Nextel Returns: Hands-On With The Motorola i1 (Push-To-Talk Android Phone)
Nextel lives! Theis the first Android smartphone for Nextel and SouthernLINC’s iDEN networks, and it’s Nextel through and through, down ito its rugged body and super-loud speakerphone.
More than 24 million people in 24 countries around the world still use iDEN, so Motorola – the only iDEN phone provider – decided to drag the blue-collar network into the future with the i1. I spent a few minutes with one here at the CTIA Wireless trade show and came away with largely positive impressions.
The i1 feels like a slim, modern smartphone, with a somewhat rubbery casing and a very bright 3.1-inch, 320-by480 touch screen. The device has a 5-megapixel camera on the back, and GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi within. There’s a big push-to-talk button on the side, and a standard 3.5-mm headset jack. Below the screen there’s a big cursor pad which looks like an
I’m concerned about the phone’s full-touch nature, though. The i1 uses a , which means that folks with gloves generally can’t tap or type on it. A physical keyboard would seem more Nextel-appropriate. You can choose between three , though – a landscape QWERTY, a portrait XT9 predictive text pad, and Swype, a special keyboard where you just drag your finger over all the letters in a word.
Nextel phones are known for their blaring speakerphones, and the i1 punched right through a room in push-to-talk (PTT) mode. A PTT call sounded muddy, though – I can’t figure out if that was the phone, the network, or the speaker.
The i1 uses a 600-MHz ARM11 Freescale processor, which puts it slightly faster than theon par with the , and slower than the . The phone runs Android 1.5, the same obsolete OS version as Motorola’s MotoBLUR phones. The i1 isn’t a BLUR phone, but tacking Nextel push-to-talk onto the phone took a lot of work, Motorola reps said at the launch. That made 1.5 the latest OS version they could use. They didn’t commit to any schedule for an upgrade, but mentioned that the phone supports over-the-air upgrades.
Push-to-talk is integrated tightly into the i1. The phone has a somewhat customized home screen with new clock, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi widgets, but most of the work here has gone into PTT. You can activate PTT by pressing the side button or tapping on the screen; you can also push-to-send contacts or pictures to other Nextel users. The contact book accepts push-to-talk phone numbers.
Nextel is an old network, though, and the 3G data revolution passed it by. Data speeds on iDEN are a super-slow 24 kilobits/second. So Sprint made5 the default browser. This is a brilliant move, as Opera Mini 5 really speeds up the Web experience on slow networks. CNN’s mobile page loaded on my i1 without too much of a wait. When you’re in Wi-Fi, you can switch to the standard Android browser, enhanced with Flash Lite.
The phone comes with some other unique apps, too. There’s Microsoft Office contacts, calendar and email integration. “Personal Portal” lets you log into your phone from a PC through Wi-Fi and send text messages, download photos or add encrypted corporate Wi-Fi certificates. “MySign” puts gesture shortcuts on your phone – for instance, drawing a “W” on the screen turns the Wi-Fi on or off. And “Sprint Zone” is a carrier-run app store that will feature Nextel-specific apps. Nextel phones have a bunch of business-centric third-party Java apps like field force automation available, and those developers will have to reprogram their apps for the new phone. Telenav and Nuance provide GPS navigation and voice-dialing services respectively, and Sprint’s usual NASCAR-race-tracking app also makes an appearance.
The i1 is, notably, the ninth Motorola Android smartphone to come out this year (if you count international variants as different phones.) Given that Motorola’s chief executive Sanjay Jha said the company would roll out “multiple tens” of smartphones this year, it looks like they’re on track – at this rate, with a month off for vacation, they could break 30.
There’s nothing as fresh as the i1 on the Nextel system; the only other smartphone they have available right now is the dull if capable. If you need push-to-talk and can put up with a lack of a physical keyboard, this looks like the most powerful option. SouthernLINC is bringing it to market within the next three months; Sprint said it’s coming to its network “this summer.”