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Reviewed March 18, 2008 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Sprint customers who’ve been waiting for a shiny slider phone have finally seen their wish come true. No, it’s not one of the LG Shine series of phones. Instead Sprint offers up the Samsung M520 with a similar shine and slim slider form factor. The Samsung comes with a 1.3 megapixel camera, Bluetooth with A2DP and DUN support, built-in GPS, a microSD card slot, MP3 music playback and Sprint TV. That’s a good set of features for a phone that costs $50 with 2-year contract after rebate. The Samsung M520 is a dual band CDMA phone that’s currently available on Sprint. It has EV-DO support for fast data.
Design and Ergonomics
The Samsung M520, succeeds the Samsung M510 in model number only, since it bears more resemblance to the Samsung t629 on T-Mobile than the M510 flip phone on Sprint. The Samsung M520 has a smooth, slippery surface that combines brushed metal and polished silver surfaces. The phone is sleek looking but too slippery to handle easily. When you open the slider with on hand, you must be careful to not push the phone out of your hand or hit other menu buttons accidentally. There is a ridge below the display and above the control buttons on the front to help you open and close the slider. It does help when closing the slider but is less effective when opening it. Measuring 4.01 x 2.04 x 0.5 inches, the Samsung M520 is just a hair longer and wider but slightly thinner than the LG Shine (CU720) on AT&T. The phone feels light in hand as it’s only 2.75 ounces in.
The 2.2” display is bright and color saturated indoors and halfway washed out outdoors. The rectangular 5-way d-pad below the screen has pleasant backlighting and is flanked by six menu keys including Call End and Send keys, a speaker key, back and two soft menu keys. Slide open the phone to reveal the number pad which is spacious but on the flat side. They number pad has milky white backlight that’s reasonably bright. Side buttons and ports include the camera button and microSD card slot on the right, and the volume rocker and charge/accessory port on the left. Slide the phone open to reveal the 1.3 megapixel camera lens along with self-portrait mirror. The battery lives under a door on the back, and it’s difficult to open thanks to the slippery surface.
Phone Features and Reception
The Samsung M520 is a digital dual band phone that works on the CDMA 800/1900 MHz networks. The phone has very good reception and shows full bars in Sprint’s strong coverage areas and more than half in spotty coverage areas. In a large building where many Sprints phones have trouble holding onto a signal, the M520 had no problem getting a signal and making phone calls. The voice quality is quite good with clear sound and loud volume via the built-in earpiece. The Samsung has a proprietary headset connector and the good news is it comes with an adapter to accommodate standard 2.5mm mono headsets, but the bad news is there is no headset included in the box. Luckily the Samsung M520 has integrated Bluetooth v2.0 and supports Bluetooth headsets with either Headset or Hands-Free profiles. We tested the Samsung with the Jawbone and the BlueAnt Z9 Bluetooth headsets, and the phone worked well with both headsets. The audio was clear via the Jawbone for both incoming and outgoing voice, especially the incoming voice. The volume wasn’t particularly loud and the DSP worked very well, filtering out most road noise. The range between the Jawbone and the Samsung reached 20-25 feet which is very good by Bluetooth headset standards. We had similar results with the BlueAnt headset. The voice quality was good, volume wasn’t terribly loud, the DSP worked effectively except some wind noise remained unfiltered, and the range was great.
For call management, the Samsung M520 offers the usual set of features including speed dial (98 total), conference call, 3-way calling and voice dialing. The phone book can store up to 500 entries and each entry can have 5 numbers, email, URL, nickname, memo group, ringer and photo ID. For voice dialing and voice command, the Samsung M520 bundles VoiceSignal’s excellent Voice Command application. It not only offers voice dialing without pre-recorded voice tags or training, but also allows you to bring up contacts for email/ SMS or launch any application that’s installed on your phone. Voice Command is fast and accurate on the Samsung M520, via the built-in mic and Bluetooth headsets.
The Samsung M520 has support for Sprint’s EV-DO and has good speed when accessing web sites, Sprint’s music store and Sprint TV. The Samsung comes with a very basic WAP browser with support for cookies, cache, history and bookmarks. WAP sites load fast but full HTML sites get a single-column re-flow though images are intact. For messaging, the Samsung supports SMS, MMS, web-based email and IM. The M520 has Bluetooth DUN support, which means you can use the phone as modem via Bluetooth and take advantage of EV-DO’s fast data speeds on your notebook while on the road.
Multimedia and GPS Navigation
The Samsung M520 has a solid music player that can play MP3, AAC and AAC+ files. This means if you have ripped your CDs once for iTunes already, you don’t have to rip them again. The Samsung M520 has 16MB internal memory and comes with a microSD card slot should you need memory expansion. The microSD card slot on the Samsung supports high capacity cards up to 4GB. The sound quality was good via the built-in speaker and the volume was loud in our tests. The best audio quality for music playback comes from Bluetooth stereo headsets. The Samsung M520 has Bluetooth v2.0 with A2DP and AVRCP support. This means you can pair the phone with stereo Bluetooth headsets and listen to music wirelessly. We tested the Samsung with the Plantronics Pulsar 590A stereo Bluetooth headset, and the audio quality via the Plantronics was excellent with clear, full audio and loud volume. Like with many recently released Samsung phones, listening to music via a Bluetooth stereo headset is the way to go.
