Mini-Review of the Samsung A520

The Samsung A520 is a CDMA clamshell design that includes a large color screen. It is otherwise rather similar to A540, which has a smaller monochrome screen.

Last Updated: 24-Nov-2002

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

Thanks to Jeff Setton for lending me the phone for this mini-review.

Although the similarities between the Samsung A520 and its sibling the A540 are rather striking, the phones do differ slightly in appearance, with the nod for good looks going to the A520. The keypad arrangement is identical, but the keys themselves are quite different. Whereas the A540 has separate keys, the A520 has keys that butt against one another, not until the N105 that I tested a few months ago. Both phones share that rock-solid construction quality that Samsung has become well known for.

The biggest different between them is the screen. The A520 offers a full color screen that is both taller and slightly wider than the one offered on the A540. For wireless web surfing, the larger screen of the A520 is definitely a big plus. It provides 7 lines of text with exceptional clarity.

Overall, the screen isnít as good as what youíd find on a top-notch laptop computer, but it seems to be better than many of the other color screen phones Iíve seen (such as the Ericsson T68i). Colors donít wash out easily, and the backlight is bright for nighttime viewing. I didnít get to try the phone in daylight myself, but according to the phoneís owner (Jeff), the screen looks good then too.

But once we get past the color screen, and a few related features, what does the A520 offer that the A540 does not? Without doing a full test of the phone, I wouldnít want to bet on money on it, but it seems to me that it offers virtually nothing else. The feature-set of the phone is almost identical to that of the A540.

Equally disappointing is the fact that it shares the same RF performance and audio quality as the A540, and if youíve read that review, youíd know I wasnít too thrilled. The A520 has a very peaky, thin sound that gets on your nerves, especially if you happen to have a much better phone handy to compare it with. I was testing a GSM Nokia 6310i during the time I got a chance to test the A520, and by comparison, the A520 wasnít even in the race. It also compares poorly to my ST-7868W.

RF performance is quite decent with the antenna pulled up, but with the antenna retracted, itís a completely different story. We took the phone to a weak spot on Telus (a Sobeyís on the corner of Rutherford & Bathurst in Vaughan) to see how well it worked. Jeff placed the A520 in his pocket, and we attempted to call it, but the phone didnít ring. We then placed my ST-7868W in his same pocket, and we had no trouble getting that one to ring. The A520 looses quite a bit of performance with the antenna down, and since thatís the state it spends most of its time, you might want to think twice if you intend to receive calls in marginal areas.

Outgoing audio was also a bit of a disappointment. Like the A540, it was okay, but only average. Itís odd that the only phone Telus currently sells that has really great outgoing audio is also the phone that has the worst incoming audio (namely the LG TM520). Ignoring the LG for a moment, the A520 sounds no better or worse than any of the phones presently sold by Telus. Incoming audio sounds better on the A520 than it does on the TM520, but thatís not really saying much.

I came away with the same general feeling I had of the A540. The color screen is obvious a big plus in favor of the A520 over the A540 (especially for wireless web use), but I donít consider such features anything more than toys. The primary purpose for owning a phone (for the vast majority of people) is to have a MOBILE PHONE. As Iíve often said, when you look at that as the primary reason for ownership, the phone must perform the core functions well. The A520 is an okay phone, but it has inferior audio quality and questionable antenna-down RF performance.