What's Good: First Android device for iDEN networks; decent camera for a mid-range device; durable.
What's Bad: Doing anything data-related can be frustrating due to Nextel's slow iDEN network speeds.
The Verdict: Awesome for existing Nextel users, but those used to quick data speeds should look elsewhere.
Revealed at CTIA in March, the Motorola i1 is the first iDEN Android device. Fast forward five months, and while the device is still exciting for iDEN users, the Android push has left the specifications a bit outdated. Still, in a world of rugged BlackBerry and outdated Windows Mobile devices, it's a breath of fresh air for those that still use Direct Connect on a daily basis. As with any Android smartphone, it offers a number of features, but is it crippled by Nextel's historically slow data speeds?
Design & Features
The i1 ships with a 600 MHz processor, a 3.1-inch LCD, 5.0-megapixel camera, and Direct Connect. Much to my delight, the i1 offered a few extras in the box. In addition to the device and battery, you get an AC adapter, USB cable (which, following the common trend, doubles as the charging cord), 2 GB microSD card with SD card adapter, and a pair of earbuds that fit the 2.5mm headphone jack. The 2.5mm headphone jack could be a frustration for some, but the included earbuds help.
Coming in at 4.65 inches long by 2.28 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, the device weighs 4.63 ounces, putting it in line with other smartphones on the market. Though it's a touchscreen device, the i1 is certainly rugged - it's so rugged, in fact, that it meets military specifications for dust, shock, wind, vibration, and other extremities. The sides are rubberized, and overall, the device feels very durable. The only concern I have is the plastic battery cover. After taking it off and putting it back on over the course of a few days, I have noticed that it's bending in a particular spot. As of now, it's not a concern, but over the course of 1-2 years, it worries me.
Usability & Performance
The Motorola i1 offers Android 1.5, and while it's an old version that's a bit long in the tooth, I'm hoping that Motorola will issue some sort of update in the coming months. Coming from newer versions of Android, I was frustrated by little things like the inability to add more than one Gmail account (in the native app), the lack of pinch-to-zoom, and the older version of Android Market. If Nextel was a carrier that offered more than one Android device (and had several versions of Android floating around as a result), I would be more concerned. Truth is, I don't think the average user will care that the device is running 1.5 as opposed to 2.1.
In addition to the standard Android keyboard, the i1 ships with Swype pre-installed. Though I'm an "old fashioned" touchscreen QWERTY kind of guy (if you can even call normal touchscreen keyboards "old"), Swype is quite cool and is relatively easy to use. After a day of use, I was typing (or drawing, I should say) fast enough to where I could have made it my primary form of input. Still, I was leery. Why? Because the "resistant to change" side of me wanted to stick with the regular QWERTY. Overall touchscreen responsiveness was very good, and once the phone booted up, I was pleased with the speed of the device.
Offering a 5.0-megapixel camera, the i1's picture quality was very good. Editing options include the ability to change scenes, effect, flash, picture resolution, and review time. Video quality was equally decent, and I was able to get a nice video of my cat playing with her mouse toy. The i1 offers a flash, so you're in the clear for those low-lit situations.
I spent most of my time testing the Motorola i1 in the Charlotte area, and barring two dropped calls, call quality was very good. I took the unit to a Nextel weak spot north of the city, and was able to carry on most calls, though one of the dropped calls occurred there. The earpiece was clear and sufficiently loud, and I was able to hear my callers without any distortion. Direct Connect performance was flawless in my tests with friends, and I paired two of my Bluetooth headsets to the device successfully. Thanks in part to Direct Connect, Nextel phones offer loud speakers, and the i1 is no exception. When testing the speakerphone in my home and at the gas station, I was pleased with the quality - enough to where I would consider using it regularly if it wasn't so irritating to others. All in all, audio quality was fantastic, provided there was an adequate level of signal strength.
The i1 is a good device, but in a world of 3G and 4G, Nextel's network struggles under the data load that comes from using an Android phone. Existing Android users will immediately notice the average 5-7 minute wait to download an application, and as proof to the network's limitations, the i1 doesn't support YouTube streaming. The CNN mobile homepage loaded in roughly 12 seconds, and the PhoneDog homepage loaded in a slow 72 seconds. If you're a heavy data user, you're going to want to stay close to the Wi-Fi hotspots.
If you're migrating from another Direct Connect device to the Motorola i1, the ability to download apps, surf the internet, and the general first-class smartphone experience that Android offers should please you. If you're coming from another carrier and using iDEN for the first time, you'll likely be frustrated with the slow data speeds. Despite the somewhat outdated specifications, I came away very pleased with the Motorola i1 - the real challenge came in using the Nextel network for my day-to-day tasks. E-mail delivery was slower, downloading apps was a consistent challenge, and sending and receiving text messages proved to be frustrating due to how Nextel categorizes them (they're all sent as multimedia messages). Die-hard Nextel users should be very pleased with the addition, though.
The Motorola i1 is available for $149.99 after mail-in rebate at Sprint. Check out the gallery below for additional pictures!