If you like Nextel’s features, but can’t afford the services plans, you’d be wise to consider Boost Mobile. Sort of a Sprint Nextel younger brother, Boost offers similar phones and services at a cheaper price. And now with the new Motorola Clutch i465, Boost also gets its first QWERTY handset. As an iDEN device, the Clutch has a familiar look and feel and it offers push-to-talk (PTT) calling. You won’t have to sign a contract, and you can get it for just $129.99.

The i465 is a bit small (4.4 inches by 2.1 inches by 0.6 inch) for a QWERTY phone, but we were drawn to its candy bar design. Sure, it’s a bit boxy, but the red color is attractive and the tapered edges give it a sleek feel. It’s also lightweight (3.4 ounces), but it has a comfortable feel in the hand. The battery cover has a textured finish, and the Clutch is certified to military specifications for shock, vibration, dust, and solar radiation.

Like many Nextel phones, the 1.79-inch display doesn’t have the greatest resolution (64,000 colors; 160×128 pixels). This continues to be a sore spot for us, but on a phone that’s geared for messaging rather than gaming it’s not so bad. The multipage is also classic Nextel, but we’re not big fans of that, either. You can change the backlighting time and the text size.

The Clutch’s controls have a spacious, comfortable design. You’ll find a circular toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a dedicated menu control, a speakerphone key, and the Talk and End/power buttons. Though only parts of the navigation array are raised above the surface of the phone, all of the controls are intuitive and easy to use. The toggle also doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined functions.

On the right side of the display you’ll find additional shortcuts for the messaging application, the Web browser, and the camera. Though they make the phone look a tad off-center, the shortcuts are in a convenient place. On the left spine, you’ll find the rocker and PTT button. Both are spacious and tactile. Below them are a 2.5-millimeter headset jack (boo) and a standard Mini-USB charger port (yay).The camera lens rests on the rear face of the phone–there’s no flash or self-portrait mirror.

The keyboard will seem small to some users, but we found the peaked keys tactile and relatively easy to use. As with many QWERTY phones, letter keys share space with numbers and symbols, but the arrangement never felt crowded. Indeed, we were tapping long messages and dialing phone numbers easily and quickly. The space bar sits in the middle of the bottom row; near it are shift, function, symbol, return, and back keys. You’ll also find a second convenient shortcut for the messaging menu. Below the shortcut is the phone’s main speaker.

The Clutch’s 600-contact phone book has room in each entry for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes. You can save contacts to groups or PTT Talk Groups, and you can pair them with one of 12 polyphonic ringtones. Other basic features include a vibrate mode, a memo pad, a speakerphone, a voice memo recorder, call timers, Bluetooth, and a datebook. And, of course, you also get support for Boost’s walkie-talkie PTT service.

Text and multimedia messaging are prime features, but the Clutch also supports a selection of POP3 e-mail accounts. Threaded texting is a plus, but e-mail will require a Web-based interface. The Clutch does not support IMAP4 e-mail, Outlook Exchange server syncing, and instant messaging.

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