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Preview: Helio Drift

Article Comments  33  

Nov 10, 2006, 2:50 PM   by Eric Lin

A hands-on preview of the Samsung Drift for Helio, including a demo of Google Maps with LBS and more.


Helio's first two phones were easy to spot from far away - they were models no one had seen in the States before - or since. The Drift is not quite as unique. People probably will not spot you as a Helio user from across the room - unless you have the white or you are using the phone and the screen is on.

The Drift is small rectangle with sides that bulge out slightly so the phone fits more comfortably in the hand. It is a has the familiar shape as many Samsung sliders have a very similar form. While it is certainly thinner than previous Helio handsets, and at least as thin as modern CDMA phones, it not as thin as Samsung's 800 series sliders on T-Mobile or Cingular. And the Drift looks and feels very small. It doesn't take up much space in your hand or your pocket, especially for a feature-packed phone with a QVGA screen.

Although the Drift is entirely plastic, it feels solid. There are no creaks or apparent weaknesses. The slide is smooth and a has a spring assist for a nice snap open or closed.

Helio talked Samsung into changing the navigation keys into a more interesting, and very usable layout. The navigation and number keys have a good feel. They are not hard to press and have a nice click to them. The D-pad is initially stiffer. It is still easy to press but doesn't offer as much of click feeling. The center select button is tiny considering the size of the D-pad and a bit stiff. Sometimes, even when resting your thumb in the hollow of the D-pad where the select key sits, it is not that easy to press.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.


The software has been completely overhauled since the first two phones. Helio's new interfaces feels like a leap ahead, not only of its own previous attempts, but also of many manufacturer and carrier efforts. It is so intuitive that the first thing you will have to do is unlearn all the complicated systems you are used to. After the experience, I compared it to switching to a Mac. It's so simple that at first you're confused and frustrated because you can't do things the complicated way you're used to.

Helio has taken care to make things easier at every step of the way. At the main menu each item has two shortcuts assigned to the soft keys. So while pressing select takes you to the full menu like it normally would, you often won't need to go there since one of the soft key shortcuts will probably take you right to what you're looking for.

Helio has also changed the interface so that on every screen, select actually works as an OK key. Pressing it means "yes, do this, take me to what's next" in every case. After complicated next and back and options soft key labels on most phones, it was actually difficult to figure this out, but easy to adapt to.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

There are still a few things that are difficult to do, however at least you can do them now. For instance although the option must be selected outside the viewfinder in the general camera settings, the Drift will finally auto-save pictures you take. However new touches were added directly to the camera application - such as keyboard shortcuts to control every option.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Bluetooth is another option that while not necessarily easy to use, is finally available. The Bluetooth menu is the only place where the feature is accessible. While it is normal for technical aspects such as power, discoverability and pairing to be there, Helio also puts sending and receiving files there as well. Like the Pearl, you have to set the Drift to receive files over Bluetooth, and it can receive almost anything. Pictures, music and contacts are all put in their appropriate place on the phone. From the Bluetooth menu you can also send pictures or vCards, but not anything else. You cannot send files via Bluetooth from their native applications. Also the Drift is finally able to read mp3s, movies and pictures you load on the device yourself by using mass storage mode.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.


One of the Drift's new features, and one that will show up in more Helio phones are location based services. The Google Maps application takes advantage of the A-GPS in CDMA phones and allows you to generate driving directions to a destination based on your current location. The route is displayed over a Google-generated map and you can cycle through the instructions. However this is not a navigation application like cars or even Nextel phones have. The application does not follow your location or update the route. However it can download current freeway traffic information so you can use that to plan your route.

Don't doubt this application's usefulness, even though it does not give you constant updates. We used it to get everywhere in LA and it worked very well as long as we had some idea of where we were. The application does try to update your location when you move the map, or go to the next driving instruction, so it's not totally static. The only real caveat about using this as an in-car GPS device is that the directions are written in a tiny font. It's much safer to give the Drift to a passenger to use as a navigation aid than to try and use it yourself while driving.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Helio's other location service, Buddy Beacon, mysteriously uses Mapquest services instead of Google. When you start the application, it checks to see if any of your buddies have updated their location recently and will show you where they are both by address and on a map that includes your own location. If a buddy has not updated his location in a while, a yellow dot will appear next to his name. You can then send a request to that person to update his location. He will receive an SMS asking him to turn on his beacon so you can find him. It seems simple, but it's actually a pretty useful little tool, and certainly easier to use than Dodgeball.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

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Forum Options

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Subject Author Date
Eric, is it possible to upload "your own mp3 ringtones" to Drift? narjisse Nov 12, 2006, 10:21 PM
bogus battery life analogs Nov 17, 2006, 12:14 AM
GPS Questions Turrent Nov 23, 2006, 11:38 AM
Web Browser? Scoop3 Nov 21, 2006, 11:51 PM
The MP3 player... zXao Nov 14, 2006, 6:58 PM
About the driving direction... zXao Nov 14, 2006, 6:53 PM
External stereo speakers? zXao Nov 14, 2006, 6:50 PM
Video? Corei Nov 13, 2006, 7:00 AM
"finally" able to...? Invader J Nov 11, 2006, 3:48 PM
Is this review incomplete? Azraelalpha Nov 11, 2006, 7:33 PM
i guess white is no good Jonathanlc2005 Nov 11, 2006, 12:38 AM
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