NEC 525 HDM (AT&T) review: NEC 525 HDM (AT&T)

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The Good Solid camera features; large, vibrant display; one-click access to key functions; world phone; strong call quality and battery life; IR port.

The Bad Bulky; uses DoJa instead of J2ME for games.

The Bottom Line If you're looking for a quality camera phone that can do more than snap pictures, consider the NEC 525 HDM from AT&T Wireless.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9

Review summary

With its large, vibrant display and excellent battery life, the flip NEC 525 HDM (high-definition mobile) is similar in many respects to its predecessor, the NEC 515 HDM. As with the 515, the handset's large size won't win points for style, but the combination of business and entertainment features, world-phone capability, and strong call quality should amply compensate for its girth. The new model for AT&T Wireless also adds useful camera features and an external LCD, but if that's not enough enticement, you can take it home for less than $100, depending on the service contract. Measuring 4.12 by 1.88 by 1.06 inches with the cover closed (or 7.28 inches long when open) and weighing 4.03 ounces, the two-tone, brushed-silver 525 HDM is even bulkier than the already bloated 515. Even without an external antenna, the phone may overwhelm your pocket or handbag, but the extra heft feels comfortable when you're holding the handset to your face. And size may have its advantages, as there are many convenient features packed into this mobile--most notably, the wealth of one-touch-access buttons and a spacious 2.2-inch, 65,536-color display.

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For a flip phone, the NEC 525 is on the bulky side.
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The camera lens is above the external LCD, which serves as the viewfinder when the phone is closed.

Through a single click, two soft keys permit access to messaging functions (e-mail, SMS, and MMS), mMode, and a list of games and applications. In addition, the four-way navigation toggle directs you to the modes menu, voice memos, and the list of missed and received calls. Finally, instead of an OK button, a key in the middle of the toggle launches the mobile's camera function, while a Menu button does double duty as the entrance point for the main menu and the options page for whichever screen you're currently viewing. There's also a dedicated control for the NEC 525's phone book. On the downside, the recessed dial-pad keys are close together, and the green backlighting is quite dim, though the menu buttons are well spaced.

The one significant improvement over the 515's design is the addition of a square external LCD, which gives you access to caller ID (when available), time, date, battery life, and network signal without opening the cover. Although the 1-inch, 4,096-color display is rather small and not terribly bright, it's better than no screen at all. Like the Sanyo SCP-5300's, the NEC 525's external screen functions as the camera viewfinder when you take a self-portrait. Also on the front of the phone are the camera's lens; a seven-color LED light; and a two-way button that controls volume, works the camera shutter, and activates the ring silencer.
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We liked the NEC's picture quality.
Like the 515, the 525 features a 500-contact phone book, in which each contact can hold up to seven phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, and two text information entries. You can create up to 35 caller groups, designate ring tones, use pictures taken with the camera function for caller ID, and choose from the seven colors on the cover's LED indicator to specify incoming calls. The phone has a calendar and a to-do list that can be synchronized with the phone book, and you'll also find a calculator, a notepad, a currency converter, T9 predictive software, trilingual menus (English, French, and Spanish), a choice of wallpapers, and multiparty-calling capability--but no speakerphone or voice dialing. Using mMode, you can download more wallpapers, pictures, graphics, and 40-chord polyphonic ring tones. With the optional USB cable or via the phone's IR port, you can sync the phone book with Outlook contacts on your PC.

The features for the NEC's 100,000-pixel camera include a 2X zoom mode; a brightness-level adjustment; and a selection of Normal, Fine, and Superfine image-quality modes. There's no option for image size, however, so all shots come out as 352x288 images. The upside: Even photos taken in Superfine mode are small, typically about 8K, so it takes little time to send a picture message. The phone dedicates 1MB of shared memory for pictures, phone book entries, and ring tones, so you should have ample storage space for your photos. Other goodies include a self-timer to let you get in on the action and a selection of six decorative frames for your shots, which can be snapped in your choice of monochrome or sepia tones. 

If you'd like to send photos via e-mail or MMS immediately after taking them, it's simple: just click one of the soft keys and enter the appropriate contact manually or from the phone book. Sending stored photos, however, requires you to get through the messaging menu. It would be nice to be able to send previously stored shots while in camera mode.

Finally, this handset features two processors: one for phone functions and one for DoJa apps, which allows for faster game loading and simultaneous key-presses. The 525 comes with three games: Blackjack, Star Diversion, and Bowling. Unfortunately, the phone supports only DoJa (DoComo Java), so your selections are limited, and existing J2ME games won't work with this model.
We tested the quad-band (GSM/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900) world phone in the Chicago area using AT&T Wireless service. Call quality was generally strong, and callers frequently commented that they couldn't tell we were using a cell phone.

Battery life was excellent, as well. We coaxed about 5 hours of talk time, in range of NEC's maximum rating of 5.4 hours, and managed 7 days of standby time, compared with the company's claims of 6.25 days.

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Road warriors will appreciate the included travel charger.

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