Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. The Sony Ericsson Z500a's look is simple at best, but it shows off a streamlined design and clean lines. The two-tone silver coloring is classic, but we were a little weary of the plastic casing, which doesn't feel particularly durable. If you care to customize your Z500a, the handset supports changeable faceplates. At 3.6 by 1.9 by 1 inches and 3.9 ounces, the mobile is just a hair smaller than the Z600, and it fits snugly in a jeans pocket. The Sony Ericsson is also noticeably longer than some flip phones we've tested, but that said, the Z500a is still comfortable to use.
On the front cover, you'll find a postage stamp-size external screen that is surrounded by a mirrored face. The 4,000-color display shows the time, date, signal strength, battery life, and caller ID (where available). If you have your phone on power-save mode, the backlighting goes completely dark after the set time. You can go into the Settings menu and change it to always stay on, but it will rapidly drain your battery. Above the screen is the camera lens. There is no flash or lens cover, but you can use the external screen as a viewfinder for self-portraits when the flip is closed.
Flip open the phone, and there lies the 1.75-inch-diagonal, 65,000-color screen. The display size is adequate for viewing Web pages and working the user-friendly menus; unfortunately, images and text appear washed out and even pale in comparison to those of mobiles with the same color support. Also, be advised that you can't change the text size, and the screen seems to disappear in direct light. The five-way navigation toggle didn't please us, either. The circular keypad is rather small and set flush with the surface of the phone, making it difficult to select the correct directional button. We often pressed the center OK button by mistake; users with large hands should especially take care. There are also two soft keys, a Back button for leaving the menu, and a Clear button. Since the Z500a is on the larger side, the numerical keypad is well spaced, and we had no problems with misdials. Plus, the orange backlight is adequate for dialing in darker environments. A shortcut key to the Web and a power-on/off button reside below the dial pad.
On the left spine is a dedicated camera button, which we always appreciate, as well as a volume rocker. One note: You must press and hold down the camera button to launch the camera. It doesn't automatically turn on with a quick punch of the key. There is a sole shortcut key on the right side that you can program to open any application.With a quick survey of the Sony Ericsson Z500a's feature set, you'll notice an entertainment and multimedia theme. Tackling the basics first, the mobile has a 510-name phone book (you can save an additional 250 contacts on your SIM card) with room in each entry for five numbers; Web, e-mail, and home addresses; and notes. In addition, you can assign each entry to a group, as well as associate them with a picture or any of 10 polyphonic (40-chord) ring tones for caller-ID purposes. Other goodies include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, support for POP3 and IMAP4 e-mail and AOL instant messaging, a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, tasks, and other organizer functions. Professionals will especially appreciate the EDGE support for faster data transfer, as well as the capability to make conference calls and send business card information via a text or multimedia message. However, users may be dismayed by the lack of Bluetooth and an infrared port.
The integrated VGA camera takes pictures in 640x480, 320x240, or 160x120 resolution, and you can personalize them with four effects or 21 fun frames. Other camera highlights include a brightness meter, a choice of two quality settings, a 4X zoom that works at only the lowest resolution (2X zoom available at midlevel setting), a self-timer, a night mode, and picture rotation. There are, however, no shutter-sound options. You don't get a mirror, but the phone can take pictures when the flip is closed, and the external screen acts as a viewfinder for self-portraits. Photo quality was good, with sharp, crisp images; once you've snapped your masterpiece, you can set it as a screensaver or wallpaper, send it as an e-mail or multimedia message, or save it to the phone's paltry 6MB of internal memory.