Motorola i886 Review

Introduction and Design

Nextel is a bit of a time capsule for the cellular industry. The lineup is comprised mostly of flip phones with mediocre specifications, and their signature feature- Direct Connect- is dying a slow death. Sprint has infused considerable cash into the network and refreshed the lineup with new devices, but for the most part things are pretty stagnant in the iDEN world. That makes the Motorola i886 somewhat of a curiosity.  What appears to be just another QWERTY side-slider (the first for iDEN, by the way) has a very curious UI that could mark a shift in the cellular landscape. Features of the i886 include a 2 megapixel camera, Bluetooth, side-sliding QWERTY keyboard, Opera Mini browser and the i886 is certified military spec 810G for dust, shock, vibration, low pressure, temperature extremes and solar radiation. Included with the Motorola i886 you’ll get an AC charger, SIM card and 2GB microSD card.


When closed, the Motorola i886 is a very solid candybar phone coated in soft touch paint for a quality feel. It has a 2.2” QVGA display with 262K colors with an ambient light sensor. The display is good enough; smaller text sometimes looks a bit choppy but is readable and the screen can be used in most lighting conditions with little issue. Below it is a traditional 12 key dialpad with navigation cluster. The 5-way directional pad has three buttons to either side. To the left is menu, send and notifications while to the right you’ll find home, end and back. Like most of the phone the keys are painted with soft touch and they have a good feel to them. They are prominently raised and offer good feedback and travel.

You can compare the Motorola i886 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The left side of the i886 has a volume rocker and Direct Connect (DC) key near the top while the right side has the camera button and microUSB charging port towards the bottom. The top of the i886 features the battery door lock mechanism, 3.5mm headphone jack (no DC ring) and speaker key. The bottom back half of the phone protruded slightly further out than the front to accommodate the i886’s generous speaker. The rear of the phone simply has the 2MP camera.

The Motorola i886 uses a spring assisted slide mechanism to snap out the full QWERTY keyboard. This is only the second time we’ve seen a QWERTY on a non-smartphone iDEN device, with the other being the Clutch i465. Thankfully the keys on the i886 are more generous and typing is more natural. Again, they are coated in soft touch and the feel somewhat brings to mind the DROID 2 Global, though the keys are spaced out from one another. There isn’t a lot of travel to them, but there is a solid click when you press something. Typing is slightly too stiff for our tastes, but we don’t have too much of an issue with it and in general we were fairly accurate and quick enough.

The Motorola i886 is definitely hefty in the hand, but this is desired from a military spec device. In general the build quality is good, though there is some play in the slide mechanism when the QWERTY is exposed that we do not like. Beyond that the phone feels very solid in your hand and the soft touch paint job gives it a quality feel. While we’d like to see the slide play shored up, as a mil spec device we can’t say we’re too worried about the i886 not holding up.

Motorola i886 360-degree View:


So this is where the Motorola i886 gets interesting. Though Sprint and Motorola make no mention of it, this is an Android-based device. It is not Android in the traditional sense though, and it is not a Google device. Our attempts to get clarification from Sprint have resulted in them telling us that it was Java-based and it was a Motorola proprietary OS, but it is certainly Linux (the About phone screen reveals a kernel version) and when you view the licensing it clearly states it is part of the Android Open Source Project (ASOP.) Also, it is quite clear when using the i886 that it is Android: the pre-loaded apps are the core Android apps, there is a notification shade and the menu is even the same as every other Android device out there.

We find it very curious as to why Sprint and Motorola aren’t talking about this OS. The way we see it this is a seminal event in Android history. Sure, it may not be as big as the G1 or the launch of the Nexus One, but as far as we know this is the first Android feature phone and the first to run the platform without a touchscreen. Android may be synonymous with touchscreen because of what we’ve seen in the market so far, but if you recall when Google first introduced Android it was actually shown on a non-touch device (watch it on YouTube) so this really was in the plans all along. In fact, Google talked about Android being scalable from the get go, nothing that it can power the most advanced smartphones and the lowest end entry phones.

