Review of the Motorola i860

The Motorola i860 is one of a number of multimedia-style iDEN phones still offered on Nextel in the US. At the time of this writing the phone was no longer readily available on Telus Mike, but it is still possible to purchase one at some stores (or so I'm told).

Last Updated: 24-Feb-2006

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

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: Like virtually all of Motorola's iDEN models, the i860 performed exceptionally well. I tested it directly against my i833 and the two phones were virtually identical in performance. I tried out a number of extremely weak locations inside Square One in Mississauga, but both phones provided equal response to the weakening signals. In fact, I haven't tested an iDEN phone in the last few years that has not performed well in this regard.

Over-the-road Performance: Once again, the i860 performed exactly the way my i833 does under over-the-road conditions. Like before, it did not come as a surprise because virtually all of the current iDEN models have the same overall RF performance. Part of the excellent over-the-road performance goes to the technology itself, as handoffs on iDEN are extremely non-obtrusive, especially compared to those found on GSM. While incoming handoffs are relatively minor, outgoing handoffs are virtually undetectable.

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

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: I found the tonal quality of the i860 to be slightly tinnier than the i833, but the difference was relatively minor, and without a side-by-side comparison it would be difficult to tell that the difference even existed. The same was true of outgoing sound, only the difference was even smaller. In fact, it takes quite a good ear to hear the difference between the i860 and the i833 from the point of view of someone on the other end.

Overall however, most of the current iDEN models are slightly tinnier than high-end GSM models. You can certainly hear the difference if you compare the two types of phones directly, but in real life use the tonal quality of the iDEN phones is actually very natural and very smooth. However, it would still be nice to have a little more low-end response on the earpiece.

Sound Reproduction: Overall sound reproduction is about same as the i833, which is to say extremely good. It really is amazing how good the sound is from the relatively old 8-kilobit CODEC used on iDEN. In some areas however, you may actually be getting the new AMBE++ CODEC, which sounds surprisingly like CDMA. In the Toronto area however, Telus continues to use the older 8-kilobit CODEC for phone conversations.

Earpiece volume is quite good, but it was slightly fainter than my i833. Once again, the difference was relatively minor and only a side-by-side comparison would actually reveal any difference at all. The same is true of the speakerphone volume.

Speakerphone: Like all iDEN phones, the i860 comes up with a relatively good speakerphone. That is primarily a side effect of supporting Direct Connect (but walkie-talkie feature of iDEN, at least that's what Telus calls it). The sound quality of the speaker is a bit tinny, but that seems to be about par-for-the-course for all of the smaller iDEN phones. The difference in sound quality between the i860 and the i833 is relatively small, and so I would say that they are both probably using exactly the same speaker.

The speakerphone is loud enough to be heard in a noisy shopping mall. When used in a quiet environment you can put the phone down in one room and walk into a completely different room and still hear every single word. The only reservation I have about all of the iDEN speakerphone implementations is that it has a tendency to cut out the audio from your caller when it detects loud noises at your end. All cellular speakerphone implementations are essentially half duplex, and whether or not you hear those problems, or your caller hears them, is up to the manufacturer.

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

Support Features

Ringer Volume: If there's one thing that all iDEN phones have in common, it's their extremely loud ringers. The i860 is no exception and it provides extremely loud ringtones (when they are required). It also supports polyphonic ringers and WAV file ringers, but the overall sound quality is not up to the level of phones deliberately designed to play music. However, I don't believe that ringtones have any excuse for being soft. Certainly the support of musical ringers is a good idea, but it should never be done at the expense of a loud ringer because there are times when you need to hear your phone ring over extremely noisy backgrounds. The i860 certainly doesn’t fall into that trap.

Keypad Design: While I found the keys relatively easy to use, they weren't quite as easy as those on the i833. And let's face it, the i833 doesn't exactly have an award-winning keyboard design, though there were no specific issues with either of them. I simply found the i860 to have keys that were a little too flush and didn't have quite as much tactile feedback as I would have preferred. However, all of keys pressed accurately and I had no problems with keys that bounced, or keys that did not actuate when pressed.

Display: The i860 has one of the nicest color displays ever to grace an iDEN phone. It's similar to the high-resolution color displays used on many of Motorola's GSM phones, but the phone’s operating system doesn't really make as much use of the display is it could. The menu system is identical to that found on all other iDEN phones, though a little bit of work has been done to make it fill up the space better. Just the same, a redesign of the menu system would have better suited the high-resolution display.

The backlight is exceptionally bright, rendering really excellent colors indoors and making for a display that is visible outdoors in direct sunlight. It certainly made the lower-resolution display on my i833 seem like yesterday's technology, which technically it is.


In terms of core functionality, the i860 doesn't really differ at all from the i833. Basically, you get the same excellent qualities of the i833, but with a few bonuses such as a high-resolution color display and a camera. As a camera, it's actually rather poor, providing relatively lackluster images at 640x480. However, the high-resolution display does allow the phone to use much more complex JAVA programs and it allows you to do much more with data gathered from the Internet.

In terms of size the i860 is a bit smaller than the i730 and a bit larger than the i833. Its weight also falls somewhere between those two phones. If I were the market for a new iDEN phone I'm not sure that I would bother with the i860, but not because I have anything against the big color display or its camera.

Rather, it doesn't seem to be as well-built as the i833, which has thus far proven to be one of the most solid iDEN designs to date. The i860 is not shabby, but it has a shiny plastic surfaces that just seem relatively cheap, and there was there too much play in the hinge on the model that I was given to test. To be fair, that particular model had obviously been through quite a bit as it was quite scratched up.