While not as compact as a lot of flash-based camcorders, that's due in part to the CX520's excellent and necessarily large lens. It's still relatively small and light, fitting into a large jacket pocket. Overall, the camcorder feels very solid and well constructed.
Sony moved the manual dial from the front of the camcorder to the back, where you still operate with your left hand. You hold down the indicated button to bring up your manual choices: Focus, Exposure, AE shift and WB shift. Both the location and feel of the dial's design means it can only be rotated in small increments, and it's tight and not terribly responsive-feeling. Worse, because of the location, your left hand blocks the LCD while you're operating it.
In the LCD nook are the power, playback, Night Shot and disc burn buttons and the switch for the GPS. Under the cover you'll find the mini HDMI and USB connectors as well as the Memory Stick Duo slot. While this is a relatively traditional control layout, I kept hitting the buttons when picking up the device (as it sat on my desk before or after uploading video).
The zoom and photo buttons on top of the camcorder fall comfortably under your right forefinger. As usual, the 5.1-channel mic sits in the front of the camcorder--there's no separation so I find the 5.1 recording a marketing gimmick--and the accessory shoe lies under a sliding door.
Sony got rid of the zoom and record buttons on the LCD bezel, opting to make them part of the touch-screen display. While I don't mind that for record, which is a touch-and-release operation, I don't using the touch screen for zooming, where you have to hold it down.