The Motorola i1 smartphone is the first Android device for Boost Mobile and it’s one of the most difficult phones for me to review. It packs some decent features like a 5-megapixel camera and push-to-talk capabilities over the iDEN network but it is nowhere near the top shelf of Android where the Motorola Droid X, EVO 4G and Samsung Galaxy S devices rest.
But when you compare the i1 to the rest of Boost Mobile’s lineup, or what other prepaid carriers are offering, it starts to shine a bit more. Additionally, by using Boost Mobile, you’ll save a ton of cash on monthly service over the life of the device and that’s something I have to consider, particularly with the economy the way it is. So, does the Motorola i1 stand on its own or is it just a “good for the price” device? Let’s stop messing around and get real.
Specifications (Specs – sheet)
- 3.1-inch HVGA touchscreen display
- 600 MHz Freescale CPU
- 5-megapixel camera with LED flash
- Video recording at 15 fps
- WiFi (b/g)
- GPS (aGPS)
- 2 GB microSD card included, slot for additional expansion (supports up to 32 GB)
- 2.5mm headphone jack
- iDEN support for push-to-talk features
- Android 1.5
- 16GB internal memory
- It should be able to take a pounding
- Push-to-talk is cool – “Where you at?”
- Despite a few cheap elements, I liked the look of the phone
- Solid weight to the phone
- Monthly service will be about 50% less than most major carriers
- Android 1.5 feels like the stone age to seasoned users
- iDEN network can be very slow
- Screen’s a tad bit too small
- Parts of the phone feel rather flimsy
- Relatively steep initial price tag
The design of the Motorola i1 is sort of like the A-Team movie: it’s a jumbled mess of cheap elements that still manages to make me smile.
Like the aforementioned team, the i1 is tough and built to military standards for ruggedness. You wouldn’t necessarily know that at first glance because a lot of pieces feel cheap and too plastic-like. The microUSB port and the non-standard (!) headphone jack have cheap-feeling flaps that look and feel gross. I actually like the look and feel of the plastic back cover when it’s snapped on but there’s a weak battery-cover release button on the right spine which makes taking off the cover and putting it back on a pain in the you know what.
There’s also a hard camera button on the spine and this works well for launching the camera app and snapping shots. A lock/unlock button rests on top under some rubber-like surface and I would have liked a bit more definition to this. The volume rocker’s a little too high on the left spine for my liking, but it has good feedback and feel. It also has to be high up because the majority of the left side is taken up by a huge button for push-to-talk.
On the face, you have four touch-sensitive keys for the menu, home and back button but, curiously, the fourth is not search, but a toggle for silent mode. The buttons are responsive enough but I still question replacing the search button, as it has become second nature for me. There’s also hard call and end buttons and a mostly useless navigational joypad in the middle. This just takes up space and it actually pretty useless with a full touch screen.
Speaking of which, the 3.1-inch screen looks to be the same that’s on Motorola’s Cliq XT, so it’s still a bit too small for my liking and it has nowhere near the clarity or “wow factor” of an AT&T Captivate or T-Mobile Vibrant. Still, it gets the job done and is about as responsive as you could expect but the small size makes typing a little difficult on the standard virtual keyboard. There’s no multitouch in many key areas but that could potentially be fixed with software upgrades.
Inside, there’s a 600 MHz ARM11 Freescale processor and it runs smoothly, for the most part – I couldn’t tell if the occasional lagginess was due to the hardware or the rather outdated software (more on that below). It also packs a 5-megapixel camera, GPS with assisted-GPS capabilities, WiFi, Bluetooth, and iDEN support. Push-to-talk is really cool guys, I just wish I knew more people with it.
So, why does it make me smile? The Motorola i1 definitely takes a lot of design cues from the Cliq XT, which I actually liked. There’s a good weight to the phone in your hand. It definitely doesn’t feel like a premium device because of the cheap elements but it absolutely feels solid. Maybe its the rugged nature of the device, but it almost feels like a tool. That can be a good or bad thing depending on your proclivities, I suppose.
The Motorola i1 runs Android 1.5, and, holy heck, I forgot how primitive Android used to be. I probably should have remembered after reading our Evolution of Android piece, but it was kind of shocking how much I missed features in Android that I now take for granted. Things like support for multiple Google accounts, the revamped Android Market and Google Navigation are now key parts of the Android experience to me and I sorely missed these with this Boost Mobile smartphone.
Still, the average Motorola i1 customer is not coming from a Droid in all likelihood, so I have to adjust my expectations a bit, I suppose. Despite its flaws, Android 1.5 is still a capable smartphone operating system, particularly if this is your first time in the smartphone pool. You’ll easily be able to send and receive e-mails on the go, add applications from the Android Market, surf the web (kind of), and make phone calls. There’s support for only one e-mail account, so choose wisely between Exchange, Google, Yahoo or others.
A device like the i1 just makes me pull my hair out about the upgrade path, as this could be significantly better with just 1.6, not to mention Android 2.0. Google, Motorola and all the carrier need to get their heads out of their behinds and make sure we still don’t have these sub-par Android experiences out there when there’s better software easily available. I don’t care if Boost Mobile subscribers don’t pay as much per month, these users deserve a better Android experience now. Hopefully, we’ll see that soon but Motorola’s upgrade path so far doesn’t give me much hope.
