Review: Helio Heat packs loads of features into a slim body

We do reviews! It's Review Week here at SCI FI Tech, which means we'll be bringing you hands-on write-ups of gadgets both big and small every day. Adam Frucci kicks off the week by getting connected with Helio's new slick slider phone, the Heat.

Helio is a unique animal in the U.S. cell-phone marketplace. A relatively new player in the field, Helio has a very specific customer in mind, and it isn't your mom or tech-unsaavy brother. No, they're gunning for the young, hip and plugged in. They want people who are looking for more from a phone than just calls — the people who want something that's both stylish and powerful. The best example of this mindset is the new Heat, a phone that's both stuffed to the gills with features and as slick and sexy as they come.

Looks Good to Me
The Heat is one of the slickest looking phones I've seen. Slim, small and a smooth slider, it barely takes up any room in your pocket and fits well in your hand. It's surprisingly light, almost to the point where you worry you'll break it. It has touch-sensitive buttons on the front, and when you slide it up you reveal a standard numerical keypad. The touch buttons, similar to those found on the LG Chocolate phone, take getting used to. The lack of tactile feedback means you need to wait and see if your input registers, and button presses often take multiple tries. Then, when you aren't trying to hit one, you'll inevitably accidentally hit the back key and screw up what you were trying to do. While the sensitivity is adjustable, it still leaves you wanting regular old buttons.

Featured Features
The real selling points of this phone are the unique features that it comes packed with. One of my favorites is GPS with integrated Google Maps, allowing you to see exactly where you are whenever you want. It has the same familiar interface as the Web version, and you can get directions or find businesses with it easily. It's a great thing to have when traveling in an unfamiliar or confusing part of town, and I found myself pulling it out all the time.

You can also use the Buddy Beacon feature with the GPS, although it requires your friends to also have GPS-capable Helio phones. This makes its use pretty limited for most people, but in theory the ability to figure out where your friends are is a cool one.

The 3G Web access comes in handy when you want to do something like check your e-mail. The speed isn't exactly mind-blowing, but it's quick enough. Gmail works great, although the ability to get POP3 e-mail on the phone would be nice. There are lots of sites that have specially designed versions especially for Helio, such as MySpace, Digg, and Wikipedia. Generally these are kind of neat, but nothing that I ended up using all too often. Also, the lack of a QWERTY keyboard makes surfing the mobile Web kind of annoying. Checking your Gmail is a snap, but actually writing an e-mail is a tedious affair due to the limited functionality of the numerical keyboard.

One cool feature, however, is the ability to take a photo using the phone's built-in 1.3-megapixel camera and upload it directly to your MySpace account using HelioUP. The phone slaps a Helio watermark on the photo, which is kind of annoying, but it's a really cool way to cut out the steps of transferring the photo to your computer and then uploading it to the Web. Plus, the camera is pretty decent considering it's stuck on a phone, and the ability to fiddle with settings such as white balance make it feel like more than just a toy.

Balancing Act
The Heat is a great, well-rounded phone. While its lack of a QWERTY keyboard limits is usefulness as an Internet device, it keeps a very low profile by not having one. It's basically a fashion phone that has way more features than your standard fashion phone. Couple that with Helio's unique flat-rate plans, which include all the texting, picture mail and data transfer you can eat for a stable monthly price, and it's the perfect choice for people who want to dabble with checking their e-mail, getting directions, and sending photos on the go without worrying about racking up huge bills. While people who want more serious e-mail functionality might want to go with a BlackBerry or a Sidekick (or wait a couple months for Helio's new Ocean to arrive), those who want to be able to casually use high-end phone features can't go wrong with the Heat.