Casio has been making rugged phones for a number of years now, but the G'zOne Commando is the company's first to run Android. Just in time for the summer season, this $199 handset for Verizon Wireless is super tough, designed to meet the 810G series of military rugged standards. We're talking submersion in water; exposure to dirt, rain, extreme heat and cold; plus drops and shocks. The G'zOne Commando also features the Casio's G'zGear software package for enjoying the great outdoors, and it serves up great audio and call quality. Does this hard-core mobile phone deserve a place in your demanding life?
It's obvious that the Casio G'zOne Commando is designed to be rugged, as it looks more like an off-road vehicle or a futuristic speedboat than a smartphone. Black and vaguely trapezoidal, the Commando has aggressive red highlights, angular buttons, and lots of crevices. Continuing the manly motif are four metal bolts on the phone's front and back sides, plus a ring of silver plastic that runs around the device. The screen is framed by a wide circle of soft-touch black plastic. Above the display are the earpiece and temperature and light sensors.
Below the Commando's screen sit backlit, capacitive Android buttons for Menu, Home, Back, and Search. Under that are two large speakers and a mic. A volume rocker, a programmable "tactile" key, a power button, and charging terminal for an optional cradle line the left side. The right side holds a dedicated camera button, status light, and a microUSB port plus headphone jack, both under heavy rubber flaps with tightly fitting plugs. A 5-megapixel camera and an LED light occupy the back of the Commando, which also sports a sturdy battery cover and a fat lock switch. Removing the cover, which has plastic teeth and a padded cushion, reveals the recessed battery that sits on top of an 8GB microSD card.
Measuring 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.6 inches and weighing 5.4 ounces, the G'zOne Commando isn't terribly large or heavy considering its rugged build. Other current handsets closely match its dimensions, such as the Motorola Droid X2 (5 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches, 5.5 ounces), the LG Revolution (5 x 2.6 x 0.52 inches, 6.1 ounces), and the HTC Evo 3D (5 x 2.6 x 0.48, 6 ounces). The difference is that those phones boast larger 4.3-inch displays, while the G'zOne Commando's screen is just 3.6 inches.
The reason to buy the G'zOne Commando is its toughness. Casio claims that this smartphone meets the 810G standards for military ruggedness. This means the handset is designed to survive a series of torture tests (11 in all), such as immersion in more than 3 feet of water for 30 minutes, rain in 40 mph force winds, and up to 26 4-foot drops. Other tests include subjecting the device to an hour of vibration, "heavy dust" for 6 hours, and a full day of salt water fog and 95-percent humidity. Additionally, the Commando is rated to withstand 24 hours of hot sunshine (solar radiation of 1120W/m2) and 4 days of extreme temperatures (185 and -13 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Commando's display uses a scratch- and crack-resistant Gorilla Glass coating by Corning. This special treatment makes glass tougher by chemically "stuffing" ions into its surface, strengthening its structure.
To verify these claims, we placed the G'zOne Commando--switched on and all port flaps closed--in a water-filled fish bowl for half an hour. We dropped the phone repeatedly onto the hard New York City streets from above waist height (4 feet) and also splashed it with fountain water to simulate rain. We even attempted to scratch its screen with keys. The G'zOne Commando wasn't fazed by our trials in the least and showed no signs of damage.
Display and Audio
One of the trade-offs the Casio G'zOne Commando makes to be rugged is its small 3.6-inch (800 x 400) touchscreen. It also doesn't match the resolution of other handsets such as the Motorola Droid X2 and the HTC Sensation 4G, as both feature 4.3-inch, qHD displays (960 x 540). That said, the Commando's screen was brighter than the Sensation 4G's in a side-by-side comparison. It's also easy to read in direct sunlight due to less glare and reflections.
