Review of the Motorola i850

The i850 is one of the newer breed of iDEN phones that possesses the greatly-improved audio performance that I first encountered on the i580. The i850 is a low-end iDEN model, while the i580 is a high-end phone, but both have similar audio and RF characteristics. Careful with the numbers however, as it is easy to confused 580 with 850.

The Motorola i850 is available on Mike.

Last Updated: 18-Oct-2006

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: Testing Motorola iDEN phones for RF sensitivity has become a bit boring. All of the iDEN models Iíve tested over the last few years have had virtually identical RF capabilities. The differences between each have been so small in fact, that itís probably just a matter of individual states-of-tune for each of the phones I tested. This is contrary to what youíll read in various forums, where people make it sound like one iDEN phone is markedly better or worse than another. While this may happen with specific examples of a model, I havenít found any evidence to suggest that on a model-by-model basis there is any difference at all.

Over-the-road Performance: The same goes for this aspect of the phoneís performance. All iDEN phones have excellent over-the-road performance, though the newer generation seems to handle it just a little bit better. The i850 performs almost identically to the i580 is real-world testing, which is to say exceptionally well.

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: Like the i580, the new i850 has excellent tonal balance that is light years better than what weíd been seeing on previous generation iDEN models. That isnít to say that older models, such as the i730, i830, and i833 were poor, but by comparison to the newer generation of phones they sound decidedly tinny. In fact, the newer iDEN phones sound so well-balanced that itís difficult to think of a phone on any technology that actually sounds better. The recently-tested Motorola PEBL is the only that springs to mind, but even there the difference isnít all that great.

Sound Reproduction: Again, the newer generation of iDEN phones moves a step ahead of previous generations by providing sound reproduction that it about as good as it gets. Nuances of speech are accurately reproduced by the i850 and itís certainly among the top 10 best-sounding phones around. The GSM PEBL is a bit better, but that might be because the 13 kilobit CODED using on GSM is just a little better-sounding than the 8 kilobit CODEC used on iDEN.

One aspect of the i850 that beats the i580 however is the much lower hiss levels. The i580 suffers from a rather annoying amount of background hiss, while the i850 produces much less of it for any given volume setting.

Earpiece Volume: The volume is good, but itís slightly lower than on the i580. I had to set the volume on my i580 to 6 and the volume on the i850 to 7 in order hear exactly the same levels coming out of each earpiece. It was suggested that the i580 might appear to have more hiss due to its higher earpiece output, but I tested the i580 and i850 with their volumes set to 6 and 7 respectively and I could still hear more hiss in the i580.

Outgoing Audio: Like the i580 and the i730/i830/i833 before it, the i850 has damned good outgoing audio, even when there is lots of background noise. Most of the recent iDEN models have incredibly good noise cancellation abilities that donít seem to distort the desired audio in any way. Youíd be surprised just how noisy the background can be when using the i850 and still have your callers think you are in a quiet location.

Speakerphone: This aspect of iDEN models is always great, but unfortunately the i850 still uses the old rear-mounted single speaker. It certainly generates as much volume as the speakerphone in i580, but it does so with far more sympathetic vibrations in the phone and a little less clarity. However, it uses Motorolaís revised duplex scheme that doesnít have the failing of earlier generations of iDEN models. That is to say, the audio doesnít cut out at the slightest provocation and the speakerphone feature is very useable, even in surprisingly noisy locations.

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: This is never a problem for an iDEN phone and that includes the i850. The ringers use the speakerphone sounder and as a result the ringtones are very loud. A number of the native ringers are quite loud, and youíd be surprised just how loud a well-chosen MP3 sound will be. I have one on my i580 that was recorded from a Panasonic cordless phone ringer and it is incredibly audible in even the noisiest of locations.

Keypad Design: I had mixed feelings about the keypad design. On one hand it has nice soft-feel keys that were easy to press and provided a decent level of tactile feedback. On the other hand it was a flush design that meant I couldnít actually feel the location of the keys. That lack of feel meant that I had to look at the keypad to use it correctly.

Display: The i850 seems to have an identical 176 x 220 pixel color display as the i580 (with 18-bit color depth). However, the backlight on the i850 wasnít quite as bright as on my i580, nor was it quite as white. Nonetheless, the display was still reasonably bright and could still be seen outdoors.

Icing on the Cake

Camera: The i850 includes only a 640 x 480 VGA camera that really isnít suitable for much else than taking Picture ID photographs or so sending to other phones via MMS. The overall quality of the pictures was fine, but at such a low resolution there wasnít really much detail in the images anyway.

Talk-Around: This feature goes under quite a few names, depending on which iDEN network you might be on, but Telus refers to it as this. Talk-Around is an off-network digital walkie-talkie that can be used even when there is no network coverage. Barry & I tested this mode (with me using the i580 at my end) when he was driving home from picking up the i850 from me.

We were able to keep in contact as he drove up highway 403 toward the 401 to a distance of just short of 3 km. However, that was with an earthen berm in our way that would have severely cut down the range. Motorola claims that Talk-Around is good for up 13 km in line-of-sight situations.

The overall quality of the conversation is excellent, no doubt because Talk-Around using the AMBE+ CODEC. Because the communication is digital, it doesnít suffer from crackling and hiss the way FRS radios do (even when they are still quite close to one another). The audio remained virtually perfect until almost the last second.

Features not found in the i850: To cap off the comparison to the i580, I should note that the i850 does not contain the following features: It has no Bluetooth, no MP3 player, no external memory card, no LED light for the camera, and the i850 is NOT Mil-Spec. It also has less data storage space for Java applets. Thatís not a huge list of things, and the missing items arenít really necessary for someone looking for a phone AS A PHONE.


If I didnít already own the i580, and if I hadnít become so accustomed to having an MP3 player on my phone, Iíd probably give serious thought to getting an i850. The overall sound quality and tonal balance (and lesser amount of hiss than the i580) make it the perfect iDEN phone for someone looking for a non-ruggedized model that doesnít have a bunch of bells and whistles.