The navigation array consists of the usual two soft keys, a round toggle with a middle select key, a main menu key, a camera key, and the Send and End/Power keys. The overall keypad is spacious, with enough separation between each key. We found it easy to text and dial with the raised keys as well.
The features on the Brute i686 are similar to the Brute i680, so forgive us if there's a little bit of deja vu here. To start, the Brute i686 has a 600-contact phone book with room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes. You can categorize those contacts into groups, and also into push-to-talk groups if you're on Nextel's Direct Connect service. You can also pair the contacts with a photo and one of 20 polyphonic ringtones for caller identification. The Brute i686's Direct Connect features include International Direct Connect, Group Connect, and Direct Talk.
The i686 is a phone first and foremost, with simple features like a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, a memo pad, text and multimedia messaging, call timers, an alarm clock, and a datebook. For the slightly more advanced user, there's stereo Bluetooth, an application manager, USB mass storage, a voice recorder, voice playback when browsing menus, and PC syncing. There's also GPS with support for Sprint's TeleNav service.
Even though the i686 is a relatively basic phone, it does have a few multimedia options. These include a music player, which has the usual album art and player track controls. You can customize it to a certain extent with themes and visualizations. You do get basic features like shuffle, repeat, and even an equalizer. You can load music onto the phone via a USB cable or a microSD card. The phone only takes cards of up to 8GB, which is rather stingy.
The 2-megapixel camera is unchanged from the Brute i680. It can take pictures in seven resolutions and two quality settings. Other camera options include exposure control, white balance, a 4x digital zoom, a self-timer, geotagging, a macro mode, autofocus, four color effects, and a couple of shutter sounds. Photo quality is fair. Shots were not as sharp as we would like, and colors were unfortunately quite dim and washed out. There's also a built-in camcorder with similar editing options. You can shoot clips for 1 minute for MMS messages or longer in storage mode.
The Brute i686 comes with a few Sprint apps like Nascar Sprint Cup Mobile and NFL Live, but that's about it. You can always get more apps, games, graphics, and ringtones from the Sprint store via the WAP 2.0 browser.
We tested the Motorola Brute i686 in San Francisco using the Sprint Nextel service. As is the case with most of our Nextel phones, call quality was very impressive. Audio was crystal clear, as if our callers were right next to us. Callers sounded very natural, and there was little to no background noise.
On their end, callers too reported great audio quality. They said we sounded very loud and clear, and we were interrupted by very little static, if any. Reception was overall quite reliable, and the speakerphone quality was stellar as well.
We tested the Brute i686 with another i686 for Direct Connect calls. There was a slight audible distortion at times, but that seems to be the case with most push-to-talk calls. Otherwise, audio quality was great--loud, clear, with very good noise reduction.
The Brute i686 has a rated battery life of 5.8 hours. We found it had a talk time of 5 hours and 57 minutes in our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Brute i686 has a digital SAR of 0.59 watt per kilogram.