When we first looked at the Motorola Brute i686, we wondered if there was a mistake. It seemed practically identical to the Motorola Brute i680, its predecessor. Even the overall features are similar--the 2-megapixel camera, GPS, Bluetooth, and of course, support for Nextel's iDEN network.
The main difference seems to be that the Motorola Brute i686 is a touch more durable. It now can be immersed in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. Aside from that, it retains the ruggedized exterior of its predecessor, keeping its "Brute" moniker alive. If you already have the Brute i680, we wouldn't encourage you to run out and buy the i686, but if you've been looking for a tough phone that'll survive a diving trip or two, then this might be for you. The Motorola Brute i686 is available for $119.99 with a two-year contract from Sprint Nextel.
As we mentioned in the introduction, the Motorola Brute i686 hardly differs from its predecessor. At 3.92 inches long by 2.09 inches wide by 1 inch thick, the Brute i686 is just as bulky, and at 5.63 ounces, it's just as heavy. It's clad in hard plastic and a thick rubber exterior that protects it from all manner of scrapes and bruises. Indeed, we dropped it onto concrete and dunked it in a sink of water for a solid 20 minutes without ill effects. The Brute i686 is said to be military-certified under specification 810G for resistance to dust, shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, low pressure, salt fog, humidity, and more.
On the front is a color external display that supports 65,000 colors and 160x120-pixel resolution. We're glad to see that it supports photo caller ID and recent call history, and it'll also work as a self-portrait viewfinder when the camera is activated. As for the camera, that sits right on top of the display, next to the LED flash.
The left spine is home to the volume rocker and push-to-talk button, both of which are large and easy to find by feel. On the right is the Micro-USB charger jack hidden securely beneath a rubber flap. On the top of the Brute i686 are the speakerphone control and the usual Nextel button for accessing your recent calls list. Also on the top is a 2.5-millimeter headset jack protected by a rubber flap. We would've liked to see a 3.5mm headset jack, however. We also would have preferred a camera shutter control on the sides.
To keep the phone nice and dry on the inside, the battery cover is secured by a round locking mechanism that you can unlock with either a fingernail or a penny. Behind the battery cover is the microSD card slot.
Flip the phone open and you'll find a simple but legible 2.2-inch color display. It only supports 65,000 colors and 220x176-pixel resolution, but as you aren't likely to use this phone for multimedia purposes too often, we didn't mind the average resolution. Colors are bright enough, and we like that we can change the text size and the backlight timer. Along the bottom row of the display is a series of shortcuts to frequently accessed applications or functions that you can toggle through. The main menu itself is displayed in either a grid or list view.
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.