Nextel rarely makes an effort to be trendy but that doesn't mean the carrier never follows trends. Rather, it just chooses to do so on its own terms. The new Motorola i880 is a perfect example of Nextel's way of doing things. Though the handset captures many of the "in" cell phone features, it makes no effort to be thin while remaining stylish in its own Nextel way. Also, while the addition of a 2-megapixel camera and external music controls are welcome, it must be said that as usual, Nextel isn't first to market with such features (its very first camera phone, the Motorola i860, was months behind models at other carriers). In any case, it's a solid effort overall and a needed addition to Nextel's lineup. You can get it for $299 with service.
Similar to most Nextel handsets, the Motorola i880 isn't svelte or compact. To be frank, at 3.5x1.9x1.1 inches and 4.8 ounces, it's a bit clunky but that's hardly a mark against it. Nextel customers expect such girth from their handsets, and though there's no signature Nextel rubber sidings, the phone feels solidly constructed and comfortable in the hand. And, in any case, after the endless gallery of thin phones, we welcome a handset that wears its heft with pride. The stubby antenna is extendable but a bit fragile, so we recommend keeping it down when not in use. The color scheme is unusual--sort of an eggplant shade--but it's quite attractive.
The i880's front face is packed with features, the most prominent of which is the attractive 1.25-inch external, 65,536-color display. You can't change any options beyond the wallpaper but the display does show the time, signal strength, battery life, and photo caller ID. Above the display are a full set of camera elements including the lens, a flash, and a self-portrait mirror, while the external music controls sit just below the display. You can use the controls to activate and manipulate the music player while the phone is closed, while viewing track information on the external display. Stereo speakers lie below the buttons and flank a Motorola logo that flashes when the phone rings.
The right spine holds a volume rocker and a Direct Connect button, while a covered headset jack and a covered MicorSD slot are placed on the left spine for easy accessibility. 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. Finally, the charger ports rests on the bottom of the i880.
The internal display is a treat and is comparable to the excellent display on the Motorola i580. At 2.35 inches (176x220 pixels) and with support for 262,000 colors, it's easy on the eyes and does a good job displaying everything from text to graphics. You can change the text size and the backlighting time, and though the brightness setting isn't adjustable, it didn't seem to matter. Also, we like that the i880 supports Nextel's newest menu design.
Nextel handsets tend to have crowded navigation buttons and while the i880 is no exception, it does a better job than most of its predecessors. Its primary navigation menu is accomplished through four directional buttons (for up, down, left, and right) that surround a central OK button. We like that the buttons are separated from each other by sliver bands and that they are covered in a tactile material. Each of the directional buttons doubles as a shortcut to a user-defined function. There also are two soft keys, a dedicate menu button, a camera shutter, and the traditional talk and end/power buttons. The only thing missing is a dedicated back button.
The keypad buttons also are well designed. They're raised slightly above the surface of the phone so it's easy to dial, and they're also large and well-spaced. The digits on the buttons are brightly backlit and should be large enough for most users to see easily. In a nice touch, a second set of stereo speakers line either side of the keyboard's bottom half, while the dedicated power button sits below the star key.
The i880 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 a picture and one of 18 polyphonic ring tones. Other features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an airplane mode, a calendar, mobile e-mail support, voice dialing, call and voice memo recording, a memo pad, a speakerphone, AOL instant messaging, and onboard GPS.
As for higher-end features, the i880 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. The i880 also 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.
Though it came a bit late to the camera phone game, the carrier ups the ante with the 2-megapixel shooter on the i880. You can take pictures in seven (yes, seven) resolutions from 96x95 to 1,600x1,200 pixels in either Fine or Normal quality settings. Settings include a flash, a self-timer, and two shutter sounds (there's no silent option), but as on previous Nextel camera phones, picture color effects, brightness adjustments, and white-balance controls are absent. Also, while the camera offers a 4X zoom, there was a couple seconds lag where the display went blank between each zoom setting. Picture quality was quite good with sharp colors and enough light. Our only complaint is smaller objects such as flowers looked somewhat fuzzy.
The i880'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 20MB of shared internal memory, but since that's on the low end, you're better off using a MicroSD card. Our test phone came with a 256MB card in the box.
The simple MP3 player on the i880 is comparable to the i580. Though the interface is completely bare bones, it's perfectly serviceable for listening to your tunes. You can choose from three color themes, and we like that 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 knocked the i580 for not having external music controls, so they're a welcome touch here.
You can personalize the i880 with a choice of wallpaper 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 two games (Tetris and World Poker Tour); three demo games (Block Breaker deluxe, Zuma, and Ms. Pac-Man); 1KTV, an on-demand pseudo-TV service; and the Trimble Outdoors and TeleNav 3.8 subscription-based navigation service that takes advantage of the i880's GPS support.
We tested the i880 in San Francisco using Nextel's service. Call quality was very good, with solid voice clarity and volume. Occasionally there was a slight background hiss but it wasn't enough to make us displeased with call quality. Callers reported similar conditions but said they could hear us loud and clear. On the reception side we had no trouble getting a signal and experienced little interference from other electronic devices. Speakerphone calls were up to par as well with very loud volume, and we had no issues when we made calls with a Bluetooth headset. Music quality wasn't exceptional by any means but the stereo speakers are a great touch. Music sounded a tad better over headphones than the external speakers, but the volume was quite loud either way. And for either method,our tracks sounded fine for short stints.
The Motorola i880 promises 4.5 hours of talk time battery life, while our tests showed 5 hours of talk time. According to FCC radiation tests, the i880 has a digital SAR rating of 1.3 watts per kilogram.