Now that more than half of all Americans have a mobile phone, why are we still putting up with inferior handsets? Too often, the latest and greatest handsets are available overseas only — while U.S. consumers get rehashed versions of last year’s models.

NEC hears your cry and delivers with its 525 HDM, a flip-phone whose big, bad, color screen delivers the kind of rich audiovisual experience that was formerly limited to subscribers of Japan’s NTT DoCoMo.

There’s a lot to like about the 525 HDM, starting with its screen. Its 2.2 inches is significantly bigger than the LCDs on most phones, with an impressive 216 x 162 pixels and 65,536 colors. Although physically smaller than a handheld computer, these specs are approaching PDA territory. AT&T Wireless showcases that feature admirably, with a collection of prepackaged photos and clip-art wallpaper. You can download additional pictures or send your own photos to the phone via the HDM website.

The 525 HDM’s silver-toned case is sleek and fairly elegant, although when closed it has an odd underbite that is out of keeping with the rest of its look.

Sound quality of the 525 HDM is decent, and the phone feels comfortable, if a bit hefty, in the hand. However, its large inside hinge may bump against your cheek when holding it to your ear. The four-hour talk time is excellent, although the battery indicator zoomed from three-quarters full to totally empty in just the last 20 minutes. The phone lasts two or three days between recharges with normal use.

The 525 HDM’s camera has a measly 100 kilopixels. It includes a 2x digital zoom — press a button, and the middle of the picture is blown up to twice its normal size, with lots of jagged edges. Needless to say, photo quality is poor. Any motion causes serious blurring, interior shots tend to look orange, and you need to put the phone about 18 inches from someone’s face in order to take a decent head shot — while the distortion at that distance makes faces look as if they’re in a fishbowl. The resulting photos don’t do justice to this phone’s gorgeous screen.

The one-inch external LCD is capable of displaying 4,000 colors. It’s handy for visual identification of callers: If you’ve attached a photo to the address book entry of a friend, her picture will show up on this screen any time she calls.

The 525 HDM sports a powerfully loud and polyphonic speaker that’s capable of blasting out musical ring tones with high fidelity. Heads will definitely turn when the sounds of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” abruptly begin blaring out of a coat pocket, so dress accordingly.

Web browsing on AT&T’s mMode service is as good as we’ve seen on a phone. Thanks to the high-resolution screen, many websites are readable, even if they haven’t been optimized for mobile displays.

The phone supports “DoJa,” NTT DoCoMo’s version of Java, and includes three games. The screen is up to the task of blasting aliens, but the tiny five-way control isn’t. This phone is by no means a serious gaming platform.

The NEC 525 HDM’s address book and calendar synchronizes with Outlook, although you need an optional additional USB cable.

If the 525 HDM had a better camera and slightly better styling, we’d be hard pressed to find anything wrong with it. As it is, this phone earns a high rating for its screen, its ability to display websites well, and its solid talk capabilities. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Big and beautiful LCD
Worst Feature: Crummy 100-kilopixel camera

NEC 525 High Definition Mobile
$199 with activation
Weight: 4 ounces
Size: 3.9 x 1.9 x 1.1 inches (closed)
Specs: Quad-band GSM/GPRS (850/1900MHz U.S.; 900/1800MHz overseas); 2MB of RAM (1MB available to user); 2.2-inch, 65,536 color, 216 x 162-pixel LCD; 100-kilopixel digital camera; support for XHTML, CHTML, and WML websites; infrared; one-inch external LCD;

Rating: * * * *

Link: NEC 525 High Definition Mobile

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