Review of the Nokia 5200


The Nokia 5200 is a tri-band (850, 1900, and 1800 MHz) slider phone and is presently offered on both Fido and 7-11. Itís a bit cheaper at 7-11, selling for just $150, but you can get it at Fido (with no contract) for $200. It offers an MP3 player with an included 1 GB MicroSD card (which may be replaced with up to a 2 GB card). It also supports A2DP Bluetooth stereo headsets.

 

The Nokia 5200 is available through 7-11 and Fido.

Last Updated: 03-Jun-2008

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

RF Performance

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RF Sensitivity: Tests were made of RF performance at the usual Hall of Shame over at Square One shopping mall. I compared the ability to pull in a signal during a call against a Nokia E51 (which I was also reviewing at the time) and I found it to have excellent RF qualities. Both phones performed almost identically, and so by extension the 5520 also has excellent RF sensitivity. In other words, itís as good as youíre presently going to get at pulling in a really weak signal.

Note that the 5200 supports only standard GSM, while the E51 also supports UMTS. The comparisons noted above were made with the E51 switched to standard GSM mode.

Over-the-road Performance: I was generally pleased with the phoneís tame handling of constant handoffs during various tests that were made from a moving car in parts of the city where sites were quite dense. An important aspect of any 2.5G (that is, non-UMTS) GSM phone is its ability to make handoff seem as unobtrusive as possible. In this regard the 5200 ranks up there with the better Nokia models, but Iíve heard slightly better performance on other makes.

Audio Performance

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Tonal Balance: The overall incoming tonal balance isnít bad compared to many phones Iíd tested (including a number of high-end Nokia models), but at the same time it falls short of some of the better-sounding models out there (including my still-current Motorola i880 on Telus Mike). The tone of incoming audio is a little harsh, but not enough to make you want to yank the phone from your ear or turn down the volume until you canít hear it.

Sound Reproduction: I was a little disappoint in this aspect of the phone, in that it seems to add a bit of distortion to the sound that isnít there when I made calls to identical sources with other GSM phones (including my ancient Nokia 6310i). The distortion isnít particularly noticeable under day-to-day use however, but Nokia could have done better.

Earpiece Volume: The volume is acceptable, but hardly stellar. For example, when I call the same numbers for comparison I must turn down my i880 volume to 5-out-of-7 to match the volume that comes out of the 5200 at full volume. The i880 is a fairly loud phone, and so this isnít a completely fair comparison. However, Iíve tested plenty of other phones recently that fall only slightly short of the volume generated by the i880.

Outgoing Audio: Outgoing tonal balance is rather the opposite of incoming. Instead of being harsh, itís actually a tiny bit muddy. Overall however, the outgoing sound was extremely good and your voice will sound quite natural to your caller.

The phone also handles the background noise generated by the people at the Square One food court at least as well as the E51. I therefore thought that it would have no trouble with the open-window-on-the-highway test, but I was in for a rather nasty shock. Iíve tested many phones that do poorly when exposed to the rushing wind noise of an open car window at highway speeds, but none behaved quite as oddly as the 5200.

Prior to opening the window the quality of my voice was exceptional (as expected), but the moment the window was opened my voice turned into a garbled mess that was completely impossible to understand. Howard Chu suggested that the problem might have been the result of using the Voice Clarity feature, which is supposed to make the userís voice sound better under noisy conditions. We ran the test again with the feature turned off, but the results were no different.

This is one of the only bad points on what is otherwise a pretty decent phone. While no Nokia model does well in this particular test, none have done quite so badly. There are also many phones out there that can pass this test with flying colors, and so Nokia really doesnít have a good excuse for the poor performance under these conditions.

Speakerphone: Iíve often said that there are 2 types of speakerphones on Nokias: those that are too faint to be any use; and those that are surprisingly loud and clear. The 5200 falls into the latter category with a really loud (though not particularly clear) speakerphone. However, as with virtually all Nokias Iíve tested (regardless of the quality of their speakerphone implementations) the 5200 is much better at playing music and the audio track of videos than it is at playing the voice of an incoming caller. Iíve never understood why this is so, because other companies donít seem to have the same problem. The 5200 is no different, but the upshot is that the audio for playing MP3 files through the built-in speaker is extremely good.

