Review of the Motorola i80

The i80 is one of Motorola’s first consumer- oriented iDEN phones. Until recently, all iDEN phones were rather bulky and generally oriented toward the business and industrial user. The i85 took a step in the consumer direction, but not so much so as the i80. One look at the smooth contours and petite construction of the i80 tell you that Motorola is going after a completely new market with this phone.

Last Updated: 05-Nov-2001

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

In terms of functionality, the i80 is very similar to the i85, and so I’ll be borrowing some of this review directly from my write-up on the i85. Anywhere the phones actually differ, I’ll write brand new material.

Like other very recent iDEN phones, the i80 uses a SIM. This stands for “Subscriber Identify Module”, which is a small piece of plastic with contacts on the bottom. Not only does it provide you with your subscription information, it also stores you phonebook entries (up to 250 of them). If you move your SIM to a different iDEN phone, your subscription and phonebook follow you there. This is exactly the same concept used in GSM phones.

Menu System and General

Beyond the SIM, the first thing you notice about the i80 is the new menu structure. Although it isn’t identical with the menus found on the newest Motorola GSM and CDMA phones, it looks similar enough to be called a very close relation. Gone is the hideous user interface of the earlier iDEN phones, and in its place is a menu structure not unlike that found on Nokia phones. Secondary menus are abundant, but they don’t contain quite as many options as you’ll typically find on a Nokia phone.

It includes two “soft keys” (whose function changes, depending upon what you are doing at the time), and a four-way cursor key that allows for easy navigation of the phone’s menus. Like its GSM cousins the P280 and V66, and its CDMA cousins the V120 and V60, the i80 includes tons of customization features.

You can assign virtually any menu or sub-menu item in the phone to a 1- or 2-digit numeric shortcut (though the i80 stops you from using shortcuts higher than 20, which is odd). So while Nokia phones might have fixed numeric shortcuts, they are sometimes 3, 4, or even 5 digits long. In recent Nokia designs such as the 7190, the numeric menus aren’t properly implemented, and they only apply to about 50% of the menus in the phone.

You can assign any of the top-level menu items to the two soft keys during idle mode. As for the main menu itself, you can even change the order of the menu items so that the ones you access the most can appear at the top (or the bottom, since that’s easy to get to as well), while the least used ones can be dumped in the middle. All in all, the menus are clean and well designed, and it goes a long way to bringing iDEN a wider market appeal.

Physically, the phone is quite slender, and reasonably thin. However, it does seem to be rather long for its size. The extra length is to accommodate the excellent speaker needed for Direct Connect and for the Speakerphone feature. By today’s standards, it looks a little odd, but after a while, I really got to like the overall size and appearance of the phone.

The display is a bit of a disappointment after reviewing the i85. Not only is the display much smaller than it’s bigger brother, it also lacks the reflective background, and so you have to rely on the backlighting under most non-outdoor conditions. It also lacks the selectable font sizes that make the i85 a real joy to use. It supports only one font size, though that font is reasonably handsome. Some may also find the orange backlight to be a bit distracting. Most phones go with blue or bluish-green.

Despite its relatively small size, it still includes a built-in speaker for both Direct Connect use, and as a speakerphone when using the unit in phone mode. Unlike the ridiculous attempt at providing a speakerphone in the Ericsson R520m, the one in the i80 is positively incredible. It produces globs of clean volume that make the feature usable in noisy environments. It matches the excellent performance I got from the i85’s speaker.

The keypad had a very nice feel to it, and the keys were markedly softer-feeling than the stiff ones found on the i85. However, the four-way cursor key wasn’t quite as easy to use for some reason, and I didn’t like the menu key being below the cursor key. I’m sure that’s just a preference thing, but throughout my enter test period, I just couldn’t get my head around it.

Battery life is exceptional. Even when using the speakerphone feature (which no doubt uses much more power than just using it with the standard earpiece) allowed me to make 2 or 3 hours worth of tests, and I never actually ran the battery completely down in a single day. Standby times should easily be in the 3 to 5 day range. Unlike the i85, the i80 uses an “integrated” battery that actually becomes part of the phone’s back. This is a departure from Motorola’s other recent models, in which the batter is hidden beneath a separate plastic cover.

