The SCH-u520's 1.3 meagpixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions (1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240, and 96x96) and comes with a generous assortment of editing options. You can adjust the white balance and the brightness, choose from five color effects and select one of three shutter sounds (there's also a silent option). Other features include spot metering, three quality settings, a self timer, and modes for multi, series, and divided shots. There's also an 8x zoom but it's unusable at the highest resolution. Photo quality was a bit below average for a megapixel camera. Colors looked decent but objects looked fuzzy and lacked distinct outlines. Also, while the camera menu interface is easy to use, the white text can be hard to discern if you're pointing the camera at a bright light.
The camcorder takes clips with sound and offers a set of editing options similar to the still camera. Videos meant for multimedia messages are capped at 15 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the available memory permits. And speaking of which, you get a respectable 65MB of shared internal memory, and you can add more using a microSD card (not included).
The SCH-u520 comes with a basic digital music player for your audio needs. Though it offers just the simplest features and sports a minimalist interface, it's perfectly serviceable for shorts stints. And there's an airplane mode for turning off the phone's calling feature during air travel. On the downside, it's bothersome that it will only play tracks from the microSD card. Other multimedia features include Alltel's Axcess TV and support for XM Satellite Radio.
You can personalize the SCH-u520 with a variety of wallpapers, screensavers, color themes, and clock styles. You can write a personalized banner as well. More options are available for download via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Unfortunately, no integrated games are included on the phone--not even demo versions.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) Samsung SC-U520 in San Francisco using Alltel's service. Call quality was decent but not quite exceptional. Though we could hear callers plainly and there was enough volume, voices had a slight echoed effect and at times sounded a bit metallic as well. Callers reported a similar issue and could tell we were using a cell phone. They said the volume level was fine, however. We had more trouble in noisy situations, such as walking down the street, but that's not unusual with a phone of this caliber. Voice response systems could understand us most of the time.
Speakerphone calls were about the same but they sounded less muffled than on other speakerphones we've tried. Bluetooth calls were about average as well. We'd recommend using a wired headset for music as tunes over the phone's speakers were too tinny. We give Samsung points for stereo speakers but wish they offered a stereo Bluetooth profile as well.
The SCH-u520 has a rated battery life of 3.6 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. We only managed to eke out a disappointing 2 hours of talk time in our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the SCH-u520 has a digital SAR rating of 1.17 watts per kilogram.
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