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Motorola Debut i856 Cell Phone Review

by The Review CrewOctober 1, 2010

Most iDEN push-to-talk phones are quite bulky, and come in either a clamshell or candy bar design. However, the Motorola Debut bucks that trend. It is the first ever iDEN push-to-talk phone to come in a slider design, which gives it a rather svelte appearance. Aside from push-to-talk, the Debut also has a few basic multimedia features. Though we had a few design issues with the Debut, it’s overall a decent midtier offering from Boost Mobile. It’s available for $170 without a contract. The Debut is also eligible for Boost Mobile’s $50 monthly unlimited text, talk, data, and push-to-talk nationwide.

Design
Slider phones may be new to Boost Mobile, but they’re definitely not new to Motorola. Indeed, the Motorola Debut reminds us a little of previous Motorola slider handsets, like the Motorola Rizr. Measuring 4.19 inches long by 2.0 inches wide by 0.59 inch thick, the Debut is slim and sleek, with a black coating and a silver trim border on the front. When you slide the phone open, the number keypad is coated in a very rich red. The Debut is 2.99 ounces and is thin enough to fit in a front pocket.

On the front of the phone is a 2.2-inch display. Like a lot of push-to-talk phones, the display doesn’t have the best resolution–only 65,536 colors and a 176×220 pixel resolution–so the graphics look a little blocky and washed out. You can adjust the display’s backlight time, the size of the menu dialing fonts, the menu layout, the clock format, and the display theme. Along the bottom row of the standby screen is a carousel of shortcuts for up to nine user-defined applications.

Underneath the display is the navigation array, which consists of two soft keys, a round navigation toggle with a middle confirmation key, a menu key, a music player key, and the Send and End/Power keys. You can show and hide the aforementioned carousel by pressing the middle key of the navigation toggle. When the carousel is hidden, the toggle can be used as shortcuts to four user-defined functions from the standby screen. When a slideshow or song is playing, the middle three keys of the toggle light up and take on the duties of previous track, play/pause, and next track keys. We weren’t pleased with the feel of the navigation keys. They felt a little stiff and squishy with not a lot of give when pressed.

Slide the phone up and you’ll reveal the number keypad. We’re pleased to see it’s quite roomy, as most slider keypads tend to be a little cramped. However, the number keys suffer the same problem as the navigation keys: they feel just a bit too spongy when pressed. Still, the keys are raised above the surface and it’s easy enough to dial by feel.

On the left spine of the phone are the speakerphone key, the volume rocker, a large push-to-talk key, and the charger jack. On the right is a 3.5-millimeter headset jack, which we’re always glad to see with a phone that has a music player so we have the freedom of using our own headphones. There’s also a camera lens on the back, but it’s only visible when you slide the phone open. The microSD card slot is inconveniently located behind the battery cover.

Features
The Debut has a 600-entry phone book with room in each entry for eight phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, and an IP address. You can save your contacts to caller groups or push-to-talk Talk Groups, a photo for caller ID, plus one of 21 polyphonic ringtones. Basic features include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, a datebook, a memo pad, an alarm clock, and a voice recorder. You also get Boost Mobile’s push-to-talk service, of course. More-advanced features include text and multimedia messaging with threaded messaging, a wireless Web browser, stereo Bluetooth, and GPS.

The built-in music player on the Debut is quite good. It organizes songs into albums, artists, genres, and it even supports podcasts. The player interface is pretty generic with the controls at the bottom and the visualizer taking up most of the screen. There are three different visualizers you can choose from, or you can turn it off altogether. Other settings include shuffle, repeat, album art view, and 13 preset equalizer settings. There’s even a 3D music mode with 14 different 3D reverb effects. You’ll need to wear headphones to really hear the difference. The music player supports AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, QCP, MP3, WAV, RA, and WMA files. You can load the songs to the Debut via a microSD card. You can also arrange it so that the music player plays in the background while you multitask in other parts of the phone.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.

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