The phone even includes a useful little feature that helps conserve battery life while you are surfing the net with the microbrowser. A photo sensor (located on the keypad just to the left of the four-way cursor key) determines when there is enough ambient light to disable the display’s backlighting. You can prove it works by holding a flashlight up to the sensor in a dark room, and then pressing keys.


Unfortunately, the iDEN group didn’t believe that ringtones are an important feature. Unlike the P280, it provides only a handful of standard ringtones, and there are no options for creating your own. The tone for receiving text messages is fixed, and it cannot be changed. It’s unfortunately that this area of the i80 didn’t get the same modernization treatment as the other new Motorola models, especially considering the consumer-orientation of this product.

While it might not be so great in the ringtone department, it one-ups other Motorola phones in the Profiles department. The i80 calls them Styles, and unlike the other non-iDEN Motorola phones, you can actually create new ones, and name them whatever you want. The Style sets the backlighting duration, ringtones and volume settings.

The phone supports voice dialing, and voice commands. The voice-dialing feature is pretty much what you’d expect, so I can’t really say much about that. However, the voice-commands feature was of dubious value, especially in light of the user-define numeric shortcuts. To use the voice-command feature you have to press and hold a button on the front of the phone, and then speak the command. Since you can assign two-keystroke numeric shortcuts, what’s the point of pressing a button for a period of time and the saying a word. Why not just press two buttons and be done with it?

The phone can record voice notes (just like the P280), but doing so is markedly more difficult. Whereas the P280 has a button on the side for activating the voice recorder, the i80 does not. You must scroll to an appropriate menu item and select the correct soft key. This can be very difficult if you want to record a bit of an incoming call. To its credit though, the i80 stores about 5 minutes of voice vs only 1 minute on the P280.

The Phonebook was very similar to the one in P280, but with a few minor differences. The P280 stores multiple phone numbers as completely separate entries with the same name. This can be annoying, since it clutters up your Phonebook list. The i80 combines each entry into a single name in the Phonebook summary list, making it less cluttered. It therefore simulates a hierarchical phonebook better than the P280. However, like the P280, it does not support any text fields, such as an e-mail address or a street address.

The phone supports T9 predictive Text Input, which is surprising, since other Motorola phones go with their own proprietary technology called iTAP. The Mike network doesn’t support outgoing SMS, but T9 is available in the browser, and it virtually every other text input prompt. It supports a user dictionary, so you can add new words and names to it.

The i80 provides that same Datebook feature as the P280. You can set up a calendar of events, complete with audible reminders. Like the P280 however, the graphical display in the “week view” showed usage bars that cover only a 12-hour period in the day. I found it perplexing that Motorola didn’t provide a 24-hour version of the display, even optionally. This applies to all new Motorola models using this menu structure.

Like the i85, it’s probably one of the first phones on the market to include JAVA. This means that Java applets can be uploaded to phone to give it almost limitless functionality. Within the limits of the memory in the phone, you can upload multiple Java applets that provide various features.

The phone I tested only had the calculator applet loaded on it, but since it wasn’t a final release version of the phone, I don’t know what will be standard. In addition, the calculator applet was essentially useless, because it expected a screen with greater resolution, and the scroll keys weren’t available because the calculator used them.

SMS support is limited to incoming messages only. While the iDEN standard does appear to support outgoing SMS, the feature is not supported on Telus Mike. For those interested merely in receiving messages, the phone handles that task fairly well, but not much differently from the P280. This is not really one of the phone’s stronger points.

While much of the interest in data seems to surround the recent release of GPRS on GSM networks, iDEN has supported its own Packet Data technology for some time now. Telus has it on their network, but they don’t officially say so. Despite that, it works here in Canada, and you can use it for the microbrowser and for PC data connections.

Packet data differs from Circuit Switched data in that you are always connected, and you pay only for the bytes you send and receive. You can even receive phone calls while you are online. However, the speed is limited to about 19,200 baud on iDEN, but it’s at least twice the speed of Circuit Switched data, and only about half the speed of current GPRS implementations. Apparently 19.2K is the not the upper speed limit on iDEN data. This speed only applies is 2 of the 6 slots are used. When all 6 slots are used, you can expect speeds up to 56K.

Something must have been the matter with my i80 however, since I couldn’t get the Packet Data feature to work. It should have worked the same as it did on the i85, and this might just have been because the phone wasn’t a final release version.

