The Sony Ericsson Z520i is a mid-range clamshell mobile phone, with interchangeable covers and flashing blue lights to alert you of a call or message. It's marketed as the ultimate customisable phone -- you can change the covers on the outside and tweak a variety of internal features, such as the wallpaper or flashing lights.
We found the Z520i free on a monthly contract for as little as £16 a month in the Carphone Warehouse on O2 and Vodafone. You can also buy it SIM-free for around £130.
The Z520i is a small clamshell phone measuring 46 by 83 by 24mm and weighs 94g. It's a simple looking mid-range phone that feels light and small in the hand.
On the front section of the handset you will find a VGA camera and a 25mm (1-inch) external 4k-colour screen, surrounded by an exchangeable cover. Our white model came with extra fascias in pink, but when we tried to change the front cover, it felt like it was about to break in half. On the back section of the phone is another exchangeable cover that hides the battery underneath. This cover is much easier to remove than the front one and simply slides off. You can buy extra covers in a variety of colours if the ones provided aren't to your liking.
At the top of the back section of the phone, you will see a silver speaker that plays your ring tones and provides the speakerphone function. You will also see the same unmistakable loop aerial as the W550i, which makes holding the phone awkward but hanging it from your neck easy.
On the left and right of the phone there's a strip of silver plastic that runs around the phone and into the loop aerial at the top. On the left of the phone you'll find the shutter and volume buttons in addition to the infrared port. At the bottom is the standard Sony Ericsson charging port. Unfortunately, the shutter button has a life of its own and it will take pictures of the inside of your pocket if mistakenly pressed.
The hinge on the phone feels strong and is unlikely to break if you drop it. Opening the phone is easy to do but does require two hands. Once you have opened the Z520i, you will see the internal screen, which has a resolution of 128x160 pixels and displays 65,536 colours. It's not as bright as the Sony Ericsson K750i's screen, but it is sharp. On top of the screen a small silver grill protects the ear speaker.
The interior of the phone is completely white except for the four-way navigation button, which is silver and round, with an OK button in the middle. This may cause some problems if you wear make up or eat a lot of chocolate, as it might rub off and stain the pristine surface of the keypad.
At the top of the keypad, on either side of the navigation key, there's two soft keys and a return and cancel button underneath those. The number keys are well sized and easy to press and the Web browser and power button are right at the bottom so you won't press them by mistake.
The Z520i's most interesting feature is the hidden blue lights that sit around the keypad and flash. They can be set to flash when you receive a call or a message and you can even assign different types of flashing to different people in your contacts. This means that if you set your phone to silent and you see it flash a certain way, you know exactly who's calling you.
The VGA camera can take still shots and videos. You can select a variety of shoot modes that include panorama and burst, which takes four photographs in quick succession. You can add fun frames, such as a rabbit with room for a new face, to your photos. The night mode works well and is useful for taking shots in low light, but there's no flash. When you want to view your photos you can select the slideshow feature to view all your photos without having to scroll through each one, which is very useful.
You can also use this phone hands-free with the speakerphone and use voice commands to dial contact numbers without touching the keypad. Voice dialling is activated by holding the volume button or by using the magic-word feature. This allows you to say a word into your phone for hands-free access to voice dialling -- so you can say 'rumpelstiltskin' and then somebody's name, and the phone dials the number for you. We didn't have much success with this, so you may need to experiment with different (perhaps simpler) magic words. When we used the volume control to activate voice dialling, it worked well.
The Z520i does not suffer from a lack of features, but it could do with a megapixel-resolution camera and memory expansion slot. With only 16MB internal memory, it doesn't have much space for storing photos and MP3s. You could store only around five short MP3 tracks on it or about 15 decent-quality photos.
On the plus side, you can use polyphonic ringtones and MP3s, it has a good selection of wallpapers and themes, it has QuickShare, Bluetooth, infrared and MMS for sending files to a plethora of devices, and you can change the covers to suit your mood. The Z520i has enough features to keep even the most relentless of fiddlers happy.
Audio on calls is clear but in loud environments falls short of being completely audible. So don't expect to hear people very clearly in a busy bar or noisy high street. The speakerphone works well and provides a decent hands-free alternative, but again, it's not loud enough to hear in very noisy environments.
Battery life is around six to seven days on standby, and Sony Ericsson quotes an impressive nine hours talk time. This means that you can chat away and not need worry too much about the phone's next recharge. The camera takes poor, pixellated photos and videos, but the extra shooting modes make it fun to use.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide