From the outset you know the i580 isn't for sissies. This is a burly phone through and through, from the rubberized, two-toned gray exterior to the solid construction of its oversized hinge. It's not about style by any means but all about being functional and useful. To that end, Motorola and Nextel added some unusual touches. Perhaps in an effort to emphasize the phone's durability, the middle of the front flap is covered in a tactile pattern that resembles steel plating. Even external features, such as the Micro SD slot and the headset jack on the right spine and the charger port on the bottom, are covered with rubber flaps, while the stubby extendable antenna has a solid construction. Nextel continually boasts that its handsets are certified to military specifications for blowing rain, dust, shock, and vibration, and the i580 is no exception.
All that ruggedness requires some trade-offs, however. At 3.8 by 2.2 by 1.1 inches and 5.1 ounces, the phone is big and bulky. It won't slip into a small pocket and will leave a sizable lump in a bag, but it feels comfortable to hold. That's all part of the game for Nextel fans, but slaves to fashion should steer clear. Also, the rectangular external display is relatively small (96x32 pixels), and the tiny font size isn't changeable. It's also monochrome, and though you can't change the backlighting time, a flick of an exterior button will brighten the screen again. Displayed information includes the signal strength, battery life, date, time, and caller ID (where available). Above the screen are the camera lens, a self-portrait mirror, and a tiny flash, while the right spine holds a volume rocker and a Direct Connect button. On the top of the phone are the speakerphone key and a button for sending calls to voicemail and accessing the recent calls list when the phone is closed. All keys are coated in durable rubber.
The internal display is one of the better design touches on the i580. Measuring 1.8 inches (176x220 pixels) and supporting 262,000 colors, it vividly displays text and graphics with eye-popping colors and sharp object outlines. We're also pleased the phone supports Nextel's newer animated menu design. You can change the backlighting time and the font size but not the brightness or the contrast. The border surrounding the display resembles the aforementioned patterned exterior on the front flap.
Below the display are large and tactile navigation controls. A four-way toggle doubles as a shortcut to four-user defined functions, while an OK button sits in the toggle's center. There are also two soft keys, a dedicated camera button, a camera shortcut control, and the talk and end keys. The backlit keypad buttons are quite large, and we like that they are raised above the surface of the phone. It was easy to dial by feel and in dim situations. The power key is located just below the keypad buttons and is set in a rubber casing that extends from the outside of the phone.
The i580 has all the Nextel business-friendly offerings you'd expect. The 600-contact phone book has room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, an IP address, and a Direct Connect number. Contacts can be organized further into a variety of groups for regular or push-to-talk (PTT) calls, and you can pair them with one of 12 monophonic or 3 polyphonic ring tones. Other features include a vibrate mode, an airplane mode, a calendar, mobile e-mail support, voice dialing, call and voice memo recording, a memo pad, text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, and onboard GPS.
Since there aren't a great number of Nextel phones with wireless capability, we were glad to find the i580 supports full Bluetooth for connecting to a headset or sending data to another Bluetooth device. You also get Nextel's Direct Connect walkie-talkie service (including 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 six miles. A newer feature is Direct Send, which sends PTT contact information to other compatible Nextel phones.
Perhaps the biggest news, however, is that the i580 supports Nextel's second line service, which allows you to add a second line to the phone with a different phone number--perfect for users who want separate digits for personal and business use. Nextel was one of the first U.S. carriers to offer the functionality. It will cost extra, of course, but you can have separate ring tones, separate billing statements, and even phone numbers with different area codes.
Nextel was relatively late to the camera phone game, but it has begun to catch up. The i580 joins the Motorola i870 in offering a solid 1.3-megapixel camera. You can take pictures in six resolutions from 128x96 to 1,280x1,024 pixels in either Fine or Normal quality settings. Settings include a 4X digital zoom, a flash, and a self-timer, but absent are the picture color effects, brightness adjustments, and white-balance controls that you find with most VGA camera phones. Picture quality is decent, with better color saturation than we've seen from other megapixel shooters, though it still can't compare with a digital camera. On the upside, the i580 follows most Motorola handsets in including a handy memory meter in the camera application that shows the available space.
The i580's video recorder shoots clips in two resolutions (176x144 and 128x96) with sound. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 15 seconds; otherwise you're limited by the amount of available memory. Clips were nothing special, with a grainy, pixelated effect. Once you're done with your snapshots or videos, you can store the files on the phone's 25MB of internal memory, which is on the low side, but you can always save these files to a Micro SD card. You can also use images for picture caller ID, though they won't show up on the external display, or as your phone's wallpaper, and you can send them wirelessly to friends.
The i580 has a rudimentary but serviceable MP3 player for listening to your favorite tunes. The interface is beyond basic, with nothing in the way of album art or graphics. That said, the external and internal displays show the artist and song name and elapsed time during playback. Features include shuffle and repeat modes and Rock, Pop, Jazz, Classical, and Bass EQ presets. On the downside, it plays tracks only from TransFlash cards, so you can forget about direct-to-device music transfers, let alone over-the-air downloads. We also wish the i580 had external music controls, though we realize they might compromise its durability.
You can personalize the i580 with a choice of wallpapers and themes. 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 three game demos (Vijay Singh Pro Golf, Bejeweled, and World Poker Tour); 1KTV, an on-demand pseudo-TV service; and the Trimble Outdoors and TeleNav subscription-based navigation service that takes advantage of the i580's GPS support.
We tested the i580 in San Francisco using Nextel's service. Call quality was very good, with fine voice clarity and volume. We had no trouble getting a signal and experienced little interference from other electronic devices. Callers reported similar conditions and said they had no reception problems on their end. Speakerphone calls were mostly clear with very loud volume, and we had no issues when we made calls with the Plantronics Explorer 320 Bluetooth headset. Music sounded better over headphones than the external speakers, but the volume was quite loud either way.
The i580's rated battery life is relatively short at just 2.75 hours of talk time, though we did manage to get 3 hours of talk time in our tests. It still has a measly standby time of 2.9 days. According to FCC radiation tests, the i580 has a digital SAR rating of 1.02 watts per kilogram.