There was so much tp talk to Helio about, we kept several of their people busy long past our allotted time, and held a another captive for an extra half hour while we took pictures and had him give us a video tour of the Helio phone software and interface. Helio actually hired the designers of the Hiptop interface to create their UI, and he has made sure that every screen of their phones is both good-looking and easy to use.
(The photos below are from an early version of the software. Scroll down to the video for the full experience.)
Helio will launch its first two phones - the Kickflip and Hero - this Spring, and will add two, or possibly three more to the lineup by year's end.
When Helio launches they won't just sell the phones online like many of the recent MVNOs, instead they will launch pop-up stores at high end youth boutiques around the country, such as Huf in San Francisco. When you stop in to buy a pair of fresh kicks, you'll be able to play with the phones and even take one home with you.
The Kickflip and Hero share most their features - 2 megapixel cameras, MicroSD card slots, QVGA screens and media player. Despite the hip, tech-savvy crowd Helio hopes to attract, neither of their first two phones offer Bluetooth.
Even though they share many features, the phones are different. The Hero is the powerhouse. It adds a graphics co-processor for faster video and better gameplay.
It is the larger and heavier of the two and looks a bit Borg-like. There are silver buttons and speaker grills sticking out of the black body at various odd angles. None of these bits and bobs stick out enough to make the Hero uncomfortable to use or hold, but they certainly don't give it the same clean look as the Kickflip. Like any good slider, there are navigation keys on the face and a keypad with hexagonal keys below - further enhancing the Borg-like appearance.
The Kickflip is physically the opposite of the Hero. It is white and smooth. Although Helio describes the finish as "pearlescent", the effect is very subtle and not nearly as feminine as it might sound.
There are no controls on the face of the Kickflip, which swivels in either direction to open. The spring-assisted spinner mechanism has an addictive quality. The Kickflip is also just plain sexy. The nifty swivel hinge and clean, smooth shape makes makes the Kickflip a hard phone to put down; you just want to keep playing with it.
While the Hero packs extra power, the Kickflip packs a secret of its own - video out. You can plug the Kickflip directly into a TV and see pictures, videos and movies on the big screen.
In addition to obsessively documenting the phones themselves, we recorded tons of footage of the software. For your sake, we've edited it down to a few highlights here: