NEC 525 Review

...those looking for a multimedia phone will find the 525 should feed their digital hunger.
...those looking for a multimedia phone will find the 525 should feed their digital hunger.
...those looking for a multimedia phone will find the 525 should feed their digital hunger.

Highs

  • Beautiful high-resolution screen
  • excellent reception
  • inuitive menu

Lows

  • A bit on the large size
  • screen is hard to see in direct sunlight

Summary

NEC has a wonderful phone on their hands and we are curious as to why they are not putting the resources behind it to push a stronger marketing effort. The phone reception is certainly above average and because the 525 uses two processors, phonebook and menu navigation is extremely fast and easy to use.

On the downside, the volume controls take a while to get used to and the high-resolution screens are prone to wash out in direct sunlight, but other than those downfalls, the NEC 525 is a solid phone. That being said, this is not a small phone by any means so those willing to give up features for a more petite phone should look elsewhere. The NEC 525 is sure to garner a lot of looks, and those looking for a multimedia phone will find the 525 should feed their digital hunger.

Introduction

 

NEC’s HDM 525 is the second 500-series phone released for their High Definition Mobile initiative. The HDM 525 improves upon the first-generation 515 by adding an integrated digital camera and a 4,096 color external LCD screen and is available through AT&T Wireless in conjunction with their mMode service.

With its 65,000 color oversized internal screen and advanced Web browser features, the HDM 525 is priced at around $199 and is targeted towards consumers looking for a more advanced multimedia experience from their phones.

NEC 525 Closed

The NEC 525 features a 4,096 color external screen

Features and Design

 

You do not have to measure the 525 to know this phone is a bulky one; at first glance you can tell that it is a bit larger than many of today’s newer phones. The 525 measures 4.12-inches by 1.88-inches by 1.06-inches and weighs in at a little over 4 ounces; this is certainly not a very petite phone. There is a reason for the large dimensions though, and once you flip the phone open you will immediately see why. The NEC 525 features an absolutely stunning 2.2-inch 65,536-color high resolution display. Coupled with the smaller external LCD color display, while the phone is larger than average in size we think it’s pretty justified.

NEC 525 OpenThe whole phone is bathed in a two-tone sliver paint that while not being very original still gives the phone an appealing look. On the outside of the phone, NEC chose to put the volume controls under the external screen rather than the side of the phone which is a little bit different. The camera lens is also on the outside of the phone just above the external screen. We have seen phones that put the camera on the backside of the unit, but the placement on the NEC 525 is favorable. The backside of the 525 is another story though. If you flip the phone over, there are a lot of inconsistent lines and some grey rubber feet which do not match the silver color of the case. There is a rubber cover on the left side of the phone which protects the interface port for the data cable and the power adapter. The flap is pretty flimsy and might tear off under heavy use. The infrared port and headphone jack can be found on the right side of the phone. Other than the back of the phone, the NEC 525 is not particularly bad looking; it just won’t win any design awards.

As for features, the 525 really has a lot to offer. It supports the GSM/GPRS 850/1900 networks on the North American side and will run on the 900/1800 networks globally, so you should be able to use this phone just about anywhere.

The HDM 525 incorporates several features that take advantage of both LCD screens. The exterior LCD allows the phone to show time and date information, text and even photo-based caller ID. What this means is that you can add someone’s picture (or any image) to their entry in the phone’s address book so when they call, the screen will show the picture related to that entry. And the larger, internal high-resolution screen allows for viewing more detailed images and comfortably playing games. You can view JPEG, GIF, BMP and PNG images without any compatibility issues as long as the image is not too large in size – the internal memory is only 1MB. With AT&T’s mMode service, 525 HDM users can download 16-bit stand-by wallpapers, 40-note polyphonic ring tunes, and advanced Java-based games.

The built-in camera takes shots with a 100K resolution and features a 2X digital zoom. As with any small CCD-based camera, the images won’t be near print-quality but they are fine for quick e-mails or viewing on your phone. The digital zoom can add to the grainy-ness of an image but better-quality optical zoom lenses just aren’t the norm yet in wireless phones.

If you are an on-the-go business type, then you will be happy to hear that you can sync the 525 with Microsoft Outlook so you can take your contacts, calendar, and tasks with you. The 525 also has PIM functionality so you can store up to 500 entries in the phone book, 100 to-do entries, 600 calendar entries and 500 note pad entries.

And lastly, what is a high resolution screen good for if you cannot play games on it? Luckily the 525 is Java enabled so you can play games and use productivity tools with the phone. One cool thing about the 525 is that is actually has two processors, one that is used for normal phone functions and the other is used specifically for the Java games. According to NEC, by employing DoJA – the Java engine created by Sun Microsystems and NTT DoCoMo – and utilizing a second, dedicated applications processor, the 525 HDM is able to offer a “lightning fast mobile gaming experience that does not impact incoming calls.” We found this to be the case as phone functions were not affected by game-playing.

