THE Helio Fin Review

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What’s the old saying, ‘thin is in’? Yeah, that sounds about right. Who likes a fatty, anyways? And who the h-e-double hockey sticks wants a clamshell? I need QWERTY like a crack whore needs, well, crack. I wasn’t too thrilled when I found out about Helio’s Fin a few weeks back. A clamshell? Seriously WTF? Was someone freebasing over at the Helio House? You’ve got one of the coolest UIs on the market, you just released one of the freshest smartphones the world has seen and you follow that up with a clamshell? Do I sound disappointed? You bet, but not anymore.

I’ve never owned a flip phone in my entire life. They’ve always been candy bar form factors. It’s a waste of energy to have to flip open your phone when you could just start typing away at it, right? This holds true for a number of reasons. Everyone has their beef with clamshells, so ponder that for a moment and then throw them out the window. The Fin will change your mind because of its simplistic design and Helio’s bitchin suite of apps.

Updates after the jump.

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It’s taken me over a day to get used to the Fin and a non-QWERTY keyboard. It’s not as painful as I thought it would be to type on a standard numerical pad. I certainly don’t have to drive and text anymore, which used to be a pet peeve. Oh, I know, it’s dangerous but I’ve stopped. Not because I don’t own a car anymore. Wait. No, that is the reason. The point is that it’s not that bad. I completely forget about that altogether when I’m cruising through the Fin’s UI. It’s very much the same thing Helio owners have grown to love and certainly one that’s tinkled my fancy on the Ocean. I think this blows the Ocean out of the water, though. That was really bad wasn’t it? You can’t take the Ocean out of the water. The water makes up the Ocean. I’m so silly.

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The keypad is sort of like the RAZRs without the rubber accents, which make me wonder what I’m hitting when I’m not looking at the phone. The buttons don’t give me the feedback I’m used to, but I’ve gotten used to it. If it weren’t for the directional pad the whole thing would be one smooth surface besides the nubbins on the ‘5’ key. That’s not to say the directional pad is protruding, but it’s silver with the flame icon smack dab in the center. Dark navy and silver go well together. The keyboard is extremely responsive without any lag. There are two dedicated keys for the music player and camera. The directional pad acts as a shortcut for the Web, your messaging center, games/apps and the entire Helio UI although it defaults to the camera+video section. It essentially eliminates the need for a Menu button.

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The design, at least for me, is the biggest selling point. I’ve carried around the Fin in one pocket and the Ocean or Sidekick 3 in the other and it makes a huge difference. The Fin is so light and thin that I forget it’s there while the chunky boys make me ‘happy to see you’. There’s really nothing special about the outside of the Helio and that’s why I like it. The sleek magnesium alloy body, 4.06×2.04×0.45-inches, only weighs 3.35oz, which is the equivalent to Motorola’s RAZR. The front cover has a 3-megapixel camera and a tiny display that gives me the vitals. It’s not overly flaming and decked out with a huge display like other clamshells. I just need to know whether I have any messages, the time, signal strength, how much battery life is left and who’s calling me. I don’t need to see a flashing icon making stupid noises and sucking up battery life. It’s clean and sleek. There are only two external buttons for volume. Even the back plate is tastefully done with a screened Samsung logo and Helio’s logo. Well done to both of you.

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The 3-megapixel camera performed a lot better then I first anticipated. Not that an LED flash makes for better photos on a mobile phone camera, but it certainly helps and the Fin is sans one so it made me worry. No need to sweat over such things. Samsung is obviously at the top of their game.

There’s a slew of options for the camera that include a wide range of resolutions starting at 320×240 all the way up to 2048×1536. Quality goes from normal, to fine to Super fine. The white balance is also adjustable and that seems to be standard on most high-end camera phones of late. Lighting is also adjustable from normal, to spotlight to center. The Fin also has the option to take normal color pics as well as grayscale, sepia, green, aqua, and negative photos. I don’t use built-in frames, but there are 20 cheesy and cute frames that make it look like you’re snorkeling under water or stuck in some Strawberry-Shortcake-like hell. There are six modes to take photos or videos; still shot, series shot, divide shot, night shot, video (normal) or video for MMS. The divide shot is pretty rad because you can take six different photos and make your own collages. There’s also a 2-, 5- or 10-second timer.

The video camera resolution is either 176×144 or 320×240 and you can adjust the fps from 7 to 14 or vice versa. White balance can also be adjusted along with lighting and you have the option of recording audio if you want. The same effects apply to video as well. All this can be seen via the bright and crisp 2.3-inch screen.

Keep in mind that photos and video are instantly uploaded to Flickr and YouTube via HelioUP in case the 100MB internal memory and 4GB compatible microSD aren’t sufficient enough for you. Your photos are even geotagged thanks to the built-in GPS.

Remember the Opera browser hack running on the Ocean? It works like a charm on the Fin. The external speakers are so, so, but I’ve been plugging in earbuds via Samsung’s proprietary charger/headphone port, so I’m ok with that. H.O.T. is available on the Fin and that’s…hot. RSS feeds on your home screen, anyone? Garmin has also jumped on board to provide turn-by-turn directions. Awesome.

I have to touch on the boring stuff because it’s actually not boring and worth a mention. The missed event app is killer and does exactly what the name implies, fills you in on missed calls, VM and messages if you’ve been detached from your Fin. Your total number of missed events is also displayed on the external screen. The Fin allows you to customize the ‘dial style’ to display keystrokes with LEDs, ink pen strokes, memo pads or no effects at all. It’s cute, fun and makes you stand out from the crowd. The only thing that irritates me about the Fin is evident when typing a message and jumping to the symbol insert screen and jumping back to your message because it changes the text input to Korean. I know what it says, but the general public does not.

So what’s my take on the Fin? It’s tempting enough that I can put away my Sidekick 3, but maybe not the Ocean. After all, I can switch devices on the fly via my Helio account online. The phone works wonderfully and that’s the most important part. Helio’s UI is idiot proof and the Fin just seems to work better than the Ocean somehow. It does everything that my Ocean can do minus MS Exchange, but that’s ok because I don’t need that anymore and I can always switch. Scrolling through the menus is flawless and it doesn’t seem to bog down and irritate me like other clamshells *cough*RAZR*cough*. My only gripe is that you can’t run the browser in the background. Oh well. It’s thin and all I can say is the Fin is in.

Updates: The Fin takes about 2.5 hours to charge back up from a dead battery. That’s pretty quick, but the lower half of the keypad gets pretty toasty.

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