Sony Ericsson Z520a phone review

I’ve had a Sony Ericsson Z520a phone for a little under a year now, and as it’s still widely available through cellular carriers, I thought I’d write up my experiences with it. I’m writing in part as a reaction to the weakness of phone review web sites, which tend to publish reviews from people who’ve had their phones for somewhere between an hour and a month. The reviews thus rarely shed any light on the medium- to long-term issues of using the phones they cover, instead clustering around the same few obviously good or bad points that immediately come to light. Case in point: CNET’s review of the Z520a, which cites the crummy picture quality, but doesn’t note much else, and gives the phone a “very good” rating. First, a few positive observations. Call quality is generally decent, and I’ve had fewer problems with dropout than with my previous phone. Battery life is impressive, at about five days, and it hasn’t diminished noticeably over the year I’ve been using the phone. The phone’s user interface is only indifferently responsive. It takes a perceptible fraction of a second to respond to keypresses. The lag isn’t enough to be a serious problem; it’s more of a peeve. The Z520a is a clamshell phone, and it’s surprisingly difficult to open with one hand. This is due to two design flaws. The grooves in the fold of the phone are small enough to require both precision and force to insert the inside of a thumb to start the opening process. Once you’ve cracked the shell open, the mechanism is unsprung, and requires constant application of force to open it fully. This makes the phones much more difficult to open than similar models from other manufacturers, such as Motorola. What drives me absolutely crazy, though, are the side operation buttons. Thanks to Sony Ericsson’s fine design, I take upwards of half a dozen photos of the inside of my pocket every day. As if that weren’t insult enough, the volume control rocker button can’t take the abuse of sitting in a pocket, and my “increase volume” button no longer works at all. I somehow managed to avoid fat-fingering the “decrease volume” side of the rocker for about a month after this happened, but the inevitable eventually occurred, and my phone is now stuck permanently at minimum talk volume. And the only way I can even monkey with the volume is to use those buttons during a call (they do nothing useful when the phone is in standby mode); there’s no redundancy in the design, and I have to use up my miserly supply of minutes to even try. I also have some sour words for AT&T’s mangling of the user interface. At every level of menu hierarchy, the first option I’m presented with is to visit AT&T’s mobile web site to buy ringtones, pictures (who the hell buys pictures from their cellular provider?), and other stuff I don’t want. And accidentally fat-fingering such a menu item means that I’m paying for the data transfer involved. Bah. Really, though, all other opinions I have of the phone are overshadowed by its fragility, the result of which is that I can no longer hear anything during a call unless I’m in an empty, silent room. If it weren’t for the side controls, I’d actually call it a reasonably decent phone, but it snatches defeat from the jaws of victory to get a default score of “crap” instead.
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