Helio Drift Review

February 19th, 2007

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Here’s my Helio Drift review. It got delayed a while because I had mixed feelings about the Drift and was unsure about my conclusions. Make sure you check out my Drift picture gallery for pictures related to this review.

The Drift is Helio’s newest phone. It has similar features to the Hero and Kickflip plus it throws in stereo Bluetooth support so you can use it with Bluetooth headsets and headphones.

Physical Impressions:

While the drift isn’t a flimsy phone, it doesn’t have that ‘dense plastic feel’ that other Samsung phones have. Still, despite this and despite the fact that it’s a sliding phone, the Drift passes my squeeze test with flying colours. Some of this is due to the fact that the Drift’s battery cover is built into the battery.

Size-wise the Drift is a lot smaller than the Hero. Look at the gallery pics to see what I mean.

While the keys are a good size and easy to find the placement of, the back button is awful. Whenever you press down on a button there’s a very good chance that you’ll also get the back button. It’s truly maddening.

There are a bunch of buttons on the side but there are also a lot of slot covers which makes things a bit confusing. On the left you have a volume, play/pause, voice and a memory card slot cover. On the right you have a headset jack, charging port and camera button.

The display is nice, big and easy to look at.

The battery release button is on the bottom. I found it was far too easy to accidentally pop the battery off if you close it by holding the phone with your thumb on the bottom and your middle finger on the top.

Hands-free usage:

You get a speakerphone, 2.5mm headset connector (on the right) and support for Bluetooth headsets.

Miscellaneous:

There is 128MB of built-in memory which is a lot but you can easily get MicroSD cards that are way bigger then that. The MicroSD slot is located behind a door on the left side.

Menus:

The top level menu has been customized so that it resembles the menu on other Helio phones. It’s laid out in a 3 x 3 icon grid.

If you press the buttons really quickly when you’re navigating the menu, it can be little confusing. Here’s what I’m talking about (it’s a little hard to understand). If you’re at the standby screen, go to the menu and press right rapidly. You will first move right, then you will start scrolling around the outer menu choices in a clockwise pattern. The same thing goes if you press left. So sometimes left is right and vice versa. However, if you stop pressing for a second, then the menu will operate more predictably in that if you press left then you’ll move left and vice versa. It’s really strange – an answer to a question no one asked.

The display has a resolution of 240×320 so icons and text look great. When you’re entering numbers the text is very large.

I don’t normally mention this but I liked the sounds the Drift makes when you open/close it, press the buttons, etc. They’re interesting without sounding too silly.

The top and second level menus are easy enough to use but sometimes I found it kind of confusing to change settings. Take the alarm clock for example. There are all these choices but there’s no on screen choice to save (to save press the center button on the nav pad).

Phone Related Features:

When you’re dialing a number, the Drift will look for matches in your recent calls list and phonebook which is kind of neat. If you’ve ever used a Microsoft Smartphone (now named Windows Mobile) you can liken it to Smartdial.

The phonebook can store up to 1000 numbers. You can sync the phonebook with your PC using PCLink Pro. There’s no Outlook sync but you can import Outlook contacts into PCLink Pro. Phonebook entries can be organized into groups.

There’s also an over the air phonebook sync that I didn’t get a chance to try.

Connected Features:

There’s a USB cable in the box plus the Drift supports Bluetooth.

You can download both PC Sync software and file management software for free download on Helio’s site. PC Sync software lets you sync the Drift’s phonebook with the software. You can IMPORT your MS Outlook phonebook into the software which you can then sync with the Drift but you CAN’T sync the phone with Outlook directly.

When it comes to transferring stuff to the Drift, it clocked in at about 123KB/S (72.2MB in 590 seconds) which is really slow.

There appears to be Bluetooth support to send and receive files or connect your laptop to the internet but those features appear to have been disabled.

There’s no built-in email client but there is a link to Helio’s online email service.

You can download Helio’s H.O.T. app which turns your phone into somewhat of a RSS reader. It’s different from other RSS readers in that it takes over your standby screen and automatically updates the feeds as you’re using it. It works well – I found it pretty useful when I was taking the bus.

The browser is pretty standard fare. You can’t use it to browse HTML sites.

