Review: Pantech Ocean 2
Phone Scoop takes an in-depth look at the Ocean 2 for Helio. Can this dual-sliding messaging phone surpass the original? With video tour.
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There's something to be said for sequels. The goal is always to supersede the original, but that's a feat rarely attained in Hollywood. While Virgin Mobile's Ocean 2 does offer up improvements compared to the original, it doesn't go quite far enough. Sure, it's thinner, but many of the features remain the same. Will those who live and die by Helio's services (such as Buddy Beacon) upgrade to the sequel?
I am just going to get this out of the way right at the get go. The Ocean 2 (O2), much like the original, is a huge phone. It is thinner, but not by enough to be really noticeable. Part of that is to blame on the O2's form factor. Making thin dual sliders is just not an easy task. Pressing three distinct layers together with moving parts and keeping the structure strong is not accomplished without giving something up. In this case, the O2 forgoes the heroin chic thinness of other phones and proudly says "I have two keypads." Not only is the O2 big, it is industrial-class heavy. Please, don't pull a Russel Crowe and hurl the O2 at anyone. If you do, it's going to leave a mark for sure.
Size and weight aside, the O2 has a lot going for it. Its soap-bar smooth edges are very comfortable to grip. The back plate has a nice soft touch paint job that gives it just the right amount of grip. With no antenna or other protrusions, it won't jab your leg if you choose to store it in your pocket.
The large display - which is somewhat smudge-prone - is surrounded by buttons. There are two above the display that are for gaming. They have good travel and feedback, though they aren't super easy to find. The only real indication you have is by feeling the seam between the button and the display casing itself. Same goes for the two soft keys just below the display. The soft keys and the send/end keys each share the same piece of plastic, with a small groove separating them. These four buttons have good travel and feedback and surround the D-pad. Below the D-pad is the back/clear key. Truthfully, it stinks. It is very small, and the ridge of the D-pad above it is so high, that it's all too easy to accidentally hit the D-pad when you mean to hit the back key.
Ah, the D-pad. The D-pad is about the size of a nickel. The circular edge is very well defined, easy to find, and has good travel and feedback. Inside the ring is an optical mouse pad / button. It was sort of maddening to figure out at first, but once you get the hang of it, it works pretty well for navigating the phone's menu. You can swipe across or up and down to move the cursor around, and then just press in to make your selection. You'd think that with Helio's circular main menu that the mouse would let you scroll around it. It doesn't. Up and down, and back and forth are your only motions.
For dialing numbers, you slide the phone up from the portrait orientation. The slider feels solid, and isn't too spring-y. The 12-key keypad is large enough to use easily. The numbers are covered in a soft touch material and each is ever-so-slightly dome shaped, making them stand out well. One thing the O2 does right is that the top row of keys is not crammed up against the top part of the phone. There is plenty of room to reach the top row with your thumb. All of the buttons had equal travel and feedback.
If you want to access the QWERTY keyboard for messaging, rotate the phone sideways and pop up the slider (you have to close up the number pad first). Opening the phone sideways automatically rotates the screen to landscape mode and you have access to a huge three-row QWERTY. Similar to the dial pad, the QWERTY is covered in one solid sheet of soft touch material. The original Ocean had separate buttons. This surface feels very good under your thumbs. The QWERTY is very wide, and feels a little cramped in the top-to-bottom dimension. I like that there is a dedicated button for smileys/emoticons. The buttons all have good travel and feedback.
The left side of the O2 houses the proprietary cable port, volume toggle and sliding mute switch. The volume toggle is placed a little bit too close to the back edge of the phone for my tastes. I found my thumb wanted to slide off of it, but the travel and feedback was good. The mute switch slides down to silence the phone completely, and up to enable sound. It chimes to let you know sound is enabled, and vibrates to let you know when it isn't.
On the right side is a dedicated camera key and a dedicated music key. I thought the music key was a little mushy, but the camera key felt good. Above both of these is a 3.5mm headset jack in the corner of the phone. The jack is slightly recessed. If you have headphones with a jack that bend 90 degrees, you may have difficulty connecting with the O2.
The back plate comes off easily if you want to get at the battery and microSD slot. I am very disappointed that the microSD slot is under the battery. No hot swapping for you.
The O2's display is nice and big, and looks good to boot. Icons and menu items are sharp and easy to read. The display was plenty bright and readable outdoors, even on sunny days. Direct sunshine combined with smudges made it less readable, but that's something that's easily worked around. Graphic-intensive web sites look fantastic, and using the display as a viewfinder for the camera is great. In all, a very good display.
As with other phones that use the Sprint network, the O2 didn't fare so great where I live. It was able to pick up only one or two bars of coverage. This didn't seem to impede the O2's ability to make phone calls or surf the web, though. I had no problems completing calls with even one bar of coverage, but our NJ "vault test" (a Shop-Rite that's a relative dead zone for most carriers) proved too much for the O2. It went totally dead in there and couldn't make/receive calls. Nor could it establish a data connection. In my signal trials around the metro NYC area, it did well for the most part. I only lost signal bars in Manhattan a couple of times when deep in the urban canyons. Signal bars or not, the NJ vault was the only place I was unable to do anything with the phone.
