The slick Audiovox 8600 is the type of phone you whip out in public just so that everyone can see it. Though stylish enough for the youth market, it wouldn't look out of place in a boardroom, with its brushed-silver design and exterior porthole display. Measuring a mere 3.3 by 1.6 by 0.9 inches with the cover closed and weighing a svelte 3.2 ounces, it somewhat resembles the SCH-A530. It has an overall sturdy feel, and the cover snaps shut solidly, but the antenna is fragile and seems prone to breakage.
The internal 65,000-color, nine-line display is relatively sharp--a welcome change from the poorly lit screen on the Audiovox CDM-8500. An added bonus is the exterior monochrome LCD, which shows the date, the time, the signal strength, battery life, and caller ID (where available). On the side of the phone is a volume control that doubles as a page-up/down button.
Such style includes compromises. The text size is a bit small, and while menu navigation is fairly simple, the 8600 almost suffers from too many buttons. Backing out of menus is not always intuitive, as some pages require a different exit key than others. On the plus side, a four-way navigation toggle gives one-touch access to messaging, the phone book, and Web browsing; a dedicated key activates the speakerphone; and there is an OK button. The blue-backlit keypad itself is a bit cramped, and the buttons lay flat on the unit. The menu buttons are also small, so it's easy to strike the wrong key, and the backlight is dim.
The 8600 offers a decent, if not impressive, feature set. You get a built-in speakerphone, TTD and TTY support for the hearing-impaired, a 300-number phone book with easy ways to save new numbers, bilingual menus (English and Spanish), EMS and SMS messaging, and voice-activated and speed dialing.
Additionally, there's a personal organizer, a calculator, a stopwatch, and a nifty world clock. A Web browser via Verizon's Express (high-speed 1xRTT) network provides access to e-mail, news, sports, and entertainment. Initial access is straightforward, but navigating through the browser takes some acclimation, again due to the multiple navigation buttons. With a USB or serial cable (sold separately), the 8600 also works with Verizon's Mobile Office Kit accessory. There's no additional fee for Mobile Office, but calls count toward your monthly minutes.
The phone comes with a choice of 25 polyphonic ring tones and a vibrate mode, and the main display can be modified with a personalized greeting or different animations, clock styles, screensavers, and wallpapers. More ring tones, wallpapers, screensavers, and other content can be downloaded through Verizon's Get It Now service for a fee. (Get It Now charges per application. While there is no monthly fee, airtime charges while browsing do apply.) For saving your selections, the 8600 comes with a whopping 32MB of dedicated memory.
Gamers will be somewhat disappointed, however. While the 8600 supports J2ME and BREW, it doesn't come with any games; instead, you must downloaded them via Get It Now.
Performance for this Audiovox was satisfactory, but it won't please heavy mobile users. We tested the trimode (CDMA 800/1900; AMPS 800) phone in the San Francisco area and found call quality to be generally good. Callers sounded loud, though it's worth noting that words were occasionally garbled; callers reported the same problem on their end.
As for battery life, we managed 3.3 hours of talk time on a single charge, surpassing the rated 3 hours and improving on the paltry 1.75 hours we got from the 8500. Standby time was also fairly middling; we squeezed out 5 days, falling short of the phone's 6.9-day standby rating--not great but certainly sufficient.