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Helio Heat review: Helio Heat

Helio Heat

Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
Nicole Lee
7 min read


Helio Heat

The Good

The Helio Heat is a sleek and compact slider handset that comes packed with features such as a megapixel camera, a music player, EV-DO access, and built-in GPS. It also comes with support for Helio Music.

The Bad

The Helio Heat has unintuitive electrostatic touch-sensitive buttons that took a bit of training to use. It doesn't have a microSD card slot, and the speakerphone sound was mediocre.

The Bottom Line

The Helio Heat is a decent affordable alternative to the Drift, but the tradeoffs are high. Even though we were willing to forgive its low-grade speakerphone and lack of microSD card slot due to its lower price tag, the mediocre sound quality and unintuitive touchpad buttons might be enough to make you plunk down the extra cash for the Drift instead.

Helio is by far one of the sexiest MVNOs on the market today, thanks to the company's innovative marketing campaign, the slick user interface on its Korean-made phones, and supported features such as MySpace Mobile access. Late last year, Helio upped the ante on its handset offerings when it introduced the admirable Helio Drift, the company's first ever handset with built-in GPS technology for applications like Google Maps for Mobile and Buddy Beacon, Helio's friend-locator service. And now the company goes in another direction with a lower-end version of the Drift called the Helio Heat. It has a more streamlined design and still has the built-in GPS, but we weren't fans of the electrostatic touchpad buttons. That said, the Heat is markedly less expensive than the Drift at $150 (the Drift is $225), making it the cheapest phone in Helio's lineup. It also comes in both Onyx Black and Gold colors.

If the Helio Drift had a face-lift and a tummy tuck, the result would look very much like the Helio Heat. While they are both Samsung sliders, the Heat is slimmer and sleeker than the more staid-looking Drift. Measuring 3.6x1.8x0.6 inch and weighing 3.17 ounces, the Heat doesn't quite have the curves of the Drift, but it makes up for that with its smooth corners and compact design. On the other hand, its slight glossy finish does make it more prone to fingerprint smudges. Thanks to its small shape, it fits neatly in the hand as well as in the pocket. We found it best to push the bottom end of the phone upward to slide the handset open. As for closing it, there is a slight raise on the upper edge of the top navigation button that your thumb can use as an anchor to slide the phone downward. It was easy to perform both maneuvers with one hand.

The Helio Heat has an electrostatic touchpad.

Though rather small at 1.99 inches, the QVGA 262,000-color screen on the Helio Heat still managed to wow us with excellent image quality. Colors looked really sharp on the screen, which came in handy when scrolling through Helio's colorful menu interface. As on all Helio phones, the interface on the Heat was easy to use, with graphical menu icons arranged in a circle. The phone's left spine is home to a volume rocker and a play/pause button for the media player. The end/power key and dedicated camera buttons are on the right spine, while the 1.3-megapixel camera lens, a self-portrait mirror, and flash are on the back of the phone when the slider is open.

The Helio Heat has a 1.3-megapixel camera.

While the four-way navigation toggle below the display consists of normal keys, all the other controls are touch sensitive. Similar to those found on the LG VX8500 Chocolate, these "buttons" don't have a tactile feel and can be seen and activated only when the phone is powered on. There are two soft keys, the send key, the back key, and dedicated music player controls. As with most touch-sensitive keys, there was nothing to delineate one key to the next because of the flat surface. What's more, the lack of tactile feedback resulted in quite a few mistakes; either we found we were tapping a button too many times or not enough times, and this was after we had fiddled around with the touch-sensitivity settings. Also, the touchpad locks up on you if the phone is closed and when you're on a call to prevent accidental misdials. While this is commendable, it also means we either have to press the play/pause button to break the lock or slide the phone open if it was closed.

As for the navigation toggle, it doubles as a shortcut for the Web browser, the games folder, messaging, and the video and music folder, plus there's also the middle confirmation key. As with the Chocolate--the end/power key's location on the spine is inconvenient. We kept hitting the back control when we tried to hang up a call. The alphanumeric keypad is revealed when the phone is slid upward. While the keys are rather flat, there was still some texture in between each key, which allowed us to dial easily and with confidence.