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Though the Motorola i886 is Android, it is not a Google device. There are no Google apps (Gmail, YouTube, Talk, Market, etc.) which is a significant drawback to the i886. We can understand the Market being absent, since almost no apps would work on this non-touch device, but to be missing Gmail is a shame because users lose a great contact and calendar sync tool. Google is stripped out of the Accounts and Sync option, but users can configure an Exchange account which would allow contact and calendar sync. For the adventurous ones you can configure Gmail as an Exchange account, but we’d imagine this is a bit over the head of the target i886 user.

So, what we’re left with is a base Android device and some core apps. That means the i886 has a very robust phonebook and calendar, an above average messaging and email apps and a decent browser and music player (more about those later.) The phonebook is pretty much unlimited, and Nuance’s Voice Control app is preloaded for excellent voice commands. The i886 does have a Java Runtime Environment and in lieu of the Market, Sprint instead points users to the GetJar app store, which has a plethora of apps but isn’t the most user friendly to figure out. Still, for a Nextel phone it’s a huge improvement. The Sprint Football Live and NASCAR apps are preloaded onto the i886.

We would like to speculate for a just a minute here, so bear with us. About a year and a half ago we got a tip that all Nextel phones would be going to Android. We were intrigued by this as we’ve never been too fond of the Motorola UI, but at that point there were only two Android devices on the market and we didn’t hear anything of it again. Seeing the i886 we have to wonder if this is the beginning of a trend, or simply an experiment. Alright, now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Messaging, Multimedia and Connectivity:

The Motorola i886 uses the stock Android messaging app and supports threading of both SMS and MMS. The email app allows you to configure Exchange, POP3 and IMAP account but as stated there is no Gmail specific app. There is also no included IM application.

The 2 megapixel camera on the i886 takes decent pictures for what it is. There is some graining under artificial lighting, especially in low-light conditions, but in general color reproduction is good and the shots are acceptable. The video quality is nothing to write home about at only QVGA resolution. There are no real settings for the camera or camcorder other than choosing the size of the images and 2x digital zoom.

The music player has been modified a bit due to lack of touchscreen, but it remains very similar to the stock Android player. Performance was similar to what we’ve seen on other stock Android devices and users can play music in the background while otherwise using the phone. The i886’s front facing speaker is pretty decent for playback without headphones.

The Motorola i886 runs on Sprint’s iDEN network which means lightning fast Push-to-Talk service with other Nextel DC users. The i886 supports the Group Connect, International DC, Direct Talk, Direct Send, Group Messaging and NextMail iDEN services. It comes with a pretty decent browser in Opera Mini, but with no Wi-Fi, web browsing speeds are perpetually stuck in 1994 on the iDEN network. The stock Android browser is available for those who prefer it. The i886 offers Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and supports the HSP 1.2, HFP 1.5, OPP, PBA, A2DP 1.2 and AVRC profiles. There is no Google Maps, but Telenav supplies turn-by-turn GPS navigation.

Performance and Conclusion:

Call quality on the Motorola i886 was pretty good, especially for an iDEN device. Callers complained of a slight echo and hollowness and said voices didn’t quite sound natural, but they didn’t have any issues hearing us and rated us an 8/10. On our end we were a bit more impressed as callers sounded quite natural and plenty loud. Battery life is rated at 4.1 hours of talk, right about average for an iDEN device but not fantastic. Standby is rated at 120 hours and we had no problem going several days between charges with very light usage.

The Motorola i886 may indeed begin a trend in the cellular world. No longer is Android confined to smartphones, touch screens or high-end hardware. The i886 shows us that the versatile platform is capable of running on an ordinary, run-of-the mill device but we can’t help but feel it could be done better. We may one day see the Market on these lower end phones, but more immediately we’d like to see a few of the core Google apps available like Gmail, Talk and Voice. The i886 makes its mark by being a military spec phone with a pretty decent portrait sliding QWERTY, and when we look back it will probably be overlooked for its pioneering use of the OS, but this device does indeed mark a shift in where featurephone technology is going.

Software version of the reviewed unit: Build RC9.00.01, Baseband RCA.00.00

Motorola i886 Video Review:


  • Solid design
  • First side-sliding QWERTY for Nextel
  • Snappy UI with some customizable elements


  • Keyboard is a bit stiff
  • Battery life could be better
  • No Google apps

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