While the Motorola i850 isn't exactly featherweight, the phone's sleek black and gray design has more style than most of the carrier's models. The front of the clamshell headset sports a pair of smooth, beveled curves that flank the main, shiny black panel; the tiny camera lens and the self-portrait mirror; and the monochrome external display, which is small at just 96x32 pixels but packs in all the basic info, including the time, the date, signal strength, battery life, caller ID, and the ringer mode. Flip open the phone, however, and you'll find the phone's stunning 262,000-color, 176x220-pixel internal screen: a vibrant, razor-sharp display that stands in stark contrast with the so-so screens on most Nextel phones. The i850's animated menus are reasonably slick and easy to use, although we were annoyed with having to click More to see additional menu options rather than just scrolling down. It's nothing new for a Nextel phone, but it's bothersome nonetheless.
Below the display is the Motorola i850's backlit, silver keypad, which boasts big, flat, and easy-to-press buttons. We like the large, five-way navigational toggle, the dedicated Talk/End buttons, the menu key, and the separate camera button. Additionally, the toggle acts as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. The arrangement is a big improvement upon the cramped navigation controls on other Nextel handsets, with the power button now located below the keypad. Yet, we missed having a dedicated Clear key for correcting dialing and messaging mistakes; instead, you must use a soft key to delete errant characters. What's worse, when you're in a secondary menu, pressing the same soft key exits you out of the menus completely rather than just going back to the main menu.
On the left side of the Motorola i850, you'll find the familiar rubberized button for Nextel's signature push-to-talk service, with a pair of volume controls just above it and a rubber flap beneath that protects the 2.5mm headset port. Atop the phone and next to the extendable antenna is a modified speakerphone button; if you get a call while the headset is shut, you can press the button to answer the call using the speakerphone while keeping the phone closed; you hit the nearby End button to hang up or reject the call without answering. If the phone is open when a call comes in, you must press and hold the speakerphone button to answer the call in the corresponding mode. While we enjoyed answering calls with the flip closed, we wish the speakerphone could be on with the phone open before a call comes in.Besides being only the second camera phone in Nextel's handset lineup, the Motorola i850 comes with a relatively sparse set of features, including a 600-contact phone book with room in each entry for an e-mail address, an IP address, and seven phone numbers, along with the Direct Connect number; a calendar with month and week views; the aforementioned speakerphone; a vibrate mode; nine-number speed dialing; a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser; a voice recorder; call timers; a memo pad; text and multimedia messaging; an airplane mode; three-way calling; voice calling and memos; and onboard GPS. You also get Nextel's Direct Connect walkie-talkie service (including Group Connect, which lets you chat with up to 20 others via PTT at once) and Direct Talk, which gives you out-of-network walkie-talkie chat with another Direct Talk handset at a range of up to 6 miles.
The Motorola i850's camera gets the job done, but it's nothing to write home about. The VGA resolution simply can't compete with its increasingly prevalent 1.3- and 2-megapixel competitors, although the snapshots we took looked OK, considering the 640x480-pixel resolution. The camera also lacks an LED flash, a feature we've come to expect in a camera phone. At least you get 4X digital zoom; five resolution settings (640x480, 320x240, 176x220, 160x120, and 128x96); two lighting settings; a choice between Normal and Fine picture quality; and a self-timer with settings between 10 and 20 seconds. Once you're done taking pictures, you can send the images to your friends via e-mail or multimedia messaging, use them as wallpaper, and assign them to your contacts for photo caller ID. Unfortunately, if you're looking for image frames, editing, multishot, or autofocus, you won't find those features on this handset.