Verizon G'zOne Boulder
Skinny, touch-screen phones may be the flavor du jour of the cell phone world, but there are still those of us who want a handset that can take a beating. Ruggedized phones are nothing new, of course, but few are attractive or designed with the everyday consumer in mind. The Casio G'zOne series of phones aimed to change that perception, with sporty-looking handsets that are military-tested to be tough as nails. The Type-V was the first model; it had EV-DO and a megapixel camera, but no Bluetooth. The Type-S was the second; though it had Bluetooth, it had no EV-DO, and only a VGA camera. In 2008, Casio and Verizon have finally settled down on a model that has all the desired features wrapped up in a striking new design. Dubbed the G'zOne Boulder (so named for its angular, rock-like look), this handset has EV-DO, push-to-talk, a megapixel camera, and Bluetooth, as well as access to V Cast Music, which wasn't on either of its predecessors. The Boulder looks to be the perfect all-in-one durable handset for outdoor enthusiasts, industrial workers, or the clumsy among us. It's currently available for $129.99 with a two-year service agreement. If your company doesn't allow camera phones, the Boulder is also available in a sans-camera version.
The Boulder is one tough cell phone, and it shows. It has jagged, rocky angles along its front exterior that makes the handset deserving of its namesake. But that doesn't mean it's not attractive; the Boulder has a simple stripe down the middle of the phone, plus a round external display that looks a lot like a typical sports stopwatch. At 4.9-ounces, it's not a fashion phone by any means, but we like the overall sporty look. We can easily see someone using this on, say, the ski slopes, without looking out of place.
Measuring 3.9 inches long by 2 inches wide by 0.9 inch thick, the Boulder is also covered in rubberized bumpers and a hard plastic chassis, all built to take a beating. Military-certified (under code MIL-STD-810F, if you care about that sort of thing) to withstand water, shock, dust, immersion, vibration, salt, fog, humidity, solar radiation, high altitude, and extreme temperatures, the Boulder is certainly no wimp. There's even a locking mechanism with the battery cover so you can be sure the battery won't get damaged (you can unlock it by using a small coin), and all the ports (microSD and charging slots) have a tight rubberized cover as well. We weren't able to truly test out the durability of the phone, but we did dunk it in some water and throw it against a wall a few times to no ill effect.
As we mentioned earlier, the Boulder has a round, monochrome external display, similar to the ones on its predecessors. It measures 1.2-inches across, and displays the date, time, caller ID, battery, and signal strength information. When the phone is closed, you can also use it to view music player information, as well as the electronic compass, the countdown timer, and the stop watch. Even though the external display is mono, you can still use it as a self-portrait viewfinder when the camera is activated. You can change the clock format on the external display if you like. Above the display is a camera lens, plus a bright flash, which can also be used as a flashlight. On the left spine are the push-to-talk key, the volume rocker, and a key that acts as the voice command key when the phone is open, but acts as the compass/countdown timer/stop watch key when the phone is closed (you switch between the different options by holding down the key). The microSD card slot is on the right.
Flip open the phone and you'll find a very nice 2.0-inch, 65,000-color display. Even though it only supports 65,000 colors, we still thought it was a lovely looking screen, with bright tones and legible font. Though it comes with the default tab-style Verizon menu interface, you can choose to select a Grid style configured to either a messaging or personalizing focus. You can adjust the screen's backlight time, the clock format, the dial fonts, and the contrast.
The navigation pad consists of two soft keys, a four-way toggle with a middle OK key, a dedicated camera/camcorder key, plus a speakerphone key that acts as a flashlight key if you hold it down for a longer press. The toggle's up, left, and down arrows act as shortcuts to three user-defined functions, while the right arrow leads to a mini My Shortcuts menu with up to four user-defined shortcuts. Of course, the array is followed by the Send, Clear, and End/Power keys under that. We found all the keys well-spaced apart and quite easy to dial and text. The keypad on the Boulder carries on the theme of its namesake by incorporating tiny peaks and valleys in the design of the keys, which results in a pleasant tactile experience.
The G'zOne Boulder comes with a desktop charging cradle and a headset jack adapter.
