Motorola Debut i856 Review

Introduction and Design

“Sexy iDEN slider.”  The phrase seems oxymoronic, in large part because slider and iDEN have never been in the same sentence before, other than to say “there has never been an iDEN slider.”  But along comes the Motorola Debut i856 to throw convention out of the window.  Not only is it a slider, but it also sports a sleek design not usually associated with iDEN (apologies to the i9.)  The Debut has a slick morphing navigation cluster which switches from the typical layout to multimedia controls when the music player is launched.  Other features include a 1.3 megapixel camera, 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD expansion.


The Debut makes its mark with a very good design.  As mentioned, this is the first iDEN slider to hit the market and what a debut the form-factor makes (sorry, we’re done now.)  The compact design and internal antenna is a rarity in the PTT world, but the Debut pulls it off nicely and feels great in the hand.

You can compare the Motorola Debut i856 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The Debut sports a 2.2” TFT display with a 176x220 pixel resolution.  It’s not the highest quality screen, but as this is billed as a music phone it gets the job done just fine.  It does have a tendency to wash out in direct sunlight, but this is something Nextel users should unfortunately be used to by now.  Below the display is the navigation cluster, which by default has a fairly traditional layout with the 5 way directional pad, two soft keys and Send/End keys.  To the sides of the d-pad are two hard keys; Menu to the left and Music to the right.  When the music player is activated the d-pad morphs to include track forward/back and play/pause functions.

Sliding the i856 Debut reveals a standard 12 key dialpad.  Though the entire pad is continuous, the numbers are individually raised and the middle column is larger.  Still, it is hard to distinguish between the keys by feel alone.  They offer a click when pressed, but are a bit shallow for comfort.
The left side of the Debut has- from top to bottom- the speaker key, volume rocker and Direct Connect key.  The microUSB charging port is on the bottom left and 3.5mm audio jack (with DC ring) on the bottom right.  The back is non-descript anlyd coated in very nice soft-touch paint.  The 1.3 megapixel camera is only available with the slider open, similarly to the Samsung m520.

We’re impressed with Motorola’s design here.  The Debut is very pocketable and has a great feel in the hand.  The slider mechanism is sturdy, with just the right amount of resistance and spring-assist, making us feel that we could slide it open and closed forever without issue.  We’d have preferred a better design for the keypad, but it is far from unusable.  All-in-all Motorola has done an admirable job with the i856 Debut’s design.

Motorola Debut i856 360 Degrees View:

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