For years, Nextel's cell phones have been praised for their rugged, functional designs and scorned for their clunky size. With the Nextel i836, however, the company has found a way to make a sturdy work phone that can be beautiful and tough. Dubbed "an instant classic" by Nextel itself, the i836 offers essentially the same feature set as but in a smaller, sleeker form factor. Unfortunately, the less-than-stellar battery life keeps the i836 from achieving true greatness. The resolution on the internal and external displays is disappointing, and at $299, the price tag is a bit over the top. Nextel has released so many big, bulky phones that it's almost become a company trademark. However, the Nextel i836 may change that. First of all, the handset doesn't come in any ordinary paper box. Instead, Nextel packages it in a dark wooden box with felt lining. Open the hinged lid, and you're greeted by not only the i836 but also a Nextel pocket watch and a leather case for the mobile. While this presentation is eye-catching, it's a bit much for a cell phone, even if it's supposed to be "an instant classic." The handset is small, weighing just 3.6 ounces and measuring only 3.4 by 1.9 by 0.8 inches. It isn't the smallest phone we've tested, but it's the smallest Nextel phone we've seen. Even the compact is larger.
Nextel also took some chances with the i836's overall style. In place of sharp angles, the flip phone has curves that feel good in the hand. The hardened shell comes in bronze or silver and resists scratches well. In fact, the handset feels very rugged and meets Military 810F specifications for weather resistance. To show off its guts, the inside of the front flap of the mobile is translucent, offering users a peek at the transistors underneath.
On the downside, the external and internal screens are less than impressive. The simple monochrome external display shows the time, the signal strength, the battery life, and caller ID (where available), but its tiny rectangular size may be hard for some users to see. Inside, the small 1.75-inch diagonal display shows 26,000 colors, but it's a far step down from the brilliant screen on the. With its overall washed-out effect, it isn't meant for serious Web surfing or multimedia apps.
On the side of the phone, you will find the volume rockers, a headset jack, and of course, the push-to-talk button. On the top of the mobile is a button for activating PTT calls and a key that opens the list of recent numbers. If you have trouble getting a clear signal, be aware that what looks like a stubby antenna actually extends. Just take care when doing so, since it's fragile. As with most Nextels, the speaker is on the rear of the phone.
The navigation controls consist of a five-way toggle, two soft keys, dedicated power and menu buttons, and the traditional Talk and End keys. We were glad to see that these controls, despite their abundance, have a spacious, uncluttered design. The keypad itself features small, recessed keys that are a little hard to push, but they do emit a satisfying click when doing so.