When we first saw the photos of Sprint's new Samsung SPH-M520, we have to admit that we shook our heads in bewilderment. For a while now, we've been asking Samsung to give us something completely new, and as yet another slim slider phone in silver, the SPH-M520 definitely wasn't it. Yet on closer inspection, the SPH-M520 does offer us something just a bit new...indeed it is the first Sprint Power Vision phone in a slider design. No, that's not a lot, but at this point we'll take what we can get. But the SPH-M520 isn't a bad device. It offers refined navigation controls and keypad buttons, a bright display, and decent performance. You can get it for $249 or $49 with a two-year contract.
The SPH-M520 has a design that we've seen many times before from Samsung. In case you haven't noticed, we're growing a little tired of the thin slider phone trend. However, since Samsung keeps pumping them out, we might be in the minority. At 4.01 inches by 2.04 inches by 0.5 inch and 2.75 ounces the SPH-M520 is neither too big nor too small; it slips easily into a pocket and it won't weigh you down. The slider mechanism is sturdy enough but we could still open and close the phone with one hand.
The SPH-M520's 262,000-color display measures a generous 2.1 inches (176x220 pixels). Like many Samsung displays, it's bright and colorful and shows just about everything well. You can change the brightness, the backlighting time, and the dialing font size and color. The basic menu interface is easy to use but Samsung added a new layer to the standby screen. There you will find shortcut icons to seven functions: the main menu, the On Demand content, Sprint TV, the Sprint Music Store, e-mail, GPS, and a menu for checking your Sprint account balance. You can cycle though the options while pressing the navigation toggle and make your selection with the OK key. It's a convenient arrangement but you can turn it off and use the traditional toggle shortcuts instead.
The navigation controls are well-designed and are much better than many slider phones. The square toggle is large and is raised above the surface of the SPH-M520. We had no problem thumbing through the menus and selecting options using the tactile OK button. Surrounding the toggle are two soft keys, a dedicated speakerphone button (nice), a Back key and the Talk and End/power controls. The keypad buttons are also released and are neatly separated form each other. Quick texters shouldn't have a problem. Finishing the exterior of the phone are a volume rocker and the charger port/headset jack on the left spine and a camera shutter key and the microSD card slot on the right spine.
The SPH-M520 has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, a Web address, a nickname, and notes. You can save contacts to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 19 (72-chord) polyphonic ringtones for caller ID. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a file manager, a speakerphone, a calendar, a scheduler, a voice recorder, an alarm clock, a memo pad, a calculator, a countdown timer, a task list and a world clock. You'll also find stereo Bluetooth, USB mass storage, GPS support with Telenav access, voice dialing and commands, wireless backup for your contacts, modem capability, e-mail and instant messaging and PC syncing. The SPH-M520 also offers audible caller ID that will route through to a Bluetooth headset.
The 1.3-megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions (1.3-megapixel, high, medium, and low) and three quality settings. Other options include a self timer, five fun frames, five color tones, brightness and white balance controls, a night mode, a 2x zoom and four shutter sounds (plus a silent option). The camcorder shoots clips with sound and a set of editing options similar to the still camera. Clips for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds in length; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the available memory permits. When finished with your work you can save them to the phone or use Sprint's PictBridge service for sending photos directly to a PC via a USB cable. The SPH-M520's internal memory is small at 16MB, but you can use the microSD card slot for more storage. A 64MB card comes in the box, but the phone will accommodate cards up to 4GB. The camera menus are easy to use but we noticed that they were a bit sluggish. On the other hand, photo quality was sharp.