Editors' note: Helio has since been bought by Virgin Mobile, but the Helio Music store is still going strong under new management.
When Helio launched its "Don't call it a phone" campaign, it was trying to send a message that its devices were much more than just cell phones. With the ability to stream videos, navigate your route via GPS, play games, and surf the Web, it does seem like Helio is positing its handhelds as convergence multimedia devices for the young and trendy. With the introduction of the Helio Music store, it appears to be closing in on that trend. Following the lead of Verizon's V Cast Music and the Sprint Music Store. Helio Music is understandably small potatoes with a much smaller demographic. Still, we think it's worth a more in-depth look to see what the little guys are doing in the music download space.
Similar to its bigwig competitors, Helio Music is offering songs for PC download for 99 cents, which you can then sideload to your phone via a USB cable. You can also choose to download a song over-the-air for $1.99 and have a copy of it ready to download to your home PC. The pricing is incredibly competitive, and is on par with the pricing on Verizon's V Cast Music store. It is, however, not nearly as affordable as Sprint's recent initiative to offer 99 cents per song across the board. Also, Helio Music is currently only available on two phones--the Helio Drift and the Helio Heat. That said, Helio has mentioned that all future Helio phones will have built-in support for Helio Music.
Accessing the Helio Music store via the cell phone couldn't be simpler. You can either dial MUSIC (68742) and hit the Jump option on the phone's menu screen, or you can scroll to the Video and Music menu and select "Download music." You'll then be brought to the front page of the Helio Music store, which is divided into four sections: Featured Music, Top Music, New Releases, and Genre. There's also a Search function right at the top of the page, which you can use to quickly and easily search for a desired tune. Once a song is selected, you can preview it, purchase it directly over the air, "Gift" it by giving the song to a friend in your network, or "Beg" for it from a friend who has some cash to spare.
Underneath these options is a list of recommended songs that are somehow related to the song you just selected, which we think is a great way for you to explore more music. Also, you can sign up for Artist Alerts, which will notify you whenever a new song from that artist is available on the Helio Music store. There is one serious downside though; you can't use a track purchased from the Music Store as a ringtone--instead, ringtones actually cost around $2.50-- that's almost $1.50 more than a Helio Music store download.
As Helio has yet to launch its PC store at this time, we are unable to review the performance of the PC store and evaluate how easy it is to download music that way. We do note that you can still use your existing MP3 collection and sideload it to the cell phone via Helio's Media Mover application with a simple drag-and-drop interface.
We tested the Helio Music interface with the Helio Heat and experienced no problems with music transfer. The songs took an average of about 10 seconds each to download, which we found suitably impressive. However, because the Heat only comes with 136MB of internal memory and no microSD card slot, we would suggest using the Drift or an upcoming Helio device for more storage. As we mentioned in the Helio Heat review, the music sounded loud and clear when heard through a pair of earbuds, but not nearly as good as it does from a dedicated MP3 player.