Motorola G520 Review
The G520 is the newest GSM phone from Motorola. Although appearance is a personal thing, I think you'll find the G520 a pleasant phone to look at.

Last Updated: 24-Nov-1998

Disclaimer: The following review represents my personal opinion. No bench testing was performed on this or any phone reviewed on my web page. If you don't agree with something I say, you are certainly welcome to politely bring it to my attention (in public or private). However, any out-and-out insults or flames will be igored.

During my review I will compare the G520 against the Nokia 6190. This isn't because these two phones compete in the same market segment, but because I happen to own a 6190. I won't knock the G520 for lacking any of the 6190's glitzy features, since this would be grossly unfair. Instead, I will compare only things that the two phones have in common.

Size, Weight, and Battery Life

The G520 is a fairly small phone, measuring 5.5 inches tall (excluding the antenna stub), 1.8 inches wide, and 1.0 inch deep. It weighs in at a very reasonable 6 ounces. This puts it about mid way between the old Nokia 2190 (at 8 ounces), and the newer Nokia 6190 (at 4.7 ounces). It fares well compared to the Nokia 5190 with a Nickel Metal Hydride battery (at 5.3 ounces).

This is the first Motorola phone to use the small SIM card. Until now, all Motorola GSM phones have used the full sized SIM cards (even the tiny StarTac models). Opting for the smaller card allowed Motorola to make the phone skinnier, since a full sized card would require a phone to be at least 2.1 inches wide.

The rounded contours of this skinnier phone fit comfortably in your hand, and operating the unit with just one hand is easily accomplished. The earpiece has Motorola's usual ridge near the top, but I didn't find this as much of a problem as it has been on other models. Still, the phone did begin to cause some discomfort on my ear after holding it there for over 30 minutes. This could be an issue with people who expect to have long conversations, but shouldn't concern those who make mostly short calls.

The unit comes with a Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack, and no Lithium-Ion option is available. The standard battery pack yields talk and standby times that are up there with the Nokia 5190. The manual makes no official claims concerning battery performance, but I managed to get 30 hours of standby time even after using over an hour of talk time. And this occurred prior to fully charging the battery three times (which is recommended for optimum battery performance).

If you do run out of power though, the G520 allows you to pop in 4 "AA" dry cells. All you need to do is slip on a slightly fatter battery cover (which is provided with the phone). A set of good quality alkaline batteries will probably give you just as much talk and standby time as a fully charged battery pack. Make sure you keep the fatter cover with you at all times, otherwise you will not be able to use the dry cell feature.

With the fatter cover in place, the phone gets only about 0.2 inches thicker. With a set of 4 Eveready Energizers the phone tips the scales at only 7.5 ounces. This is a very reasonable compromise considering the convenience it can provide if you ever find yourself stranded with a dead battery pack.

The charger plugs into a small dedicated jack on the lower-right side of the phone. This is a much better arrangement than plugging in a bulky bus connector to the bottom of the phone. Many other Motorola models use the latter approach, and many people find this to be far too unwieldy for their tastes. I much prefer the dedicated mini-plug, so hats off to Motorola for including one here.

Sound Quality and Overall Feel

Sound quality is superb, but the phone suffers from a rather annoying background hiss that mars the otherwise great audio. In practice, I didn't find this hiss to be all that objectionable unless the phone is used in a very quiet environment. The audio has a slightly crisper quality to it than a Nokia 6190/5190, but the difference between these models is slight. I would still give the nod to the G520 has having the best overall sound.

To make the unit seem more like a conventional landline phone, a sample of the audio picked up by the microphone is "played" through the earpiece. This has a very positive psychological effect on the user, but it has the drawback of being a pest in noisy environments. When I used the phone in a crowded mall, or in my car with a noisy fan running, I found that the background din coming through the earpiece made it much more difficult to hear the person I was speaking to. Placing my finger over the microphone hole made a marked difference in the earpiece noise level, and the perceived quality of the audio.

The ringer volume on the unit is excellent, and it can be heard over just about any background noise. The earpiece volume is above average, but it doesn't have the headroom of the Nokia 6190. It is better than the old 2190 however, and perhaps on par with the current 6160. I tried two different G520s during my evaluation, and one had much better earpiece volume than the other. This may indicate a quality control issue when Motorola is setting these phones up at the factory.

