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Motorola i870 for Nextel

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Review posted April 27, 2006 by Jacob Spindel

Nextel phones haven't been spotted in Paris Hilton's hands nor were they equipped with the kind of camera that could transform one into a would-be paparazzi. Rock along to MP3 tunes? Not the first thing that comes to mind. But strictly business Nextel, all about Push to Talk, ruggedness and corporate appeal has changed their image with the Motorola i870. The i870 has a good 1.3 megapixel digital camera, expansion slot for saving those photos and storing tunes (yes, it plays MP3s). The color display is perfect for photo viewing, not to mention an occasional game. And the phone's camera is good for verticals such as real estate and insurance (see it's not all fun and games).

Motorola i870


Features and Included Goodies

If your boss bought this phone for you, he or she would probably skip the flashy introductions and instead just quickly lay out the facts: it's an iDEN flip-phone (iDEN is Nextel's regular network, which is technically similar to GSM but not interoperable with any other standard) with a 1.3 megapixel camera that takes pictures and movies. It's got Bluetooth and accepts TransFlash memory cards, which are also called Micro SD. (If your boss has never heard of TransFlash, reassure him or her that a 32 MB card is included, as is an adaptor that allows the card to plug into any regular SD card reader—and even a standard SD reader is also included). The phone also comes with a belt clip, travel charger, standard battery, and a 128K SIM card. (No sync cable is included.) Additionally, the phone also supports a data plan, has speakerphone capability, and Nextel's DirectConnect (walkie talkie) feature.

Nextel i870
back of phone



Design, Ergonomics and Display

As you get started with the i870, you will probably find the user experience to be solid in terms of both hardware and software. Like most modern flip-phones, the i870 complements its large, internal color screen with an outer screen (visible when the unit is closed), which impressed me with its ability to display in color, and its capacity to display quite a bit of information at once, even though it is still smaller and blockier than the primary screen. Although Nextel did not specify the resolution of either screen, the 262,000 color internal screen measures 2.25" diagonally, and the 4,096 color external is 1.4" diagonally. The phone also features external buttons that enable you to control many of the most important multimedia and calling features, including volume and playback, without opening the phone.

Flip the phone open, and you'll find a pretty standard layout, consisting of the bright, 262,000-color screen on one half, and the dialing pad and power button on the other. Additional buttons on this half allow you to navigate the menus, switch to camera mode, and return to the home screen. I was glad to see that the buttons are arranged and shaped similarly to most landline phones, rather than using some bizarre new layout, and that the buttons light up brightly in the dark.

When closed, the phone is very compact, measuring just 3.5" X 1.9" X 1.0". With the standard battery inserted, the phone weighs 4.9 ounces. As a result of the phone's small size and light weight, it is easy to place the phone in virtually any pocket or purse and take it wherever you need.

side of Nextel i870

Taking Care of Business

The i870 has features that business users require such as, a Datebook, Contacts (supports up to 600 contacts), and a Messaging app, all of which can be configured using Nextel's web site and synced with other phones in your company, allowing you to share appointments and other organizational data with your co-workers with ease. The i870 is Java-compatible, meaning that you can purchase games, maps, and other software and download them to the device. I tested a selection of demo applications which ran well.

Although the individual audio and video applications include features that allow you to copy their files between the phone's built in 25MB of available memory and the included TransFlash expansion card (if inserted), there is no central or general-purpose file manager whatsoever. I found this to be a poor decision on behalf of the phone designers, especially since they expect you to actually "eject" the card in software before physically removing it, which is a common requirement for most desktop operating systems, but is almost unheard of among mobile devices.

Phone Features and Reception

I tested the phone in various locations throughout a large west coast metropolitan area, and the phone received a strong signal everywhere. Like all Nextel phones, the i870 runs on their iDEN network, which is technically somewhat similar to GSM yet distinct (it will not work on GSM networks). Basic calling worked as you would expect, with the phone's speaker producing clear audio, and the lithium-ion battery lasting up to several days without needing a recharge, even with fairly frequent usage of the phone. (Nextel estimates the life of the standard battery, which is user-replaceable and plugs into the back of the phone, at 70 hours of standby time or 165 minutes of talk time.)

