Helio Ocean (Pantech PN-810): A Masterful Messaging Machine

Although it's the best social networking handheld so far, the Ocean is still very much a work in progress. I am encouraged enough, however, by what I see in this smartphone to give it our Editors' Choice. The Ocean, like the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 and the upcoming Apple iPhone, is essentially a closed device. Helio will provide more features over the air as time goes on, but unlike real smartphones, it doesn't let you tap into a deep array of third-party software. Nonetheless, the Ocean already has a lot to offer.

This splashy device uses Sprint's physical EV-DO network. Reception is decent and audio deep and clear, though the speakerphone may be too quiet for some. Along with the useful dual-slider design that hides both the keyboard and the numeric keypad, the most powerful feature here is the integrated messaging client. On one screen, you can access text messaging and an e-mail services from AOL, Gmail, Windows Live, and Yahoo! (in addition to the free 100MB account you get with a Helio subscription), and IM Service from AIM, Yahoo!, and MSN. IM presence information also appears in your cantact book. You can log onto all three IM services at once and also receive "push" e-mail from AOL, Yahoo!, and Windows Live. For the rest of the service, you have to download e-mail by hand, since there isn't even a scheduled polling option.

The Ocean supports Helio's integrated MySpace client and has the ability to upload photos taken with its 2-megapixel camera to MySpace. Other social-networking services will follow, promises Helio.

The Phone's full Web browser is powerful but quirky. It initially shows you sites processed through the Google Mobilizer, which boils everything down to a one-column view. You have to click a link to get to the full HTML. The Ocean's music player works well, though syncing with Windows Media Player was unreliable. I found that dragging and dropping music in Mass Storage mode was a better option.

Helio still has many features on its "to do" list. There's no local PC PIM syncing, for instance, nor can you easily sync video files with a PC. Exchange ActiveSync for mail, more push mail options, and Microsoft Office document support are also "coming soon". BlackBerry handhelds and others smartphones offer an even wider range of e-mail options, though without the MySpace connection. Still, the Ocean already outstrips other messaging-centric devices such as the LG enV and the T-Mobile Sidekick. In this hyper-social crowd, it's the queen bee.
Pantech PN-810: $295


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