Still, images and text looked cramped on the G'zOne Commando's screen. Also, when we tried to view a few HD YouTube movie trailers, the handset struggled. For example, the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens was practically unwatchable due to extremely low frame rates. Once we switched to SD resolution, the video played smoothly but was grainy and not enjoyable. Another problem with the handset's screen is its unresponsiveness. On many occasions, we had to tap a few times before it registered our finger presses.
Equipped with two large speakers, the G'zOne has excellent sound for a smartphone. When we listened to "Kids" by Sleigh Bells, audio was very loud with a large helping of bass. We also noticed that the low end of buzzing guitars and booming drums didn't distort on this challenging track, even at maximum volume.
Typing messages on the G'zOne Commando's no-frills keyboard proved somewhat challenging. The phone's keys are grouped closely together, which resulted in errors. Thankfully, the predictive text function is good at guessing likely words. The layout doesn't offer secondary key functions such as long-presses for often-used symbols or numbers. At least hitting the space bar twice after a sentence inserts a period. Tapping Menu gives the option to add a smiley face.
One nice extra on the Commando is the Trace feature, which lets users draw lines through letters to quickly spell out messages. Tapping the double arrow icon above the keyboard provides fast access to keyboard settings and lets users select more compact key layouts.
Software, Interface, and G'zGear
The G'zOne Commando runs an older iteration of Android, version 2.2 Froyo, but Casio spices things up a bit with its own interface tweaks. For instance, sliding a silver virtual knob from center to the right on the lock screen unlocks the device, while moving it left toggles the ringer on or off. The main home screen houses an Earth Compass widget, plus shortcuts to Microsoft Bing search, Voicemail, Browser, and Verizon's V Cast app store.
On the bottom of all home screens are buttons to enter the application tray and activate the dialer, plus another silver knob in the left corner. Dragging this knob in an arc to the right unfolds the Snap Out menu, which lists up to five additional shortcut icons. These icons can be added and removed by clicking the Snap Out menu's edit button.
As part of Casio's G'zOne line of rugged phones, the Commando comes with the company's G'zGear suite of software tools. We found aspects of the suite useful, but many functions felt gimmicky. Besides providing orientation, Earth Compass has multiple themed layers. For instance, using a National Parks of the United States layer (The East and Alaska), we learned that Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is 700 miles to the southwest while Acadia National Park in Maine lies northeast, 382 miles away. Users can also add their own way points via GPS within the My Layer section.
A Walking Counter function uses the G'zOne Commando's built-in pedometer and has a Virtual Trek mode for duplicating hikes along famous trails. A standard pedometer also keeps track of steps taken daily. Adventure Training lets users track runs or test their mettle against current track world records or even the speed of wild animals such as grizzly bears and emperor penguins. Casio sells an optional $20 holster to strap the phone on securely for runs.
Another G'zGear tool is Trip Memory, which logs position and temperature data for tagging and sharing via FaceBook and Twitter. The Tides app displays tidal information for a variety of coastal locations, but users must manually select a suitable position. The thermometer measures actual live ambient temperatures and will also display the closest city with similar heat readings.
The last two tools, Sun/Moon and Star Gazer, will be of interest to amateur astronomers. The first shows daily solar and lunar rise and set times along with lunar calendar info. Star Gazer, like Google's Sky Map app, uses GPS information to locate and identify constellations, stars, and other heavenly bodies. One annoyance is that times within the G'zGear suite are always listed in the 24-hour format.
Specs and Performance
The Casio G'zOne Commando may be tough, but it's certainly not the fastest Android phone in its price range. Powered by a slower 800-MHz ARM7-class CPU with 512MB of RAM and 1GB of onboard memory, the phone turned in a Benchmark CPU score of 1,686. That's a bit above the current average for Android phones but below what we typically see from modern dual-core handsets such as the Motorola Droid X2 (2,663, Nvidia Tegra 2), the HTC Sensation 4G (1,716, dual-core Qualcomm), and even the single-core LG Revolution (2,211, 1-GHz Snapdragon) and the HTC Thunderbolt (2,103, 1-GHz Snapdragon). Still, the Commando had enough muscle to squeeze past the HTC Droid Incredible 2 (1,153, 1-GHz Snapdragon).
