Reviews: Hardware (Devices)

VTech Helio

     VTech's one and only device on the market.  The Helio provides simple and cheap alternative to a DaVinci, a Palm m105 or a Palm IIIxe.  Small, simple, and fun colors make this a device that many people would like to carry around.
     This device really is on the edge of maybe being a PDA, and maybe being just an organizer.  The Helio looks a lot like a Palm on the outside, with some features that are used to try and set it apart from other "lower end devices."  The Helio runs VT-OS, which is VTech's Palm OS Clone of sorts.  The device runs in many ways like a Palm OS device, though much faster with the 75mhz processors.  The VT-OS is very simple to use, and is good for people that don't need to use any higher end functions of their device.  Limited software comes with the device, so if you want more then just memo, contacts, and a calendar, you have to download it.  In the simplest terms, is a high end organizer in competition in the PDA market.
     I actually said to myself I would never buy this device, but I have.  I have two reasons for now owning a Helio.  One, it was less then $50 new (due to CompUSA's close out and a rebate from VTech) and two, it has a flash ROM and Linux support on the internet.  If nothing else I wanted to throw Linux on it.  Surprisingly today, I actually always have my Helio in my pocket at school.  I use it for two things, and two things only.  Working on text documents sometimes, and simple games (I have installed about all the games there are, and still about 6mb left).  The Helio, in its included case, will fit in your pocket easily, unlike other devices I have tried.  So far, from heavy use by myself and friends, the screen has stayed unscratched.
     Syncing has been incredibly hard.  This Helio came with the newest Companion Link software (made for the Helio), the newest ROM image and a newer edition of the sync cradle.  None of these have helped my sync troubles, nor has the support from VTech.  The sync did not work on my laptop or my desktops (ME and 98se).  As I said, VTech took weeks to even respond and then asked if had checked the COM ports (something that I had of course checked and even told them I had).  The sync software has a lot more configurable parts, and is a lot less forgiving then software like ActiveSync.  I have found that there are many settings not only in Companion Link, but also on the device and in your computer that must all be right for a sync.  I do have to say, VTech tech support was great, and they even let me just come in and exchange my part.
     The Helio is really in a market just a little out of its league.  At this stage in the game, it is really to far behind to be able to sell well, and work well its own OS.  This device is good for two kinds of people.  If you are student, that wants a cheap device, and don't need a lot of support for more software or extras, this device is a good choice.  The other people it is good for are people that want to try and create a better OS, like Linux or a version of Java.

Dave's Score - 6.5
This means, not exactly one of my top picks or something I will use everyday, but something to at least consider.  There are likely some issues with the product that make it not as good as it could be and/or not as good as comparable products.  Your best bet it to try it before you buy, otherwise you might be disappointed.


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