On paper, the Motorola i886 seems like a pretty run-of-the-mill Nextel phone. It has push-to-talk with Nextel Direct Connect, stereo Bluetooth, a 2-megapixel camera, a microSD card slot, GPS, and as it is not a smartphone, it has no Wi-Fi. Like most Nextel phones, it is billed as a durable handset, with thick rubberized casing that is military-certified to take a beating. The i886 also looks like a regular messaging handset, with its slide-out QWERTY keyboard.
Yet, it has a trick up its sleeve--its user interface looks almost identical to that of Android. Indeed, the multiple home screens, the pull-up menu, and the app icons look uncannily like Android. But it is not--the OS is a proprietary Linux-based operating system. While we initially thought the use of a fake Android interface was odd, we actually think it's a great idea, as it is far better than the usual Nextel one. The inclusion of Opera Mini is welcome, and we appreciate having a dedicated GetJar application store as well.
We do worry that some people might get fooled into thinking this is a smartphone when it's decidedly not. At the end of the day, the Motorola i886 is just a well-made Nextel messaging phone, which is not a bad thing. Just don't expect anything more than that. The Motorola i886 is $79.99 after a two-year service agreement.
As far as rugged handsets go, the Motorola i886 is positively petite. At 4.6 inches long by 2.0 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick, it's not exactly wafer-thin, but compared with other Nextel phones like the Brute i680, it's quite slim. Clad in hard plastic and thick padding, the i886 is military-certified to withstand dust, shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, low pressure, solar radiation, and humidity. We couldn't subject the phone to such a battery of tests, but it did survive a drop in a bucket of water. While the black-and-gray color scheme is a bore, we do like its compact form factor, and at 4.98 ounces, it feels very solid in the hand.
The 2.2-inch QVGA display is quite bright and colorful, with 262,000-color support. We like the bold graphic icons, and the text is clear and legible, too. We did think the text was a little on the small side, and, unfortunately, you can't adjust the font size. You can adjust the brightness and backlight timer, however. You can also toggle window animations from the display settings.
As we mentioned in the introduction, the i886's user interface is almost note-for-note the same as Android's. However, unlike most Android phones, you have to control everything using the navigation toggle since the display is not a touch screen. We had to resist the urge to swipe the screen at times, but we soon got used to it. Everything from the home screen to the pull-up main menu is identical to the Android user interface, right down to the app icons.
You get up to three home screens, and all of them are customizable with shortcuts, widgets, and wallpaper. Simply press the menu key, select Manage Home Screen, and go from there. You can display widgets for the analog clock, the calendar, the music player, Nascar updates, one-touch Direct Connect, the picture frame app, power control, and Sprint Football Live. Do note that there aren't any Google widgets, because, remember, it's not really an Android phone.
Underneath the display is the navigation array, which is, again, very similar to most Android phones. You have the menu key (which doubles as a screen lock key), the Home key, and the Back key. Instead of the usual Search key, you get a Notifications key, which brings up the notifications screen. In the middle of the array is a round navigation toggle with a center select key. We almost wished the center toggle was an optical touch pad of some kind just to make it feel more like an Android phone, but no, it's just a regular physical key. There are also raised Send and End/Power keys on either side of the toggle.
Beneath the array is the number keypad, which consists of rubbery raised keys. They're well separated and we found it easy to dial by feel. If you want you can also text with the number keypad using XT9. However, we would recommend using the full QWERTY keyboard instead.
Slide the phone to the right, and you'll reveal said keyboard. The phone slides open easily, and we like the way it snaps securely into place. The keyboard itself is roomy enough, with plenty of space between each key. On the keyboard are the usual Shift and Alt/Function keys, as well as a Menu key, a Back key, and a directional keypad for navigating the phone in landscape mode. We like that there's a dedicated messaging key as well as the big spacebar key in the middle.
On the left spine are the volume keys and the Direct Connect key, while the Micro-USB connector and camera button are on the right. On top of the phone are a speaker button and a 3.5-millimeter headset jack. The camera lens is on the back of the phone. To open the battery cover, you need to unlock the battery door latch on the back. The microSD card slot is located behind the battery door.
The Motorola i886's phone book allows room for multiple numbers and e-mail addresses for each contact. As it is a push-to-talk phone, you can also associate each entry with a Direct Connect number. Each entry allows for multiple IM usernames, a postal address, an organization name, notes, a nickname, and a Web URL. As a Nextel phone, the i886 offers all of the carrier's Direct Connect PTT services like International Direct Connect, Group Connect, and Direct Talk.
Of course, it has text and multimedia messaging complete with threaded conversations. We're glad to see e-mail support on here as well--simply enter in your log-in information, and the phone will attempt to automatically detect the incoming and outgoing server settings. You can manually set it up as well. The i886 supports Exchange ActiveSync for if you want to sync the phone with your corporate e-mail, contacts, and calendar.
Basic features include a vibrate mode, an alarm clock, a calculator, and a sound recorder. You also get stereo Bluetooth, GPS with TeleNav support, an application manager, and Opera Mini, which is quite a treat compared with the usual basic browser on most messaging phones. It also works better on the slower Nextel network. We're happy to see an app store of sorts with the GetJar store, which lets you shop for Java apps that will work with the phone. As it is a Nextel phone, the i886 comes with Nascar and Sprint Football Live preinstalled.
The i886 also has a pretty decent music player installed. The interface is simple, but it does support album art, and you can select themes and visualizations. There are the usual shuffle and repeat modes, and an equalizer with nine settings. To get music onto the phone, you get upload it via a USB cable or insert a microSD card. The phone has 62MB of memory and can accommodate cards of up to 32GB.
The 2-megapixel camera takes photos in seven resolutions, from 1,200x1,600 pixels down to 160x120 pixels. Settings include two quality modes, exposure control, white balance, a 4x digital zoom, a self-timer, geotagging, a macro mode, an autofocus, four color effects, and a couple of shutter sounds. Photo quality was average--images were clear for the most part, but there was some graininess. Colors also looked dim and washed out. There's a camcorder function that can shoot in three resolutions and offers similar settings to the still camera.
We tested the Motorola i886 in San Francisco using the Sprint Nextel service. Call quality was very good on the whole. Incoming audio was clear and strong, and our callers' voices sounded natural, too. There was a bit of distortion occasionally, but it was almost imperceptible. Reception was reliable as well.
Callers too reported admirable call quality. They said volume was very strong, and our voices sounded so natural, it was as if we were in the same room. Calls from the speakerphone rated highly as well, with almost no difference from non-speakerphone mode.
The i886 has a rated battery life of 4.08 hours of talk time and 5 days of standby time. We found it had a talk time of 4 hours and 39 minutes in our tests. According to the FCC, the Motorola i886 has a digital SAR of 0.87 watt per kilogram.