Nextel rarely makes an effort to be trendy but that doesn't mean the carrier never follows trends. Rather, it just chooses to do so on its own terms. The new Motorola i880 is a perfect example of Nextel's way of doing things. Though the handset captures many of the "in" cell phone features, it makes no effort to be thin while remaining stylish in its own Nextel way. Also, while the addition of a 2-megapixel camera and external music controls are welcome, it must be said that as usual, Nextel isn't first to market with such features (its very first camera phone, the Motorola i860, was months behind models at other carriers). In any case, it's a solid effort overall and a needed addition to Nextel's lineup. You can get it for $299 with service.
Similar to most Nextel handsets, the Motorola i880 isn't svelte or compact. To be frank, at 3.5x1.9x1.1 inches and 4.8 ounces, it's a bit clunky but that's hardly a mark against it. Nextel customers expect such girth from their handsets, and though there's no signature Nextel rubber sidings, the phone feels solidly constructed and comfortable in the hand. And, in any case, after the endless gallery of thin phones, we welcome a handset that wears its heft with pride. The stubby antenna is extendable but a bit fragile, so we recommend keeping it down when not in use. The color scheme is unusual--sort of an eggplant shade--but it's quite attractive.
The i880's front face is packed with features, the most prominent of which is the attractive 1.25-inch external, 65,536-color display. You can't change any options beyond the wallpaper but the display does show the time, signal strength, battery life, and photo caller ID. Above the display are a full set of camera elements including the lens, a flash, and a self-portrait mirror, while the external music controls sit just below the display. You can use the controls to activate and manipulate the music player while the phone is closed, while viewing track information on the external display. Stereo speakers lie below the buttons and flank a Motorola logo that flashes when the phone rings.
The right spine holds a volume rocker and a Direct Connect button, while a covered headset jack and a covered MicorSD slot are placed on the left spine for easy accessibility. On the top of the phone are the speakerphone key and a button for sending calls to voicemail and accessing the recent-calls list when the phone is closed. All keys are coated in durable rubber. Finally, the charger ports rests on the bottom of the i880.
The internal display is a treat and is comparable to the excellent display on the Motorola i580. At 2.35 inches (176x220 pixels) and with support for 262,000 colors, it's easy on the eyes and does a good job displaying everything from text to graphics. You can change the text size and the backlighting time, and though the brightness setting isn't adjustable, it didn't seem to matter. Also, we like that the i880 supports Nextel's newest menu design.
Nextel handsets tend to have crowded navigation buttons and while the i880 is no exception, it does a better job than most of its predecessors. Its primary navigation menu is accomplished through four directional buttons (for up, down, left, and right) that surround a central OK button. We like that the buttons are separated from each other by sliver bands and that they are covered in a tactile material. Each of the directional buttons doubles as a shortcut to a user-defined function. There also are two soft keys, a dedicate menu button, a camera shutter, and the traditional talk and end/power buttons. The only thing missing is a dedicated back button.
The keypad buttons also are well designed. They're raised slightly above the surface of the phone so it's easy to dial, and they're also large and well-spaced. The digits on the buttons are brightly backlit and should be large enough for most users to see easily. In a nice touch, a second set of stereo speakers line either side of the keyboard's bottom half, while the dedicated power button sits below the star key.
The i880 has all the Nextel business-friendly offerings you'd expect. The 600-contact phone book has room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, an IP address, and a Direct Connect number. Contacts can be organized further into a variety of groups for regular or push-to-talk (PTT) calls, and you can pair them with a picture and one of 18 polyphonic ring tones. Other features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an airplane mode, a calendar, mobile e-mail support, voice dialing, call and voice memo recording, a memo pad, a speakerphone, AOL instant messaging, and onboard GPS.