Nextel has always done well with business users, but now the company has set its sights on a different market: the NASCAR fan. Functionally, the NASCAR Cup Nextel i736 works just like the buttoned-down , complete with a color screen and Nextel's Direct Connect Push To Talk (PTT) walkie-talkie nationwide service. But what sets this phone apart is its racing-themed plastic exterior and a host of car-related sounds and images that will appeal to fans who care more about racing than portability or performance. At $199 with service, this handset is more expensive than many Nextel phones, but you're paying for personalization. The 11 phones in Nextel's NASCAR series are based on the design of the . We tested the black NASCAR Cup Nextel i736, which is decorated with a checkered flag and two colored NASCAR logos. Other versions feature the signatures, the race car colors, and the numbers of top NASCAR drivers. Measuring 3.6 by 1.1 by 2 inches and weighing 5.1 ounces, the i736 is relatively hefty, though smaller than some of its Nextel predecessors. The exterior of the phone is primarily smooth, black plastic, while rubberized controls on the side of the unit adjust the speakerphone and the volume and activate the PTT feature. On top of the handset, next to the 1-inch extendable antenna, are two clearly labeled keys that respectively activate the speakerphone and select a number for dialing. Completing the mobile's front is a one-line, blue-backlit screen that is a bit small for the phone's size. When the unit is closed, the screen shows the signal strength, the time, the caller ID (when available), and the battery life.
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Souped-up: As with most Nextel phones, the i736 does have some girth.
Flip open the i736, and a seven-line, 65,000-color screen greets you. The default wallpaper, of course, is a speedway complete with cars, but this can be changed. The bright, easy-to-read screen is the perfect vehicle for Nextel's bundled NASCAR content. The graphically driven menu interface is the same as the i730's. While it is an improvement over those of previous Nextel models, we still wish it were a bit more refined. For instance, using the Back key to leave a secondary menu takes you out of all menus entirely.
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Start your engines: Racing wallpapers and a checkered-flag border complete the NASCAR theme.
We were less impressed with the phone's blue-backlit keypad. Made of the same black plastic as the phone's shell, the slick keys sit flush with the case, making them a little difficult to manipulate. Two soft keys and a four-way controller with an OK button in the center give one-touch access to user-definable features. But as with the i730, the crowded arrangement of the navigation buttons makes the phone seem overly complicated. The NASCAR Cup Nextel i736 comes with a 600-name phone book that has room for up to seven numbers for each contact. This is especially useful given that you need separate phone numbers for regular and nationwide PTT calls (note that PTT service does not work in Alaska and Montana). You also get voice-activated dialing, USB connectivity, a speakerphone (see for more), a three-minute voice recorder, a WAP 2.0 wireless-Web browser, and an airplane mode. The most-fun features, however, are the polyphonic ring tones, which include the U.S. national anthem, the sound of a revving engine, and the announcement, "Gentleman, start your engines." At maximum volume, the ring tones are loud enough to stop traffic.
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The speakerphone's rear-facing placement isn't ideal.
The phone's datebook can be used to book meetings, plan events, and set alarms that will automatically turn on the phone if needed. The datebook can import contacts from Outlook, but unfortunately it cannot sync with other programs. Alternately, you can store up to 500 contacts online, 250 of which can be wirelessly stored in the phone through the Nextel network. Nextel also offers a variety of POP3 and Microsoft Exchange-compatible mobile
The i736 supports Java (J2ME) applications and comes preloaded with a Fox Sports Football game demo and TeleNav 2.2, a GPS-based application that can also serve as a compass. Adding to the NASCAR theme is a NASCAR.com-To-Go applet that links to race schedules, driver bios, stats, and a live leader board. With the phone's Racing Stopwatch application, you can clock races and compare times with the officials. Of course, the phone comes preloaded with wallpapers of NASCAR logos and cars on the track. We tested the single-band (iDEN 800MHz) NASCAR Cup Nextel i736 in New York City using Nextel's service and had no problem getting a clear signal from locations throughout Manhattan. When talking indoors, we found the sound quality suffered slightly, but even then, callers on the other end said they could hear us clearly. Although we were a little disoriented by the phone's rear-mounted speaker, we had no trouble hearing callers on the speakerphone.
The standby battery time was 4 days, beating the rated time of 3.25 days. Talk time lasted just more than 4 hours, beating the promised talk time of 3 hours, 20 minutes. While those times aren't great and are slightly lower than those of the , they aren't terrible either.