Dimensions and Design
The LG TM520 is a flip model with a large LCD screen on the inside and a small display screen on the outside. When closed, the TM520 is about the size of your palm and fits nicely into your hand. The phone can also either be carried in a pocket or a well-designed belt clip that is included with the phone. The overall dimensions of the TM520 are 84mm x 46mm x 25mm (3.3" x 1.8" x 1.0") and the handset weighs in at 108g (3.8 oz), which is just marginally lighter than both the Samsung N370 and the Nokia 3390.
The front keypad has the usual numbers, send, end, and clear keys, a 4-way scrolling pad, plus two soft keys. On the left side there are also up and down volume keys and a voice recorder/memo key. The keypad had a nice tactile grip and all the keys were well-sized and I found the keypad easy to navigate.
This is a flip or 'clamshell' phone, meaning that to use the phone you must open it up. The top of the clamshell holds a large-sized LCD screen that can display up to seven lines of text. The display is graphical, so for some menu screens you will see more lines of text and/or intermixed text and graphics. On the reverse side of the top shell (on the outside) there is a smaller two line screen that shows incoming phone numbers, message status, signal strength, etc. There is also an elongated red LED on the outside of the phone that flashes if there is an incoming call or message.
Both screens have a green backlight, that really doesn't show up too well in lighted conditions, which is just fine as the LCD screen has a nice contrast. In dark conditions the green displays the text and graphics well. The keypad is also nicely lit from behind and you can see the buttons quite clearly in the dark.
As mentioned before, when the TM520 is closed, it holds well in your palm. When opened, the bottom half of the phone is well weighted and balanced so that it doesn't feel like the phone will fall out of your hand -- this is a fair contrast to the Motorola P8167. I found the TM520 not as comfortable to hold next to your ear when compared to a non-flip model, but this is more of a personal preference. The handset felt solid and did not creak significantly and is quite robust to scratches and damage from accidental falls.
Unlike other phones on the market, the TM520 also comes with a very nice desktop charger. Although you now need to find a spot to put this charger, it is nice to have something that can be left neatly on a surface and the phone can be placed into the cradle for charging.
This is a dual band, tri-mode phone (800/1900 CDMA and AMPS) that will only work within North America. This model will work with both 800 and 1900 MHz CDMA networks, plus flip over to analog (AMPS) when there is no digital network present. In North America, this particular handset model is compatible with the Telus and Bell Mobility (plus other Mobility) networks in Canada, plus Verizon, Sprint PCS, and other CDMA networks in the US.
Menu and Features
The TM520 menu system is broken down to two separate sub-menus, one called Menu and the other called PIM or Personal Information Manager. The Menu deals with phone settings, system selection, and security, whereas the PIM handles your phone book, call history, scheduler, and other options. The layout between the Menu and the PIM is not clearly distinct and in some cases deep inside the sub-menus you end up jumping over to the other menu to make a setting change. I do like the idea behind the separation of phone settings and personal settings, but LG did not completely separate them, so at times it is somewhat confusing over which menu a setting needs to be made in.
Both the Menu and PIM are accessed via the softkeys and then by using the central scrolling key. Using the scroll key before hitting either Menu or PIM will access your messages, call history, web services, and allow you to search your phone book.
Under the MENU softkey there are settings for Sound, Display, Features, System, and Voice Services. You move the central scrolling key left and right to move between sub-menus and then once inside a sub-menu you move up and down. This I found somewhat different than the usual up and down scrolling that many other handsets use.
Under the PIM softkey there are settings for Phone Book, Call History, Scheduler, Wakeup, Games, and the Calculator.
The phonebook allows you to store 199 name entries and each of these entries can have up to six numbers associated with it (phone, mobile, fax, pager, office, data). There are 19 ringtones that you can choose from plus the option of downloading more in the near future. The handset also has quite a powerful vibrate feature that can be adjusted with the volume buttons while the phone is vibrating. The phone has predictive T9 text input for those SMS messages you might send. There's also two games to keep you entertained: 'Comanche' (a helicopter SIM) and 'Blackjack'.
One problem that was noted with the menu and features was the use of what LG calls the 'manner mode'. This is essentially the same as the 'profiles' section on many handsets. Under the manner mode you can select a silence mode for meetings and such, but the TM520 doesn't remember the manner selection once the phone is powered off. This is somewhat annoying, so users of the manner mode should make sure to check their phones before going somewhere where a ringing phone would not be appropriate.
The LG TM520 is equipped with 1X network access. 1X is the new CDMA-based wireless data network that will compete directly with the GPRS network that is now available on GSM networks. 1X promises wireless data speeds up to 144 Kbps with 'always on' service. Similar to GPRS, 1X is always enabled and you are charged for the amount of data transferred, rather than the airtime to connect. Since this is a new wireless data network, expect limited availability and features over the next year or so as it is added to existing CDMA networks across North America. Look for an upcoming article on GeckoBeach.com that talks about the new 1X network and some tests conducted using a laptop and a wireless 1X PCMCIA card tested on the Telus Mobility network.
Sound quality with this handset was the biggest drawback to an otherwise pretty nice handset. Outgoing sounds are quite crisp and clear and the microphone does a good job of picking up your voice. The incoming audio is a completely different story; the speaker sound isn't muffled or incorrect in pitch, but it just doesn't replicate the voice on the other end very well. This might be an artifact of the 8K CODEC in use on many CDMA networks, but more likely LG didn't make the best choice for earpiece speakers. The earpiece speaker also is responsible for the phone's ringtones and as such it has to deliver quite a loud burst when the clamshell is closed. The ringtones themselves are quite loud, but this is likely at the compromise of good replication of the caller's voice on the other end. Tests with an earpiece kit noted that the incoming audio was much better reproduced in the external earpiece than in the handset speaker.
From the fact sheet, this model should get up to 200 hours standby and up to 180 min talk time in CDMA mode with the standard 900 mAh battery. Actual talk and standby times vary by network, phone location, and use, so your experiences will likely vary compared to the optimal values stated above. I would like to hear from others regarding their experiences with the battery life on this handset model.
A very nice phone with lots of nice features. If it wasn't for the inferior incoming audio, then this phone would be just about perfect. The menu system takes a while to get used to and a few more ring tones would be nice too. But, besides that, I would recommend this as a very nice new or replacement phone or for those that plan to use the new 1X wireless data network. At the time of writing of this review (September 2002), Telus Mobility was selling this model for $100-$250, depending on the contract term. Other providers may sell this model or similar ones for different prices.
Other LG TM520 Reviews
Steve Punter (mini review)