Monday, October 20, 2008

More thoughts on Helio Part duex

So coming up on one year of being an owner of the Helio Ocean, and thought I would add some more thoughts on the Helio experience.

The phone:
The Helio Ocean was the cool toy, and still gets ohs from technophiles everywhere I go, and other than the relative thickness of the device it still looks and feels cool. The dual slider is just intrinsically interesting and I struggle to not play with it for fear of wearing it out (more on that later). The buttons all still work, and still feel as tactile as the day I bought the phone. The only concern I have for the phone is the occasional reboot on closing the device that makes me think that the mechanical contact is somehow a wear piece. Other than that I find the features I expect to work, work well all the time. I use my phone for mobile information, texting, directions (I am directionally challenged so I love Google maps with gps), and last but not least taking pictures.

The software:
This has not really been updated since I received it has held up well, though I do long for the old version of Buddy Beacon as the new one is too cumbersome to really be cool. Using opera mini has mad the web very usable on the tiny screen, and other than Facebook not working pretty much at all, I have had very little trouble doing reasonable things on the internet. I am sure if I hated myself I could even blog on the little bugger. I am still annoyed by the data appearing to come out of Norway, and as everything switches to Geolocation this may become more of a problem, but until then it seems ok for light surfing of low dynamic media sites ala or The Register if you like to read the news after the slashdotters have taken down the servers hosting whatever was interesting enough to be posted about in the first place.

The youtube app, is really a novelty and I cannot decide if that is a complement or not. It seems nice in theory, and I really have streamed lots of video on it I just cannot bring myself to say that I couldn't live without it. I suppose that has always been youtube's problem though so in a way the app to me is just as good as the actual site, which is to say, eh. I guess I would have to try and live with the iPhone and its lack of such a thing to see if it was a killer app, but I know that not having Pandora internet radio on the darn phone is very sad indeed. I am willing to bet that my ocean has plenty enough processing power to run that app if any of the Motorola phones can run it, and I know the network can handle it.

Google maps. I don't even know where to begin with how many times this app has prevented a fight while driving, or gotten me somewhere when I strayed (accidentally) from the directions. I went to a friends wedding in San Fransisco (Lafayette but close enough) and we had written down some directions to get to their house, well we missed a turn and ended up damn near in Oakland and we would have been very late to their home had I not had my phone and great data coverage. I have helped strangers find places that I have never heard of in my own city, much to their amusement, and really have never had a single complaint about this feature except when there is no data coverage. I have recently noticed that the directions now tell me which side of the street my destination is on, which may the best improvement to the software on the phone ever.

The music player works about as well as can be expected, I have no real complaints about how the music player functions, mostly I complain about how it limits you from doing anything else, unless you want to browse the internet using the near worthless Helio browser. I bought a pair of Motorola S9 wireless Bluetooth headphones to listen to music on, and was impressed by the features and limitations of them. In short I am underwhelmed, but they work well in my house for other things.

The Camera software has an rather odd habit of forgetting my resolution settings (I am guessing it has to do with changing the slide state of the phone) the camera works well. What does not work so well is sending pictures, as the damn engineers didn't make it so you could send pictures that are on external storage. In short that is the dumbest thing I have ever encountered, it makes having external storage virtually useless and should be fixed on all Helio phones as soon as Helio is done being digested by Virgin.

Games are not worth your time, if this is a make or break feature for you move along, nothing to see here. Theoretically any Java app will work, but given the almost 6 months it took me to get into the damn developers program I can only imagine why not one is developing for this phone. That and some other phones I am sure you have heard of are stealing all the limelight probably have something to do with it.

Finally other software of note, there is a stopwatch that I find useful, a calculator that does what it needs to, and a less then impressive unit converter. I may be the only one on planet earth that uses the unit converter constantly, but ever since my cheap Samsung x495 that had the best unit converter ever, I have not been satisfied by poor implementations of this feature.

I still find the hardware of the Ocean to be good, and interesting even in the post iPhone age. The dual slider is still just inherently interesting, and the snap close feels satisfying. The buttons all give good enough feedback to let you know you pressed something, and the device has taken its lumps well. The matte finish feels good in the hand and not cheap, or slippery, and the damage it takes from falls it not terribly noticeable. My only complaint is the girth of this sucker. It is kind of huge, and heavy in my coat pocket.

Without coverage you are SOL and hard, this phone may as well be a brick and the software is all but useless. In my home I have a very hard time making and receiving calls because on the coverage map I am in a trough. The nearest tower to me is blocked from line of site by a large hill and as such coverage sucks. To be fair, ATT has just as poor of coverage in my home, but they are less likely to drop calls. I was interested in the Sprint Airave but because they want to tie it to a Sprint line of service and I get service from a MNVO that operates on their network, this was a no go.

Final thoughts:
In all I am still mostly satisfied with the phone and the services that are offered for what we are paying, and I can hardly imagine how I got along without the data packages before. I would say that I could very likely get away with a 5gb data cap on my phone, given that you cannot tether and web pages are painfully slow loading through opera, in fact the only way you could reasonably rack up data usage is to use the youtube app, and the novelty of that fades relatively quickly. At the half way mark on our contract I can honestly say that unless Helio does some serious innovation we will be moving back onto one of the other carriers when the opportunity comes.

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