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

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.

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