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Prepaid phones usually consist of simple cell phones or normal feature phones, so we're always pleasantly surprised when a smartphone is made available for prepaid carriers. The Motorola i1 is one such handset--it's the first Google Android phone for Boost Mobile, and it's also the first Google Android smartphone to run on Nextel's iDEN network.
It's quite a rugged device--for a touch screen phone anyway--and it's also the only Android phone to support push-to-talk, which is a big deal if you're a Boost or Nextel customer. However, the i1 is saddled with Android 1.5, which is a relatively obsolete version of the operating system, and the iDEN network doesn't have fast data speeds. However, Motorola may release a software update in the future, so we'll keep hoping for improvements on that front. Overall, it's certainly not the best Android phone we've seen, but it makes for a serviceable touch-screen smartphone, especially if you're an iDEN die-hard. The Motorola i1 is available for $349.99, but bear in mind that price without a contract from Boost Mobile.
While it might seem like a run-of-the-mill Android phone at first glance, Motorola dressed the i1 up with a decidedly rugged spin. Indeed, the handset is clad in what feels like a rubber and hard plastic casing, and the overall phone feels sturdier than most. Measuring 4.65 inches long by 2.34 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, the i1 is not too heavy at 4.63 ounces, and its back cover has a soft touch surface for a more comfortable feel in the hand.
A few of the phone's buttons and ports have also been given the rubber treatment so there's less danger of water damage. Motorola claims the phone is military certified to withstand blowing rain, dust, shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, low pressure, salt fog, humidity, and solar radiation. Yet, it stops short of surviving a swim, so we wouldn't be dunking this in a pool any time soon.
As you might expect, the i1 front is dominated by its large touch screen. The 3.1-inch HVGA display is sufficiently colorful and crisp with 262,000 colors and 320x240-pixel resolution, and we love that it is a capacitive glass display. The screen responded quickly to our taps with hardly any pressure. You can adjust the screen timeout, the brightness, the orientation sensor, and the vibration feedback.
The i1 does not have the MotoBlur software that Motorola often uses on its Android smartphones, so the phone's interface will be familiar to anyone who has used an Android phone before. You get the usual customizable home screens as well as the pull-up menu of applications. The i1 has a new clock design and new Bluetooth and Wi-Fi widgets, but the rest of the widgets are similar to those on other Android phones. While the i1 doesn't support the pinch-to-zoom gesture, you can double-tap the screen to quickly zoom in. You also get an accelerometer and a proximity sensor.
The phone dialer remains the same as other Android phones, and you get both a regular virtual keyboard and the Swype method of entering text. The Swype keyboard lets you spell out a word by dragging a finger on the keyboard from letter to letter, and then it tries to guess what word you meant. While I'm not a big fan of the Swype method, plenty of users have taken to it, so it's up to you on which style you prefer.
Underneath the display are the usual Android sensor hot keys for the pop-up menu, the home screen, the back key, and the speakerphone. You also get physical keys for the Send and End/Power functions, which we didn't like so much because of how skinny they are. In the middle is a five-way D-pad, which you can use instead of the touch-screen if you feel like it.
On the left side are the push-to-talk button and the volume rocker, while the battery cover lock, the camera key, and the charger jack are on the right. On top are the screen lock key and the 2.5mm headset jack. On the back is the camera lens and LED flash.
As we mentioned, you only get Android version 1.5 with this device, so you won't get the benefits of 1.6 or 2.1. According to Motorola, the reason behind this is that it wanted the first iDEN Android phone to be incredibly solid, so they opted to use the most stable version of the operating system available at the time they developed the phone. However, according to Motorola, the i1 is upgradeable over-the-air, so this gives us hope that it'll get an update in the future.
As with all Android phones, you get a very healthy relationship with Google-related applications right off the bat. The phone has apps for Gmail, Google Talk, Google Maps, and YouTube. We also had no problems running and accessing other e-mail accounts, and syncing up our Microsoft Exchange server was a snap as well. Non-Gmail e-mails are accessible via a universal in-box and all appointments are integrated into a single calendar.
Interestingly, the i1's default Web browser is not Android's WebKit browser, but Opera Mini 5. We suspect this has to do with iDEN's relatively slow network, as Opera is better equipped to handle slower speeds. As you'll find in our performance section, this definitely does the trick, as we're able to load web pages relatively quickly. You also have the option to switch over to the Google WebKit browser by going into Browser Settings and deselecting "Load Web with Opera." We warn you that the browsing experience may be slower with the WebKit browser, though, so you might want to save that for when you're on Wi-Fi.
Other features of the phone include the usual PIM functionality of storing contacts, voice search, a calendar, an alarm clock, a voice recorder, and more. You also get Wi-Fi, the Android Market, the Amazon MP3 Store, GPS, and Bluetooth. Of course, you also get the push-to-talk functionality, which has its own Walkie-Talkie contacts list and call log interface. You can integrate them into the regular phone's contact list as well.
We were hoping for better picture quality with a 5.0-megapixel camera lens. While images seemed sharp and clean of artifacts, the color seemed dim and muted, with a touch of grayish green.
We tested the Motorola i1 in San Francisco using Boost Mobile and its call quality was really good for the most part. We heard our callers very clearly, and we enjoyed natural voice quality as well. The volume was nice and loud, which was especially true in speakerphone mode.
On their end, our callers said we sounded good with very little background noise. The voice quality was not quite so natural though, they said we sounded rather fuzzy and strained at times. Still, volume was good enough and we carried on a conversation swimmingly well. They said they too heard us very loud and clear with the speakerphone.
We were prepared for slow speeds on the iDEN network, but we were surprised to learn it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be. Loading the BBC Web page took around 29 seconds on Opera Mini, while the mobile CNET page took merely 12 seconds. However, loading YouTube clips put quite a strain on the phone's data connection, it took quite a while to buffer the video, and the video quality was rather choppy. However, its sound quality was decent.
The i1 has a 600MHz ARM11 Freescale processor, which we found speedy enough for our needs. The phone opened and closed applications quickly, but the accelerometer can take a few seconds to kick in. The camera activated in mere seconds after pressing the button.
The Motorola i1 has a 1,400mAH lithium battery with a rated battery life of 3.5 hours talk time and 4.17 days standby time. Unfortunately, the i1 only had a tested talk time of 3 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the i1 has a digital SAR of 0.81 watt per kilogram.