The Samsung M520 has support for Sprint TV, and thanks to the phone’s strong reception, watching TV on the M520 is a joy. Full-length TV shows looked great and video streaming performed well on the Samsung with very few playback hiccups. Though it does require a monthly fee, Sprint TV’s on demand video services offers content that’s competitive with similar services on AT&T and Verizon. The gems in Sprint TV are the full-length TV shows that include many current big hits like Lost, Big Brother, Jericho and new shows like Lipstick Jungle. These videos can play full-screen and are higher quality than other Sprint video content. Full episodes don’t require multi-file streaming (the entire episode is streamed as one file), unlike AT&T’s CV full length TV episodes which are broken into 5 minute blocks.
Sprint has won some awards recently for its LBS (location-bases services), and the company isn’t shy about putting GPS and its navigation services on its feature phones. The Samsung M520 is no exception. It comes with built-in aGPS that’s fast to get fix and reasonably accurate in navigation. Sprint Navigation, powered by TeleNav, offers maps, POIs (point of interest) and turn-by-turn directions with voice guidance. The service costs $2.99 per day or $9.99 per month (same as other carriers), and you can download the navigation application over the air. In our road tests in metro areas the navigation was accurate, voice guidance was spot-on and maps updated timely.
Although the Samsung M520 comes with only a 1.3 megapixel camera, the images it takes are some of the best we’ve seen from a 1.3MP camera. The images are sharp with a small does of over sharpening that makes photos look better. The color balance is generally quite good with a slight magenta tint in some outdoor shots. Even low-light shots look good with relatively little noise and good sharpness. The camera lens is unusually wide angle, so be prepared to move in close for portraits. You can take photos in four resolutions: 1280 x 960, 800 x 600, 640 x 480 and 320 x 240. There are also settings for image quality, light and color balance, effects and more. The camera phone can also take video with audio in either 30-second clips for MMS or long video clips. The video quality is also quite good without any noticeably frame drops and it deals with low-light environment very well. Audio capture volume is low however, and there is no setting option to turn it up.
The Samsung M520 comes with a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery that’s 800 mAh in capacity. The battery is user replaceable and you can charge it with the included world charger. The claimed talk time is 3.5 hours, which is shorter than many of today’s feature phones that usually have at least 4 hours of talk time. Battery life feels short in real world use. If you make moderate phone calls, listen to some music, visit some web sites and play some games while waiting in line, the Samsung might last you 2-3 days at the most. If you watch videos on Sprint TV heavily and make a decent amount of phone calls, the battery might not last you a day. If you need more power, Samsung sells the standard battery for $39.99 which you can purchase from mobile.samsung.com. Sprint currently doesn’t have it for sale on their web site.
The Samsung M520 supports both a traditional icon-based UI and Flash-based user interface with dancing icons and playful keytones. In addition to the phone book, the Samsung also comes with calendar, alarm, calculator, World Time and voice memo applications. The phone also comes with the On Demand application powered by Handmark (also known as Handmark Express), a very popular information portal that offers news, weather, sports, stock info and more.
We’re pleased with Sprint’s mainstream-priced yet stylish slider phone. The Samsung M520 is a strong voice and data phone with very good multimedia features and good GPS performance. For the price, you certainly get a lot of features for the money. If you are looking for a phone that does more than an entry level phone but won’t cost you too much, the Samsung M520 is worth a look. For those Sprint customers who have been jonesing for a slim, shiny, slider feature phone, the Samsung is your answer.
Pro: Good reception, good voice quality and fast data speeds. Good GPS and Sprint Navigation performance. Excellent camera by 1.3MP standards. Music playback via A2DP on Bluetooth stereo headsets is excellent. Sprint TV performs well.
Con: Slippery surface makes it a bit difficult to use the slider. WAP browser is overly simple. Battery life isn’t stellar.
Price: $49.99 with 2-year contract after rebate.
Web sites: www.samsungmobile.com, www.sprint.com
Display: 262K color TFT display. Diag.: 2.2”. Resolution: 176 x 220 pixels.
Battery: 800 mAh, 3.7V Lithium Ion battery. Claimed talk time: 3.5 hours.
Performance: 16MB internal memory. Phone book can store 500 entries.
Size: 4.01 x 2.04 x 0.5 inches. Weight: 2.75 ounces.
Phone: Digital dual-band CDMA 800/1900 MHz. EVDO for data.
Camera: 1.3 megapixel camera. Still image resolutions: 1280 x 960, 800 x 600, 640 x 480 and 320 x 240. Can take video with audio in 30-second clips or long clips.
Audio: Supports 72-Note Polyphonic ringtones. MP3 player onboard to play MP3, AAC and ACC+ files. Can record voice notes.
Networking: Integrated Bluetooth v2.0 without EDR. Profiles supported: Headset profile, hands-free profile, A2DP, AVRCP, BPP, DUN, OPP, FTP and Phonebook Access profile.
GPS: Yes. Supports Sprint Navigation services.
Software: PIM apps include Contacts, calendar, calculator, alarm, world clock and voice memo. Music player onboard for MP3 playback. WAP browser included. Sprint applications include On-Demand and Sprint TV. Games and other applications are available for purchase and download over the air.
Expansion: 1 microSD card slot, supports up SHSD up to 4GB cards. A 64MB card included with the package.
In the Box: The Samsung M520 with standard battery, travel charger, headset adapter, 64MB microSD card with SD card adapter, printed user guide, get started guide and other brochure.