Setup and Use

 

The first thing we did when we received this phone was to charge it for several hours before using it. We wanted to make sure it had a full charge through the testing phase. If you plan on syncing the 525 with Microsoft Outlook, you will need to purchase the USB cable which can be found for under $20, either online or at any AT&T Wireless store.

The on-screen menu is very colorful and easy to see thanks to the high-resolution screen. There are eight top level menu categories to choose from, each with their own sub categories. We found menu navigation to be relatively simple. The most commonly used features such as the “received calls” and “missed calls” lists can be accessed using the one-touch buttons on the keypad. And the camera can be accessed using the blue button located in the upper center of the keypad. If you store your phone book entries on your SIM card rather than the internal memory of the phone, you can access multiple phone books by tapping the phone book button more than once. This is a great feature for those that go through phones quickly and prefer to store their contacts on the SIM card. Overall the button layout and the menu system are above average.

Even though the 525 has internal antenna, we found the phone’s reception to be very good. In a side-by-side comparison test between the Motorola MPx200 and the NEC HDM 525, both of which have internal antennas, the NEC was able to grab a better signal, and hold onto it without any dropped calls.

If you like playing with ring tones, the NEC comes with 30 preloaded 4-note polyphonic ring tones to choose from and even more that are downloadable from their website. The ring tones are very creative, and sound very clear and loud when you are receiving a phone call. The internal speaker seems to work relatively well, but seems to soften when you are talking on the phone – even with the volume all the way up. Speaking of volume, while we thought the volume controls looked good on the outside of the cover instead of the side of the phone, it will take a while to get used to using them. We were constantly closing the phone by accident while trying to adjust the volume. If you are talking on the phone, you will need to press the phone against your head while at the same time adjusting the volume to prevent the lid from closing. This might sound a bit strange, but it is the only way to change the volume while continuing to talk on the phone. The volume controls would be better on the side of the phone.

You should be able to use most phone headsets with the NEC 525 since it uses a non-proprietary jack. We were able to use the headset from our Motorola MPx200 phone on the 525 and did not experience any issues. The volume through the headset was loud and coherent on both ends of the call, but we wish that you could turn up the volume just a tad bit more.

The NEC 525 uses a 100K pixel camera and features a 2X digital zoom. You can choose to adjust the brightness level of the picture depending on your surroundings. There is no integrated flash, so you will need a good light source if you want to take a good picture. CCD opticals are notoriously bad performers in low-light situations. The internal screen on the 525 is gorgeous as long as you do not have a lot of light shining on it; there can be a horrendous glare if you are not careful. So while you are taking pictures with the camera, if you are in the direct sunlight and cannot see the screen that well, the pictures should still come out looking good. All pictures are taken in a 352×288 resolution regardless of the image quality. Once an image is taken you can choose to send it via e-mail, MMS or to save it to the phone’s 1MB of storage. Most images are no larger than 8K in file size, so there should be enough internal memory. One thing we liked about the Motorola MPx200 phone is the memory expansion slot; it would have been nice if NEC added this to the 525.

NEC 525 Camera Shot 1 NEC 525 Camera Shot 2

Pictures taken with the 525’s camera (actual size)

On the gaming side, as we mentioned earlier, the 525 has a processor dedicated specifically to the Java games. We were surprised to see that NEC is not bragging about this feature a whole lot, and we could not even find a mention on their website. It’s a shame because this is a major selling point. While the 525 comes preloaded with a few games (Star Diversion is our favorite), you may have a difficult time finding your own games. The 525 uses DoJa (DoComo Java) apps straight from Japan instead of the more widely used J2ME games which are common here in the U.S. The games look and play great without any slowdown, and you can download more from the NEC website.

The battery performance on the 525 is relatively good; we were able to get just over 4 hours of talk time out of the 800mAh battery and about 7 days of standby. 800mAh is a huge battery for a phone (the Gateway 200XL laptop comes with a 1000mAh battery), but you have to keep in mind that the high-def screen is sure to suck up the juice.

Conclusion

 

NEC has a wonderful phone on their hands and we are curious as to why they are not putting the resources behind it to push a stronger marketing effort. The phone reception is certainly above average and because the 525 uses two processors, phonebook and menu navigation is extremely fast and easy to use.

On the downside, the volume controls take a while to get used to and the high-resolution screens are prone to wash out in direct sunlight, but other than those downfalls, the NEC 525 is a solid phone. That being said, this is not a small phone by any means so those willing to give up features for a more petite phone should look elsewhere. The NEC 525 is sure to garner a lot of looks, and those looking for a multimedia phone will find the 525 should feed their digital hunger.