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The Casio G'zOne brand is well known for its line of rugged phones. From the Type-V all the way to the more recent Ravine, the Casio G'zOne series of handsets are built tough in accordance with stringent military specifications. They can withstand a variety of environmental hazards that include immersion, rain, and humidity, so they should stand up against everyday drops and spills as well. Despite all this toughness, though, the handsets are typically of the feature phone variety. The only rugged smartphones we've seen so far have been the Motorola i1 and the Motorola Defy, neither of which are available for Verizon Wireless.
The Casio G'zOne Commando promises to change that, as it is the first rugged Android phone from Casio and Verizon Wireless. It's padded from head to toe in durable material with the classic G'zOne look and feel. Indeed, it also comes equipped with G'zGear, Casio's suite of outdoor-friendly apps. The G'zOne Commando ships with Android 2.2 adorned with a custom UI. Notable features include high-security encryption for corporate e-mail, Wi-Fi hot-spot capability for up to five devices, and a 5-megapixel rear camera plus LED.
One glance at the Commando will tell you that this is a product in the Casio G'zOne series. It has the trademark black and red markings on the exterior, and the surrounding hard rubber casing is secured tightly with eight visible screws. Its diamondlike shape is softened by curved corners and doesn't look as severe as previous G'zOne phones, but the overall design is still quite masculine. Measuring 5.08 inches long by 2.58 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep, the G'zOne Commando is bulkier than most Android smartphones, and its 5.45 ounces gives it considerable heft in the hand.
Its size and weight are largely due to its protective shell. Like the other G'zOne phones, the Commando is military-certified (under MIL-STD-810G certification) to be resistant against water, shock, rain, dust, vibration, and more. The display is made out of Corning Gorilla Glass, which is designed to not crack easily, so you should be able to toss it around without having to worry about a scratch. While we weren't able to replicate the conditions of the certification, we did dunk the Commando in water a few times, and were pleasantly surprised to see that it could still answer a phone call underwater. We should warn that the phone is only water-resistant as long as you have the open ports plugged up with the accompanying rubber stopper.
The Commando has a decent size 3.6-inch touch-screen display with a 480x800-pixel WVGA resolution. It's not quite as luscious as high-resolution displays that are 4 inches or larger, but we still found it colorful and bright for the most part. Our main complaint about the display is with the touch screen itself. Even though the capacitive screen was responsive for the most part, the tap accuracy doesn't seem as refined as it could be. This is especially apparent when using the virtual XT9 keyboard. The T9 Trace software (similar to Swype) did help in speeding up typing, but even that wasn't safe from error. You cannot switch back to the stock Android keyboard.
Underneath the display are four touch-sensitive Android shortcut keys that lead to the Home screen, a menu for the current screen, the Back function, and Search. Beneath that are the external speaker grille and the microphone. Above the display are sensors for temperature, light, and proximity. On the left spine are the volume rocker, a tactile key that can be mapped to any application, charging terminals to be used on an optional desktop cradle, and the power key. The 3.5 mm headset jack, microUSB charging port, LED notification indicator, and camera key are on the right.
Flip the headset over, and you'll find the 5-megapixel camera lens next to an LED that can act as either the camera flash or a flashlight. The battery cover is securely locked with a switch; to unlock it, simply slide it over to the left. The microSD card slot is located behind the battery.
The Casio G'zOne Commando comes with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a preinstalled 8GB microSD card, and reference material.
The Casio G'zOne Commando ships with Android 2.2, and for the most part the interface stays true to the standard Android experience. There are five customizable home screens, and the main menu has those black fading edges when you scroll up and down. The icons look the same as well. However, Casio did add a custom G'zOne snap-out menu to the usual UI.
Along the bottom row of the home screen, you will see the phone icon, a square main-menu icon, and a round Snap button. By default, the Snap button is on the lower left corner. Presuming you're holding the phone with your right hand, you can then use your thumb to drag the Snap button out along a curved guideline. Immediately, the snap-out menu appears, showing up to five customizable shortcuts.
Still keeping your thumb on the screen, you can then drag the Snap button back in the opposite direction to lock the menu in place and highlight the function you wish to select. When you remove your thumb, the selected application will launch. However, if you drag the snap-out menu all the way to the right and let go, you will see all five shortcuts. If you wish, you can customize the shortcuts by selecting the gear icon. You can also drag the Snap button to the lower right corner of the home screen instead so that it's easier to use if you're left-handed.
