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

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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.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

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.

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.

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