It's been so long since we've reviewed a Nextel cell phone (the last was the Motorola i580 in July 2006) that we almost forgot they existed. In the wake of the 2005 Next/Sprint merger, the carrier announced it was phasing out iDEN-only models in favor of dual-mode handsets like the Motorola ic902 and ic502. But with its new Motorola i335, iDEN is back. Sporting Nextel markings only (you won't find "Sprint" anywhere on the handset or its packaging), the i335 combines traditional Nextel design with a dose of modern style. Its candy bar body is tough and durable, but the i335 is the thinnest Nextel handset to date. It lacks a camera, but of course it offers Nextel's standard array of push-to-talk (PTT) services. The i335 will put a crimp in your wallet if you pay full price ($249), but you can get it for as low as $49.99 with service if you buy it online. To find accessories for this phone, see our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.
Nextel loyalists will be pleased to know that the Motorola i335 has everything they've come to love in cell phone design. The sturdy candy bar model looks like it could take quite a beating, and the interface, while far from flashy, is functional and reliable. But as we mentioned earlier, the i335 is the first Nextel phone to make a play for the thin handset trend. At 4.7 inches by 1.8 inches by 0.5 inch, it sheds much of the bulk that plagued the carrier's earlier models though it remains slightly heavy at 3.7 ounces. The design succeeds not because it's fashionable, but rather because it's simple and practical. Clad in black with a few silver touches, it's unassuming as well.
Nextel has never made a serious effort to invest in rich, vibrant displays. Sure, recent models like the i580 had screens that were easy on the eyes, but the i335 is a return to Nextel's roots. Its display measures just 1.5 inches and has relatively low resolution (65,536 colors, 130x130 pixels). As expected, photos and graphics aren't very sharp, and Nextel's multipage menu system looks rather antiquated, but this is a phone that concentrates more on brawn than on beauty. Design lovers won't be impressed, but worker bees accustomed to a Nextel phone probably won't mind. You can change the display's backlighting time and the text size.
The i335's navigational array and keypad buttons are coated in a rubbery, soft-touch material that makes them very tactile and user-friendly. The individual controls are also quite spacious and well separated from each other, so we had no problems with misdials. And on top of that, the bright backlighting and large numbers on the keys made it easy to dial in the dark. The navigation array consists of a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a speakerphone shortcut, the standard Nextel menu shortcut, and the Talk and End/power keys. Thanks to the design of the controls, we could navigate by feel even if the directional buttons on the toggle were rather thin (we advise using fingernails). On the other hand, you can program the toggle to act as a shortcut to four user-designed functions.
Completing the exterior of the phone are a volume rocker and the Direct Connect button on the left spine. There's also a covered 2.5mm headset jack and a covered mini-USB port. The single speaker is on the bottom end of the phone; that's a change from its usual location on the rear face of the handset. And in another change from previous Nextel models, the i335 has an internal antenna.
The i335 skips the latest cell phone trends du jour--namely, 3G support, a megapixel camera, and a music player--in favor of the basics. The 600-contact phone book has room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, an IP address, a Direct Connect number and a Talkgroup number. Contacts can be organized further into a variety of groups for regular or push-to-talk calls, and you can pair them with one of 18 polyphonic ringtones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a voice recorder, a speakerphone, a notepad, call timers, and call forwarding.
Fortunately, the i335 also offers Bluetooth and voice dialing. And it wouldn't be a Nextel phone without the carrier's Direct Connect walkie-talkie service. You'll also find Group Connect, which lets you chat with up to 20 others via PTT at once, and Direct Talk, which gives you out-of-network walkie-talkie chat with another Direct Talk handset at a range of up to 6 miles.
You can personalize the i335 with a choice of wallpapers, themes, and alert sounds. If you don't like what's on the handset already, you can always download more options with the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Alternatively, you get a fair choice of Java (J2ME) applications, including five game demos (Tower Bloxx, Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man, Midnight Pool, Tetris, and World Series of Poker) and TeleNav subscription-based navigation service that takes advantage of the i335's GPS support.
We tested the Motorola i335 (iDEN 800) in San Francisco. Call quality was very good and up to usual iDEN standards. Voice clarity was excellent, and the signal did not suffer from interference. The volume level was also satisfactory; we had no problems hearing our friends when we were in noisy environments. On their end, callers said they could hear and understand us without any problems. They could tell we were using a cell phone, but that's hardly unusual. Speakerphone calls were also admirable; we enjoyed more than enough volume and satisfying clarity. When we tried using the i335 with automated calling systems, we didn't have any issues being understood.
The i335 has a rated battery life of 3.3 hours and 5.6 days. We were quite impressed with the tested talk time of around 5 hours, 10 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Motorola i335 has a digital SAR rating of 1.53 watts per kilogram, which is rather high.