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printed September 2, 2014
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CTIA 2007

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Ocean HTC Alcatel more LG  

Helio CEO Sky Dayton said that the Ocean is the phone he was dreaming up before he even started Helio. Not all of us can be so lucky to see our dream phone become reality, but Helio is hoping Sky's dreams are pretty close to yours.

When you first pick up the Ocean, it's probably not going to be as small or as light as you think - maybe just because Helio's last two phones were so small and light. It's significantly more pocket-friendly than the Sidekick - it is smaller and lighter - but no one will call it tiny.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Helio has eschewed the trend towards shinier and shinier devices, coating the front and back in matte black rubberized finish. Rounded sides and edges further make Ocean feel small and like the coating, make you just want to grab the phone in your hand.

It takes about 3 seconds before you figure out how the slide works. If you're holding the Ocean in your hand like you would a regular phone, pushing the screen up reveals the numeric keypad beneath. When you're holding it sideways, pushing up on the sides of the Ocean reveals the keyboard beneath.

The QWERTY keyboard is only a 3 row keyboard, which means that the space bar is included in the bottom row of keys, however the arrangement was not difficult to use. Helio includes a dedicated key for the @ symbol on the keyboard, a clear homage to the SideKick heritage of its designer.

Because the Ocean works in both portrait and landscape mode, all of the software has been redesigned to work both ways. In landscape mode, there are more shortcuts in the main menu to take advantage of the additional buttons (there are four soft keys on the Ocean's face), elsewhere applications will display information differently depending on what mode the phone is in.

Helio has updated three of its main applications for the Ocean, mostly to make the most of the new keyboard. There are also new features in a few other applications like the camera. Even though the Ocean is not technically a smartphone, since it doesn't run an independent, open operating system, it sure acts like one.

The new messaging application has probably undergone the most radical change. Not only does it include text and MMS, but it also includes access to every major email and IM service including AIM, Yahoo!, Live and Gmail. The messaging application can also sync with your own mail accounts including ones on Exchange servers.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The contacts application has been redesigned and re-written. You can now sync from a variety of sources other than My Helio including Yahoo! address book as well as Exchange servers. The address book features a new contact card view, as well as showing whether your contacts are on IM in the contact list.

The browser can be used to surf WAP or HTML websites without Helio trying any fancy tricks back at their servers like they've done with past phones. The browser just surfs to the site and displays it pretty accurately - just like on Windows Mobile or on the new S60 web application. It also features a single column view and mini-map like a smartphone browser. But the Ocean has even more tricks up its sleeve. When browsing in desktop view, you can zoom the whole web page in or out, and it redraws almost instantly. You can also just choose to browse through the images on a page - if you're looking for a new wallpaper or other picture.

There are other welcome improvements like the ability to instantly upload pictures you take to a new photo sharing site and tag with with keywords or even your GPS location. As well as the ability to surf while playing music in addition to text messaging. Though we're still a bit sad that you can't do absolutely everything while listening to your tunes. But then, Sky was sad about that too, so who knows, maybe that will be in his next dream phone.

In the meantime, the Ocean isn't just something most people will "make do" with, it's something that the people who got to see it seem to be falling in love with.

Helio was only showing the Ocean by invitation behind closed doors, much the same way Apple has showed off the iPhone. Which led us to draw an interesting parallel between the two. They each are only being shown to a limited number of people. They each have a unique feature set that really appeals to regular people and not just phone geeks. And they each were the talk of the show they were shown at (CES and CTIA), even though neither was actually shown on the floor of that show.

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