.264 video formats for viewing on its built-in video player.

The Ocean has a 2.0-megapixel camera with plenty of settings. They include eight resolutions (up to 1600x1200), eight shot modes, three quality settings, five white balance settings, a self-timer of up to 10 seconds, five color effects, photo frames, four different preview modes, and the choice of internal or external storage. Photo quality seemed a little blurry and washed out for a 2.0-megapixel camera, especially in low light. After you take the photo, you can either save it or send it to a friend, or upload your photos to Helio's server via Helio Up. The Ocean has an impressive 200MB of internal storage, and it has a microSD card slot for more space. If you choose to upload it via Helio Up, you can add tags and descriptions to the photo, even GPS geotagged metadata.

The Helio Ocean took mediocre photos.
The Ocean's camcorder has a few settings including three recording modes (Normal, MMS length, or an Idle Screen Movie for use as an animated wallpaper), two resolution settings (170x144 and 320x240), and a host of other options similar to the still camera. Video quality was lacking, as it couldn't handle quick movements, and the moving images seemed a bit washed out.

Those seeking personalization options will have a field day with the Helio Ocean. Since you can save any Web image to the device, you can choose anything you see online as your wallpaper. If you wish, you also can purchase and download plenty of graphics like wallpaper and screensavers, ringtones, alert sounds, "answer ringers" (ringtones your callers hear), "video ringers" (short video clips that play for incoming calls), and more. Helio Ocean only comes with one game--Gameloft Mega Hits--but you can always download more as well.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) Helio Ocean in San Francisco using Helio's service. Call quality was spectacular, and callers couldn't even tell we were using a cell phone. There was a bit of wind noise when we were outside, but it wasn't too much of a deterrent. We also had no problem being understood by automated caller systems. We paired the Ocean with the Plantronics Pulsar 260 stereo Bluetooth headset and were able to stream music easily.

Speakerphone audio quality was loud and clear as well, with plenty of volume, but it's important to note that if you answer a call while the Ocean is in landscape mode, the speakerphone will automatically turn on. The idea is you probably don't want to be holding up the phone to your face while it's in messaging mode. However, once you change the Ocean to portrait mode, the speakerphone will automatically turn off and you can resume talking on the phone as usual.

As we mentioned earlier, music quality was pretty good when heard through the stereo Bluetooth headset. Though the stereo speakers emitted quality sound as well, we much prefer the headset for better clarity.

We were quite impressed with the EV-DO speeds on the device. We were able to download a four-minute song within a minute and a half, which is fairly fast. Streaming video seemed quite hassle-free as well, with little to no buffering. The video quality still seemed rather grainy and pixilated however, and it sometimes took a while for the video to load.

The Helio Ocean has a rated battery life of up to 5.1 hours of talk time and up to 15 hours of music playback time. Our tests revealed 5 hours and 11 minutes of talk time. It has a rated standby time of seven days.

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    Where to Buy

    Helio Ocean

    Part Number: CNETHelioOcean

    As Reviewed: $295

    Check manufacturer's site for availability

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    • Service Provider Helio