If Nextel is known for one thing when it comes to cell phone design, it's the rugged durability of its handsets. Models such as the Motorola i355 and the i530 are built like tanks, with thick protective skins designed to withstand the elements and impacts with the ground. Though the carrier has dabbled in more trendy designs over the past year with models like the Motorola i850, the new Motorola i580 goes straight to Nextel's roots. Tough, sturdy, and solidly built, the i580 flip phone offers all the usual Nextel offerings and a respectable assortment of features, including Bluetooth, a speakerphone, a Micro SD card slot, and support for two separate phone lines. It is expensive, however, at $249 with service.
From the outset you know the i580 isn't for sissies. This is a burly phone through and through, from the rubberized, two-toned gray exterior to the solid construction of its oversized hinge. It's not about style by any means but all about being functional and useful. To that end, Motorola and Nextel added some unusual touches. Perhaps in an effort to emphasize the phone's durability, the middle of the front flap is covered in a tactile pattern that resembles steel plating. Even external features, such as the Micro SD slot and the headset jack on the right spine and the charger port on the bottom, are covered with rubber flaps, while the stubby extendable antenna has a solid construction. Nextel continually boasts that its handsets are certified to military specifications for blowing rain, dust, shock, and vibration, and the i580 is no exception.
All that ruggedness requires some trade-offs, however. At 3.8 by 2.2 by 1.1 inches and 5.1 ounces, the phone is big and bulky. It won't slip into a small pocket and will leave a sizable lump in a bag, but it feels comfortable to hold. That's all part of the game for Nextel fans, but slaves to fashion should steer clear. Also, the rectangular external display is relatively small (96x32 pixels), and the tiny font size isn't changeable. It's also monochrome, and though you can't change the backlighting time, a flick of an exterior button will brighten the screen again. Displayed information includes the signal strength, battery life, date, time, and caller ID (where available). Above the screen are the camera lens, a self-portrait mirror, and a tiny flash, while the right spine holds a volume rocker and a Direct Connect button. On the top of the phone are the speakerphone key and a button for sending calls to voicemail and accessing the recent calls list when the phone is closed. All keys are coated in durable rubber.
The internal display is one of the better design touches on the i580. Measuring 1.8 inches (176x220 pixels) and supporting 262,000 colors, it vividly displays text and graphics with eye-popping colors and sharp object outlines. We're also pleased the phone supports Nextel's newer animated menu design. You can change the backlighting time and the font size but not the brightness or the contrast. The border surrounding the display resembles the aforementioned patterned exterior on the front flap.
Below the display are large and tactile navigation controls. A four-way toggle doubles as a shortcut to four-user defined functions, while an OK button sits in the toggle's center. There are also two soft keys, a dedicated camera button, a camera shortcut control, and the talk and end keys. The backlit keypad buttons are quite large, and we like that they are raised above the surface of the phone. It was easy to dial by feel and in dim situations. The power key is located just below the keypad buttons and is set in a rubber casing that extends from the outside of the phone.
The i580 has all the Nextel business-friendly offerings you'd expect. The 600-contact phone book has room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, an IP address, and a Direct Connect number. Contacts can be organized further into a variety of groups for regular or push-to-talk (PTT) calls, and you can pair them with one of 12 monophonic or 3 polyphonic ring tones. Other features include a vibrate mode, an airplane mode, a calendar, mobile e-mail support, voice dialing, call and voice memo recording, a memo pad, text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, and onboard GPS.
Since there aren't a great number of Nextel phones with wireless capability, we were glad to find the i580 supports full Bluetooth for connecting to a headset or sending data to another Bluetooth device. You also get Nextel's Direct Connect walkie-talkie service (including Group Connect, which lets you chat with up to 20 others via PTT at once) and Direct Talk, which gives you out-of-network walkie-talkie chat with another Direct Talk handset at a range of up to six miles. A newer feature is Direct Send, which sends PTT contact information to other compatible Nextel phones.
Perhaps the biggest news, however, is that the i580 supports Nextel's second line service, which allows you to add a second line to the phone with a different phone number--perfect for users who want separate digits for personal and business use. Nextel was one of the first U.S. carriers to offer the functionality. It will cost extra, of course, but you can have separate ring tones, separate billing statements, and even phone numbers with different area codes.