Even the most ardent Nextel loyalists have to admit that the carrier hasn't been synonymous with cell phone style. Instead of being slick and eye-catching, Nextel has developed a dedicated following of users who not only don't mind the carrier's bulky handsets but actually prefer them for their , their push-to-talk service, and their unique business-friendly features. Nextel also sat defiantly on the sidelines during the camera phone revolution, preferring to avoid the latest trendy feature. But ever since the carrier rolled out its compact , change has been in the air. And now the first Nextel camera phone, the i860, is finally here. Stylishly designed and pleasingly portable, the i860 also marks some much-welcome improvements in screen resolution and menu design for Nextel. The phone is pricey at $299, but you should be able to find it for a discount. Unlike the we reviewed, the i860 more closely resembles the company's compact . At a slim 1.8 by 3.4 by 1.0 inches and a trim 4.7 ounces, it is easily portable and fits in almost any pocket. Moreover, the striking blue, silver, and black coloring gives the handset a sorely needed sense of style. There's no rubber covering to protect the mobile from bumps and scratches, but it feels solid in the hand nonetheless. Two notes of caution, though: we found the hinge construction a bit stiff, so be advised that it takes a little effort to close the phone. Also, the extendable antenna is rather flimsy, so take care when using it.
The Nextel i860's external display is a pleasant surprise. Much larger (1.4 inches diagonal) than other Nextel external screens, it supports 4,000 colors. Besides showing the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available), the screen also gives you picture caller ID and icons with the ringer and messaging status. Above the external screen is the lens and the flash, but we'd like a mirror for self-portraits. The speakerphone and the Recent Calls buttons are placed on the top of the unit. With the mobile's cover closed, you can make calls by pushing the Recent Calls button, then the speakerphone. The rear speaker, however, is located on the bottom of the unit, right where you hold the phone. Nonetheless, the speaker was loud enough, even when our hand was in the way. The Push To Talk (PTT) button sits on the left spine, along with the volume controls; both are easy to manipulate. We were disappointed, however, by the lack of a dedicated camera key on the outside.
Inside the phone is the gorgeous 262,000-color display. At 2.25 inches (diagonal), it's great for viewing photos and Java (J2ME) applications, and it lets you can change the text size. We also were impressed by the attractive, user-friendly menus, which are a huge improvement over those of Nextel's earlier handsets. Instead of a simple list, animated icons allow access to the various features. Navigation buttons are the same as those of the carrier's other handsets, although they're more crowded on the i860. You get a five-way toggle, dedicated power and menu buttons, two soft keys, and Talk and End buttons. There's no dedicated camera control, but the navigation toggle, the soft keys, and the keypad buttons can be set as shortcuts to user-defined functions. The End button doubles as a main screen button when you're in a secondary menu, and the Back key inconveniently takes you out of the menus altogether. Rather small and backlit in blue, the keypad buttons are set flush; as a result, dialing by feel is difficult.The Nextel i860 comes with a solid set of features. The 600-contact phone book holds up to seven numbers for each contact; as with all Nextel mobiles, separate numbers are required for regular and PTT calls. Contacts can be assigned to caller groups or be paired with a picture or any of 3 polyphonic or 12 monophonic ring tones for use with caller ID. If that's not enough, Nextel offers a free online account that lets you store--but not sync with--an additional 500 contacts as well as calendar information. Other goodies include vibrate mode (but no vibrating ring tones), voice dialing, text and multimedia messaging (see below), a speakerphone, a voice recorder, a memo pad, a calculator, a currency and unit converter, a date book, a GPS locator, and a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Missing from the list, however, are Bluetooth support and an infrared port.
For the on-the-go executive, Nextel offers a choice of POP3, AOL Instant Messenger, and Microsoft Exchange-compatible mobile e-mail options (with syncing) upon activation of a Nextel Online package, which will run you $10 to $15 per month. USB connectivity is included with the phone, as is access to your corporate calendar. You also can send contact information to other Nextel users, but they must be using an i860 as well. Subscription services are available to TeleNav 3.0 for audible driving directions and 1KTV for news, sports, and entertainment content. Other applications are available for purchase through Nextel.