The first thing that will strike you about the Motorola i860 Tattoo is the design on the outer cover. The phone's graphics, which resemble a primitive tattoo, surround the internal and external displays as well as the lens and flash, and they nicely complement the gunmetal housing. In addition to the i860 Tattoo, Boost Mobile also offers a limited version called the i860 Woody, which is designed to look like the wood-paneled station wagons that are a staple of surf culture.
Beyond the physical variations, the i860 also comes preloaded with content that Boost Mobile believes will appeal to the younger crowd. You get three preloaded Java (J2ME) games: Boost Mobile Pro of Surf, Driver 3 Demo, and Fox Sports Yao Ming Basketball Demo; and MP3 ring tones created by Kanye West, Ludacris, and The Game. Of course, additional digital content such as wallpaper and polyphonic and MP3 ring tones can be downloaded via the mobile's Web browser from Boost Live.
As mentioned previously, Boost offers a prepayment pricing structure similar to that of Virgin Mobile. You pay in advance for a certain number of minutes, then must buy more when your balance is exhausted (calls cost 25 cents per minute during weekdays and 15 cents per minute for nights and weekends). The advantage here is that there is no contract and no expensive overage fees. Text messaging and Web browsing are extra, but data plans are available. The Boost handsets are available through the carrier's Web site and retail channels where their target audience can be found. As with Nextel, Boost Mobile offers a push-to-talk service that it simply calls the Boost Walkie-Talkie. Boost Mobile charges a pricey extra fee to use this service: $1.50 per day for unlimited national usage. The charge is applied only on the days that the service is used. So if you use it only sporadically, it won't be that bad. However, if you use the walkie-talkie feature everyday, that's an additional $46.50 per month, based on a 31-day month. That's a lot of money.
We tested the Nextel i860 in the San Francisco Bay Area using Nextel's service. Call quality was good, with clear conversations and reception. Battery life was average. We managed 3 hours of talk time, compared with the promised time of 2.75 hours. Standby time didn't fare as well; we fell a half-day short of the rated and already paltry time of 2.7 days.