The snap-out menu is designed to give you quick access to frequently used apps at the flick of a finger, but in actuality, we found it a little annoying. Flicking the menu out wasn't as smooth and precise as we would like. Instead of sweeping out in one fluid motion, the menu would sometimes jerk a little bit as we dragged our thumb back to select a function. In the end, we ended up just accessing apps the usual way by adding shortcuts to the home screen.
Along with the snap-out menu, the Casio G'zOne Commando has active wallpaper that leaves a glowing streak seconds after you swipe across the home screen.
Like many Verizon phones, the Commando is unfortunately stuck with Bing as the default search engine. Verizon has also preloaded a whole suite of applications on the Commando, like Verizon's V Cast suite of apps, Mobile IM, City ID, VZ Navigator, Skype Mobile, NFL Mobile, Slacker Radio, Social Beat, InnoPath ActiveCare, and Casio's G'zGear. Social Beat is essentially a hub that houses all your various social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace plus RSS feeds in a single app, while InnoPath ActiveCare lets you check for software updates. Unfortunately, these apps can't be uninstalled.
But the primary piece of software of interest to Casio fans is the G'zGear suite of apps. This suite is aimed squarely at the outdoors enthusiast with such apps as Earth Compass, Walking Counter, Adventure Training, Trip Memory, Thermometer, Tides, Sun/Moon, and Star Gazer. The apps are fairly self-explanatory--the thermometer app uses the built-in temperature sensor, and the compass app uses the compass, for example. Trip Memory lets you create a travel journal of sorts, complete with geolocated photos. Adventure Training might be of special interest to runners, as it is designed to analyze your runs and compare them to Olympic athletes' to motivate you. Star Gazer utilizes GPS to display the constellations and stars.
Aside from helping you navigate the great outdoors, the Commando still functions as a regular Android smartphone. You'll get all the usual Android 2.2 features on here, like contact and calendar management, social network integration, a full Web browser, and of course Google apps and services like Gmail, Google Talk, and YouTube. However, because of the Bing association, Google Maps isn't preinstalled--you'll have to download that yourself from the Android Market. In case you want to access work e-mail on the Commando, you'll be glad to know that Casio promises high-security encryption on all Microsoft Exchange corporate e-mail. Other apps include a document viewer for Office documents, an alarm clock, and a calculator.
A smartphone wouldn't be a smartphone if it didn't have other connectivity options, too. The Commando has it all; Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS. Since the Commando has EV-DO Rev. A, we were glad that we could also use the Commando as a mobile hot spot for up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Just know that this requires a Mobile Broadband plan, which costs $20 per month and has a 2GB data cap.
The 5-megapixel camera takes average photos. Most images have an orange tinge to them, and they are not at all as sharp as we would like. The LED light did help somewhat in dark environments, but that often resulted in washed-out photos. The camera records video as well.
We tested the Casio G'zOne Commando in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless service. Call quality was okay, but nothing spectacular. On our end, we heard callers clearly for the most part, but we did hear the occasional static interrupt the call.
On their end, however, callers could definitely tell we were on a cell phone. The voice quality was very fuzzy and hollow, as if we were calling from a tunnel. The call came through fine--they had no problems making out what we were saying--but the overall quality was just muddy. Speakerphone calls sounded the same.
On Verizon's 3G network, CNET's full site loaded in 20 seconds. The mobile versions of CNN and ESPN both loaded in around 5 to 7 seconds. YouTube clips loaded quickly, too, without much buffering. We did encounter the occasional jerky video, but it didn't happen very often. V Cast videos played fine as well, but the quality was quite poor.
The Casio G'zOne Commando has an 800MHz processor. Overall navigation felt smooth, but as we said earlier, we did encounter the occasional sluggishness. We suspect this might have more to do with the touch screen than the processor, however, as other phones with similar processors don't have the same problems.
The Casio G'zOne Commando has a rated battery life of 7.5 hours of talk time and 11.25 days of standby time. We're happy to say that our tests showed a talk time of 7 hours and 43 minutes.
The Casio G'zOne Commando is absolutely the choice if you want a rugged and durable Android smartphone. Its tough construction is built to withstand everyday drops and spills, so it's well suited for industrial workers or simply those who love the great outdoors. While we're not entirely pleased with Verizon's preloaded apps, we did enjoy Casio's G'zGear suite of apps designed for those who love the active outdoor lifestyle. All of that, and it's also a pretty decent Android smartphone with corporate e-mail security and most of the usual Google apps at your disposal. The Casio G'zOne Commando is $199.99 with a new two-year service agreement.