If you're a jerk, and turn the volume of your O2's ringer all the way up, you're really going to annoy people. It's loud and piercing. You're not going to miss calls because you didn't hear the O2. You'll even hear it over the complaints of "shut that thing up" if you forget to silence it at a restaurant. Volume in the earpiece was reasonable. I didn't have any problems hearing callers through the phone at all. Call quality was disappointing. It sounded as if you were listening through a sock. Voices were a bit muffled and muddied, though still understandable. I had several complaints from those with whom I spoke about the quality of my voice, too.
We've had the O2 less than a week. In the time we've had it, we only had to charge it once. Surfing the web, listening to music, sending messages and emails didn't seem to burden the battery too much. Turning on the Bluetooth started to sap it faster.
The Ocean 2 uses the same menu system that's been on Helio phones forever. The main menu is a circle of icons. You can navigate around either using the traditional up down left right system you would use on any grid based menu, or by continuously pressing in any single direction on the D-pad. As you cycle around the main menu icons, each soft key takes you to the two most commonly used selections for that application, while pressing select takes you to each application's main menu. Each of the selections also corresponds to a number on the dialpad.
The main menu can be set to the original Helio circle, or an updated version of the circle that takes up less real estate on the home screen and is called a dashboard. The dashboard is similar in function to the original Helio menu,m but the graphics are a bit tweaked. Once you select any of the menu items from the dashboard, menus change to simple lines that you navigate up or down to select.
The menu system is intuitive and easy to figure out. Everything is placed pretty much right where you expect it to be.
The O2 is similar to most phones when it comes to calling features. With the dialpad exposed, start typing a number and if it is stored in your contacts, it will pop up on the screen. This means you can skip dialing the entire number if you want. Once a contact or contacts comes up on the screen, just scroll down to the one you want. Selecting a number opens the contact. Here, you call call or message the contact.
In either landscape or portrait mode, the green send key opens up a list of all calls. You can filter them by tabbing sideways to see missed calls, dialed calls, etc. In-call options include being able to view call history, initiate a 3-way call, send a message and even record the call.
The contacts app is accessible directly from the home screen or the menus. Start typing either numbers or names in the contacts app or the home screen and it will begin to sort through your contacts. You can sync contacts with Helio's servers if you wish, as well as locate your contacts with Buddy Beacon. Each contact holds at least 6 numbers, and I like that you can add email addresses and your friends' IM screen names and MySpace to the contact data. Where's the Facebook, Helio?
Messaging is one of the O2's fortes. It covers nearly every form of messaging known to man. In fact, I am surprised there isn't a Morse Code tool buried somewhere in the Ultimate Inbox.
Out of the box, the O2 has email loaded for Helio Mail and Exchange, as well as POP3 emails providers Yahoo, AOL, Google, Hotmail, and EarthLink, with the ability to add more. Signing into an email account also means that you're signing into that accounts IM service (if you use it). When I logged into my Yahoo account, my IM contacts automatically populated the screen. There are three tabs, one for IM contacts, one for IM conversations, and a last one for your email.
All of the in-boxes look great on the screen. IM conversations are easy to maintain with the tabbed system, and email can be synced however often you wish. You can choose to save email addresses in your inbox as new contacts, which is handy. The O2 did have some trouble displaying HTML emails. In fact, it didn't work at all, no matter what account I signed in through. Instead, all I saw was the angle-bracketed code.
The integration of email and IM is really well done and useful if that's how you like to manage your contacts and conversations. It is very much like the desktop version (of Yahoo, anyway) so that you are logged into both services at once.
For SMS/MMS, the composition screen is very well done. You can type in addressees manually, or insert them via your contacts application. In QWERTY mode, the emoticon button brings up several different screens of graphics that can be inserted into messages.
Adding content - such as picture, video or audio files - is as simple as clicking a button.
Maybe I am just picky, but the O2's inability to support microSD cards large than 2GB is really annoying. Most of my cards are 4GB or 8GB. Sure, the O2 comes boxed with a 512MB card, but I'd prefer to be able to just pop in one of my existing cards (with all the content already loaded) and be on my way. I was out of luck.
That gripe aside, you can side-load the included card with your content or download it from Helio. I dislike that the O2 requires a proprietary Pantech data cable to attach to your computer, (where's the standard mini-USB or micro-USB?), but the cable does come in the box.
Music and video content are organized in one folder. It doesn't offer any thrilling or never-seen-before features. It's a basic music player that gets the job done. It has a nice array of EQs to choose from, including a user-adjustable one. It has a sleep timer, so you can set the phone's player to go off at a particular time if you're the type who likes to fall asleep listening to music.
Playback quality is good. I thought music sounded full and rich through my own headphones. It even sounds good through the phone's speaker, though it won't win any audiophile awards.
The camera is easy enough to operate. The dedicated button will launch the camera in about 2 seconds. The O2 snaps images in about 1 second when you press the shutter button. No auto-focus to slow things down. No flash, either.