Graphics is the G'zOne Commando's true Achilles' heel, as the handset managed only 5,083 on the An3DBench test. That showing is almost 1,200 less than what we usually see (6,244) and way below the Droid X2 (7,416), Sensation 4G (7,072), Revolution (7,650), Thunderbolt (6,290) and the Droid Incredible 2 (5,995). This weak graphics performance could explain why the Commando had a hard time playing HD YouTube videos even over a Wi-Fi connection.
The phone also felt sluggish in everyday use, partly because sometimes screen taps didn't register but also from delays when navigating menus and launching apps.
Web Surfing and 3G Data
The G'zOne Commando accesses Verizon's 3G network. Out in Queens, NY, we observed solid, if not particularly quick, 3G download speeds of 1.5 Mbps. Uploads averaged 0.9 Mbps in the same location. At a coffee shop in midtown Manhattan, we saw slightly faster speeds (2 Mbps down/0.9 Mbps up).
Mobile sites (ESPN.com and NYTimes.com) took an average of 6.3 seconds to load, but the handset needed more than 23 seconds to fully open the desktop version of Laptopmag.com. The G'zOne Commando can share its cellular connection with other Wi-Fi devices via a hotspot app or by enabling the feature in its menu.
Running Android 2.2 Froyo, the G'zOne Commando accesses the Android Market, which has more than 200,000 applications ready for download. Useful pre-installed apps, aside from the G'zGear software suite, include Gmail and a separate e-mail app supporting Google, Microsoft Exchange, and personal messaging accounts. Document Viewer allows for reading but not editing of common office docs. A Social Beat app handily combines updates and messages from various services such as Facebook, Twitter, plus a mix of news outlets such as the AP, CNN, ESPN, and The New York Times.
A Read Out feature will read newly received text messages in a synthesized voice, and the Nuance voice control app accepts voice commands to complete various phone actions. We found that its most reliable abilities were initiating phone calls and text messages to contacts. Skype mobile is included to make voice but not video calls. For music, the Slacker app is installed, along with a standard music application to play audio tracks.
Since Microsoft Bing is the only search and mapping option out of the box, Verizon's VZ Navigator is there for providing spoken turn-by-turn navigation for $9.99 a month. However, you can download the free GPS Navigation app in the Market.
Camera and Camcorder
The Casio G'zOne Commando features a 5-MP camera. Images we captured of flowers and trees on an ideal sunny day exhibited rich colors, but were not as sharp as photos taken with phones that have 8-MP sensors. The camera was slow on the draw as well, taking over a second to lock on and shoot. Don't expect much from the LED flash; it paints subjects in an unappealing bluish glow and has a very short range. The 720 x 480 video we shot with the Commando's camcorder looked blocky with lots of noise.
Audio is one of Casio G'zOne Commando's strengths, and this extended to phone calls. On Verizon's network, callers said we sounded very clear. We also liked the sound of incoming audio; voices came through with plenty of volume and warmth. Calls made using the Commando's speakerphone were remarkably loud, too.
Casio rates the G'zOne Commando's battery life for 7.5 hours of use and 270 hours of standby time. In anecdotal testing, we found that the handset lasted through a full workday without needing a recharge.
There's no denying that the $199 Casio G'zOne Commando is one rough and tumble smart phone. Rain, wind, drops, bumps, scratches. Whatever you--or Mother Nature--can dish out, this Android handset can take it. However, you'll have to be willing to live with a relatively small display and less than blazing performance. If you're thinking of switching to T-Mobile, the Motorola Defy is not quite as durable, but can handle more abuse than your typical smartphone. But if your lifestyle or workplace demand an Android device that can shrug off a serious beating, the G'zOne Commando is for you.