The i90c phone offers two-way radio backup

The i90c phone offers two-way radio backup

The Motorola i90c stores two sets of up to 20 numbers each: wireless phone numbers as well as two-way radio numbers.

Wireless phones are great'if the calls go through. The Motorola i90c phone, using Nextel Communications Inc.'s network, has a backup method for getting through.

Wireless users discovered on Sept. 11 that their networks weren't up to handling a national emergency. Many people who tried to make cellular calls that day, especially on the East coast near New York or Washington, never got through because all networks were clogged.

During rescue operations at the Pentagon afterward, Nextel and other carriers distributed phones to the workers. Most telephone networks remained congested for days, including Nextel's network. But people with Nextel service and i90c phones could still talk to others with similar phones, because of the digital two-way radio feature called Nextel Direct Connect.

The radio signal operates independently of the cellular network. Communicating by Nextel Direct Connect requires close attention, because you must listen for different beep tones to know when it's your turn to talk'an electronic form of saying, 'Over.'

The backup radio system could be useful to federal employees who must communicate in field operations or emergencies, regardless of whether wireless networks are accessible.

The radio call numbers differ from the units' wireless phone numbers. You can enter up to 20 contacts in a database for each network, so you don't have to remember two sets of numbers for each coworker.

I tested the connection between an i90c flip-phone in Hagerstown, Md., and a Motorola i80s phone in southern Maryland more than 100 miles away. The i90c is tiny, measuring less than 3 inches long when folded. Inside, a large display showed data about calls being made or received.

A built-in speaker let me talk hands-free while driving, a welcome feature that eliminates bulky speaker add-ons for driving safety.

I had to press only one button to take a call. After that, everything happened through the speaker, which was clear and easy to understand. The speakerphone also makes voice-activated dialing easy. When I say 'Call editor,' it rings up my supervisor at GCN.

Comes loaded

The i90c was packed with extras rarely seen in wireless phones. The large LCD lit up in bright indigo in the dark, activated by an electric eye just above the 3 button.

The phone also had several Java programs: an expense report spreadsheet, a calculator and games.

Nextel has streamlined its download-on-demand software. You don't have to connect to a PC to get a new program as you do with a personal digital assistant. Instead, select the program you want and download it to the phone over the air.

In repeated tests of the fast-charging battery, I could charge it up from a 30 percent level in about 90 minutes. A full charge from empty took slightly more than two hours.

In past reviews, I've tested the Nextel network in major cities including Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis and Washington. Outside big cities the service is not as good, and there is no roaming.

Nextel service plans are available through the Federal Technology Service's Wireless Store, at

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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