Sony Ericsson Z520a

The Sony Ericsson Z520a is one jazzy little number. It has a lively design, packs some cool features, and works especially well with Macs. Older models do have a bug in the firmware, but as long as you get the latest update, this is a great midrange cell phone.

A small (3.2 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches), light (3.4 ounces) flip phone, the Z520a cuts an impish figure with its removable color covers and loop antenna. A small (80-by-101), dim—but colorful—screen sits on the outside of the flip. Open the phone to find a bigger (128-by-160) color screen and a pad of decent-size domed keys set close together. You'll find a volume rocker and camera button on the left-hand side.

Call reception is very good. And because it's quad-band, the Z520a can make calls almost anywhere in the world. The earpiece is loud, but voices had a somewhat hollow quality, and we occasionally heard background hiss. Calls made through the included wired stereo headset sounded clear, although the non-standard headphone connector was a bit odd.

The speakerphone is fine indoors and just loud enough to hear outdoors; speakerphone transmissions sound good. Unfortunately, the speakerphone shuts off when you close the flip, and voice dialing is the old-school recorded-tag type. Battery life is quite good—we got nearly 15 hours of talk time in our tests. That probably won't hold up in real-life conditions, but in any case, the Z520a has plenty of juice.

We connected the phone to Logitech, Jabra, and Plantronics Bluetooth headsets without a problem, and we were especially thrilled to transfer our own MP3 ringtones over to the phone using Bluetooth—though this feature may be blocked on Cingular-branded phones. (Our review unit came straight from Sony Ericsson.) Ringtones are loud and sound good, but the vibrate-mode motor is barely strong enough to notice in a pocket and wouldn't be noticeable in a bag.

The Z520a, which is particularly compatible with Apple computers, synced easily over Bluetooth with iSync, transferring contact, calendar, and even "To Do" information from Address Book and iCal. We could upload and download ringtones and photos from the phone using our Mac's Bluetooth connection. With third-party software—Salling Clicker—the phone can even work as a remote control for your Mac.

Although you can use your Z520a as a PC modem or download your e-mail with the basic, built-in POP3 e-mail client, we wouldn't recommend it: The phone's GPRS modem is painfully slow. We got speeds of 33 to 39 Kbps, well below even dialup.

We weren't thrilled by the VGA camera, which took dim shots. Low-light performance was especially poor, with slow shutter speeds that lead to blurry images. You can shoot 176-by-144 video at about 10 frames per second.

Our phone came with several applications, a cut above the usual: two games plus ringtone-editing, video-scoring, and photo-editing apps. Performance on the JBenchmark Java benchmark tests was very good, and the Z520a even includes the latest 3D Java extensions for gaming. The 16MB memory will hold several MP3 ringtones and games, but not a massive library's worth.

One thing to note: Cingular and Sony Ericsson found a vicious memory-leak bug that caused crashes and missed calls on some Z520a models sold before January 23, 2006. If you buy a Z520a, make sure it has software version R3F017 or later. Our test phone did not show these problems.

As a midrange Cingular phone, the Z520a competes against a strong field. The Nokia 6102 makes a better laptop modem but isn't as good for gaming as the Z520. The Motorola V557, meanwhile, has the entertaining Live Ticker service and good features all around, but many people don't like Motorola's user interface. All are good choices, though.

The Z520a sells for $99.99 with a two-year contract, and we've seen it for as little as $40 after rebates. It's a fine, fun midrange phone, and we'd especially recommend it for Macophiles—as long as you get the newer, fixed firmware.


Price as Tested: $99.99 - $199.99 Direct
Megapixels: .3 MP
Bluetooth: Yes
802.11x: No
Bands: 850, 900, 1800, 1900
Camera: Yes
High-Speed Data: GPRS
Network: GSM
Service Provider: AT&T
Web Browser: No
Screen Size: 1.8 inches