I also liked the very wide range of volumes that the phone supports (including a silent, vibrating alert), since some phones ringers are loud enough to derange co-workers, while others are too quiet to use in public, even on their loudest setting. With the i870, regardless of locale, I was always able to find a volume level that was easily audible without being an uncomfortable disturbance.

The WiDEN data capability maxes out at 14.4 Kbps (the WAP-based speed test from dslreports mobile speed test reported a data rate of only 4 Kbit/s with a latency of one tenth of one second, when using the i870.) Clearly, Nextel isn't the right carrier for you or your company when fast web browsing or large attachment downloads are part of your daily fare. In the US, Sprint and Verizon offer 1xRTT (100kbps) and EVDO (3G data averaging 500k) while GSM carriers have GPRS (30k) and EDGE (100k or better) with some limited 3G from Cingular running at EVDO-like speeds.

You can browse the built-in portals, which allow you to buy ringtones (for $1.99 each) and wallpapers, and use instant messaging through MSN Yahoo, or AOL, plus some other built-in features like sports scores and account status (although some of these require you to enter information that seems like it should be figured out automatically, such as your phone's own phone number), and you can put your own MP3s on the phone and play them (although they not only have to be in a specific folder, they also are required to have very short file names). However, even though these features worked acceptably and were useful, if you try to use data features beyond the preset portals, you are likely to be frustrated.

The built-in web browser makes an admirable attempt to support both WAP and standard HTML pages—but the results of this attempt are not so admirable. (WAP is a format for creating scaled-down web pages specially designed for cell phones and other mobile devices, which any web site can choose to provide, but a WAP version of a web site cannot be generated automatically if the web site doesn't choose to provide one.) In addition to the slowness of the network, even very simple HTML pages can cause out-of-memory errors, incorrect rendering, or other errors. For that matter, even some WAP pages didn't work right, with both HTML and WAP pages having unexpected problems with entering information into fields that work correctly on other browsers.

Moreover, the browser's user interface definitely needs some polishing. The left and right enter buttons are used inconsistently, and either one can be OK/submit, Cancel, or something else. This was especially frustrating because one false move can set you back by several steps. Also, in my tests, password fields on any web page would always cause the phone to enter caps lock mode when I started entering the password. This was initially very confusing to me, because passwords are generally case sensitive, and the capitalization modes cannot be configured from the same screen as the choice of input methods (such as numeric vs. alphabetical), which is where I thought I might find it. Credit to Nextel for including a built-in help system that explains how to change capitalization modes without having to go locate some other reference material (the answer is to press and hold the pound key), but caps lock is probably the worst possible choice to use as a default for passwords, of all the available capitalization modes.

Direct Talk

Nextel's signature service, and their largest advantage over their competitors, has traditionally been phones that include walkie-talkie capability, which allows you to connect to other Nextel users without using any cell phone network. The i870 includes one of the latest versions of this feature, a service known as Direct Talk.

The Direct Talk system has several potential advantages over standard cell phones, such as not using any network minutes, and the ability to connect directly to another person's phone even when there is no network signal available. It has a range of six miles and supports group calling, making it possible to have everyone from an office talking on the same conference call, using the same channel and code.

In my tests, the i870's Direct Talk feature worked well. Using the external buttons, the phone can be configured to connect with Direct Talk to your most frequent contacts without even being opened. I was able to connect to another Nextel test phone quickly and achieve a reliable, clear connection easily, without any difficulties or unexpected issues.

Additionally, the i870 can connect to a nationwide walkie-talkie network from Nextel, if you can't use Nextel's cell phone network for some reason. The walkie-talkie network costs 10 cents per minute, or an unlimited plan is available for $10 per month. Via the walkie-talkie network, you can call any other Nextel walkie-talkie user in the country.


