Generally speaking, cell phones can withstand only a minimal amount of punishment. Frequent impacts with a concrete floor or heavy use in a rain storm usually aren't good ideas. Nextel's i315, on the other hand, is designed to withstand all sorts of torture. As a sister model to the Nextel i325, the i315's design varies only slightly from the company's earlier candy-bar mobiles. Although the average user will be turned off by its bulk and, shall we say, less than pleasing aesthetics, this handset is clearly intended for those who need a business-friendly handset that can withstand the rigors of their particular jobs and/or lifestyles. Performance wasn't exactly up to par, but at $174.99 with a service agreement, at least the price is fair.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. Most of us don't need a cell phone designed to military specifications, but for the more demanding user, the Nextel i315 could be a godsend. Given its heft (5 by 2.4 by 1.4 inches and a chunky 6.95 ounces), it's a safe bet that this phone will appeal only to its target audience. The dark-blue-and-gray casing protects the phone's components--and makes this handset less than attractive. But the i315 isn't designed to impress teenagers, and the rubberized shock protection certainly works well against common mishandling. We dropped the phone several times without incident, and the ribbed spines give it a solid feel in our hands. And if that doesn't convince you, the mobile also meets military standards for dust, shock, extreme temperatures, solar radiation, blowing rain, and salt fog.
As for basic handling, the keys on the dial pad are sufficiently raised for touch-dialing, and the green backlighting makes for easy reading in dark rooms. Above the dial pad you'll find six keys: two soft keys, a dedicated Menu button, the power button, and the Send and End Keys, as well as a four-way navigation key in the center. Although the buttons are tactile enough for easy operation, this arrangement gives the phone a cluttered, complicated look, and there's a lack of shortcuts. Also, the monochrome display makes Web browsing a less than dynamic experience. Furthermore, the speaker on the back of the i315 is near the bottom of the unit, so you have to hold the phone awkwardly to avoid blocking it.
As always with Nextel phones, wading through the menus is a bit of a chore. Instead of returning you to the main menu, for example, pressing the Back button while in a secondary menu brings you out of Menu mode altogether. We also found the rubber cover for the charger port difficult to close completely. On the plus side, however, the volume rocker and the Push To Talk button on the left spine were easy to manipulate, and the extendable antenna was sturdy.The Nextel i315 is designed for serious work, not play, so you won't find many of the bells and whistles included in other handsets. What you will get is a 600-entry phone book that stores up to seven numbers per contact (you need a separate number for regular and PTT calls). There are no caller groups, but contacts can be assigned any of 3 polyphonic or 12 monophonic ring tones. Like any good handset, the i315 displays details of recent call information, including the time and the length of the call, but we didn't like the fact that it isn't separated into incoming, outgoing, and missed calls. Though the phone is somewhat short on organizer functions--there's no calendar, scheduler, or calculator--you get a vibrate mode, a memo pad, voice dialing, text messaging, a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser, and a speakerphone for both standard and Direct Connect calls.