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I’ve been using Helio’s new Ocean for about 12 hours now. (Gimme a break, I needed some sleep.) So far my verdict is darn positive. I know this sounds crazy because of all the positive press around the Ocean, but i expected to be disappointed. Because we review so many phones, and so many similar phones, it’s tough to approach every phone with fresh eyes, with no expectations. Although I like where Helio says they’re going. And I like that with each release they get a little bit closer, I’m used to them not getting nearly as far as they (or I, I guess) had hoped. So I approached the Ocean expecting to be disappointed.

But just like Spiderman 3, the Ocean turned out to be way better than I expected. Not just better than my low expectations, but better than what you can expect from similar phones. Seriously. It puts phones like the enV to shame, because Helio took the time and care to think about the small things. For instance, if you make or answer a call with the QWERTY keyboard out, the Ocean automatically puts it in speakerphone. If you use the numeric keypad or have the phone closed, the call is answered normally. See? Little things.

Or take the awesome home screen search setup. From the home screen, if you slide out the QWERTY keyboard and start typing, it uses those letters to first sort through your contacts, but then offer you an internet search of whatever you typed. Windows Mobile Standard (Smartphone) will sort through your contacts, but nothing more. But wait, if you slide out the numeric keypad instead, it does the exact same thing, only it applies T9 to your entry. That’s exactly what a phone should do, but so few phones do what they should, that touches like this have brought many giddy smiles to my first day with the Ocean.

There’s tons of other touches which I could spend hours listing. Or I could just tell you that I’m pretty wowed so far. The keyboard is much easier to use than I expected. The software has some small, but very nice improvements. And everything is snappy as all get out. My only complaint so far is that you can’t use Helio Up, the new photo sharing service for the Ocean, to do anything yet. I’m told that in the next couple of months we should see some big announcements in that department, but until then, all the photos I upload because i want to attach location data to them are stuck in limbo.