I like the O2's camera menu. Rather than open up a slew of menus, it simply opens a dock along the bottom on the screen. Using the D-pad you can slide through the dock and make all of your adjustments while still able to see your subject. This makes adjusting the camera much faster. You can alter the brightness setting without opening the menu. In the highest resolution setting, you cannot zoom.
Upon taking a picture, you can save or trash the image, or share it through HelioUp.
It's easiest to get to the gallery from the camera. Just press the soft key that says "Review" to access your images and videos. The gallery defaults to portrait view. You have to open the phone to force it into landscape mode if that's how you want to look at your pictures. The album itself is a grid of thumbnails.
Once you open an image, you can use the D-pad to scroll through your library, or use the optical mouse to swipe sideways through the gallery.
For a 2MP camera, the photos produced by the O2 are very good. They're definitely MySpace or FaceBook worthy. Photos shot in bright sun were well balanced, had good exposure, and colors were accurately reproduced. The white balance setting seemed to get it dead on, even when shooting brightly lit white subjects in the sun. On top of that, the pictures were free of grain and very sharp.
Photos taken indoors weren't that much different. Despite the O2's lack of a flash, it did a good job of capturing indoor shots. A little bit more grain was present but not too much. The one thing to look out for is finger smudge on the camera lens. I found that it was all too easy to touch the lens with your left hand, which leads to smeared photos.
The video camera doesn't hold a candle to the still camera. Video was warped, grainy, splotchy, shaky and the sound quality was downright terrible. The video camera often recorded/embedded a strange tone. The tone seemed to appear in videos at random, turning on/off. You can hear it in our video demo.
3GPP / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 994 KB
The O2 is an apt browsing device. It has Opera preloaded, as well as the Helio browser. The Helio browser works well enough, and has a tabbed menu system that makes navigating the web pretty easy. I like how easy it is to change the view of the Web page, zoom in, show the images, see the mini map and so on. Having a search function built into the browser is also a nice touch, a it speeds up the time it takes to start searches. The history tab also works well, and shows the most recent 19 sites you've visited.
When typing in URLs, the browser will automatically insert .com, .net, etc., so you don't have to type those in. The text tool also shows you the sites you've recently keyed in to make entering the text faster.
Browsing speeds were a mixed bag with the Helio browser. Sometimes the O2 loaded pages instantly, and other times it seemed to chug on forever before bringing up a site. It didn't seem to matter what sort of network coverage was available. I had good experiences in areas with little coverage, and bad experiences in areas with good coverage. The Opera Mini browser was a bit more consistent in terms of speeds.
The O2 lets you configure a number of different aspects of the phone. Wallpapers/backgrounds are easy to set, as are customized ringtones, alerts and other noises. You can alter the view of the main menu a little bit, and control some aspects of how/where the phone stores files/data.
The Ocean 2 has access to a lot of Helio content, and that includes games and applications. Discovery (finding new stuff) isn't bad, and the Ocean 2 manages games and apps well in its menu system. It is preloaded with MySpace, Google Maps, Garmin Mobile, Buddy Beacon and more. You can also re-arrange the location of the apps in the listing.
Bluetooth is easily managed with the Ocean 2. With the main menu open, scrolling to the "settings" icon will bring up a shortcut to the Bluetooth menu via the right soft key. The menu is straightforward. I was easily able to pair with headphones, PCs, other phones and even my car. The O2 would not let me send photo or video files to my PC, but it could receive them. Sound quality through Bluetooth headsets was not that great. Since phone calls aren't stellar to begin with, adding Bluetooth to the mix only makes it worse. But, I was still able to carry on conversations. I just found myself asking, "What?!?" a lot more than I wanted to.
The O2 is an OK timepiece. You can set a multitude of different clocks as the background on the home screen. In fact, the number of clocks borders on the ridiculous. What's annoying is that you can't preview the clocks before you select them. All you can do is choose one, and then exit out to see if you like it or not.
When the phone is asleep, you have to unlock it to see the nice clock you picked out. The problem is, the unlock dialog box covers the clock entirely, so you can't see it. The quickest way to check the time is to open the phone up to automatically unlock the keys. I wish you could just quickly push any of the buttons on the phone to see the time, but you can't.
Here is a video tour of the Ocean 2. You can watch it here:
Or visit YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.
With all of its capabilities, there's no doubt that the Ocean 2 is Virgin/Helio's flagship phone for 2009. The software is well done, and the incorporated social networking and messaging features are well-matched to the form factor of the phone.
The hardware doesn't inspire us all that much. It's bigger and heavier than we prefer our phones to be, but this will surely not bother everyone. It's hard to make a dual slider much smaller than the Ocean 2. Having access to both a QWERTY and 12-key make the Ocean 2 a capable phone and one that lets you choose the fastest way for inputting whatever it is that you need to enter, with one hand or two.
The capable browser and good camera are highlights of the Ocean 2, but don't overlook it's integration with Helio services, GPS, software support and fun user interface.
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