Helio Fin by Samsung

It seems Helio has orchestrated yet another collaboration with Korean phone manufacturer Samsung. Helio, already boasting two Samsung sliders in its portfolio, the Drift and the Heat, is trying to maintain its cutting edge reputation when it comes to its devices. Changing things up a bit this time, Helio has introduced a flip style handset, the Samsung Fin.

This good looking and extremely thin (12mm/0.5") 3G handset has very sharp angles and attractive lines. The Fin's magnesium body is draped in a dark blue hue throughout, though Helio's TV and print advertisements for the Fin tend to make it look a bit lighter and bluer in color than it really is. Though thin, the Fin's grippy edges make it easy to hold onto even when opened. The Fin is solidly built with a sturdy flip top that seems to have no play or sway - definitely a design that should be able to endure everyday use.

On the outside of the Fin is where you will find the phone's extremely small external display, a 16 character OLED screen that sits high on the flip's front, just below the lens of the 3 megapixel camera. This tiny display provides indicators for signal strength, messages, ringer status, battery life, and time. When in direct sunlight, the external display is basically useless. It should be noted that when the phone sits idle, the external screen shows its status icons, but not the time – something that left me perplexed. To alleviate this problem, I configured an hourly voice alert that announces the time. Flipping the device over to the back, one finds the release for the rear cover, something that has to be removed to swap batteries or memory cards. The Fin can handle up to 4GB microSD cards but does require battery removal for swapping. The outside of the Fin is almost barren except for its left edge, which is where the tiny volume rocker and covered charging/headset port are found.

Flipping open the Fin exposes the large and brightly colored 2.3" 262k color TFT QVGA (240x320 pixel) resolution screen, which we found extremely easy to read in even the harshest of sunlight. The device's speaker is located just above the display, which, interestingly enough, uses a pass thru port located on the Fin's prominent chin to allow ringtone audio to be heard when the phone is closed. Very clever. The chin of the Fin also is where the handset's microphone is housed, along with the internal antenna. The fin sports a flush-mounted, membrane keyboard that can be difficult to use blindly since there are no finger guides or ridges to work with. The keys offer decent tactile feedback, but have a very limited range of motion that is less than optimal. Samsung and Helio went with a cool rectangular shaped silver d-pad that definitely attracts attention. The d-pad's center button is accentuated with Helio's logo, which I often press by accident when I wish to access the main menu. Instead, Helio has assigned the left softkey for this task and the right softkey for Contacts. Clearly defined Music, Camera, Back, Send, and End buttons are also found on the Fin's keypad.

The Helio Fin runs on Sprint's CDMA voice network and uses EV-DO for high speed 3G data. The Fin provided us with great reception and coverage, never dropping a call. Voice clarity and quality always seemed good during phone calls, even when using it with a Jabra JX-10 Bluetooth headset. The speakerphone, though, is only usable at very close range, lacking the ability to pump out enough volume even at its maximum setting. I was even more discouraged with the speakerphone when testing Helio's latest addition to its application lineup, Garmin Mobile. The navigation app worked wonderfully except for the awful speach quality it produced due to the poor speakerphone. The Garmin Mobile navigation service can be accessed for US$2.99 per day - once the software has been installed.

Similar to Helio devices of the past, the Fin has an endless supply of apps and multimedia that include video and music downloads. Downloads are not the cheapest on the market, but with a good 3G connection you will be off and running in no time. The Fin's music player can be launched quickly via its dedicated shortcut key or via the Helio menu. Helio does a fantastic job here by sorting music files by playlists, genre, artist, album, and song. The only nit to pick is the music is alphabetically categorized. What this means is when an album is played, tracks will be played in alphabetical order instead of track number order. Another shortcoming is the Fin's inability to multi-task musically - music can not be played while other parts of the device are used. On the plus side, the Fin supports Bluetooth stereo, which we took full advantage of. It proved wholly adequate when used with our Motorola S9 headphones.