Sprint M520 by Samsung Review Editor's Choice

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$49.99
Editors' rating:
The Pros

Easy to use, attractive interface; Can multitask while listening to music; TeleNav GPS; Crisp call quality

The Cons

Relatively short battery life; No included headset

Verdict

A budget slider that delivers style and multimedia fun for a great price.

If you hadn't noticed, slider phones are the new clamshells, and the M520 by Samsung makes a good case for ditching your aging flip. This sleek handset, which upgrades the M510, offers a fun user interface that minimizes menu digging, and offers music downloads, streaming video, and GPS navigation. The M520 certainly isn't perfect, but it's hard to complain when you get so much for only $49.

Sleek, Ergonomic Design

The Samsung M520 is nearly a mirror image to its Samsung Katalyst cousin on T-Mobile. It maintains the same fluid sliding feel that we loved about the Katalyst but offers a more attractive, glossy metallic finish. This slider is as thin as the Helio Mysto (0.5 inches), also made by Samsung, and at a lighter 2.8 ounces this is certainly one of the most pocket-friendly phones in Sprint's lineup. Plus, unlike the Mysto, this slider has real tactile soft menu buttons instead of finicky touch-sensitive controls.
The front of the M520 has a central menu button in the middle of the D-pad. It also has the standard Talk/End buttons. The 2.1-inch screen is just slightly smaller than the 2.3-inch screen on the Katalyst, but the M520 offers the same 220 x 176-pixel resolution. On the left side of the unit is the volume control, as well as a charging plug that doubles as a headphone jack for the included 2.5mm headphone adapter. On the right is a microSD slot for adding up to 4GB of storage, as well as a camera launch button. The silver, backlit dial pad was comfortable to dial and text on.

Fun User Interface

We found the phone's main menu attractive--if a bit too cute in how it mirrors Sprint's marketing campaign. The home screen has seven animated, neonlike icons positioned in a circular formation, which is a refreshing update to the boring cell phone navigation we're used to: E-mail, Main Menu, Music, My Account, Navigation, On Demand, and TV.
To use the menu while the phone is in its closed position, you have to unlock it by pressing the camera quick-launch button on the side and then click OK. If you click on the On Demand icon, it will display the latest news headlines and the weather for your area. Clicking the Main Menu option brings up a typical menu screen with shortcut access to items such as missed calls, pictures, and settings.

Samsung M520 Music and Video

Like other Power Vision phones, the Samsung M520 offers plenty of multimedia options ($25 per month for the Unlimited pack). This includes access to Sprint's 99-cent Music Store and TV service. We downloaded OK Go's "A Million Ways" track in 28 seconds, which is quite speedy. We listened to music with a standard set of Samsung headphones ($19.99, not included), and it offered good sound with clear lyrics and guitar riffs.
Even better, you can listen to music in the background while you surf the Web, text message, and play games. We had no problem listening to Rhianna while we read a an OnDemand news story about McCain scolding Obama. Strangely, if you're listening to music and want to watch Sprint TV, the phone will tell you that TV content is unavailable instead of just fluidly switching over to that app.
The M520 also offers Sirius radio support through Sprint's Power Vision network. We listened to 1980s alternative for a few minutes and found the quality pretty decent, but we noticed a few pauses in the audio stream.
More than 30 Sprint TV channels are available, including ABC Mobile, CNN Mobile, Comedy Central, The Disney Channel, E!, Fox Sports, the NFL network, Nickelodeon, Spike, The Weather Channel, and VH1. When we watched a news update from CNN Mobile Live, the picture was smooth the majority of the time--and we appreciated the option to view the video in full-screen mode--but we did notice artifacts creeping into the picture on some occasions.

Forgettable Camera

Don't expect much from the M520's 1.3-megapixel camera. The images this phone captured looked just okay on our notebook's screen; they were a bit blurry and lacked the colorful pop offered by better camera phones.
Unfortunately, the phone doesn't come with the proprietary USB cord ($19.99) that fits into its power slot, so you'll need to transfer files to your computer through other means, such as Bluetooth, microSD card, or Sprint's Picture Mail service.
The camcorder feature was even more underwhelming. Our footage looked pretty horrid, with too much pixelation and distortion. Plus, the audio was virtually unintelligible.

GPS on the M520

The M520 provides GPS navigation powered by TeleNav. We downloaded the 377K application in 24 seconds and then waited 20 seconds for the auto-login process. Outside on the streets of Manhattan we were able to get a clear GPS signal, and while the phone put our position to within half a block of where we were standing, its accuracy worsened when we started moving.
TeleNav also features local search capability to help you find nearby food, gas, ATMs, and other points of interest, and it tells you how far away each is. If you choose a location to drive to, TeleNav will search for traffic and provide the best route. The M520 took about a minute to calculate traffic and then told us we didn't have a clear enough view of the sky in Manattan. You're better off using this application out on the open highway.

Web Surfing and Messaging on the M520

Surfing the Web was fast, thanks to the M520's EV-DO connection. We loaded ESPN's mobile site in 6 seconds and CNN.com in 5 seconds, complete with photos. If you select the E-mail option from the main menu, you can set up an AOL, AIM, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, or a Gmail account. We signed in to our Gmail account and were pretty fond of the layout.
One noteworthy feature is the ability to switch among Inboxes at the top of the M520's screen via a tabbed interface--we switched between our AOL Mail and Gmail quickly and easily. Unfortunately, you can't chat with friends on the go from this application; for that you'll need to visit the IM & Email section of the phone, which works with only AIM, Windows Messenger, and Yahoo.

Voice Calls and Battery Life

The Samsung M520 offered generally good call quality. We tested the phone under an awning during a rainstorm and were still able to hear the person we called clearly without any static or echoes. Likewise, the he said he could hear us without any problem.
Like most Power Vision phones, the M520 supports stereo Bluetooth. Music sounded good using wireless headphones, but when we adjusted the volume on the phone there was about a 2-second delay before it caught up on our headset. Calls over Bluetooth sounded fine at close range, but static kicked in after about 12 feet.
During our testing we talked on the phone for about an hour and a half, played multiple video clips, and listened to MP3s over a 2-day period. By late afternoon of the second day, it was time to charge the M520 again. The phone is rated for up to 3.5 hours of talk time, which isn't that long, so you'll want to take the charger home on weekends.

Samsung M520 Verdict

This handsome slider offers a lot functionality for only $49. It provides a full-blown multimedia experience, and the sleek menu lets you do almost anything right from the main screen. Add in multitasking while you're listening to tunes, speedy surfing, and GPS and you have one heck of a bargain.


Related Links:
Samsung M510 Review
A good do-everything phone that won't break the bank or weigh you down.

Samsung Katalyst (SGH-t739) Review
T-Mobile's latest Wi-Fi phone impresses with its style and call quality, and is a smart bet for users who want to ditch the landline.
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier Sprint
Form Factor Slider
Data EV-DO
Internal Memory 64MB
Memory Expansion Type TransFlash/MicroSD
Display (main) 2.1 inches (176 x 220 pixels, 262,000 colors)
GPS Yes
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth Stereo
FM Radio Yes
Camera Resolution 1.3 MP
Talk / Standby Time 3.5 hours/N/A
Size 4 x 2 x 0.5 inches
Weight 2.8 ounces
Company Website http://www.sprint.com