The Nextel i870 has a built-in 1.3 megapixel camera that’s capable of taking photos up to 1280 x 1024 in size and videos up to 176 x 144 with audio. It has 4x digital zoom and a Spotlight (flashlight) below the lens and the camera has a self-timer feature. You can launch the camera either by selecting the Camera option from phone’s menu screen or by pushing the dedicated camera button next to the d-pad. Like most of the apps on the i870, you can hit the menu button to bring up the menu for the camera application. In the camera app you can switch between photo and video modes, set the resolution of the photo or video you are taking and more. The menu items cater to the mode you are in: in picture mode you will get options to turn on Spotlight, Self Timer and set picture qualities and sizes; while in video mode you will get options to set video length and size.

Photo quality is sub-par for a 1.3MP camera when compared to other camera phones of the same resolution such as the Nokia 6682 and LG VX9800 (though not much worse than the Cingular 8125 and E-TEN M600). Pictures taken in bright, direct sunlight tend to white out yellow and white objects, but works well with other colors. The camera has a purple-ish tint in sunny outdoor shots. The colors are reasonably bright. The camera captures much more detail in well lit indoor settings, showing sharp images with some color loss. Once you've taken a photo, you'll have options to save the picture, send it to a mobile number or an email address, use it as a caller photo ID or set it as the background of the phone’s main screen.

MP3 Player

The i870 has external buttons on the front face to control music playback and a 2.5mm stereo headphone jack, though a stereo headset isn't included in the box. Music plays loud and clear through the phone's built-in speaker and the music application can sort songs by title, artist and album title. When the phone is closed, the external LCD displays the current song's name, artist and elapsed playing time.


The i870 supports Bluetooth headsets and works well with a range of models we tested. Surprisingly, Motorola's own H700 Bluetooth headset didn't work well with the i870, offering poor audio quality. The phone doesn't support profiles such as DUN (dial up networking) but then again, who wants a 14.4k max modem with real world throughput in the single digits? You can sent photos to other Bluetooth enabled devices but we had no luck transferring MP3 ringtones.


As can be said of Nextel phones in general, if you're looking for a phone for personal use only, the i870 is probably not the best choice. However, for business users, the ability to store and synchronize calendars and contact info along with the walkie-talkie PTT are strong selling points. The i870 stands apart from the usual super-chunky, ruggedized Nextel pack: it's somewhat less bulky, has a good camera, memory expansion slot and an MP3 player with stereo headphone jack. If you're looking for a feature phone for your workforce, Nextel now has the answer: the Motorola i870. Though it might lack the sex appeal of feature phones from other carriers, it has excellent build quality, good battery life and works reliably.


-Supports Nextel's latest PTT features
-Large, bright, colorful internal screen
-External screen also larger and more colorful than average
-Stores and syncs calendar and contacts with other users
-Impressive camera that takes pictures and video
-Voice recorder
-Long battery life
-Enough volume settings to fit any situation
-Can play back MP3s
-Bluetooth capable, although capabilities are limited.


-Data service is very slow
-Web browser has many issues
-Really, REALLY needs a unified file manager to handle music, photos and video.

Price: Approximately $269 with contract

Web site:,

Shopping: Where to Buy

Display: 2.25" 262,000 color internal (main) display. 1.4" 4,096 color external display.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 165 minutes claimed talk time and 70 hours standby with included standard battery.

Size: 3.5" X 1.9" X 1.0". Weight: 4.9 ounces.

Phone: iDEN network.

Camera: 1.3MP

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headphone jack (stereo headset NOT included). MP3 player included. Has vibrate feature.

Networking: Bluetooth.

Software: Contacts, datebook, messaging, web browser, MP3 player, notes ,voice recorder, camera and video capture application and Java VM.

Expansion: 1 TransFlash (also called Micro SD) card slot. 32 meg card included.


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