While we're fans of the Boulder's rugged design, we're even more pleased with its feature package. It has all the features of both the Type-V and the Type-S, plus a few that weren't in either. But first, let's start with the basics. The Boulder has a 500-entry phone book, which seems a little small for our tastes, but each contact is able to hold up to four phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. Each contact can also be organized into groups, matched with a photo for caller ID, or with one of 12 polyphonic ring tones and alert sounds. Other basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone (which can be activated prior to a phone call), an alarm clock, a calendar, a calculator, a stop watch, a countdown timer, a world clock, and a notepad.
More advanced features include a voice recorder, voice dialing and voice command support, a mobile Web browser, and Web e-mail support (for Windows Live, Yahoo Mail, and AOL Mail). The Boulder also has a few extra cool tools for the outdoorsman, like an electronic compass and a flashlight. We're also pleased to see the Boulder supports a robust array of Bluetooth profiles, such as A2DP, AVRCP, object push for vCard, hands-free, dial-up networking, and object exchange for phone book access. Finally, the Boulder has access to Verizon's Push-to-Talk network, and it also supports VZ Navigator, Verizon's location-based navigation system. As an extra for businesses, the Boulder is compatible with a resource management tool called Field Force Manager, that lets companies locate and monitor mobile field workers.
The Boulder also comes with EV-DO Rev. A support, which is one of the fastest 3G cell networks out there. Like all other Verizon phones with 3G speeds, the Boulder has access to Verizon's V Cast Video, where you can view streaming video from content partners like CNN and ESPN, as well as V Cast Music with Rhapsody, Verizon's own online music store. As we mentioned in our review of V Cast Music, the store lets you download music directly to the phone for $1.99 per song, and the price is inclusive of a simultaneous download to the PC. The music player on the Boulder is tied to the V Cast Music interface, which means it can take a second or so to start up the player. The player interface looks exactly like that of the V Cast Music store. That said, it was still easy to understand, and we could create and manage playlists pretty easily. You can also sync music from your PC to the phone. The Boulder comes with a microSD card slot that can support up to 8GB, so you can load it up with plenty of songs.
Unlike the Type-S, the Boulder (thankfully) comes with a 1.3-megapixel camera. It can take pictures in four resolutions (1,280x960p, 640x480p, 320x240p, and 160x120p), five white balance settings, and six color effects. Other camera settings include flash, a self-timer, the option to turn the shutter sound on and off, brightness settings, and a self-timer of up to 10 seconds. There's also a camcorder option, but it's quite limited. You can only record in 176x144p resolution, with adjustable brightness and white balance. You have the choice of a limited recording time for multimedia messages, or a lengthier one if you're just saving it to available space. Though the video quality left something to be desired, the photo quality was quite good. Images looked bright, with defined details and sharp colors. It did look a little overcast in low-light conditions, but, aside from that, it wasn't bad for a camera phone.
Personalization options are plentiful with the Boulder. You have lots of wallpaper choices, plus display themes, alert sounds, and more. You can even get more graphics and sound files from Verizon's Get It Now service. The phone doesn't come with any games, but you can always buy titles via the same service.
We tested the Boulder in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless. We were hugely disappointed with the call quality. Calls sounded crackly and there was a lot of static and echo. Callers could definitely tell we were on a cell phone, and had difficulty hearing us, especially when we were in a crowded area. Speakerphone calls were even worse, as callers sounded quite muffled on their end.*
As for music quality, we thought the audio quality was mediocre. Due to the lack of bass and a slight tinny sound, we probably wouldn't recommend it replacing your MP3 player, but, that said, it sounds decent enough for a quick listen while waiting for a bus. Of course, we recommend using a headset for superior sound. Since the Boulder is compatible with stereo Bluetooth headsets, we paired it with the Jabra BT3030, and it worked out great.
Video quality of the V Cast Videos is comparable to other V Cast phones. Streaming media had little to no buffering problems, but video did seem a little pixelated and jerky at times. The EV-DO Rev. A speeds were impressive, and we were able to download a song in a matter of seconds.
The G'zOne Boulder has a rated battery life of 3.56 hours talk time and 2.6 days standby time. According to our tests, it has a talk time of 4 hours and 10 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Boulder has a digital SAR rating of 1.04 watts per kilogram.