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Helio Ocean: First impressions

Helio Ocean: First impressions

Helio Ocean's QWERTY keyboard
Helio Ocean's QWERTY keyboard CNET
Helio has wide-ranging messaging and email capabilities
Helio has wide-ranging messaging and e-mail capabilities CNET
Helio Ocean compared to Sidekick 3, opened
Helio Ocean compared to Sidekick 3, opened CNET
T-Mobile Sidekick 3 on the left, Helio Ocean on the right
T-Mobile Sidekick 3 on the left, Helio Ocean on the right CNET

We sat in with Sky Dayton, CEO of Helio, earlier today, and he gave us the full rundown of the Helio Ocean. We even had the chance to play with it a little, and so far, we're very impressed.

As we mentioned in Crave yesterday, the Helio Ocean is a triple-deckered phone with a number keypad layer that slides down, and a QWERTY keyboard layer that slides sideways. It's rather bulky as a result, but not as bad as I initially thought. The 2.4-inch QVGA screen is great for watching video, the keyboard is nice and spacious, and it simply feels good in the hand. We even took a few photos of the Helio Ocean to compare it with T-Mobile's Sidekick 3, which could be considered a competing device.

The real showstopper seems to be in the Ocean's messaging and Internet capabilities. You'll have access to POP/IMAP e-mail, all the major Web mail services, plus you can get corporate e-mail via Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. And if you're a fan of instant messaging, you can bring up an entry from the contacts list and immediately see if your friend is logged in (provided you entered his/her IM name in his/her phonebook profile). The full HTML browser is pretty neat too--you can blow a page up to its original size or shrink it to fit the screen.

Another thing we really liked is the Ocean's smart search feature. If you want to do a quick search on something, all you need to do is slide out the keyboard, type a keyword, and hit Enter. You'll be brought directly from the default home screen to the browser, and a page of all relevant search results from Google, Yahoo, and Wikipedia will immediately load. If you entered in a name in your contacts list instead, the phone is smart enough to direct you to it, and prompt you if you want to make a call. We only had a few minutes to play with this, so I'm sure there are several more details we're missing.

Of course, we've only scratched the surface of the phone's features. Packed with EV-DO support, a 2.0-megapixel camera, a music player (which supports Microsoft's PlaysForSure), and much more, the Ocean is certainly a sign that Helio is dipping its toe in the all-in-one convergence device market. Be sure to read our related CNET article about what this means for Helio's future.

As for us, we look forward to having more time to tinker with the Ocean in the near future so that we can provide you with the full review. Check back with us later this spring, when it finally launches for $295 with a two-year contract.