Powered by the Freescale Zeus 2.0 ARM1136 processor, which only gets up to 500 MHz, the Motorola i1 is on the lower end of devices. That said, aside from the aforementioned keyboard lag, the phone OS felt quick and responsive most of the time, quickly pulling up contacts or zipping through available applications almost instantly, even compared to much beefier counterparts.
There’s a lot of functionality purposefully left off the i1 to make sure the experience stays smooth, however, and that means sacrifices will be made. The smartphone runs Android OS 1.5, for example, which doesn’t support turn-by-turn navigation, Flash, or a lot of other recent functionality upgrades that even early Android phones like the T-Mobile G1 now support. I also noticed a lot of big-name applications missing off the i1’s application store, although users are still left with a very generous selection.
The biggest performance bottleneck, however, is the phone’s network itself. The iDEN PTT is very, very slow compared to modern 3G networks, meaning a lot of Web-powered features will simply not work (no streaming music, no streaming video and horrendous wait times for most Web pages using the normal browser). Motorola has given users a few creative workarounds, though: An easy-to-use Wi-Fi connection drains the battery faster but makes the iDEN’s sluggishness a moot point when you have access, and the included Opera browser compresses pages and greatly improves web speeds when not near an available hot spot.
Call quality was mediocre, occasionally static-y and almost always slightly tinny on regular calls and even worse on PTT calls. Calls would drop occasionally, and service was spotty in the Boston, MA-area where the device was tested out. Rarely were the dead zones very large, but they were inconvenient enough that I needed to double check my available bars before placing a call.
The i1 supports e-mail admirably, integrating perfectly with Google-powered mail services and IMAP or POP3 mailboxes. Support for Microsoft Exchange is available only through third-party software. Accessing messages, despite the slow network, was fairly reliable and quick, though if pictures or attachments were included in the e-mail, it was best to wait for Wi-Fi before viewing them.
The phone also supports, natively or with a quick App Store download, most Instant Messaging clients.
Access to the rather large Android Marketplace, as well as a fully-functioning WebKit web browser, means Motorola i1 users can view most regular files quickly and easily with the included software, or actually create and edit documents with any number of inexpensive application purchases.
While the i1 lacks native YouTube support, it can still play music and videos, along with a variety of games and other entertainment from the Android Market. The only trick is getting content onto the device, which can be achieved by either connecting to a Wi-Fi network, in which case movies can be streamed or downloaded if they’re in a compatible format, or uploaded from a computer via the phone’s mini-USB cable.
Over-the-air downloads are nearly impossible due to the iDEN network’s slow speed.
I sampled a few small movie clips and each played flawlessly with the included media player, as did a number of MP3s I tested. Audio playback was a little tinny and scratchy, but probably not unbearable except for the true audiophile.
The Android Market provided access to hundreds of free and paid game choices. I installed two and, within minutes, was shooting paper balls into a virtual basket and was trying my hand at pinball. Both ran smoothly, and neither cost me a dime.
The i1’s camera is a fairly standard 5 megapixel affair, capable of quickly switching between stills and video. The dedicated camera button is a bit tough, making it almost simpler to use the on-screen camera controls, which offer up advanced options from image filters, geotagging and various effects like solarize.
Pictures were generally crisp and clear, although as with almost any mobile advice the quality is directly determined by how steady your hand is at the time of the shooting. The camera includes a decent (by mobile standards) flash, and I managed a few decent shots even in dim conditions, although completely dark scenes stayed that way, even with the flash going strong.
Battery life is rated at 210 minutes of continuous usage time and up to 100 hours of standby. The phone lasted a full day whenever I fully charged it the night before, including a mix of calls, web browsing and Wi-Fi, although the latter predictably drained the battery much quicker, as did the phone’s GPS. Fortunately, Sprint provides custom widgets to make turning these features on and off a one-tap affair, which can greatly extend your phone’s daily lifespan.