Casio has made a name for itself in the ruggedized handset market with the G'zOne series of phones. From the Type-V to the more recent G'zOne Rock, these phones are military-certified to take a beating and keep on ticking. Now Casio has finally released its first-ever ruggedized messaging phone--probably the first of its kind--dubbed the Casio G'zOne Brigade. With its tough exterior, full QWERTY keyboard, and multimedia features, the Brigade is built for industrial workers, but will please anyone who wants a durable and reliable messaging handset. The Casio G'zOne Brigade is $249.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate and a new two-year service agreement.
The Casio G'zOne Brigade follows in the footsteps of its predecessors with a chunky style that looks like it came out of the '90s. At 4.4 inches long by 2.2 inches wide by 0.9 inch thick, it is, quite frankly, huge. The Brigade weighs in at a whopping 6 ounces, making this a phone you definitely don't want in your shirt pocket. It's rectangular with sharp angled corners and is wrapped in a hard plastic shell with a soft-touch coating. There's a unique crocodile-style texture on the back for extra grip. Its ports are covered with a rubber stopper, and the battery cover has a locking mechanism to prevent water damage. Indeed, the Brigade is MIL-STD-810F-certified to withstand water, shock, dust, immersion, vibration, salt, fog, humidity, solar radiation, high altitude, and extreme temperatures.
On the front of the Brigade is a round external display reminiscent of a stopwatch. The 1.2-inch 128x96-pixel monochrome PM-OLED display is similar to that on previous G'zOne phones, and displays the typical date, time, caller ID, battery, and signal strength information. Even though it's a monochrome display, you can still use it as a camera viewfinder, but it's black and white and rather choppy. You can access a limited menu of items from the external display: Messaging, Contacts, Recent Calls, Bluetooth, Keyguard, and Media. You can adjust the backlight time and the clock appearance.
Underneath that are the external navigation controls. They consist of a circular toggle in the middle with a center select key, plus shortcut keys to a new text message, a favorite contacts list, the camera/camcorder, and the flashlight/speaker. Below that are the Send, Clear/Voice command, End/Power keys, and the number keypad. The keys are well-spaced apart and are raised above the surface at a rather steep angle so it's easy to dial by feel.
On the left spine are the charger jack, the headset jack, push-to-talk button, the volume rocker, and the music player shortcut key. On the back is the camera lens plus an LED flash that can also be a flashlight. Behind the battery cover is the microSD card slot.
Turn the phone 90 degrees to the right, flip it open, and you'll reveal a full QWERTY keyboard plus a 2.9-inch 400x240-pixel TFT display. It only supports up to 65,000 colors, but images still look vibrant and sharp. You can adjust the backlight time, the clock format, the size of both the dial fonts and the menu fonts, and the layout of the main menu. You can also rearrange the icons around if you wish.
Below that are two soft keys plus the aforementioned keyboard. It has four rows of keys complete with a number row, so it's quite spacious. Along the right of the keyboard are a few navigation controls like a small circular toggle with a center select key, a Clear/Voice command key, and the Send and End/Power keys. You will also find shortcut keys for a new text message, the camera, the camcorder, and the speakerphone on the keyboard. The keys are raised above the surface with a nice domed feel, and we always like it when the spacebar is in the middle of the keyboard for easier typing. It's a small thing, but we also like that there's a dedicated period key.
The Brigade has a 500-entry phone book with room in each entry for four numbers, two e-mail addresses, an instant-messaging screen name, and a street address. You can organize them into groups, associate them with a photo for caller ID, or with one of 20 polyphonic ringtones. Other basics include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a calculator, a stopwatch, a countdown timer, a world clock, and a notepad. The Brigade is also compatible with Verizon's Push-to-Talk network.
More-advanced features include voice commands, instant messaging (Windows Live, Yahoo, and AOL), a wireless Web browser, and e-mail. You can choose either mobile e-mail, which is an actual e-mail app that lets you send and receive POP and IMAP mail, or mobile Web e-mail, which simply leads you to a mobile Web page with access to popular Web mail services like Hotmail or Yahoo Mail. There's also corporate e-mail support, which is especially useful if your employer uses OWA (Outlook Web Access). You also get stereo Bluetooth, USB mass storage, PC syncing, Visual Voice Mail support, and GPS with support for VZ Navigator's turn-by-turn directions and Verizon's Family Locator service. The Brigade also has Field Force Manager, a resource management tool designed to let employers keep in touch with their field workers. Furthermore, there's a document viewer that'll let you read most Microsoft Office documents.