Review: Motorola Debut i856 (Boost Mobile)

motorola debut i856 boost mobile

The Motorola Debut i856

Looking for a solid phone with a great plan that doesn’t make you sign your wireless soul away for 2 years? If so, then listen up as we got something you’ll definitely want to check out (trust me, you do). It’s called the Motorola Debut i856 for Boost Mobile (the carrier with the TV ads going “where you at?”), and for the past few weeks we have been putting it through its paces, and we came away pretty impressed with both the phone and Boost Mobile as a carrier.

Design and Features

The Debut i856 is pretty much your standard slider phone design. Small, nice and sturdy. It feels great in the hand– not too light though not too heavy– and really looks like a simple, solid phone. The 2.2 inch screen is pretty solid (though we don’t recommend watching movies or videos on it) and works fine for going about day to day tasks like texting, browsing the web, playing music etc.

Speaking of playing music, this has one loud speaker. Now this may be is because it has a built in walkie-talkie, but hey I don’t mind if it means I get a solid speaker for music. Speaking of music, the Debut is actually a pretty music-focused phone, with a dedicated music key on the front of the phone to launch the music player, a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the side for using your regular headphones (always nice to have), a microSD card slot for adding music, as well as a “changing navigational pad” that switches from the normal arrows seen when the phone is in other tasks like taking pix, viewing texts or browsing the web, to play/pause, rewind and fast forward icons. This was definitely pretty cool (kinda like what Motorola has done on phone like the Rokr E8 and Zine for T-Mobile, just obviously here on a much small scale).

Motorola Debut i856 Music

The music player on the Debut i856

Once you slide open the phone you get a couple of things. First is a traditional slide out keypad. The keypad is nice and has a good feel, but the buttons were hard to press making texting initially pretty tough. Now the texting experience on the phone itself isn’t impossible, and we really liked how there were threaded conversations in texts that made them look more like IM’s and conversations. One thing that was weird about texting– all the texts we sent out to friends on Verizon, Sprint and other carriers appeared for some reason as MMS messages and of some “high priority” instead of just as regular text messages. Not harmful, just again, weird.

You also get a camera when you slide up the phone, it’s 1.3 megapixel and took some solid pix and videos (again not “wow” worthy and not gonna replace your regular camera with, but for such a small phone like this, it was pretty good). We wish though we didn’t always have to slide up the phone to get to the camera– again not terrible, just annoying.

Also, in the phone is a built in GPS, though there is no built in app on the phone to really test this out, and you’ll need to download the Boost Navigator app (which costs either $2 a day or $10 a month).

But most importantly, the call quality was impressively clear on both ends of the phone, so you’re covered in the actual “able to make phone calls” aspect.


While the browser isn’t anywhere near as capable as the one found on say, the Droid, it performed well when loading up mobile versions of ESPN and Facebook, but it had trouble with our site (we had to test that out) and it doesn’t do YouTube videos. It was though very fast, and all this is really based on a solid job on Boost’s end.

Motorola Debut i856 web

Ok, so let’s give a little background on Boost. Like the prepaid services of AT&T (GoPhone) and Verzion (formerly known as INPulse), Sprint has its its own service called Boost. In a prepaid service, rather than using your phone with a 2 year contract to their service, you can instead PRE pay for minutes–either paying per day, monthly, or per minute– even picking up a prepay card with minutes from your local CVS, Walmart, Target, etc. No contract and no heavy fees if you want to switch carriers, and oh yeah, Boost offers $50 a month for unlimted talk, text, web, and walkie talkie. Not bad, huh.

So why doesn’t everyone do this? Well, what you save in the freedom to switch around carriers and the price per month, you lose in terms of phone selection and in higher prices for the phones upfront. For example, this same Debut i856 goes for $99.99 at Sprint’s site where you sign up for a 2 year contract, while at Boost your looking at $149.99. $50 more doesn’t sound like a lot, but on Boost and other prepaid services your choosing between 5-10 phones max, not the 30+ most carriers offer (you also don’t get phones like the BlackBerry, Pre, iPhone, Cliq or Droid on prepaid plans).

Ok, so back to Boost. They run on Sprint’s iDen network, or the stuff Nextel uses, and while it isn’t 3G, for doing things like simple browsing the web, texting and making calls, it more than gets the job done. Using it around the New York area I was pretty impressed with how great the service was– in some places where I’d usually lose reception on my iPhone, I had perfect with Boost– though reception still randomly dropped, even in places where I usually get great reception. Still, I gotta say that coverage wise, this is pretty solid (and again, since Boost runs on Sprint’s iDen network, you should get coverage in most states across the country, though like with all carriers, make sure to check online how it is in your area before buying).

Wrap Up

Ok, so that’s our thoughts on the Motorola Debut i856 for Boost Mobile, and overall, it’s a very solid simple phone that should definitely please anyone afraid of long term commitments or looking for something simple, yet giving a lot of bang for the buck.

While the great music player, call quality and speaker and the good price really gave this phone a lot of pluses, the tough keypad, and very simple web browser, do hurt this phone. All in all,  we’re gonna give it a solid rating of 3 out of 5.

We give the Motorola Debut i856 a solid 3 out 5

The Motorola Debut i856 is available now for $149.99 with NO 2 year contract, and you can order it from the Boost Mobile site here. BUT WAIT!!! DON’T CLICK THAT ORDER BUTTON YET!

Now here’s where were gonna go try something a little new– GIVEAWAY! The good folks over at Motorola have given us one of these guys to GIVE TO YOU! Yup, you can get one of your own without needing to spend a dime. How you ask? Well, we’ll have all the details on how you can win one in the coming days, so stay tuned!

Posted on November 30, 2009, in Cell Phones, First Look/Reviews, Giveaways and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Keep us posted on how to win the free phone, thanks.

  2. can you sync this with iTunes and your Mac address book?

    • Hey Elliot,

      Unfortunately it doesn’t sync with iTunes or Mac address book, at least like the iPhone. Now we didn’t test this out in our testing but, for iTunes sync with phones, you can download this app called iTuneMyWalkman, which basically lets you sync any phone with iTunes. If you don’t want to go that route to get music on your phone (or if you have trouble with it), you can always just copy music to a microSD card and put that in the phone.

      Oh, and be sure to check out our giveaway to win your own Debut i856!

      Hope this helps answer some of your questions, and if you got any more feel free to ask!

      Happy holidays.


  3. cool stuff right hirr

  4. they said they will send the boost motorola debut 1856 in3 or4day but never showed up with the phone

  5. can you increase font size on this phone (text and phonebook) Cant find an answer from anyone including sprint boost and…hmmmm….motorola…Thanx

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