I stopped into my local Best Buy this afternoon and was amazed at the great selection of prepaid cellular phones. As recently as a year ago the prepaid phone aisle was limited to cheap plastic throwaways. Fast forward to now, and the shelves are lined with current model BlackBerry and Motorola phones available on no contract prepaid plans. Boost Mobile has been one of the leaders in selling affordable prepaid phones that don’t make you ashamed to use them in public. Last week we looked at the i465 (great texting device and solid call quality). This week we’re looking at the Boost Mobile i9. It’s essentially a Motorola Razr fitted with the walkie talkie feature that Boost is known for. What’s amazing about this phone is that it’s one of the thinnest flip phones that Boost has ever offered.
Here’s a quick look at the Boost Mobile i9 specifications (via Best Buy’s web site listing):
Boost Mobile is a prepaid carrier owned by Sprint/Nextel. Phones on the service are distinguished by the use of walkie talkie functionality (formerly referred to as Direct Connect). This feature allows for entering a unique phone ID number to create private conversations by pushing a side button on the phone. The conversations can be with other Boost Mobile (or Sprint/Nextel) users – either local or even nationwide.
In order to use the walkie talkie feature the other person you’re calling must be on either Boost Mobile or Nextel – it doesn’t work to or from other carrier phones. It’s very fast (less than a few seconds to contact the other phone) and has been popular with construction workers and teens.
Admittedly the use of a walkie talkie feature to converse between phones has waned in recent years.
The feature used to be popular because direct walkie talkie connections were free and cellular calling expensive.
Now the tables have slightly turned and with Boost’s own $50 unlimited calling the use of walkie talkie connect to save on voice minute use is less necessary.
A few years ago you couldn’t go through a mall without hearing the annoying incessant “chirp chirp” of people connecting via Boost or Nextel capable phones. That popularity may have peaked, however in testing I found walkie talkie more of a convenience that you might think.
Boost has several different plans including a $50 unlimited monthly (voice/text/walkie talkie) and a $1 per day unlimited use walkie talkie which makes the service very economical depending upon usage patterns.
During testing I gave a Boost phone to my kids when they went to the park around the corner from the house. Using the phone I was able to quickly check in with them at various times.
While I could have done this just as easily on a cell phone with regular calling – there was a certain comfort level knowing that I could connect instantly to verify that they were okay.
Until recently the hallmark of a Boost or Nextel phone has been hefty phone size. The phones had a reputation as being large devices yielded by brawny construction backhoe driving foremen with huge biceps. As technology advanced the Boost phone’s (and Sprint’s Nextel phones) were slimmed down to the point where they fit a slender body only slightly thicker than the popular Motorola Razr.
The Boost Mobile i9 shares the same menu structure as the other Boost Mobile phones (including the i465). The outer skin of the menu is largely icon driven (shown below).
Navigating within the menu of the i9 however is largely text based – and a bit tricky. Once you get the hang of it you’ll be able to set ringers, wallpaper and various profiles with ease. The interface is dated but usable. These phones are marketed to people whose primary need is voice contact – and to that extent the interface is fine.
All of your standard features are available – which includes text and picture (MMS) mail as well as a built in media center that plays music and video files.
The i9 is packing a 3.1 megapixel digital camera with flash. I took several pictures (sample below) and sent a few MMS (picture mail) messages to my iPhone.
Unlike my testing on the i465 I experienced no delays in receiving the messages. The i9 does however share the same annoying messaging interface with the i465 which I think requires too many steps to select and send a message.
One tip – use caution when taking pictures.
When I held the i9 my hand had a tendency to partially cover the lens resulting in blurred photos (and at least one with my finger partially in the shot). Overall I was pleased with the images.
I was able to load MP3 files directly to a 16 GB microSD card (not included). The initial process was a bit confusing until I learned that in order to access media loaded externally you must use the right arrow key on the circular menu pad to navigate to the media card (as opposed to loading them directly from the i9’s memory).
With the flip closed the front cover of the phone lights up with controls so you can select different tracks and control play, pause , fast forward, etc. I tended to use the controls with the flip open as I found the outer control panel confusing.
There is no 3.5 mm headset jack – so you’ll most likely use a Bluetooth stereo headset (sold separately) to listen to music privately. The built in speaker is clear and loud (as most Motorola Boost/Nextel phones I’ve owned have been).
Inserting and removing the microSD card requires that you pop the back off the phone. With the back cover removed I found it very easy to insert and remove the microSD. There’s a flexible rubber flap that holds the card in place – yet still allows for easy insertion and removal.
The one part of the phone that I am not a big fan of is the keypad. I had two issues with using the keys.
First, the keys are flush with only small raised metallic “bumps” to discern one key from another. I found it slightly awkward to find the keys and in some instances pushing a key didn’t register any number.
Secondly, I had an issue with the automatic backlighting on the keypad.
There is an option to have the backlight automatically controlled by a sensor on the phone. I had to turn this off – which meant that the keypad light remained lit for whatever default period of time I’d set. Without the light on I found it was difficult to read the numbers during daytime in certain lighting conditions.
Overall the Boost Mobile i9 is built like a tank. The quality of construction is top notch. Often with flip phones you can feel some give and the cover slides from side to side in your hand. Not so on the Boost i9. Battery life was great – easily giving me a few days between charges (it’s rated at up to 150 minutes talk time and 70 hours standby).
Call quality was excellent. I tested both voice and speakerphone without any problems. I had no dropped calls and during testing I used the phone as a replacement for my office line which meant I had several calls in excess of thirty to forty minutes and each of them had excellent calling quality.
If you’ve tried Sprint/Nextel (who is the service provider for this prepaid service) and had negative experiences in the past – you should take another look. I’d used Nextel for years and for a period of time experienced some issues with connect and call quality. All of those problems seems to be in the past as I was able to connect easily with the i9 not only from my home calling area but during trips to New York and the crowded casino of Mohegan Sun (strictly for testing purposes, honest).
The walkie talkie feature, while a little gimmicky, is surprisingly useful – especially for keeping in quick touch with someone such as a co-worker or family member. In short the Boost Mobile is expensive at $299 – but worth it.
Link: Boost Mobile i9 – $299
What I Liked:
– Sturdy, amazing build quality
– Excellent at capturing and holding weak signals
– Nice picture quality
– Clear calling
– Convenient walkie talkie feature to other Boost Mobile phones
– Very competitive calling plans ($50 unlimited or $1/day walkie talkie or .40/min pay as you go)
What Could Be Improved:
– Camera is positioned in an awkward place where my hands kept covering the lens
– Keypad automatic sensor was less than perfect
– Expensive for a prepaid phone