Sound Quality and RF Performance

But what about the audio performance of this phone? One of my biggest complaints about any other iDEN phones that I’ve tested is that the audio always sounded raspy and crude. I never liked it very much, and I always rated the sound of iDEN below that of the Rogers IS-136 network. Not so with the i80. The sound quality was absolutely incredible compared to what I’d heard before. Gone was the raspy sound, and in many instances, it sounded damned good. It also sounded a bit better than the i85 I tested earlier.

Don’t get me wrong here, it doesn’t quite match the gorgeous audio that emits from the earpiece of the P280, but it’s such a great improvement over iDEN phones of yore that it should please all but the most discerning listeners. Outgoing audio is equally improved, and the phone handles background noise exceedingly well (even in speakerphone mode).

However, I didn’t find that the tonal balance on the earpiece was as good as it could get, since I found the sound a bit peaky on some voices. Despite that, I still felt that the balance was a bit better than the i85. The i80 had more depth to it, and wasn’t as likely to be annoyingly peaking on some voices. Unfortunately, my i80 suffered from a high degree of “transmitter buzz”. This is interference caused by the pulsating nature of a TDMA signal. In the case of iDEN though, it is more of a “pffft pffft” sound as opposed to a real buzz.

RF performance seemed to be on par with the i85 as far as pulling in weak signals was concerned. However, I found that I was suffering from far more audio degradation than I ever had with the i85. The i80 behaved more like iDEN phones of yore when it came to handling frame errors. I was frequently disappointed in the way the audio degraded whenever signals were not the best. I was certain I never had that problem during the two weeks I was playing with the i85.

Handoffs on iDEN are extremely short, and so they produce only the tiniest of breaks in the audio. Even when you are hit with multiple handoffs in a row (referred to as Thrashing) the audio isn’t markedly affected. I carried on very long conversations covering large expanses of area without really noticing handoffs at all. That made it much better than my typical experience on Fido, where handoffs are often noticeable during long mobile conversations.

Indoor coverage was a bit of a mixed bag, but that’s always a matter of precisely where one needs it. In my specific instance, it failed more often than Fido did. For others, that might be the reverse. Besides, that wasn’t really the phone’s fault anyway. It was a matter of site placement. A recent flurry of site construction in the GTA should ensure than Mike has coverage there that rivals anything from its competitors.

I managed to perform a number of prolonged tests using the Direct Connect feature, and it worked very well indeed. However, it isn’t really suited for long conversations, and you will become aware of the fact that the audio isn’t as good as during a call. This is because Direct Connect uses only half as many slots as a phone call, and it has to get by on a measly 4 kilobit CODEC (whereas a phone call gets an 8 kilobit CODEC).


Here is how I rate the i80 for various classes of users:

Heavy Duty Phone Users

This group should find the i80 a good choice, especially if they also need the Direct Connect feature. The phone has reasonably good audio quality, a solid network, excellent speakerphone feature, and logical menu structure. This should appeal to a wide range of discriminating phone users. However, the issue with audio degradation may have this group considering the i85.

Data Users

Even though iDEN doesn’t always support data rates as high as GPRS, it does support Packet Data. Mike has actually had packet data longer than most networks (even if they don’t officially support it), so their system should be relatively stable and bug-free.

Gadget Nuts

This phone doesn’t really boast a high number of gadgets, and doesn’t really qualify as a gadget lover’s phone of choice. However, the speakerphone, Direct Connect, and Java support might be enough to attract some from this group. This is especially true if the number of available Java applets increases over the coming months.

Fashion Conscious

I’m not really sure if this phone is quite consumer-oriented enough to please this group as much as the i90 (which I haven’t tested yet). However, I think that if you have a look at this phone in person you might find you really like its looks.

Heavy SMS Users

Incoming text messages are handled reasonably well, but Mike doesn’t support outgoing text messages. This is likely to be a major stumbling block for this group.

General Public

Although the price is a little steep ($350 without a contract), I do believe that the average user might find plenty to love in this phone. It’s packed with plenty of extras; it provides good overall service, and it’s small enough to suit most people’s demands. If you are willing to sign a 3-year contract though, you can get the phone for only $50 (under a current promotion, though normal 3-year contracts would reduce the price to $200).