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Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE (Verizon) review: Extra-tough build, weak camera chops

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The Good The waterproof Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE has fast 4G speeds, good call quality, dual front-facing speakers, and useful preloaded apps for the outdoors.

The Bad Its bulky build, poor photo quality, and outdated Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS drag down performance.

The Bottom Line The Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE is an excellent and affordable rugged handset, but skip it if taking great pictures is a priority.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

The Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE isn't the sexiest phone to bring to a beach party, nor does it have the sexiest name (it's pronounced "jeez-one" in case you're wondering, as in jeez-one-person-should-be-fired-for-that-name). But if you're looking for smartphone that can survive almost anything, this is it.

That's because the rugged Commando was designed for someone who has an active, outdoorsy, and all-around swashbuckling lifestyle. It's water- and dustproof, can survive extreme temperatures, and is shock resistant. (For a full rundown of the phone's military-graded specs, you can check out its fancy, but lag-inducing Web site here.)

True, the Commando isn't perfect. It doesn't take great photos, and it isn't as powerful as other high-end devices available on Verizon. But for $99.99 on-contract, Casio's Commando is a reasonably priced Android handset that's built to last.

Let's not beat around the bush: the Commando 4G LTE is hefty and doesn't look very chic. Understandably, 6.08 ounces of its weightiness is thanks to the device's rugged exterior. Sporting distinct edges and a triangular chin, the handset flaunts an industrial, mechanical aesthetic, and its body is reinforced with tough rubber along its sides and back.

The smartphone measures 5.1 inches tall, 2.7 inches wide, and 0.5 inch thick. While stuffing it into my front jean pocket proved snug, I imagine it wouldn't have a problem fitting inside rear pockets of larger pants, and small shoulder bags. In addition, despite its bulky build, the Commando 4G LTE isn't particularly wide, meaning it's still easily maneuverable with one hand.

Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE (battery)
In addition to the battery door, the battery itself is also secured with a toggle lock. Josh Miller/CNET

Aside from a volume rocker, the left edge houses a programmable shortcut (or "tactile" as Casio likes to put it) key that you can customize to launch applications like your contacts, Gmail, or music. Up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack that can be covered by a small plastic door, and a sleep/power button. On the right are a Micro-USB port that also can be plugged, and a charging terminal. Finally, the bottom edge features a small hole that you can loop a lanyard or strap through.

Fastened by four screws in each corner, the device's back sports a dimpled texture. The 8-megapixel camera is at the top left with its flash right next to it. A vertical toggle lock secures the battery door. To remove the plate, switch the lock upward. Then, using an indentation to the right, pry off the plate with your finger. The 1,800mAh battery inside is also locked down. If you want to access either the 4G LTE microSIM card or microSD card slots underneath it, slide the orange lock at the bottom of the battery to the right.

The 4-inch WVGA display has a 480x800-pixel resolution and is topped with Corning Gorilla Glass 2. Not only is it responsive to the touch, but it's also easy to view outdoors in sunlight, and has a respectably wide viewing angle. It accurately and brightly displayed an all-white color swatch, text and menu icons appeared clear, and HQ videos on YouTube also looked sharp.

Above the display are a 1.3-megapixel camera and the in-ear speaker embellish with a small chrome-colored piece of plastic. Below the screen are four hot keys (back, home, recent apps, and menu) that light up when in use. Finally, all the way at the bottom are dual front-facing speakers. Though at times music came off a bit harsh at max volume, these speakers boosted audio quality and depth.

Software features
It's been a little over a year since Android Jelly Bean came onto the scene, so it's disappointing to see that this handset runs on the older Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich instead. You'll still get the usual batch of Google apps, though, which include Gmail, Plus, Hangouts, Maps, portals to the Play Books, Magazines, Movies and TV, Music, and Store, Search, and YouTube.

Basic task-managing apps include a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, native e-mail and browser clients, a news and weather app, and a sound recorder. Verizon preloaded My Verizon Mobile (which lets you check your data use and minutes), Verizon Tones music and media store, mobile hot-spotting, its own brand of voice mail and navigating, Video Calling, and the media hub Viewdini.

Other apps include several Amazon apps (the store itself, Kindle, MP3, its app store, and Audible), an American Express app, a DNLA app for streaming media between devices, an FM radio, a help app for recording video alongside a movie editor, a music player, NFL mobile, the mobile office suite Quickoffice, Slacker Radio, Nuance voice command, a VPN client app, IMDb, and the shoe retailer Zappos.

Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE (screenshots)
The features included in G'zGear (left) and the somewhat awkward UI of the handset's Glove Mode functionality. Lynn La/CNET

Casio also packaged a handful of outdoorsy and active-lifestyle apps that come integrated in the phone's UI. Though I loathe bloatware, I personally find these apps useful and on-point with the kind of customers who would buy this phone.

One such add-on is G'zGear, which includes a compass (this compass is also featured in both the home and lock screens), a thermometer, a high/low tide weather app, and an app that tells you when the sun and moon will rise and set. There's also a star-gazing app, a pedometer and virtual trek tracker, and a barometer to measure atmospheric pressure. Some of these functions are also featured as home screen widgets for easy access, alongside a flashlight and battery-saver widget. You'll also get G'zWorld, an app that lets you record, share, and geotag all your outdoor activities, and Glove Mode.

As you can gather, users should activate Glove Mode when they're using the Commando 4G LTE while wearing gloves. When turned on, the device's UI simplifies into four simple categories: message and e-mail, notifications, camera, and phone. Once selected, the functionality of each of these four categories are simplified even further, allowing you to still use the most important features of the handset, but with the fewest taps and finger strokes as possible.

Camera and video
Both the 8-megapixel camera and 1.3-megapixel camera have digital zoom, an exposure meter, geotagging, a timer, six white balances, four color effects, two qualities, image stabilization, touch shutter, and grid lines. However, the 8-megapixel camera has six shooting modes (including HDR, continuous shooting, and panorama), 14 scene options (which has one mode just for cooking!), three focuses, seven sizes (from 640x480 to 3,264x2,448 pixels), and a flash. The front-facing latter camera has only three camera modes, three sizes (from 640x480 to 1,280x1,024 pixels), and a mirror image option.

For video recording, both cameras have audio muting and the same zoom, exposure meter, geotagging option, timer, white balances, color effects, two qualities, and grid lines functionality. The 8-megapixel camera specifically has four video modes (some of which are standard, slow motion, and live effects, which includes a silly faces module and the ability to change your video's background with a fake sunset sunset, for example), eight scene options, three focuses, a flash, and five video sizes (from message attachment to 1080p full HD). The front-facing camera can only record in standard mode, but the live effects (with the same six silly faces and background options) are still retained, and video sizes top out at 1,280x1,024-pixel resolution.

Photo quality was disappointing, and I expected sharper images from an 8-megapixel shooter (especially since I've seen clearer images from 5-megapixel cameras, like the LG Lucid 2). Colors looked washed out or inaccurate -- especially blues, which looked oversaturated and almost greenish. Edges looked blurry and I saw a lot of digital noise, even with pictures taken outdoors in ample sunlight.

Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE (indoor)
Though some flowers look bright and colorful, you can see how harsh blue hues appear in the background. Lynn La/CNET
Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE (outdoor)
Despite being in lighting, this photo is still blurry and muted. Lynn La/CNET

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