Editors' note: Nextel now offers the Clutch for $39.99 with service. It is similar to the Boost Mobile model, except that it offers a few unique Nextel features.
If you like Nextel's features, but can't afford the services plans, you'd be wise to consider Boost Mobile. Sort of a Sprint Nextel younger brother, Boost offers similar phones and services at a cheaper price. And now with the new Motorola Clutch i465, Boost also gets its first QWERTY handset. As an iDEN device, the Clutch has a familiar look and feel and it offers push-to-talk (PTT) calling. You won't have to sign a contract, and you can get it for just $129.99.
The i465 is a bit small (4.4 inches by 2.1 inches by 0.6 inch) for a QWERTY phone, but we were drawn to its candy bar design. Sure, it's a bit boxy, but the red color is attractive and the tapered edges give it a sleek feel. It's also lightweight (3.4 ounces), but it has a comfortable feel in the hand. The battery cover has a textured finish, and the Clutch is certified to military specifications for shock, vibration, dust, and solar radiation.
Like many Nextel phones, the 1.79-inch display doesn't have the greatest resolution (64,000 colors; 160x128 pixels). This continues to be a sore spot for us, but on a phone that's geared for messaging rather than gaming it's not so bad. The multipage is also classic Nextel, but we're not big fans of that, either. You can change the backlighting time and the text size.
The Clutch's controls have a spacious, comfortable design. You'll find a circular toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a dedicated menu control, a speakerphone key, and the Talk and End/power buttons. Though only parts of the navigation array are raised above the surface of the phone, all of the controls are intuitive and easy to use. The toggle also doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined functions.
On the right side of the display you'll find additional shortcuts for the messaging application, the Web browser, and the camera. Though they make the phone look a tad off-center, the shortcuts are in a convenient place. On the left spine, you'll find the rocker and PTT button. Both are spacious and tactile. Below them are a 2.5-millimeter headset jack (boo) and a standard Mini-USB charger port (yay).The camera lens rests on the rear face of the phone--there's no flash or self-portrait mirror.
The keyboard will seem small to some users, but we found the peaked keys tactile and relatively easy to use. As with many QWERTY phones, letter keys share space with numbers and symbols, but the arrangement never felt crowded. Indeed, we were tapping long messages and dialing phone numbers easily and quickly. The space bar sits in the middle of the bottom row; near it are shift, function, symbol, return, and back keys. You'll also find a second convenient shortcut for the messaging menu. Below the shortcut is the phone's main speaker.
The Clutch'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 one of 12 polyphonic ringtones. Other basic features include a vibrate mode, a memo pad, a speakerphone, a voice memo recorder, call timers, Bluetooth, and a datebook. And, of course, you also get support for Boost's walkie-talkie PTT service.
Text and multimedia messaging are prime features, but the Clutch also supports a selection of POP3 e-mail accounts. Threaded texting is a plus, but e-mail will require a Web-based interface. The Clutch does not support IMAP4 e-mail, Outlook Exchange server syncing, and instant messaging.
The VGA camera takes pictures in five resolutions, from 640x480 down to 160x128. Editing options include two quality settings, a 4x zoom, a self-timer, adjustable brightness, and two shutter sounds. The camcorder offers a similar set of editing options. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 16 seconds, but you can shoot for longer in standard mode.
Photo quality is decent for a VGA camera. Colors looked natural, but images were a tad blurry. You'll also need enough light since the Clutch doesn't have a flash. Videos were nothing special: the camera can't record movement well and the clips were washed out. You get 20MB of shared memory for saving your work and a handy meter will tell you how much space you have left.
You can personalize the Clutch with a selection of wallpapers, clock formats, and themes. You can get more from Boost with the wireless Web browser. The Clutch supports Java applications as well. Our review model came with Boost Navigator, Calculator Suite, Alarm Clock Plus, Hookt, and two games: World Series of Poker and Deer Hunter 3.
We tested the (iDEN 850) Motorola Clutch i465 in San Francisco. As a subsidiary of Sprint Nextel, Boost uses Nextel's network for regular and PTT calls. Call quality was quite good. The volume was loud and the audio was clear. What's more, we didn't hear any distortion at the highest volumes. The signal remained strong, even in buildings, and we didn't encounter static or interference.
On their end, callers said we sounded fine. Most could tell we were using a cell phone, but they didn't report any major problems outside of some background noise. Speakerphone calls were loud and clear, and automated calling systems could understand us.
Corrected on June 17 at 3:20 p.m.: The product name initially had an incorrect model number. The actual name of the product is the Motorola Clutch i465.