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Sony Ericsson Z520a (AT&T) review: Sony Ericsson Z520a (AT&T)

Sony Ericsson Z520a (AT&T)

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
6 min read
Sony Ericsson Z520a
Like its rival Nokia, Sony Ericsson established its reputation by designing sturdy and reliable candy bar-style cell phones. And like Nokia, Sony Ericsson's past experiments in flip phones weren't as successful. Though handsets such as the Sony Ericsson Z600a and Z500a were reliable performers, their designs missed the mark. But the company appears to have learned from some its past mistakes with the new Sony Ericsson Z520a for Cingular Wireless. Attractively designed and compact, the Z520a offers a solid set of features, including Bluetooth, a VGA camera, a media player, and a speakerphone. It's also very fairly priced at $129, or cheaper with service. With the Sony Ericsson Z520a, the company strikes new design territory. While many of the company's candy bar cell phones tend to resemble one another, you wouldn't confuse the Z520a with any of its flip-phone brethren. Unlike the Sony Ericsson Z600, the Z520a has a large external display that's front and center, and unlike the Sony Ericsson Z500a, the Z520a feels sturdy in our hands. Its compact size (3.2 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches) allows it to slip into almost any pocket, and its trim weight (3.3 ounces) means you won't get tired of holding it against your face during long conversations. The looped antenna--also present on the Sony Ericsson W600i--is a nice touch, and we like that the Z520a supports changeable faceplates. Ours came in a dark blue, but you can get faceplates in gray, white, and a variety of patterns for $29.

Set in a mirrored frame, the postage stamp-size external display shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). Though it supports a relatively low-res 4,096 colors, it's still vibrant and bright. Below the screen is the camera lens. There's no self-portrait mirror, but you can use the external display as a viewfinder with the flip closed. The only thing we really missed was a camera flash. A dedicated camera buttons sits on the left spine just above the volume rocker and the infrared port, while the speaker rests on the phone's rear face.


Sony Ericsson Z520a (AT&T)

The Good

The Sony Ericsson Z520a benefits from an attractive design and solid performance. It also comes with Bluetooth, a speakerphone, world phone support, and an infrared port.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the Sony Ericsson Z520a has cramped navigation controls, lacks a camera flash, and suffers from poor photo quality.

The Bottom Line

Though the camera is unimpressive, the Sony Ericsson Z520a is a feature-rich and well-performing midrange cell phone.

The compact Sony Ericsson Z520a has an appealing design.

Inside the phone is the outstanding 65,536-color internal screen. Sony Ericsson excels at designing rich displays, and the Z520a is no exception. The screen measures just less than 2 inches diagonally, but given the phone's small size, it's ideal for browsing through the user-friendly menus, playing games, and viewing photos. You can alter the brightness but not the contrast or the font size. Below the display are the navigation controls, which consist of a five-way toggle, two soft keys, a dedicated Back button, and a dedicated Clear key. As is the case with all Sony Ericsson phones, there are no dedicated Talk and End buttons. Though they keys are large and tactile, the toggle and the OK button are rather small, so users with large digits should take note. What's more, because the keys are flush with the surface of the phone, it's easy to scroll in an unintended direction.

Sony Ericsson usually stumbles when it comes to cell phone keypads, but the company finally struck the right chord with the Z520a. The beveled keys are well spaced and adequately sized, so it's easy to dial by feel. Also, a bright blue backlight makes it easy to dial in darker environments. The plastic casing surrounding the keypad holds eight evenly spaced lights that flash during incoming calls. It's an unusual but cool feature, and the color matches the keypad backlight. You can choose from six patterns or turn it off completely. At the bottom of the phone are a power button and a dedicated control for activating the Web browser.

The Sony Ericsson Z520a offers all the features you'd expect from a midrange cell phone. The 500-contact phone book is small, but you can save an additional 250 names on the SIM card. Each entry holds five phone numbers, an e-mail address, a Web address, a street address, job title and company, birthday, and notes. You can organize contacts into caller groups, and for caller ID purposes, you can pair them with a picture that will show up on the external display. We were surprised at the number of included polyphonic (40-chord) ring tones and sounds: 46 in all. The Z520a's MP3 support means you can download additional tunes from Cingular via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Other features include a vibrate mode, an alarm clock, a world clock, a calculator, a stopwatch, a timer, a notepad, PC syncing for your contacts, a tasks list, a calendar, text and multimedia messaging, and a code memo for storing sensitive information such as your bank account PIN number. The speakerphone is always a welcome inclusion, but you can turn it on only after you make a call. More demanding users will appreciate the infrared port, a wireless business-card exchange, POP3 and IMAP4 e-mail support, and Bluetooth for calls and file transfers.

We wish the Sony Ericsson Z520a's camera had a flash.

The VGA-resolution digital camera still comes with plenty of features. You can take pictures in 640x480, 320x240, and 160x120 resolutions, as well as Normal and Fine quality settings. Other image options include Normal, Panorama, Frames, and Burst shooting modes; Black And White and Sepia picture effects; a night mode; a self-timer; a 4X zoom; a brightness adjuster; and Night mode. The video recorder takes clips with sound, with clip length limited by available memory. Editing options are similar to those of the still camera, with two shooting modes, two effects, two resolutions (176x144 and 128x96), and Night mode. When finished with your shots or videos, you can send them in a multimedia message or save them to the phone's 16MB of memory. To further channel your inner artist, you can activate the Z520a's PhotoDJ (there's also a VideoDJ), where you can add one of six fun frames; rotate the shot's orientation; and use various image effects such as brightness, contrast, tint control, and photo marking. Considering the Sony Ericsson Z520a has a low-resolution camera, photo and video quality are far from stellar. Photos in particular were washed out and grainy, and the lack of a flash didn't help.

The Z520a had below-average image quality for a camera phone.

The Sony Ericsson Z520a has a media player that supports MP3s and MIDI files. It's a fun addition but not very useful. Since there's no external memory card, you'll have to download tunes from the Web browser or transfer them via Bluetooth or the infrared port. You can personalize the phone with a variety of wallpaper, color themes, screensavers, and sounds. If you want more options, you can download them from Cingular. Gamers can enjoy the two Java (J2ME) titles: Quadra Pop and the bizarre NY Nights. More titles are available for purchase.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Sony Ericsson Z520a world phone in San Francisco using Cingular Wireless service. Call quality generally was good with fine clarity and volume. The only drawbacks were that audio occasionally sounded hollow, and the phone tended to pick up wind noise. Still, callers said they could hear us loud and clear, even if they could tell we were using a cell phone. The rear-facing speakerphone was surprisingly loud; it's best that you face the speaker up if resting the Z520a on a surface. Be advised, however, that the speakerphone hangs up if you close the phone. We successfully paired the Z520a with the Plantronics Explorer 320 Bluetooth headset, and call quality didn't suffer.

The Sony Ericsson Z520a has a rated talk time of nine hours and a promised standby time of 16 days. In our tests, we got eight hours of talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the Sony Ericsson Z520a has a digital SAR rating of watts per kilogram.


Sony Ericsson Z520a (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8