As we mentioned before, the Heat is a lower-end version of the Drift, meaning its feature set is not quite as robust. That said, the Heat still delivers some impressive offerings. As for the basics, the Heat's address book can hold up to 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for five numbers, an e-mail address, a birth date, a home address, and a memo. Each contact also can be assigned a caller group, a photo or video for caller ID, and one of 27 polyphonic ringtones. Other features of the phone include text and multimedia messaging, instant messaging, e-mail, a speakerphone, a vibrate mode, speed-dialing, a calendar, a to-do list, a wake-up call feature, an alarm clock. The phone also has a calculator, a world clock, a unit converter, a notepad, a stopwatch, a voice memo recorder, a wireless Web browser, stereo Bluetooth support, high speed 3G/EV-DO speeds, USB mass storage mode, and built-in GPS technology. As with the Drift, this built-in GPS allows Helio to offer location-based applications such as Google Maps for Mobile, a miniaturized version of Google Maps with traffic information and driving directions, and Buddy Beacon, a Helio-branded friend locator service that works by broadcasting your location to your friends and vice versa. A more detailed description of these services can be found in our review of the Helio Drift.

Like all of the other Helio phones, the Heat has great MySpace Mobile integration plus a wide array of broadband offerings like Yahoo Search, shortcuts to sites like CNN and Digg, video and audio streaming from TV shows (content partners include ABC, MTV, and FOX), and music videos. If you wish to download the content in its entirety, you can purchase music videos for $2.50 each, ringtones for $1.00 each, and video ringers (ringtones in video form) for $2.99 each. There also is an optional dynamic newsfeed aggregator called Helio On Top (H.O.T.) that displays the latest headlines from select outlets like Yahoo News and Sports Illustrated. We were a bit disappointed that you couldn't add your own desired newsfeeds into the application. You can read a more detailed version of these services in our review of Helio's other phones, the Hero and the Kickflip.

The Heat also is the first Helio phone to provide access to its brand new Helio Music store. Launched in February 2007, it's similar to the music service offered by Verizon's V Cast Music. You can download a song to your PC for 99 cents, of which you can then upload to your phone later, or you can download an over-the-air song for $1.99 and then transfer it to your home PC later on. And in a unique Helio twist, you also can "gift" a song to your friends or "beg" for a song from them. (You can "gift" and "beg" other content too, such as a music video or a ringtone.) Of course, you also can upload your own existing collection of MP3s to the Heat via Helio's free MediaMover application. Unfortunately, the Heat only comes with 136MB of internal memory and does not have a microSD card slot, which is severely limiting for a music phone. We were quite impressed with the sound quality of the music when heard with the provided earbuds--the audio sounded loud and clear, though not nearly as good as from a dedicated MP3 player. Without the earbuds, the music sounded tinny and muffled when played via the phone's built-in speakers.

The Helio Heat took pretty good pictures.

The Heat comes with a 1.3-megapixel camera, which is a step down from the Drift's 2-megapixel offering, but understandable since the Heat is positioned as a lower-tier model. Camera settings include image resolution (1280x960, 800x600, 640x480, 320x240, 240x240), quality (Super Fine, Fine, Normal), brightness, white balance (auto, daylight, cloudy, incandescent, and fluorescent), lighting (normal, spotlight), color effects, photo frames, a self timer, a flash, up to 9x zoom, and sounds for the shutter and the self-timer (all the sounds can be turned off if desired). As for the video camera settings, you could adjust the frame rate, the white balance, lighting, a mute control, color effects, and brightness. As we mentioned, the Heat comes with only 136MB of internal memory, so there isn't much room to store a large chunk of photos or videos. The resulting quality of the photos was pretty good, with not a lot of blur and good color saturation. Video quality did not fare so well however, as it was quite choppy and low res. The Helio Heat also comes with a Photo Studio in the phone itself that lets you edit the photos by resizing, rotating, flipping, stretching, or swirling the images, or by adding filters, effects, stickers, fades, and overlays in the videos.

There is no shortage of personalization options with the Heat. Not only can you purchase and download additional graphics for wallpaper and screensavers, you also can get alerts, ringtones, video ringers, and much more from the Helio store. The Heat comes with three games--Gameloft Mega Hits, Monopoly Here and Now, and a trial version of 3D Fortune Gold--and you always can get more from Helio as well.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) Heat in San Francisco using Helio's service. While we heard our callers loud and clear, we did hear quite a bit of hiss and static, which definitely tipped our callers off that we were using a cell phone. Speakerphone quality was all right, but the audio did sound a bit tinny. We managed to pair the Heat with the Gennum nx6000 Bluetooth headset without a hitch, and audio quality heard through the headset was decent. As far as the EV-DO speeds go, we managed to download files quite quickly--a song we purchased from Helio Music downloaded in mere seconds. We experienced some lag when streaming videos and the quality wasn't as good as we would like, but we didn't experience any buffering issues when watching clips. The Helio Heat has a rated talk time of three hours and a rated standby time of eight days. According to FCC radiation tests, the Heat has a digital SAR rating of 1.46 watts per kilogram.