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Motorola i850 (Nextel) review: Motorola i850 (Nextel)

Motorola i850 (Nextel)

Ben Patterson
5 min read
Nextel Motorola i850
Marking only its second camera phone to date, Nextel's stylish Motorola i850 flip phone feels as heavy as a brick but also packs in all the goodies that Nextel subscribers have come to expect, including Direct Connect walkie-talkie service, built-in GPS, and a speakerphone. In addition to all the Nextel regulars, the Motorola i850 ups the ante with a brilliant, razor-sharp internal display and improved navigation controls. The i850's low-wattage VGA camera might not compare to the latest powerhouse camera phones offered by other manufacturers, but business-minded push-to-talk users will appreciate the phone's no-nonsense features and sturdy, reassuring bulk. That said, at $400 (or $200 with a two-year service plan), the i850 ranks as one of Nextel's pricier phones. With no rubberized casing, the Motorola i850 is a bit of a departure from the usual Nextel handsets, but the phone's bulk and weight won't come as much of a surprise. Measuring 3.5 by 2 by 1.1 inches and tipping the scales at 4.3 ounces, this black and gray mobile is plenty hefty. Additionally, considering its thickness and stubby, retractable antenna, the i850 makes for a tight fit in a jeans pocket.


Motorola i850 (Nextel)

The Good

Gorgeous internal display; improved design; speakerphone; VGA camera; Direct Connect walkie-talkie service.

The Bad

Bulky and heavy; no flash for the camera; small external screen.

The Bottom Line

Nextel's chic, clamshell-style Motorola i850 feels as heavy as a brick but packs in all the goodies that the carrier's subscribers have come to expect.

Small but heavy: The weighty Motorola i850 is more compact than most Nextel models.

While the Motorola i850 isn't exactly featherweight, the phone's sleek black and gray design has more style than most of the carrier's models. The front of the clamshell headset sports a pair of smooth, beveled curves that flank the main, shiny black panel; the tiny camera lens and the self-portrait mirror; and the monochrome external display, which is small at just 96x32 pixels but packs in all the basic info, including the time, the date, signal strength, battery life, caller ID, and the ringer mode. Flip open the phone, however, and you'll find the phone's stunning 262,000-color, 176x220-pixel internal screen: a vibrant, razor-sharp display that stands in stark contrast with the so-so screens on most Nextel phones. The i850's animated menus are reasonably slick and easy to use, although we were annoyed with having to click More to see additional menu options rather than just scrolling down. It's nothing new for a Nextel phone, but it's bothersome nonetheless.

Below the display is the Motorola i850's backlit, silver keypad, which boasts big, flat, and easy-to-press buttons. We like the large, five-way navigational toggle, the dedicated Talk/End buttons, the menu key, and the separate camera button. Additionally, the toggle acts as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. The arrangement is a big improvement upon the cramped navigation controls on other Nextel handsets, with the power button now located below the keypad. Yet, we missed having a dedicated Clear key for correcting dialing and messaging mistakes; instead, you must use a soft key to delete errant characters. What's worse, when you're in a secondary menu, pressing the same soft key exits you out of the menus completely rather than just going back to the main menu.

On the left side of the Motorola i850, you'll find the familiar rubberized button for Nextel's signature push-to-talk service, with a pair of volume controls just above it and a rubber flap beneath that protects the 2.5mm headset port. Atop the phone and next to the extendable antenna is a modified speakerphone button; if you get a call while the headset is shut, you can press the button to answer the call using the speakerphone while keeping the phone closed; you hit the nearby End button to hang up or reject the call without answering. If the phone is open when a call comes in, you must press and hold the speakerphone button to answer the call in the corresponding mode. While we enjoyed answering calls with the flip closed, we wish the speakerphone could be on with the phone open before a call comes in.

Besides being only the second camera phone in Nextel's handset lineup, the Motorola i850 comes with a relatively sparse set of features, including a 600-contact phone book with room in each entry for an e-mail address, an IP address, and seven phone numbers, along with the Direct Connect number; a calendar with month and week views; the aforementioned speakerphone; a vibrate mode; nine-number speed dialing; a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser; a voice recorder; call timers; a memo pad; text and multimedia messaging; an airplane mode; three-way calling; voice calling and memos; and onboard GPS. 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 6 miles.

See me: The Motorola i850's camera lens has a self-portrait mirror but no flash.

The Motorola i850's camera gets the job done, but it's nothing to write home about. The VGA resolution simply can't compete with its increasingly prevalent 1.3- and 2-megapixel competitors, although the snapshots we took looked OK, considering the 640x480-pixel resolution. The camera also lacks an LED flash, a feature we've come to expect in a camera phone. At least you get 4X digital zoom; five resolution settings (640x480, 320x240, 176x220, 160x120, and 128x96); two lighting settings; a choice between Normal and Fine picture quality; and a self-timer with settings between 10 and 20 seconds. Once you're done taking pictures, you can send the images to your friends via e-mail or multimedia messaging, use them as wallpaper, and assign them to your contacts for photo caller ID. Unfortunately, if you're looking for image frames, editing, multishot, or autofocus, you won't find those features on this handset.

The Motorola i850 has average photo quality for a camera phone.

Personalization options on the Motorola i850 are quite good. In addition to turning your snapshots into the phone's wallpaper or assigning them to individual contacts, you can assign five polyphonic ring tones (MP3 and MIDI) to contacts; change ringer profiles, such as Standard, Car, Meeting, Office, Outdoors, and Headset; choose from one of three color themes, including Geometric, Water Drop, and Glow; tweak the backlighting settings; and change the main menu from Icon to List View. When the phone rings, the keypad buttons flash in accompaniment.

Apps on the Java (J2ME)-equipped phone include a trio of game demos (Zuma, Aces Hold'em, and BlockBreaker); 1KTV, an on-demand pseudo-TV service; and TeleNav, a subscription-based navigation service that takes advantage of the i850's GPS support.

We tested the Motorola i850 (iDEN 850) in New York City and had no trouble with call quality; our callers sounded loud and clear, and they couldn't tell we were on a cell phone. We also tried the phone in our electronics-stuffed living room--complete with a large-screen TV, a Wi-Fi router, and a nearby microwave oven--and didn't encounter any interference. Speakerphone quality was good, but be advised that the speaker is located on the rear of the phone.

The Motorola i850's picture quality was good for a VGA camera phone's, with solid color and decent detail, although images looked considerably softer compared with those of the latest 1.3- and 2-megapixel camera phones on the market.

Battery life on the handset was painfully skimpy. Nextel promises a mere 2.75 hours of talk time, but we beat it by a half hour. For standby time, we got 3.5 days in a single charge, compared with the rated 3 days. According to FCC radiation tests, the Motorola i850 has a digital SAR rating of 1.05 watts per kilogram.


Motorola i850 (Nextel)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7