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Review: Helio Hero By Ben Patterson, Friday 26 May 2006  E-mail story  Print story 
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This bulky black-and-silver slider – the second of two EV-DO handsets from virtual carrier Helio – boasts a 2-megapixel camera, streaming video and the ability to post photos on MySpace. Can the Hero soar above its 3G competitors?

Helio Hero

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Virtual 3G carrier Helio made a splash earlier this month when it launched its EV-DO service and a pair of slick, Korean-made handsets: the elegant Kickflip spinner (which we recently reviewed) and the eye-catching Hero slider. With their 2-megapixel cameras, feature-packed media players and sleek form factors, the Kickflip and the Hero showed plenty of promise. But the Hero comes saddled with many of the Kickflip's drawbacks, such as iffy calling features, fuzzy snapshots, and undercooked messaging abilities, and we're still underwhelmed by Helio's nascent multimedia library.

Is that a rocket in your pocket?

While the pearlescent Kickflip was the picture of elegance and subtlety, the Hero is a big, bulky, high-tech delight: nerds of all ages will get a kick out of it. Measuring 4.3 by 1.9 by 1 inches, this black-and-silver slider makes quite an impression, what with its 2.2-inch LCD, twin dome-shaped speakers, bold camera lens assembly and flashing navigation keys. The Hero makes a good-sized bulge in a jeans pocket, and at 4.73 ounces it isn't exactly featherweight.

The Hero slides open with a smooth, solid spring, revealing the silver hexagonal-shaped numeric keys. While the keys themselves are wide and flat, they're arranged in a "V" pattern that (initially, at least) confounded our thumbs. The five-way navigational mouse is easy enough to use (and backlit to boot), and it's flanked by the usual soft and talk/end keys, while the back control is just beneath. On the right edge of the phone is a slot for the TransFlash memory-expansion slot (covered by a hard plastic flap), while dedicated volume level, voice memo and camera buttons sit on the left edge. Unfortunately, while the volume control pulls up the phone’s various volume setting, it won’t change the phone volume while you're in a call; instead, you must tap the mouse, which can be awkward while trying to chat. Finally, one-touch video and music buttons flank the LCD up near the top of the phone. Missing in action is the cool video-out port we found on the Kickflip.

Sharp screen, dull finish

The 2.2-inch, 262,000-color LCD is quite a sight. With its 240 x 320 resolution, our snapshots and images looked razor-sharp, with no pixel lines that we could see. Unfortunately, the dull plastic coating over the LCD diminished its impact, even after we cleaned the screen with a felt cloth. And while the Hero's main menu looks slick enough, the submenus looked disappointingly crude compared to the Kickflip’s sleek UI.

The dual-mode Hero (800/1900 EV-DO) comes with most of the calling features you'd expect, including a speakerphone, voice memos, and three-way calling. However, there's no voice calling, and conference calls are clunky; you can’t switch back and forth between callers, and you can’t hang up on one caller without losing both calls. There's also no Bluetooth, which means you can't make calls with a wireless headset. The Hero's address book holds only about 500 contacts (compared to 1,200 on the Kickflip), but you can wirelessly sync your PIM info at Helio's Web e-mail site, or with the upcoming PC sync utility (which should be ready in a few weeks, according to a Helio rep).

As with the Kickflip, messaging options on the Hero could be better. You can send text and picture messages via SMS or MMS, but there’s no support for POP or IMAP e-mail, and there’s no on-board IM client. There are links to various e-mail services – such as Yahoo Mail and Helio's own e-mail service – in the Hero's WAP browser, but you can easily access those from any WAP-enabled handset.

Get your MySpace to go

Back on the plus side, the Hero shares the Kickflip's solid integration with social networking site MySpace. You can log into your account, check your MySpace email, post to your MySpace blog or bulletin board, browse your friends' profiles and even find new buddies to add. Unfortunately, posting photos to your profile or blog isn't a one-step deal. Instead of just taking a picture and selecting "Blog This" from a drop-down menu (as you can with some Sony Ericsson cameraphones), you must compose an MMS and send the message to the number 87; then you log into your MySpace account, begin a new blog posting, browse for and add the new image, and select Post – a tedious process, to say the least.

We weren't that pleased with the Kickflip's 2MP camera, which suffered from foggy and washed-out looking photos – and unfortunately, the Hero delivers more of the same. Our pictures looked disappointingly soft and hazy, far from what we'd expect in a 2-megapixel cameraphone, while our video captures looked murky and jumbled, which is pretty standard (you can shoot video at a resolution of 640 x 480, albeit at about 10fps). We did appreciate the sliding lens cover, and you get a solid set of camera features, including brightness and white-balance settings, an LED flash, a multishot mode, 4X digital zoom, a self timer (2, 5, and 10 seconds), and color effects.

What's on TV?

Helio still has work to do with its budding multimedia library. For now, there are no songs available for purchase (although a music store is coming eventually, according to our Helio rep), and while a few hundred full-length music videos (at $2.50 a pop) are available, we'd rather browse the hundreds of thousands of songs in the respective music stores of Sprint and Verizon Wireless. You can also stream video clips from the likes of ABC (including snippets from Jimmy Kimmel Live, Lost, Grey's Anatomy, and oddball clips from ABC News), Fox Sports, Fox Soccer, extreme sports clips from Fuel TV, auto racing from Speed TV, Rocketboom video podcasts, and Adult Swim – a fair selection, but we’ve seen better.

Craving more tunes and videos? Just download the Helio Media Mover from Helio's Web site. This terrific utility transfers your MP3s, AACs (the unprotected variety, of course) and videos to the Hero. Just select the files you want to move and the Media Mover automatically converts them for use on the Hero (our MPEG and AVI video files worked fine, but we had no luck with Quicktime MOV files). Very nice.

Gifts that keep on giving

Also cool is the Hero's ability to "gift" or "beg" for games, videos, and apps (a feature also found on the Kickflip). See a video that a Helio buddy might like? Just click Gift and enter their phone number to send it to them – or, by the same token, click Beg and ask a friend to please, please, please send you that cool new 3D shooter. Even better, both the Hero and the Kickflip let you rent games for 99 cents a week – a great way to test-drive a game before plunking down five or six bucks.

We tested the Hero in New York City; our calls sounded loud and clear, and our buddies said they could hear us just fine. The Hero's speakerphone sounded a bit tinny, but no worse than those on most other phones we've tested. Battery life on the Hero was considerably better than the Kickflip; we got north of four hours of talk time and about six days of standby time, well above the Kickflip’s 2.75 talk time hours and mere 3.5 days of standby time.


Pros:

Bright, detailed display; can gift, beg for and rent videos and games; solid MySpace integration; impressive PC utility for importing music and video; good battery life
Cons:

Bulky and heavy; no external volume rocker; no Bluetooth; weak messaging features; skimpy multimedia content (for now); hazy snapshots; no voice calling and iffy conference calling
Conclusion:
The bulky but high tech-looking Hero slider suffers from many of the same problems that plague the Helio Kickflip: limited messaging options, no Bluetooth, a sub-par 2MP camera, lackluster calling features and weak multimedia content from Helio's mobile storefront. That said, a few key features – such as the ability to gift, beg, and rent content and the phone's MySpace integration – show some promise.
71%
Good


Price and availability

Available in the U.S. (Helio) in May 2006, the Helio Hero is priced at $275 .

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