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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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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Nov 12, 2006, 10:21 PM

Eric, is it possible to upload "your own mp3 ringtones" to Drift?

Just out of curiosity, as far as I know, you could not upload your own mp3 ringtones to Hero nor Kickflip.
Thanks in advance.
i believe that's still impossible. i haven't found a way to do it, not even a work-around.

Nov 17, 2006, 12:14 AM

bogus battery life

I've had my Drift for just a few days now and the biggest red flag so far is the battery life. It got shipped to me around noon the day I got it. I plugged it in shortly after, fully charged it (took less than an hour), and then proceeded to goof around surfing the web and playing with the GPS. By 10 PM, the battery was nearly dead.

So I charge it up overnight and bring it to work. The second day of my dear Drift's life saw just moderate text messaging, less than 30 minutes of talking, and a few minutes of entering in some of my phone numbers. Due to a busy day, I didn't have much time to do anything else with it and yet again, it was completely dead at the end of the day.

I don't know about you but I'm used to getting a solid two days...
on the first day, i didn't even get a chance to charge mine. it was at about 75% out of the box. that lasted at least two days of heavy use including lots of buddy beacon and google maps. i recharged again and use the drift infrequently. it lasted at ...

Nov 23, 2006, 11:38 AM

GPS Questions

Hey Drift-ers,

I have a few questions before I buy. Thanks in advance!

1) Is the accuracy of the GPS comparable to that of a stand-alone GPS device? How is quality affected in the city or inside a building? Could I pinpoint where on a city block I was?

2) Can you see your raw latitude and longitude?

3) Now this is a long shot: does anyone know how the you could expose your GPS coordinates to a third-party website or application on the phone? Could anyone write a program like Google did and put it on the phone?

I called Helio's customer service before I bought my Drift and asked them similar questions. Because I wasn't a customer yet, they wouldn't transfer me to tech support to answer my nerdier questions.

My first question was whether you could use the ...

Nov 21, 2006, 11:51 PM

Web Browser?


I was wondering what your initial impressions of the Web Browser... I'm a Sidekick3 user, and one of the main reasons I use the fone are for its web-browsing features^^;

I stopped by a Helio dealer today, (they didn't have a drift) and played w/ a hero to see if I would be willing to pay the $200 cancellation fee w/ T-mobile in order to get a Drift....

Unfortuantely... I found it slow, and impractical... I don't mind WAP only, but the fact that I have to exit the browser to do ANYTHING else on the fone really kills it for me... The SK3 isn't the GREATEST Multi-tasker, but I can switch between processes really easily, without having to stop one in order to do another..

Did samsung improve anything? Is it any snappier? are yo...
My experience with the web browser has been mixed. First of all, "lightning fast" (quoted from Helo's site) is still a vast exaggeration but I'm going to assume it's as fast as any other "3G" network.

So far, I haven't been able to access any form ...

Nov 14, 2006, 6:58 PM

The MP3 player...

With the Hero you can only listen to a stored mp3 while in the player app, but with most phones I've used you can listen to a song while reading a text, or checking the calender, or doing pretty much anything. The mp3 plays in the background. how is it with the drift?

(sorry for all the questions, these have been keeping me up at night!)
it took me long enough. i have good news and bad news to report about the music player setup.

first the bad news, because it answers your question. The only thing you can do while the media player is playing is send or view text messages. you canno...

Nov 14, 2006, 6:53 PM

About the driving direction...

So since it's not "real-time" location updating, like say my tom-tom, when you get directions is it more like using google maps from a pc?
yes. only you can ask it to recalculate the route if you miss a turn. you just have to manually force that. you also have to manually scroll from turn to turn.

Nov 14, 2006, 6:50 PM

External stereo speakers?

The Hero has a pretty impressive set of stereo speakers that i use a lot (mostly in the showerRazz) i was wondering if the drift has ext speakers? and if so, they any good?
It has stereo speakers.

Nov 13, 2006, 7:00 AM


Are you guys going to be doing a video on this phone? Your videos really helped when choosing between the Kickflip and Hero.. Now I'm deciding on the Drift or the Fusic... I'm leaning more toward the drift though. :-p
Invader J

Nov 11, 2006, 3:48 PM

"finally" able to...?


Just wondering, when you mention things like:

"Also the Drift is finally able to read mp3s, movies and pictures you load on the device yourself by using mass storage mode."

What exactly do you mean by "finally" - what are you comparing the Drift to? On my Hero, I have tons of movies music and photos on both my MiniSD card and the internal memory.. also, the Hero has always had the option to auto-save photos you take...

Thanks for all the great pics!
probably reffering to the same phone, except that when the phone was unveiled and tested the first time, it didn't have those features enabled yet...

Nov 11, 2006, 7:33 PM

Is this review incomplete?

i've only managed to get to the "location" tab, am i missing something, or is the article really incomplete? Paranoid
nevermind this thread, just read it's a PREVIEW...

Nov 11, 2006, 12:38 AM

i guess white is no good

on your pic with the black and white drift, the white one has no signal vs. the black with a few bars...

i guess white one is bad for all i know Laughing
Laughing Laughing Laughing That's really funny Smile
the white drift pictured is not a production model. it was a semi-working sample. helio has been working with samsung to get the color and feel of the white plastic right. the two will be the same when they're available for sale, don't fear.
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