Helio Cell Phones
For something a little less conventional, you could turn to a MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) like Helio. As a joint venture between SK Telecom and Earthlink, Helio aims its products at the younger demographic, as evidenced by its advertising campaign and its integration with the popular MySpace website, where 18-34 year olds gather to chat, exchange photos, and read blogs.
SK Telecom and Earthlink both have an equal stake in Helio, which had its soft launch in May 2006, but only "officially" got itself out there in the public eye as of July 2006. As an MVNO, Helio does have its own network, per se, and rather makes use of the existing network offered through Sprint. As such, Helio operates on CDMA (rather than GSM) and makes use of 3G Mobile Phone Technology via 1x EV-DO.
Helio's partnership with MySpace is perhaps the company's biggest selling point. Subscribers can check on their MySpace accounts via their cell phone, read new messages, check updates on blogs, and inspect other users' profiles. Moreover, pictures taken using the integrated camera on Helio handsets can be immediately uploaded to the MySpace site.
Helio also has some rather high-end handsets that aren't normally offered on this side of the Pacific. SK Telecom is a Korean company that normally sells advanced cell phones for their home country, and it is a simple act of re-badging that can bring these cool mobile phones to the American public.
Despite a growing market among the younger tech-savvy demographic, Helio is said to be experiencing financial woes. There are widely differing reports on the matter -- with numbers ranging from 100 to "in the thousands" -- but word is that Helio is having a difficult time signing up new subscribers. With over $440 million invested thus far, Helio is clearly still in the red. These start-up woes are not unique, as other MVNOs like Amp'd and ESPN Mobile have also had a difficult time growing their respective subscriber bases, as well.
Following the "hard launch" in July 2006, Helio has started airing commercials on television on channels targeted at the young urban adult demographic, including BET (Black Entertainment Television), MTV, Comedy Central, and ESPN. The tagline is "Don't call us a phone company. Don't call it a phone." This implies that Helio handsets are so much more than simple wireless communication devices, and throw in lots of multimedia functionality, including picture taking, music listening, and of course, a mobile connection to MySpace via MySpace Mobile.
The first television commercial -- Meet the Parents -- can be viewed here.
The second television commercial -- Frenchie -- can be viewed here.
Current Handset Offerings
At this time, Helio only has two cell phones in its lineup, both produced by Pantech, Korea's third largest cell phone maker, trailing behind top dog Samsung and second biggest LG. Both phones come with very similar features, although with slightly different form factors.
- Kickflip: Not to be confused with the Sidekick III from T-Mobile, the $200 Kickflip is a swivel-type cell phone that can be seen in Helio's "Meet the Parents" television commercial. Featuring a glossy white exterior a la an Apple iPod, this is a very attractive looking phone.
- Hero: Marketed as a multimedia powerhouse, the $275 Hero is a black slider phone that bears some resemblance to certain handsets from Samsung, but don't let anyone at Pantech or Helio hear you say that. If you want a beefy phone with lots of fun functions, you can't really go wrong with the Hero.
Both phones come with Helio's unique user interface, developed by the same people that created the menu system in the Sidekick / HipTop device. As media-centric handsets, they provide quick access to the functions you will be using most often, like taking pictures with the 2.0 megapixel camera, jamming away to your favorite tunes with the integrated music player, and playing any number of Cell Phone Games. You'll be sure to have plenty of storage space, thanks to the microSD expansion slot.