The keypad has a fairly nice feel to it, and the buttons stick up from the surface of the phone (unlike some other Motorola offerings). The keys have white letters on black caps, and the sides of the buttons are white. Keypad lighting is excellent, but like the Nokia 6190, there is no way to turn off the lights completely to conserve battery power. I would give the keypad top marks if it weren't for the rather high degree of pressure required to press the keys. This pad just doesn't have the finesse of more expensive phones.

The display is big and legible, with a full set of independent icons for signal strength, battery condition, message alerts, and other sundry symbols we have become accustomed to on our phones. Unfortunately, it only provides 2 lines of 12 fixed-font characters. This is standard on most low-end Motorola phones, but it's poor compared to some of the competition. Unless you plan to make extensive use of SMS however, the limited text display is not a big problem.

Reading SMS is crippled slightly by the limited display, but you can easily scroll back and forth through the messages. When it comes to sending SMS however, this phone just doesn't cut it. One of the two lines is used up by the words "Edit Message", and this leaves you with just one line of 12 characters on which to enter your SMS. Proofreading your message is therefore a royal pain in the neck.

Another big concern with SMS is when a message comes in during a call. Rather than alerting you with a gentle beep in the earpiece, the G520 assaults your ear with a beep so loud it can make your eardrums bleed (figuratively speaking). With any luck you won't lose control of your car when this happens.

One thing that Motorola does not do is to insert dashes or spaces into phone numbers to break them up. A phone number displayed as 1-877-464-3663 is much easier to read and identify than one displayed at 18774643663. Other phone manufacturers (such as Nokia) go out of their way to present phone numbers in standard North American format on their North American models. Motorola should too.

Features and Menus

Access to the rich array of standard GSM features is provided by a comprehensive menu structure. Motorola does not allow direct numeric shortcuts to the menu items like Nokia. It does however, have a simple "Quick Menu" that gives you direct access to 10 of the most commonly used menu items. This provides a reasonable compromise, and it works quite well in practice.

Motorola has gone with the one button TALK/END/OK concept. Generally this idea works well, since you rarely need all three of these functions at the same time. I would have to say the design is a partial success, since the functionality of the OK button doesn't always seem to coincide with that you expect from it. I personally would prefer separate TALK, END, and OK buttons where the functionality of each is clear and consistent.

The G520 does have one feature that other GSM manufacturers should take note of. Hidden in the "Network Search" menu is a submenu that allows you to specify how frequently the phone scans for the network once it loses service. Nokia has been raked over the coals for the amount of time their phones take to re-establish connection with the network. They have responded by hard-coding a faster network search time. The G520 lets you decide how quickly to scan, and thus allows you to trade off response speed for battery consumption. You can pick slow, medium, fast, or continuous.

Perhaps the single most annoying feature of the G520 however, is the one-button volume control. This seems to be a Motorola trademark, but one has to wonder why Motorola sticks to this hideous design (other than tradition). Some of their high-end phones have two-button volume controls, so it certainly isn't a Motorola policy to do this. If you ever find a need to change the volume during a call (and I do very often), the one button concept is near impossible to cope with. You are forced to ask your caller to hang on a moment while you make the adjustments. How expensive is it to put two buttons on this phone?

RF Performance

RF performance is a bit of a win-some-lose-some situation. When the signals get weak, the G520 is at least as capable of hanging onto calls and service as any other GSM model I have tested. Because of its extendable antenna, the G520 has slightly better transmitter performance than the Nokia 6190, and is on par with the older 2190. When signals are strong however, the G520 seems to have a much harder time of taming bit errors.

I performed countless tests in areas where signals were 4 to 5 bars, but in each of these tests the Nokia 6190 did a better job of providing what sounded like faultless audio. The G520 produced more audio irregularities, including odd bloop sounds, sharp spikes, and drop-outs that rarely occurred in the 6190. To make sure this condition wasn't an isolated thing, I tested two different G520s. The second one I got performed better, but only a bit better. Perhaps this is one of the compromises Motorola has to make to keep the price of the G520 low. Depending upon your sensitivity to this sort of thing however, it may not matter to you personally.


In summary though, I have to give the G520 a big thumbs-up. This is an excellent entry-level phone that performs well for its position in the market place. I wish I could give it an A+, but due to some of the problems I have mentioned above, I'll have to give this model a solid B instead. Unless some of the things I mentioned rub you the wrong way, I don't think you can really go wrong with this model.

If you would like to read a more critical look at the G520, you can check out my No-Holds-Barred Critique. I warn you though, this article is steeply biased, and makes mountains out of what you might consider mole hills.