First Helio Fin Review and Full Gallery

IMG_1239.jpgThe Fin clamshell is Helio's best looking piece of hardware, bar none. (And pun intended.) Samsung's Ultra designers made sure of that, giving the phone an 11.4mm thick profile, OLED external screen, and sturdy magnesium shell, making it almost as thin as an iPhone, but not quite as slim as a candybar like the Sony Ericsson W880i. The software is Helio's latest as well. The Fin's OS is the same as the older sliders, but it's tweaked to near Ocean standards. It has the generous email/IM client. The camera can upload via HelioUp to Flickr and Youtube with geotags. And it has access to the amazing Garmin turn-by-turn GPS application that organizes local searches by distance from you and your handset, and the voice nav even reads street names. The only thing missing, compared to the Ocean, Helio's Hiptop Killer? is Exchange support, which is coming soon. And obviously, the QWERTY.

Which brings me to the keypad. Like the Ocean (despite it being made by Pantec, this by Samsung) it has a vague, spongy feel. This was confirmed by those of us on staff not using iPhones the rest of the time. The keys don't click, and with the flat, keyless face, it's hard to tell where your finger is on the keypad without using the two little nubs as reference, or looking. Thankfully, the keys are big, and I'm sure with enough time, one could get used to this sort of layout. There is a play/pause button and a camera button hardcoded above the dialpad.

Like the Ocean, Bluetooth is still crippled, as the send photo feature doesn't work for me when testing it with a Mac or PC. It'll work with headsets and stereo headsets for audiostreaming, too.

There is no way to get images off the device except by saving to memory card, or sending them to Flickr. I'll test their desktop software in a bit and update this post. (Justin from Helio tells me it has contact and image sync, and the software is Samsung's.)

The camera itself takes shots at over 2000 pixels wide, at 3MP, and in good light, the color is great, the image sharp, but the grain is overwhelming.

Helio's Hot service is great, and its launch was timed with the launch of the Fin. The other handsets, except the Ocean, can make use of this free RSS reader that can accept up to 10 feeds at once, and display them across your phone's idle page. Very useful. Check out the screenshots in our gallery to see what it looks like, but basically, it's a headline, and image. It auto-checks every 15 minutes, or can be refreshed manually. I love anything that makes use of the phone's main display while it's passive.

The Fin can use Garmin's amazing mobile software. It mimes the clean UI of the touchscreen full-sized GPS devices, utilizing the internet and the phone's location awareness to do a pretty freaking good job of GPS on a phone. You can search for nearby stores, banks, airports, whatever, and sort by proximity to your current location. That's cool, and even cooler, the list of points of interest seems to poll from the internet, meaning that the list will always be pretty up to date. Then there's this turn-by-turn service, which is amazing because it has voice prompts that read street names. Many full standalone GPS devices don't even have this, but if you're going to keep your eyes on the road, voice commands with street names are critical. Lovely.

The speakers on this device are incredibly loud for such a slim device. The speakers, stereo, are on the bottom of the handset. Used with Helio's over-the-wire music service, which has a LOT of songs, I'm happy with the music prowess of this phone, even more so than other Helio handsets. The headphone/mic set uses the Samsung data port and not a standard minijack, but you can, as I've said above, use bluetooth headsets and stereo earphones instead. Good stuff. Except that this phone only has 100MB of storage, and doesn't come with a microSD card. For $175, ok. But maybe this should have been $199 with a 1 or 2GB card. Tough call.

Lo! It charges by USB! (Ocean does, but slowly.) Yay! But jacking in by USB doesn't provide any mass storage capability other than a lousy 16MB of storage firewalled from the phone's images and music. Boo!

The screen is nice, 320 by 240, but there's a great little OLED screen on the outside. Two color, I believe. It shows track names, when music is playing, but mostly message alerts, signal strength, battery, and the time.

I like this phone far more than the Drift or Heat. The Ocean is much fatter, but with the QWERTY and widescreen modes, it is far better at taking advantage of the beefy features like YouTube and IM. I'll call this the only non-Ocean Helio you should consider, but the Ocean remains my primary choice. Unless I'm wearing tight jeans. What else do you want to know? [Helio]

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