On the 5200 that I tested, the speakerphone suffered from large doses of what sounded like sympathetic vibrations in the plastic housing of the phone. This makes the audio sound oddly distorted unless the volume is turned down. Surprisingly however, no such vibrations seem present when playing MP3 files through the speaker, even at full volume.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: With the correctly-chosen ringtone the volume is much better than many other phones on the market. This isnít to say that itís as loud as a typical iDEN phone like my i880, but compared to the bulk of phones Iíve reviewed in the last few years the 5200 is remarkable audible under typically harsh conditions (such as noisy streets and in crowded shopping malls).

Keypad Design: Because the 5200 is a slider design, it has plenty of space for a good-quality 12-key pad. The keys are nicely spaced, plus you can feel where they are without looking at them courtesy of a raised bump in the middle of each key. The tactile feel of each key as it is pressed is also very good, making this one of the better keypads Iíd ever seen on a slider phone.

Unfortunately the remaining keys (on the top of the phone) arenít quite up to the standards of the slide-out 12-key pad. The 2 softkeys and the TALK and END buttons are okay, but the 4-way cursor pad and selection button have poor feel and are error-prone, especially for people with big fingers. Various other Nokia slider models use slightly different 4-way pads that much better than the one on the 5200.

Display: The color display of the 5200 is 128 x 160 pixels supporting only 256 colors. Itís also not a TFT type of display common on many other phones, which means that the colors are more washed-out and the contrast is poorer. However, the advantage of the CSTN display is that it works incredibly well in bright sunlight. Under intense light most TFT displays rely solely upon the backlight to make the pixels visible, whereas a CSTN display can reflect light that passes through the display. The brighter the light gets, the easier it is to see. Note that in my review of the E51 I found that the TFT display on that phone is able to reflect sunlight internally. However, it is nothing like the reflected light you get on the 5200.

Overall however, for the purposes of providing information concerning phone calls and the currently-playing MP3 file, the CSTN display is more than adequate in low-light conditions too. It may not have the brilliance and clarity of a top-notch TFT display, but for what itís intended to do, the CSTN display of the 5200 is pretty darned good.

Icing on the Cake

Camera: The camera in the 5200 is just a simple 640 x 480 implementation thatís really there for just two purposes: to take picture ID shots and to send as MMS to another phone. You certainly wouldnít use it to take real photographs.

MP3 Player: The music player in the 5200 is hardly competition for the iPod, but it has many useful features such as an equalizer and sorting based on song title, artist name, genre, or album title. It runs as a foreground or background application, which means that you can continue to use the phone as normal while the music plays in the background. If you make a call, or if a call comes in, the playback is paused and can be restarted from where you left off after the call is over. It also includes limited functionality for creating playlists, but the support doesnít seem to be all that great. The phone comes with a 1 GB MicroSD card and you can upgrade that to a 2 GB card if you want to store more music.

The sound quality of the music through stereo earbuds or through an A2DP (stereo Bluetooth) headset is very good, and when you play the audio through the built-in speaker the overall quality and volume is surprisingly good. Certainly donít expect any bass, but other than that the music is very listenable through the tiny little speaker.

Conclusions

With a few notable exceptions the 5200 is a fairly decent phone. It has loads of features, reasonably good overall performance, a useable speakerphone, and a MP3 player. The outgoing audio is useless in a noisy vehicle, but other than that it sounds great.

If you buy this phone through 7-11 in Canada youíll get a really good deal. They sell the 5200 for just $150, and itís UNLOCKED. Over at Fido they want $200 without a contract and the phone they sell you is LOCKED to Fido. While Iím sure that neither the Fido nor 7-11 people arenít going to like me suggesting this, but if you want a 5200 to use on Fido, buy it through a 7-11 store instead. You can even get a few bucks selling the 7-11 SIM card that comes with the phone.

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