With its latest handset, the 535M HDM, NEC hopes to make an even bigger splash in the competitive camera phone market. A follow-up to the company's popular (and CNET Editors' Choice winner) 525 HDM, the new 535 is sure to please mobile sharpshooters and multimedia addicts alike with its impressive array of slick megapixel camera functions and powerful audio capabilities. Business users, too, will appreciate the handset's ability to quickly sync with Microsoft Outlook right out of the box. Unfortunately, all these high-end tricks are offset by the 535's large size and clunky menu interface. On a bright note, however, the GSM/GPRS model demonstrated solid battery life in our tests. At press time, pricing and carriers were not announced. Measuring a hefty 3.9 by 1.9 by 1.0 inches and tipping the scales at 4.7 ounces, the NEC 535 HDM is one large flip phone. Though it's longer than most other flip models, the 535 was comfortable to hold. Starkly styled in silver and black, the mobile also has an undeniably sophisticated look. A postage-stamp-size external display supports 4,096 colors and shows the day, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). The screen doubles as a viewfinder when the phone is in camera mode, which allows for much easier self-portraits than if you were relying on a tiny mirror or reflector. Immediately below the LCD is the camera lens and flash, and a volume rocker sits on the left spine.
Opening the handset highlights its elegant design, revealing a sharp 2.4-inch-diagonal screen. Though the 65,536-color display itself is vivid, the menu interface was crowded and clunky, and it involved a bit of a learning curve. A circular five-way navigation toggle sits right below the screen and offers shortcuts to info on missed and received calls, ringer-mode options (Normal, Meeting, and so on), camera activation, and the sounds menu. Also within easy reach of your thumb are dedicated menu and phone-book buttons and two soft keys. Dimly lit by a green backlight, the recessed pad is decently spaced but has surprisingly small keys for such a big device.Chances are you'll be able to squeeze all your contacts into the NEC 535 HDM's ample phone book. It can hold 500 names, each of which can take up to seven numbers and two e-mail addresses (an additional 250 names can be stored on the SIM card). Contacts can be organized into groups or, for caller ID purposes, be paired with pictures and one of the 64-chord polyphonic ring tones. Other goodies include a calendar, a to-do list, a notepad, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calculator, voice memos, a vibrate mode, a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser, and voice dialing. Business features are average, however. Though there's no Bluetooth or speakerphone, you get an infrared port; instant messaging with Yahoo, ICQ, and AOL; and support for POP3, IMAP4, and SMTP e-mail. You can also sync the mobile's phone book, scheduler, and to-do list with Microsoft Outlook.
The NEC 535 HDM is first and foremost a camera phone. In fact, its most exciting attribute is its extremely sensitive 1.3-megapixel CCD receptor, which lets you snap photos in five resolutions (128x69, 176x144, 320x240, 640x480, and 1,280x960). But even at the highest resolution, the 535 HDM's pictures pale in comparison to those taken with a standalone digital camera. That said, camera phones are best used as a backup to cover impromptu events when your regular camera isn't available. Acknowledging this, NEC outfitted the 535 with a small flash to illuminate dark environments as well as a brightness control to better handle unexpected conditions. To jazz up shots, you can apply sepia, monochrome, and negative-film special effects; adjust the image quality; use the 4X zoom; and choose from three shutter sounds, as well as a silent option. If snapshots can't quite tell the whole story, you can use the phone to capture MPEG-4 video clips with sound on the fly. The 535 HDM boasts a large 32MB of memory, but you can take only 30 seconds of footage at a time. More annoying is the 140K cap for wirelessly sending and receiving files via multimedia messaging. Thankfully, the 535 comes bundled with a USB cable and software that allows you to transfer movies and pictures to your PC.
The 535 can be personalized with a variety of wallpaper and screensavers, and you can use your own pictures. Alternatively, more options and ring tones can be downloaded. The handset comes with three Java (J2ME)-enabled games (Pinball, Aqua X, 3D Golf), with more titles available.We tested the triband (GSM 850/1900/1800; GPRS) NEC 535 HDM world phone in New York City. Calls came through loud and clear, but callers mentioned that they could tell we were using a cell mobile. We also had to be careful about where we placed the earpiece; otherwise, the phone's volume became muffled.
NEC promises talk time of up to 2.5 hours and 7.5 days of standby. In our tests, we beat the rated talk time by 20 minutes but fell short of the promised standby time by a full 3 days. Both times were quite less than the long battery life we found on the NEC 525.