Casio G’zOne Commando Review: A Super Durable Android Smartphone
At a Glance
The Casio G'zOne Commando is designed to take a fair share of abuse. Much like the Motorola Defy, the Commando on Verizon ($200 with a new 2-year contract) is a rugged Android device meant for people who require a smartphone that can endure the toughest elements.
The Command feels extremely solid in hand. Most of today's smartphones are delicate pieces of plastic compared to this brick of a phone. While it's not the most stylish model on the market, the Commando still looks reasonably good for a ruggedized unit. Most of the phone is covered in compact rubber to protect it from falls and to give you a better grip on the somewhat large device.
The right spine of the Commando houses the headphone jack, a micro-USB charging port, and a dedicated camera button. These ports have waterproof covers, just in case the phone falls out of your pocket and into a puddle. Instead of being on the top of the device, the power button is on the left spine, along with the volume rocker and a customizable tactile key, but rather far down; I would prefer to have the power button higher up. A 5-megapixel camera (with flash) is on the rear of the Commando, and you also have the standard touch-sensitive buttons you'd find on most other Android devices (Menu, Home, Back, and Search).
The G'zOne Commando has a 3.6-inch display with a 480-by-800-pixel resolution. The display and its text looked sharp and easy to read, even when I had the phone out in direct sunlight. You can also adjust the size if you think it is too large. The Commando weighs 5.45 ounces, and measures 5.08 inches by 2.58 inches by 0.68 inches. While not too thick, it may be difficult to hold if you have smaller hands.
All that compact rubber isn't just for show; the Commando meets military standards for water, dust, and shock resistance. While I didn't manage to test out the resistance to water and dust, I did throw the phone around a bit to see if it could survive a few falls. I found that it comes away completely unscathed from a 3-foot drop onto concrete.
Video Review: Casio G'zOne Commando
Android for the Outdoors
Casio built a custom Android overlay for the G'zOne Commando, though it doesn't change the UI as dramatically as Samsung's TouchWiz or HTC's Sense. The traditional 2.2 dock at the bottom of the screen has been replaced with a Phone icon on one corner of the screen, and a snap-out menu on the other. The snap-out menu is supposed to give you quick and easy access to your most-used apps, but I found it a huge pain to use mainly due to the touchscreen (more on that later). Much like the Samsung Continuum, the Commando is powered by Bing search instead of Google search, which is an annoying feature typical of many Verizon phones. You also won't find Google Maps preinstalled, though you can download it yourself from the Android Market. I find that these sorts of carrier tweaks really detract from the core Google Android experience.
Preloaded on the device is Verizon's V Cast suite of apps, the aforementioned Bing, Skype, NFL Mobile, Slacker Radio, Social Beat, InnoPath ActiveCare, XT9, and G'zGear. Social Beat allows you to view and manage your Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and RSS channels in one unified newsfeed. InnoPath ActiveCare allows you to check for and download software updates for the device, though it seems kind of redundant since you can do that natively through the Settings on the phone. XT9 replaces the traditional Android keyboard with one that mimics Skype. You cannot switch back to the stock Android keyboard, though you can probably find something similar in the Android Market.
G'zGear is probably the most interesting piece of preloaded software I have ever seen on a mobile phone. The app is broken up into different sections (Earth Compass, Walking Counter, Adventure Training, Trip Memory, Thermometer, Tides, Sun/Moon, and Star Gazer), with each one offering a useful or fun utility.
Thermometer, for instance, uses the phone's built-in temperature sensor to give you a rough estimate of the temperature around you and how it compares to other cities across the globe. It's not the most accurate tool in the world, but I don't expect my phone to tell me the temperature with incredible accuracy. Trip Memory allows you to create a scrapbook of your trips, syncing your photos with the coordinates of where you took it.
Of all the utilities, Walking Counter and Adventure Training were two of the most interesting. Walking Counter counts the number of steps you take like a pedometer, and tells you how far you've walked with the phone. On top of that, you can make various "virtual treks" to places like Mt. Kilimanjaro or the South Pole. Adventure Training sounded promising, but I was never able to get it to work. Adventure Training is supposed to make you a better runner by analyzing how you run and comparing your pace to that of Olympic athletes. My lighthearted jog around the block did not register on the device at all. Adventure Training could be a really cool app, so hopefully a fix will be implemented soon.
Performance: A Frustrating Touchscreen
The weakest point of the Casio G'zOne Commando is not its dated 800MHz processor, but rather its nightmarishly bad touchscreen. Apps will often require a multitude of taps before they will open, and typing on the virtual keyboard is enough to make one throw the phone down in frustration (good thing it's shock resistant).
Strangely enough, the touchscreen was only terrible with software that came preloaded on the device. Third-party applications faired a bit better, but the touchscreen still had some issues in those apps as well. This led me to believe that the processor was not the main cause for the input problems I was having. Trying to hammer out a text message on the device ended with me just deciding to call the person instead.
The Commando has a noise-cancelling microphone on the rear of the device, but it didn't seem to work when I made several phone calls. The people on the other end told me that it did little to filter out background noises (which they could clearly hear). All the people I called also complained that my voice was fuzzy and hard to hear, even though those people sounded fine on my end.
Browsing the mobile Web was an acceptable experience. Screen aside, pages loaded rather quickly over Verizon's 3G network, and everything downloaded in a timely manner. I managed to get an average of 0.71 megabits per second (mbps) for downloads and 0.5 mbps for uploads when running the FCC-approved Ookla Speed Test app on the phone. And as an Android 2.2 phone, the Commando can also be used as a 3G mobile hotspot for up to five devices.
Battery life was exceptionally good; I managed to squeeze out a day and a half of moderate to heavy usage on only a single charge.
You most likely will not want to use the G'zOne to capture your most cherished memories. The digital image stabilization software in the device distorts and gives a Jell-o like effect to things when looking through the viewfinder. Pictures taken with the Commando come out looking fuzzy with dull and lifeless colors.
Video didn't do much better; voices in videos sound muffled, and whites look blown out. Moving the camera around also produces the same Jell-o effect you get when trying to take still shots.
I really wanted to like this phone, but the awful touchscreen is a huge deal-breaker. The device has so many great ideas in it that I hate to see its rating dragged down because one (crucial) feature doesn't always work right. If you need a superdurable phone and don't care too much about the unresponsive screen, then by all means get this phone. The rest of us should look to other Verizon Android smartphones rather than having to deal with the countless frustrations that will come from operating this device.
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