Motorola i880 Review

Motorola i880

“The i880 is Nextel's most advanced multimedia phone and, by-and-large, performs as advertised.”
  • Nextel Direct Connect; 2 MP digital camera with video light; MP3 player with external controls
  • No EV-DO network connection; no Bluetooth stereo; poor camera; no included data cable
MSRP $149.99

Summary

Since Sprint bought Nextel, there has been what seems to be a conscious effort to gussy up the heretofore drab, all-business Nextel phones with some fun features and aesthetic splashes. With a 2 MP digital camera and an MP3 player in an attractive, yet dignified enclosure, the i880 is the most fun-featured and distinguished-looking phone Nextel has produced. Judged by its own merits, the sturdy i800 offers an attractive package of functions and performance. But compared to Sprint’s PowerVision/ReadyLink phones, such as the similarly spec’d Sanyo M1, the i880 is a piker. Unlike the M1 (which also offers a 2 MP camera, MP3 player and ReadyLink walkie-talkie capabilities), the i880 is not an EV-DO phone and lacks HTML web browsing and access to Sprint’s PowerVision multimedia options. Yet, the i880 is $150 more than the Sanyo M1: $499.99 (M1) vs. $349.99 (i880) or you can get the i880 for $299.99 with contract and rebates (the M1 is $199.99 with contract and rebates). While more fun than its predecessors, the i880 is still more appropriate for the more well-heeled business user.

Features and Design

Outside, the i880 looks simple enough. On the front flap there are three blue backlit music transport buttons and camera buttons sit between twin speakers and a generously apportioned 1.25-inch color LCD screen. The camera lens with the video light and self-portrait mirror are above the screen. Volume toggle and the walkie-talkie Push-to-Talk (PTT) key are on the left spine (fine for thumb control when holding the phone in your left hand, inconvenient if you hold it in your right). The microSD slot and 2.5mm headphone jack are on the right spine, along with a "quick-flip" button that pops open the top flap. On the top spine next to the stub antenna are the speakerphone button and the music stop button.

Inside, the characters on the matte black keypad keys are cool-blue backlit, but are hard to read in dim conditions after the backlight goes out. The main menu access button is not the "Up" key on the flat navigation/function array, despite its location just below a menu icon on the screen. Instead, the menu access key is counter-intuitively located on the far left. Fortunately, you can correct this annoyance by reprograming each navigation key to access whatever function or application you want. The 2.1-inch (176 x 220 pixel) 262k-color screen is bright and colorful and makes a fine camera viewfinder.

On the lower chin of the phone, bracketing the numeric keypad, are a second set of stereo speakers that pump out even more volume than the top flap speakers.

The i800’s MP3 player plays non-DRM MP3s, AAC, and AAC+ files, but that’s a tease. There’s no data cable included (a $29.99 accessory), so you’ll need an alternative indirect method, such as flash card reader, to transfer songs to the phone (we tried copying MP3s and AACs from a Mac onto a microSD card, but the phone wouldn’t play them). And why, oh why, Motorola, since you included an MP3 player on such an obviously advanced phone, didn’t you also include stereo Bluetooth? There is standard headset Bluetooth, however.

Motorola has added on other unique features to the i880, like Agion Antimicrobial protection, which protects the painted areas of the phone against the spread of microbes on the phone’s surface. Essentially, if we correctly interpret the Agion explanation card included with the phone, this treatment protects the phone’s paint job against bacteria. We didn’t even realize this was a problem.

Amongst i880’s other features are GPS, enabling location-based services; Java for games and apps, available for download from Nextel; voice-activated dialing; a calendar and memo pad; and hearing aid compliance and text-to-speech for the vision-impaired.

Motorola i880
Image Courtesy of Nextel

Performance

This is one loud phone for all uses — for private voice, for speakerphone voice and music, and for ringers, through either the top or inside stereo speakers or the earpiece. Voice volume needs only to be at 4 out of a possible 7 to be heard clearly in normal ambient noise situations, and the same goes for ringer volume so it can be heard when clipped in its belt holster (although I set the ringer at the highest level to hear it clearly from my pants pocket). At the other end of calls, however, we got reports of "tunnel-like” vocal quality from co-conversationalists.

Frustratingly, the phone cannot be set to vibrate and ring simultaneously. A "Vibrate All" mode mutes all the ringers; perhaps "Vibrate Only" would be a more apt appellation. Enabling vibrate + ring would be better.

Since the i880 doesn’t operate on Sprint’s EV-DO network, you get the menu-driven Openwave-powered WAP Web, which is quite speedy. Pages routinely filled up within five seconds, faster than HTML pages on an EV-DO phone. MMS pictures finished transmitting in around 10 seconds.

There’s no direct camera activation key on the outside of the phone, which means you have to flip its lid to snap photos. If the lens were placed on the rear, the large front screen could be used as a viewfinder. Instead, the lens is at the top of the flap when closed, which means it’s in the middle of the phone when you open it, creating the potential for snapping a lovely picture of your finger if you’re not careful. The shutter lag is a solid second, which means you have to stay about as stock-still as Matthew Brady’s Civil War subjects until the shutter clicks to be assured of a non-blurred image. Instead of a flash, you get a video light that has to be activated through the menu — three clicks. The light stays on until you exit the camera app. There is no "automatic" flash setting. On the plus side, the default setting is "medium" size for MMS sending. Both digital zoom and picture size settings are adjustable from the navigation wheel.

Extra large 2 MP 1600 x 1200 shots are predictably dark and dank indoors, but are bright and clear outdoors in the sun, though they lack the sharp contrast and black levels of a standalone camera. For business-related photos, however, i880’s pictures are perfectly acceptable for both PC viewing and 4” x 6” prints.

Once snapped, you must access the menu to save the picture to memory. However, we could not locate pictures saved to the included 64 MB microSD memory card; they were not listed in the Media Player app. They must be in there somewhere, but we couldn’t find them. Without a data card, you’ll need the aforementioned memory card reader, or you’ll have to use Bluetooth to transfer shots to your PC.

The i880’s music player is far superior to the camera. Pushing the external "play" button initiates the player without opening up the flap. The external LCD displays all relevant track info. And, as noted, the twin front and inside speakers really blast, although the sound is unsurprisingly akin to a clock radio’s.

Rated battery life is misstated on the Sprint Nextel website. In our unscientific tests, the i880 lived nearly an hour past the 4.5 hours of talk time listed on the spec sheet we received from Motorola, far longer than the 2.8 hours stated on the Sprint/Nextel website.
Conclusion

The i880 is Nextel’s most advanced multimedia phone and, by-and-large, performs as advertised. But its menus and functionality could have been more attuned to impatient non-geeks (an industry-wide problem), and it’s way too expensive, considering that you can get an even more fully-featured Sprint PowerVision phone for a lot less money.

Pros

• Nextel Direct Connect
• 2 MP camera/camcorder
• MP3 player
• External music controls
• Included 64 MB microSD card
• Bluetooth

Cons

• No included data cable
• No stereo Bluetooth
• No HTML Web browsing
• Expensive

Editors' Recommendations