The Boost Mobile i1 uses the stock Android 1.5 keyboard as the default and it’s weak – it’s a combination of poor software from Google and the relatively-small screen size. Fortunately, you can turn on Swype – I’ve never been a huge fan of this input method but it was a godsend on this phone. It’s the first phone where I recommend using Swype exclusively because it will make your life much, much easier.
While 1.5 is practically the stone age for seasoned Android users, new smartphone users will find it full of features and somewhat intuitive. Rest assured i1 users, Android gets much better. Hopefully, you won’t have to wait too long to figure this out.
Web browser, Multimedia, Camera
Instead of the Webkit browser we all know and love in Android, this Boost Mobile i1 rocks an Opera Mini browser out of the gates. This is mostly because the i1 uses the iDEN network for data and this is maddeningly slow. I’d say it’s like EDGE speeds, but some moments on iDEN had me praying for the glory of EDGE speeds (how slow? Well I ran the XtremeLabs speed test and stopped because it was taking too long).
To its credit though, the good folks at Opera know how to maximize their bits, as pages popped up faster than they had any business to. The bottom line is that if you plan on browsing the web a lot or using tons of data-heavy apps, you’d better be around a good WiFi hotspot. Hopping on and off WiFi connections was simple, thankfully.
The Motorola i1 uses the standard Android multimedia player that can handle various formats of music and videos but I don’t care because it uses a 2.5-millimeter headphone jack. They give you a decent headphone/microphone in the box but this is still garbage because eventually you’re going to break or lose that. The non-standard headphone jack means you’ll have to buy an ugly dongle to use with your existing headphones.
This is 2010, Motorola, stop this crap. I love to use my phone as a music player and I hate you for not including a standard headphone jack.
The 5-megapixel camera is not going to blow you away because some of the pictures seemed a bit muted, no matter the light. The camera button has a good feel and response to it but the lag time between photos is far too long. A device like the AT&T Captivate also sports a 5-megapixel camera and I found those pictures to be noticeably better than the ones that came from this Boost Mobile smartphone.
The flash on the Motorola i1 is solid, as is the autofocus, and I like that you can get multiple effects like black and white with just a few clicks. Because it’s Android, you can easily upload photos and e-mail them, but I’d recommend using WiFi.
Don’t expect to become Ansel Adams with these photos, but it should provide shots that are good enough for Facebook and MMS messages. That should be enough for the target audience (not a knock guys, that’s what I mainly use mobile photos for too).
Here are a few examples:
Cloudy day, default settings:
Decent light, default settings:
Stella, of course:
The video recording option is nice to have but it only records at 15 frames per second. As you can see from the video below, that leads to some choppiness. I would have also like some more options with videos.
Call Quality, Data and Battery Life
I experienced excellent call coverage in and around San Francisco and I found the voice quality to be strong. The person on the other end of the line said I sounded clear and crisp. It’s refreshing having physical call and end buttons, too. The dialer is very standard and I would have loved to see some smart contact-finding software in there. Despite the quibbles, the i1 makes and receives phone calls well.
I talked about the data coverage and network speeds in the browser category and just want to reiterate how painfully slow it can be. Luckily, it doesn’t take much bandwidth to get texts and e-mails immediately, as messages without attachments come through quickly. As I said before, you’re going to have to use a lot of WiFi if you want to get the most out of the phone. The Motorola i1 on Sprint’s CDMA network should be a bit faster, but I don’t see why you’d get it over the EVO 4G unless you need the push-to-talk functionality.
Perhaps because of the lack of strong mobile bandwidth, battery life was very good. I could easily squeeze a day and a half out of this thing on a full charge but I stayed away from data-intensive apps because it just wasn’t worth it when I wasn’t on WiFi.
The Final Take
As such, I have a different level of expectations and criticisms for the Motorola i1. I want you to know that cheap or not, crap is still crap, and I won’t ever hesitate to call things like I see them.
The Motorola i1 is not going to give you the best Android experience on the market by a long shot – still a tossup between the Droid X and EVO 4G, in my humble opinion – but it is certainly the best device on Boost Mobile. The older software, the paltry speed of the iDEN network, and some of the poor design elements may turn you off, though.
The Motorola i1 isn’t even cheap out of the gates, as the lowest price we’re seeing is $349.99. That’s without a contract but that’s kind of overstated because the phone only works with Boost Mobile. Compared to a device like the Android-powered Charm, which will be offered free on a new T-Mobile contract, the i1 doesn’t seem immensely compelling on just price alone.
Still, the Motorola i1 is a solid device that does require some compromises on the Android experience. Is that compromise worth $20 to $50 a month off the monthly bill? That’s for you to decide, dear reader.
If you plan to stick with Boost for at least a year, want a taste of Android goodness and plan to do most of your heavy data lifting over WiFi, the Motorola i1 is a great fit. If you’re price-conscious and want some Android on a budget, I’d suggest going with one of T-Mobile’s offerings because you can even spread out the cost of the subsidized handset. You’ll pay a little more per month, but if you care about data speeds, this is the way to go.
The Boost Mobile i1 is still the best smartphone currently on any prepaid carrier and with some software updates, it could give low-end Android handsets on major carriers a decent challenge.
Do you have Motorola i1 for Boost Mobile? Let us know what you think in the comments.