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Sony Ericsson Z520i review: Sony Ericsson Z520i

Sony Ericsson's mid-range Z520i is a highly customisable clamshell phone with light effects, a VGA camera, MP3 support and in-phone media editing features.

Renai LeMay

Special to CNET News

See full bio
4 min read

Sony Ericsson's Z520i is a highly customisable clamshell phone with a VGA camera and support for formats like MP3. It also has in-phone media editing features.

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Sony Ericsson Z520i

The Good

Good quality camera. Extensive theming options. In-phone media editing software. Good file format support. Great user interface. Java game support.

The Bad

Display quirk when opening clamshell. Hinge not quite as solid as we'd like. No USB connectivity. Can't connect to 3G networks.

The Bottom Line

A logical extension of Sony Ericsson's existing product line, this is a fun little customisable camera phone with slightly more than the usual bells and whistles. But like a few mid-range models, in a couple of years' time it'll be a dinosaur.

Design
The Z520i acts and feels just like a fresher, newer version of the Z200 which Sony Ericsson was selling in Australia a couple of years ago. It's a clamshell phone with a little handle on top that doesn't do much, but it sure looks trendy. The phone comes with a string hand strap that can be attached to to the handle on top.

The phone as delivered was completely white on the outside with a silver racing stripe. Both the top and bottom covers can be replaced; our model came with extra covers in an unappealing shade of yellow . Neither cover really looks that great, unless you particularly want the phone to match your iPod, but we're sure you'll be able to buy lots of fashionable, cheap and more personalised options.

A small display (101x80 pixels, 4,096 colours) on the exterior of the case is speedily becoming standard amongst clamshell ranks. It displays the time and date as well as various extras like a connectivity bar and battery. Any theme change to the phone's internal screen will also affect the wallpaper in the external display.

Like Samsung's Z500 you can also use the external display to take photos of yourself without opening the clamshell itself. The back of the phone houses a speaker of about 1.5 square centimetre in size, and there are exterior volume and camera summoning buttons.

The phone flips open to reveal a decent-sized 128x160 pixel, 65,536 colour display and a standard array of 4 navigational buttons and a joystick-type keypad. These buttons, the numerical keypad and the space surrounding them light up like a neon disco when you open the phone, or in a programmable sequence when someone calls you or sends a text message.

Features
If a phone with "QuickShare" stamped on it inside and out didn't have a range of connectivity options you'd have to wonder what the designers were thinking. Thankfully the Z520i has both Bluetooth and infrared to allow you to share the decent-looking photos and short videos that you'll be taking with this phone, as well as loading its 16MB of memory up with files in formats like MP3 and AAC for audio and MPEG4 for video.

You can also e-mail and send MMS messages, so your options are pretty decent. However we wondered why a USB connection wasn't built into this phone. Such a feature - found in several other similar sized phones - would allow the user to transfer files a lot faster than the slow Bluetooth connection allows.

In terms of software, the phone supports Java games and our version came with a pretty complicated role playing game called New York Nights. We ended up table-top dancing for most of the time we were playing it, but you can also pursue a legitimate career or boring stuff like that. You can download less risqué games, but we recommend you finish New York Nights first.

The Z520i also comes with in-phone software for editing your videos, creating music and toying with photos, although the options are pretty simplistic, so you'll probably want to do that kind of stuff once you've transferred your content to your PC.

A Bluetooth headset was sent with the phone we reviewed and it fitted comfortably, making us look like something out of Bladerunner. We've seen a lot of people using this particular model around town so it must be popular.

Performance
There were a few little quirks about this phone which we didn't like. For starters when you flip it open, the display goes funny like when you first turn on your television after it's been off for a while. It's a short-lived effect, but it's unsightly and kind of belongs to the old analogue world.

Secondly, the phone's clamshell hinge doesn't open as smoothly as it could and it doesn't feel as solid as you would like. Also, for an adult male the buttons are perhaps a little bit small and we found ourselves hitting the wrong ones occasionally.

The phone didn't connect that easily with our PC's bluetooth adapter so we had to transfer the 78 photos we took over two weeks one by one - a laborious process. Not really sure if the PC or the phone was to blame with this one, but they didn't synch very well together. But the photos did transfer smoothly, so the bluetooth function certainly works.

Apart from these quirks the phone was a delight to use. If you've used a Sony Ericsson before you'll find the user interface familiar but improved. It remembers which contacts you SMS frequently and presents them before your other contacts when you send an SMS.

The predictive text was a cinch to use and really sped up sending SMS's. Despite coming without some common Australian words, it was quick to learn those it didn't already know.

The in-built camera was of a decent quality if nowhere near Sony's 2-megapixel K750i or Sharp's 3-megapixel 903 (which are both more expensive phones). You'll be able to take good quality happy snaps and OK short videos. A panorama option was quite functional and there are some basic effects like sepia and black and white.

The ability to theme all aspects of the phone is definitely a plus and you can tinker to your heart's delight.

Some users will see the lack of 3G connectivity at a time when all the major mobile carriers in Australia have launched high-speed third-generation (3G) networks as a minus. But if you don't need 3G features like video calling, you probably won't miss them.

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