The Motorola Brute i680 doesn't pretend to be anything other than exactly what it is. Even the slightest glance will show that this is one tough, durable phone. Its thick rubberized skin and bulky profile is far from attractive, but you know that it will be able to take a beating. You even can sum up its rugged identity by its "Brute" name. Made for Nextel (who else?), the Brute offers the standard array of Sprint Nextel features plus Bluetooth and a 2-megapixel camera. Call quality is satisfying and the price ($119 with service) is affordable.
The Motorola Brute i680 should be able to withstand just about anything you can throw at it. It's large (3.92 inches tall by 2.09 inches wide by 1 inch deep), heavy (5.63 ounces), and is covered in a tough plastic and rubber skin. Indeed, the handset feels very solid in the hand and the sturdy hinge ensures that it opens and shuts with authority. We dropped the handset onto a concrete floor and even threw it across the room onto carpet. Both times, there wasn't a scratch and the phone kept on ticking. Sure, the black and gray color scheme screams industrial, but this a device built for brawn over beauty.
The external display is a bit bigger than a postage stamp, but it supports 65,000 colors (160x120 pixels). It supports photo caller ID, displays your recently called phone numbers, and doubles as a viewfinder for the camera. Speaking of which, the lens sits just above next to the flash. We'd prefer to have a camera shutter control on the phone's exterior, but one is not available.
On the top of the phone you'll find a speakerphone control and the standard Nextel button for accessing your recent calls list. Between them is a headset jack, which, unfortunately, is 2.5mm (we prefer a standard 3.5mm jack). On the left spine are the volume rocker and push-to-talk (PTT) control. Both are large and easy to find by feel. We were glad to see that Moto included a Micro-USB port for both the charger and a USB cable. You'll find it on the right spine behind a secure rubber flap.
The Brute is water-resistant so the rear battery cover is secured by a locking mechanism. You'll also need to remove it to access the microSD card slot. Moto doesn't include an unlocking tool in the box, but you should be able to use your fingernail. The Brute also is certified to the standard military specifications for elements like dust, shock and vibration, high and low temperature, and salt fog.
The internal display measures 2.2 inches and supports 65,000 colors (220x176 pixels). Though its resolution isn't exactly eye-popping, it's perfectly suitable for this caliber of phone. Colors were bright and graphics and photos show up well. You can change the text size and the backlight time. We were glad that unlike many previous Nextel phones, the Brute offers a one-page menu interface in a list or icon style.
The spacious navigation is extremely user-friendly with all controls raised above the surface of the phone. There are four directional controls with a central OK button, a dedicated menu key, two soft keys, a camera shortcut and the Talk and End/power keys. The only thing missing is a dedicated back button. In standby mode, the up and down directional buttons open the settings menu and the recent calls list respectively; the side buttons let you cycle through the shortcut icons that sit on the display. They keypad buttons are spacious and tactile. We could text and dial quickly and we appreciate the large backlit numbers on the buttons.
The Brute's 600-contact phone book has room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes. You can save contacts to groups or PTT Talk Groups, and you can pair them with a photo and one of 20 polyphonic ringtones. As a Nextel phone, the Brute offers all of the carrier's Direct Connect PTT services, including International Direct Connect, Group Connect (for chatting with up to 20 others via PTT at once), and Direct Talk (for out-of-network PTT-chat capabilities).
Basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a memo pad, a speakerphone, call timers, an alarm clock, and a datebook. On the higher end, the Brute offers stereo Bluetooth, an application manager, USB mass storage, PC syncing, a voice recorder, and voice playback when browsing menus. For the latter feature you can select a male or female voice to read back your menu choices. There's also a GPS application, and you have access to Sprint's TeleNav service for real-time directions and local search.
The 2-megapixel camera takes photos in seven resolutions, from 1,200x1,600 pixels down to 160x120 pixels. Other editing options include two quality settings, exposure control, white balance, a 4x digital zoom, a self-timer, GPS tagging, a macro mode, an autofocus, four color tones, and two shutter sounds (there's no silent option). Though relatively bright, the flash is really more of a spotlight--it stays lit the entire time you're in the camera application and it doesn't have an auto setting. Photo quality is just average. Even in good lighting our shots were a bit dim with faded colors and some image noise.
The camcorder shoots clips in three resolutions and it offers a similar set of editing options. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 1 minute, but you can shoot for longer in normal mode. Moving clips and shots off the phone is relatively easy using the normal wireless methods, a memory card, and a USB cable. The Brute has a healthy 180MB of internal memory and the microSD slot can accommodate cards up to 8GB.
The music player has a simple interface on both displays. It supports album art and you can choose between a number of themes and visualizations. Features are pretty slim: you get shuffle and repeat modes and an equalizer with nine settings. Getting music on the phone is easy through either a USB cable, Bluetooth, or a memory card.
You can personalize the Brute with a variety of clock styles, color themes, and wallpaper; you can also download more options and additional ringtones with the WAP 2.0 browser. You get one game--Family Guy Uncensored (we were surprised at that, too)--and you can download additional Java titles. Racing fans also can take advantage Sprint's Nascar Cup Mobile app.
We tested the Motorola Brute i680 (iDEN 800) in San Francisco using Nextel service. Call quality was admirable on the whole. The audio was clear, the volume was strong, and our callers sounded natural. There was a slight background hiss at time, but it was barely noticeable and did not distract from our experience. Nextel phones offer reliable reception and the Brute was no exception.
Our callers were satisfied as well. They also commented on the clarity and volume and didn't have trouble hearing us even if we were calling from a loud place. They could tell we were using a cell phone, which is common, but they didn't mention the background hiss that we heard. Calls from the speakerphone were high quality and had plenty of volume. We also were pleased with calls made with a Bluetooth headset.
We tried the Brute's Direct Connection with another i680. Calls had a bit of audio distortion, but it wasn't bothersome. And like most Direct Connect calls, we could hear very well even when we were in a loud place.