Review: Motorola i870
The i870 doesn't feature rubber grips or a huge plastic case like many other iDen handsets. It is not designed to withstand the rigors of the hardest users, but is still awfully well protected. There is a large bezel around the main and outer screen, both of which are also sunken in from the surface and have extra protection. All the ports, including the sync / charge port, are tightly sealed as well.
The lack of additional rubber or plastic protection helps to reduce the size to of the i870 to something reasonable, but not exactly pocketable. The weight of the phone, its residual bulk - especially thickness - and a large, hard antenna that protrudes a full inch up from the body make this an uncomfortable phone for any but the largest front pocket.
The weight and thickness of the phone, as well as the smooth plastic finish, make the phone difficult to hold when closed. If you don't have large hands, it will be hard to get a good grip on it. When the phone is held in the right hand, a quick press from the thumb can activate the i870's show-off feature - a button that flips the lid of the clamshell open for you. This auto-flip is convenient for answering calls with only one hand free but often caused others around us to groan with disdain at how lazy one has to be, or how poorly designed the phone must be to necessitate the feature. Those with small hands won't be able to use this feature if the phone is held in the left hand.
When open, the phone is easy to hold for dialing. It sits well in the palm and the keypad is well positioned under the thumb. However holding the phone to talk is an uncomfortable experience, which may explain why iDen users often stick to using the speakerphone for both PTT and standard conversations. Holding the phone to your ear with the right hand, the large antenna gets in the way, and prevents you from wrapping any fingers around the upper part of the phone to support it against your ear. Holding the phone with the left would be no problem, if you could put your finger between the upper half of the phone and the antenna to steady the unit. However the phone ships with a warning on the screen suggesting you don't hold the phone in that manner, making it difficult to find a comfortable position.
Despite how strange it sounds, the numeric keypad may actually be too big on this phone. Clearly it is designed to be used by people with large hands, or with gloves on, who will appreciate the large size of the keys as well as the generous space between the three columns of keys. However these large keys and long travel space would make texting and other keypad-heavy tasks difficult for pencil pushers or those with average-sized hands.
The action on each key is well thought out. Keys offer resistance, to resist accidental presses, but despite the resistance, the key does not have much travel, and has an nice click at the bottom of the press. Navigation keys are fairly standard, with a four way D-pad and a separate select button in the center. The Send / End keys and softkeys are all large and well placed.
Despite the variety of keys placed around the edge of the phone, each is well marked, easy to use, and difficult to press accidentally. The only exception would be the recent calls key, not because it is inferior to other side keys in any way, but because it is marked with what looks to be a stop playback button (a plain square). This is especially confusing considering the music playback controls on the lid.
The one key we have a legitimate complaint about is the menu key - it is often used, but has been relegated to a tiny key on the left of the D-Pad. While the size of the key is only a keypad design flaw, its location is also flawed in the interface. This will be explained further in the Menus section.