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Samsung MystoWhat’s Good: All kinds of multimedia, Web, and location-based features; Super slim profile; Speedy EV-DO access; GPS; 106MB Internal Memory

What’s Not Good: Touch sensitive controls are very finicky; End key in an odd place; Call quality only so-so; Camera not as good as original U600

Bottom Line: Samsung brings their Ultra U600 sliderphone to the US in the form of the Helio Mysto.  While Mysto’s thin profile is sexy and Helio’s myriad features are excellent, this handset’s electrostatic touch controls are more trouble than they’re worth.  Helio fans may love Mysto as a companion to their Oceans, but others may look elsewhere.

Specs:
Make/Model: Samsung Mysto
Network: CDMA
Data: EV-DO (1x Rev. 0)
Carrier: Helio (Locked)
Size: 105 x 50 x 12.7 mm
Weight: 95 g
Form Factor: Slider
Display: 2.2” Color LCD, 320 x 240 (QVGA) resolution, 262,000 Colors
Memory:  106 MB built-in, microSD card slot
Notable Features: Integrated GPS with location based services; 2MP camera with LED flash; Email and IM clients; Music Store access; Flickr and YouTube upload clients; Helio on Top RSS feed reader


Introduction

Samsung MystoSlim’s still in, and sliderphones don’t get much slimmer than Samsung’s Ultra U600.  Samsung and Helio brought a CDMA version of the U600 to the States in the form of Mysto, Helio’s successor to the Drift.  Mysto packs just about all of Helio’s many, many features and services into a sleek, pocketable form factor that offers an alternative to the chunky, QWERTY-packing Ocean.  In fact, I could see Mysto becoming popular as a second handset for Ocean owners, especially considering how loyal Helio enthusiasts are and how easy the MVNO makes it to switch back and forth between multiple handsets.  A few issues with Mysto’s touch controls and audio quality will keep me from raving about this handset, but if you’re into all that Helio offers (and they do offer quite a bit) but don’t want Ocean’s bulk, Mysto’s well worth a look.

Design & Features

Mysto is one sleek, thin cell phone, and it looks great.  Measuring just over 12mm from front to back, Mysto will fit in all but the tightest of pockets and won’t weigh you down when you head out the door with it in tow.  The front panel of the phone features a gorgeous 2.2” QVGA display that’s really one of the best screens you’ll find on a slider right now.  Beneath the display is a navigational array built around a circular four way D-pad that looks like a jog dial but doesn’t actually scroll - instead it clicks up, down, left, right, or in the middle, and from the home screen each of the five clicks corresponds to a different shortcut.  The pad works pretty well, but based on its look I was disappointed that it didn’t double as a scroll wheel.

Surrounding the circle are four touch-sensitive electrostatic keys: Talk, Back, and two softkeys.  Touch controls are a cool idea, but sometimes they don’t work out so well.  I really had problems with the performance of these controls; sometimes I couldn’t make them work, while other times they false-triggered by way of an accidental brush of my thumb.  While the haptic feedback that comes with each virtual button press is a nice touch, all in all I would have preferred actual buttons to this implementation of touch controls.

Also, the End key is mounted on the right side of the phone, which makes sense in theory but becomes a pain in practice.  While this placement puts the End button in easy reach of right-handers thumbs when we hold it up to our ears, people are so used to looking for the Talk and End keys on the fronts of their phones that Mysto’s End key winds up being pretty inconvenient.  Beyond that, it’s too easy to accidentally hang up on someone by gripping the phone a little too tightly.  And speaking of bad placements, the microSD card slot is hidden behind the battery which makes hot-swapping of memory cards impossible.

Sliding the phone open reveals a flat keypad with raised ridges between the rows of keys.  The standard dialing layout is well-spaced, and while I found it easy enough to use, some might not like its rather slippery finish.  A sensor, LED flash assist light, and self-portrait mirror for the 2MP camera are found on the back side of the front panel of the phone, which means that you have to slide Mysto open to use the camera, but also that the camera sensor is protected when the phone is shut. 


Usability & Performance

Helio phones make use of Sprint’s CDMA cellular network, and Mysto is compatible with Sprint’s EV-DO network for high speed data usage, as well.  I tested Mysto in the San Francisco Bay Area and found voice call performance to be so-so.  Signal strength was fine, but calls were too often staticky and/or muffled sounding.  When voice quality issues arose, they were more often of the callers having trouble hearing me ilk than the other way around.

The handset worked well with the included wired stereo headset, though as always I wish Samsung used standard connectors instead of their proprietary jack.  I was also able to easily pair Mysto with a variety of mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets.  Wireless range was pretty good, but voice quality over Bluetooth was similarly mediocre to that when using the internal earpiece and microphone.  I experienced the same so-so quality via speakerphone, as well.

Mysto really shines when it comes to multimedia usage.  Helio recently started offering the Opera browser on some of its handsets, and while Mysto’s built-in HTML browser isn’t bad, Opera would be a great addition here, especially considering the speedy access afforded by Sprint’s EV-DO network.  Mysto comes pre-loaded with a bunch of Web shortcuts and also supports streaming audio and video, YouTube access, and uploading to Flickr accounts.  Helio’s excellent one-touch search feature lets you key in a search term from the home page and quickly get back results from multiple search engines and Web portals, and Mysto can also access Helio’s online stores for purchasing music tracks, videos, ringtones, images, games, and more.

The handset is also compatible with Helio’s Buddy Beacon friend locator service as well as Google Maps for Mobile and Garmin Mobile and Microsofts Tellme service, both of which work well with Mysto’s integrated A-GPS chip.  Tellme combines voice commands with GPS so you can, for example, ask “Where’s the nearest Italian restaurant” and get back location-based results.

Mysto also features a 2-megapixel camera which yielded average results.  The camera has myriad settings and supports video recording at up to 320 x 240 resolution and 14 frames per second.  It’s an okay camera, but not as good as the 3.2 MP shooter Samsung built into the original U600.  Helio’s software allows for in-phone image editing  and geotagging as well as uploading to Helio, MySpace, and Flickr photo sharing services.


Conclusion

Helio offers an amazingly comprehensive set of multimedia, Web-based, and location-based services for their devices.  Their new $99/month Unlimited All-In plan offers one of the best values in the industry if you make heavy use of messaging and data services  in addition to voice calling on your mobile device, and their use of Sprint’s EV-DO network ensures speedy data transfer for all of that Web surfing, streaming media, and location-based services activity.

The Samsung-made Mysto brings all of Helio’s offerings to an ultra-compact sliderphone.  Mysto provides a stylish alternative to Helio’s other high-end handset, Ocean, for users who don’t need a full QWERTY keypad.  The problem is that Mysto looks a little better than it actually works.  Mysto’s gorgeous display, integrated GPS, and robust software are somewhat offset by hard to use touch controls, iffy sound quality during calls, and an oddly placed End button.  It’s a very good media device coupled with a passable phone that makes for a good, if not spectacular, addition to Helio’s lineup.


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