Multimedia Features:

If you want to use your PC to transfer music and videos to the Drift you’ll need to download Helio Media Mover. You can’t just take the MicroSD card, pop it in your memory card reader and copy mp3′s to it. Instead Media Mover has to first convert all your music to mp4′s and videos to 3g2 files which is kind of annoying since it can take a while. It’s like iTunes when copying files to your iPod in this respect.

It’s a compromise. I hated having to wait for my files to be re-encoded but I liked how Media Mover can handle both music and video plus it’s a pretty simple program to use. I also liked how it would resize your videos.

There is a side mounted play button which is useful if you’re doing something else and want to pause… unfortunately you can only really access the text messaging menu when you’re listening to music which is totally lame. Also, the side mounted buttons are locked when you close the drift so if you want to pause playback you have to press and hold pause for a second or two and then tell the Drift you want to unlock the keys.

Stereo Bluetooth support seems pretty standard. If you have a pair of A2DP headphones, you can start the musicplayer by pressing play. The A2DP buttons (play, pause, volume, skip forwards/backwards) work even when the Drift is closed.

I said it before but I’ll say it again. It totally sucks that you can’t listen to music and say use H.O.T. at the same time.

The camera has a resolution of 2.0 megapixels. There’s a flash and a self portrait mirror. Like most camera phones, pictures looked great when viewed on screen but they’re not so hot when you download them to your computer. There’s pretty good resolution but pictures are quite noisy. Colour balance varies but it’s generally okay.

The camera takes a few seconds to start up. I liked the camera user interface; it gives you a lot of information without seeming cluttered. It’s also responsive and there are numeric shortcuts for popular functions.

Pictures can be transferred to your PC using PCLink Pro. You can also save the pictures to your MicroSD which you can then pop into your computer.

Organizer Features:

Included is a calendar, to-do list, wake-up call, alarm, calculator, world time, unit converter, notepad, stopwatch, user memory and voice memo.

The calendar and to-do list sync with your computer using PCLink Pro but don’t sync with MS Outlook. I also don’t see the Drift on Apple’s iSync webpage (support for it will probably turn up much later based on Apple’s previous track record).

I’m not sure what the difference is between wake-up and the alarm clock.

It’s nice to see that there is a built-in unit converter.

Impressions:

RF performance is so-so. The Drift is programmed so that if you’re in an area where Sprint has a weak signal, it will constantly be trying to get on to Sprint which can be bad for service.

Sound quality is average. It doesn’t sound as clean as some other CDMA phones but it does sound more lively.

Conclusion:

I thought the Drift’s battery could be better. I’m basing that comment on my experiences with the Drift when I’m in the States (when I use the Drift in Canada it’s constantly look for it’s home network so of course battery life is going to be bad).

While the Drift has a nice spec sheet, I didn’t feel it worked all that well. Most of this is due to the fact that the music player sucks because you can’t multi-task (besides text messaging) when you’re using it.

The back button was a constant source of annoyance and was one of the reasons why my Drift review took longer than usual. I just couldn’t stand the device because I was constantly hitting back by accident.

I’m not crazy about the Drift. When I think about it, it’s not that bad a phone but it doesn’t really make me want to use it like some phones can.

Ratings (out of 5)
Build Quality 3.5
Battery Life 3
Phone Related Features 3.5
Ease of Use 3
RF Performance 3.5
Degree of Customizability 3
Overall (not an average) 3
*Please note these ratings are temporal and are really only valid for the date they were assigned. A phone which receives a rating of 5 a year ago will probably get a lower rating today.

Pros:

  • A2DP Bluetooth support
  • Large display
  • Lots of built-in memory

Cons:

  • Back button is inconveniently placed
  • No background music play

Discuss this review at HowardForums.com
See the gallery here
Written by Howard Chui 02.19.2007
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

Entry Filed under: Reviews,Site News

2 Comments Add your own

    Claude King  |  March 15th, 2007 at 6:25 am

    Found your review odf this unit to be good, i.e. a real review. Prospective buyers are greatly assisted by people like you. If you never did, you should do one on the Nokia N80. I find that reviewers tend to come across as if they are paid by the manufacturers. I have had an N80 for a few days now, and my conclusion is that it must be one of the worst designed phones & software around. The text on the user interface for example is so small, people with very basic eye problems cannot use it. This is just one example of it’s bad design.

    Regards.

    Claude King

    Craig  |  January 12th, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Helio Drift is hot. I would definately get it over the Helio Heat any day.

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