Mar 22, 2010, 9:00 PM by Eric M Zeman, Philip Berne and Rich Brome
updated Mar 24, 2010, 6:49 PM
On the ground in Las Vegas; hands-on with the Samsung Strive & Sunburst, HTC EVO 4G, Samsung Galaxy S and Kyocera Zio, plus more new phones from Motorola, LG and ZTE.
Motorola's i1 is the first Android phone for Sprint's Nextel iDEN network, and one of the first ruggedized Android phones.
The fact that it's ruggedized is impressive, because it's relatively sleek and thin, for a ruggedized phone. The design is at least as nice as the Cliq XT, and in fact looks very similar to that phone; at a distance, you might mistake one for the other. The body feels solid and the physical buttons work well; they seem like they could be used with gloves. Unfortunately, the capacitive touch screen - and touch keys below it - won't work with gloves; this may be the one time we question the choice of a capacitive screen.
The ruggedized case isn't submersible, but it is rated for "blowing rain", and you can see a serious rubber gasket under the battery cover... that is, if you can pry it off. The i1 has a very strange sliding latch that helps you unlock and pry off the back, but only helps you about 1/4 of the way; getting it the rest of the way off requires strong fingernails and some determination. Getting it back on it just as tricky. It's among the more frustrating battery covers I've tried.
The interface looks like Blur, but it isn't. Motorola's signature green and blue buttons grace the bottom of the home screen, but the social networking integration isn't there. In spite of that, the i1 still runs Android version 1.5, an old version of the OS. The reason is simply that they started working on this device before newer versions were available from Google, and they've done work to customize it, integrating PTT (walkie-talkie) features and Motorola's custom Exchange solution (which syncs mail, contacts, and calendar.) Motorola didn't rule out an Android 2.x upgrade, but wouldn't commit to it, either.
The PTT customizations include support for PTT contacts and the weird ID numbers iDEN PTT requires. They've added a feature that lets you filter your contacts by just PTT contacts or just Exchange contacts. A special PTT widget on the home screen lets you quickly change what the PTT button does.
Inside, the i1 is powered by a Freescale 600 MHz ARM processor. It seems speedy enough cruising through basic tasks. On the data side, the i1 lacks any kind of 3G. It doesn't even have WiDEN, the pseudo-3G that Nextel offers. So any kind of Internet-accessing app is going to be deadly slow. That's why Motorola includes Opera Mini 5, a browser optimzed for slow connections; it's the only way they could make web browsing bearable on this phone. There is the standard Android browser, but you'd only want to use it when you have a WiFi connection.
There's no multi-touch on the i1, but they have added extra predicitive text options, including XT9 and the excellent Swype.
Here is a video tour of the Motorola i1 in action:
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