Helio Promises Smooth Sailing With ‘Ocean’ Smartphone

Helio, the mobile communication joint venture of SK Telecom and Earthlink, has introduced a new device called “Ocean,” asserting it is the world’s first dual-slider with both a numeric keypad and a separate full QWERTY keyboard.

Expected to be available soon at a recommended price of US$295, the unit is being billed by Helio as “the ultimate social networking tool” because it offers wireless communication in about every form imaginable.

The 4.33-inch-long by 2.20-inch high and .86-inch thick device weighs under six ounces and comes with a 2.4-inch QVGA (Quarter Video Graphics Array) display, 3G EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) network support for fast downloads, more than five hours of talk time, 200 MB of internal memory that is expandable with USB Mass Storage, a two-megapixel camera with digital zoom, a video camera using MPEG-4, stereo Bluetooth wireless technology, Helio Music support and more.

All-in-One

Ocean supports instant messaging, text messaging, picture messaging and e-mails from all the major portals, ISPs and even corporate exchange servers, Helio said. It also delivers full over-the-air music and video-on-demand downloads.

The device is equipped with an HTML browser, MySpace on Helio, GPS-enabled Google Maps for mobile, Buddy Beacon and more.

“Finally, you don’t have to choose between a device that’s good for talking but a nightmare for messaging, or one that’s good at messaging but feels like you’re holding a brick up to your face when you try to make a call,” said Helio CEO Sky Dayton.

As is the case with Helio’s other units, the Ocean operates on the Sprint CDMA (code division multiple access) wireless network within the United States only.

Better Than iPhone?

As seems to be the case with many new mobile device announcement these days, Ocean is being compared to the forthcoming Apple iPhone, but NPD Group analyst Ross Rubin said such comparisons might be improper.

“Certainly some of what the iPhone does is play upon, or take advantage of, trends occurring on the supply side of the industry, things like large touch-screens, more memory and better processors,” Rubin told TechNewsWorld. “These are all enablers for the iPhone. We are certainly going to see a lot more phones with big screens … But there’s more to it when Apple designs a product than the way they look. It’s the way they function and their integration with other technology.”

Ocean is designed to compete against the T-Mobile Sidekick and a similar Samsung unit, according to Strategy Analytics analyst Neil Mawston. “One downside [to Ocean] is that it’s made by Pantech,” a South Korean company that “has low brand awareness in the U.S.,” but makes high-quality devices, he told TechNewsWorld.

Young, Monied and Talkative

Ocean appears to be an attractive device with some unusual features that are obviously designed to resonate with Helio’s target audience: young people, with lots of money, who are heavy into messaging and multimedia, Mawston explained.

“It’s a nice device,” he added. “It’s got an unusual, innovative form factor that targets nicely the key segments Helio is going after.”

Ocean is part of a trend in which wireless companies are releasing smartphones at increasingly lower prices, NPD’s Rubin said. “We’ve really started to see smartphones break into the consumer segment as prices come down and they become much more media-savvy. That is why Amp’d and Helio are starting to experiment with phones that have keyboards, for example,” he suggested.

Helio’s main competitor is EV-DO wireless provider Amp’d, the analysts claimed. Mawston wondered if either company can survive in the fierce world of mobile communication.

“Helio has fewer than 50,000 users … which is pretty small,” said Mawston. “But they’re on a slight upward bounce and they’re doing reasonably well with revenue. They have five devices now so they’re kind of heading in the right direction after a poor start. Whether they can last is still open to question.”

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