The Casio G'zOne Commando is a phone that knows what it is and what it isn't. It is not, for example, Casio's answer to the Galaxy S II or the EVO 3D - it simply doesn't have that much power under its rough, tough hood. But that rough, tough hood is precisely what makes the Commando stand out from the rest of the Android smartphone crowd - unlike your average piece of plastic, it is ready to take on the challenges of an outdoorsman's life (including but not limited to being submerged in water, thrown onto cement, or given the inevitable drop kick from time to time). As should be expected, it passed our durability tests without any sign of weakness, so really, the only question left is whether the rest of its features are any good.

At a Glance

The G'zOne Commando's spec sheet makes it clear that power users weren't exactly Casio's target demographic here:

  • 3.6-inch WVGA (800x480) TFT LCD display (covered by Gorilla Glass)
  • 800/1900MHz CDMA EVDO Rev. A radio
  • WiFi 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • 800 MHz processor
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 1GB of ROM
  • 8GB microSD card included
  • 1460mAh battery
  • 5MP rear camera
  • Android 2.2 (Froyo) with Casio's custom overlay
  • Meets Military Standards 810G for immersion, rain, vibration, salt fog, humidity, solar radiation, altitude, low and high temperature storage; shock and dust resistant

The Good

  • Rugged design that can withstand just about anything you throw at it (or throw it in)
  • Sharp, colorful display
  • Verizon's extremely reliable 3G network 
  • G'zGear, a unique app that provides everything a camper could wish for: a compass, a walking counter, a thermometer, a star gazer, adventure training, trip plotting, tidal graphs, and sunrise/sunset/moonrise/moonset times. Better yet, the Commando features a physical shortcut button that, when pressed, takes you right into the app

The Bad

  • Underwhelming call quality
  • Touchscreen isn't as responsive as I'd like
  • Performance leaves something to be desired - not to mention just how obsolete the 800MHz processor will be by the time your two-year contract is up
  • The phone ships with the now-antiquated Android 2.2 (Froyo); worse yet, Verizon has included oodles of bloatware as well as Bing... that should speak for itself

In a sentence: The Casio G'zOne Commando isn't the fastest or most feature-packed Android handset on the market, but it sure is durable.

You should buy it if: Ruggedness is your top priority and you don't mind a slightly second-rate smartphone experience.

Still with us? Good, because there's a whole lot more info below - read on!

Hardware

Ruggedness

This is really the G'zOne Commando's main selling point, so we'll address it right off the bat - as its specs (see above) indicate, the phone has passed military testing and is, supposedly, ready to be dropped, thrown, submerged in water, given the boot, or forced to undergo some other method of torture altogether.

For the most part, our testing verified that claim. Even after being catapulted against a wall and dropped on concrete multiple times, the Commando not only remained in one piece, but managed to get by with no more than two small battle scars. Impressive to say the least.

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Water-resistance was a similar story. For obvious reasons, I didn't leave the phone submerged for long, but I did dunk it in a few times, and I was pleased to find that the phone emerged unscathed. Due to elements out of Casio's control (damn you, physics!), the touchscreen isn't very responsive underwater, but you can answer calls while the phone is immersed nonetheless. There really isn't much more to say here; the water-resistance is a nice party trick, and it could certainly come in handy if you're a hiker and you accidentally drop the phone in a stream. So long as...

Be warned that if you submerse the handset without first covering its ports, water could get into it, effectively turning your phone into an outrageously expensive black brick.
   

Design and Build Quality

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Really, the only adjective suitable for the Commando is "manly" - from the eight shiny gray screws (four on the front; four on the back) to the formidable diamond shape, it's obvious that this phone just wasn't made for the couturiers among us. It also wasn't meant for those with small hands - though its screen is rather diminutive compared to most modern smartphones, its monolithic bezel and bulky exterior (the thing is 0.6 inches thick) will likely scare off Lilliputians.

It was, however, aimed squarely at the tough, outdoors-loving guys. If any doubt about this was left in your mind after reading the "Ruggedness" section, it'll disappear the moment you lay your eyes on the phone itself.

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Scratch that; even if you were blindfolded during your first encounter with the Commando, you'd probably be able to figure out what sort of gadget you're dealing with. The first clue should be its weight: at 5.45 ounces, it's definitely more of a Hummer than a Honda. But that's not all; the sharp edges and generally metallic hand-feel certainly add to its macho status. And then you open your eyes and see what you're holding.

Let's start by describing the phone's two ports: one is for microUSB, while the other is a 3.5mm headset jack. Both are sheathed by rubber flaps, which keep the device's innards dry even when submerged in water. They feel a wee bit flimsy, and to be honest, I prefer the sliding doors that cover the Galaxy S' ports, but... they're rubber flaps, and they serve their purpose.

Continuing along the Commando's left side, you'll find a camera button - always a nice addition - as well as an awkwardly placed notification light (it can be hard to see when you're holding the device directly in front of you). Spin the phone 180° to access the volume rocker, a shortcut button which opens the G'zGear app by default, or the power button. The last of these three items can be somewhat frustrating, as it is situated in the lower left-hand corner, where your palm is apt to rest if you're holding the phone in your left hand. A minor issue, to be sure, but it did occasionally force me to let go of the device just so I could turn it off.

Flip the Commando over and you'll be confronted with its black and red backside. The screws that punctuate it add to the aforementioned manly aesthetics, as do the symbols representing the hardships the phone can face. However, you'll need fingernails practically as long as Rihanna's to pry off the battery cover - you'll likely spend about an hour trying to get it off after moving the lock/free switch to the appropriate position. And don't even get me started on replacing the damn thing. I understand why the process is so complicated (it likely has to do with the phone's water- and damage-resistant nature), but that doesn't make it any less infuriating.

Other than the impossibly hard-to-remove battery cover, the back holds the 5MP camera (more on that in a bit), its accompanying LED flash, a secondary microphone, and a green indicator light that blinks whenever the camera app is open - nice touch.

If you've ever seen a Casio G'zOne handset before, you should already have a good idea of what the front of the Commando looks like. Black plastic, red highlights, visible silver screws - we've seen it all before. It's not seductive or fashionable à la Galaxy S II, but it does exhibit ruggedness and durability.

The bottom bezel contains the speaker grille and the microphone, while the top counterpart is home to the bright red earpiece, the temperature sensor (on the dotted rectangle), and the light / proximity sensors (on the smooth rectangle). In between the two is, of course, the 3.6-inch display. Speaking of which...

Display

You'd best look elsewhere if the latest in mobile display technology is what you're after, but all things considered, the G'zOne Commando's LCD isn't bad at all. The WVGA (800x480) resolution looks fantastic on its 3.6-inch screen, and colors are reasonably accurate, if not comparable to, say, Super AMOLED Plus. Despite my premonitions (this isn't exactly VZW's flagship device, after all), I found the viewing angles more than adequate - in fact, they were even wider than those of my EVO 4G.

So the screen looks good, but does it respond to your touches well? In a word, no. Responsiveness was actually so bad I had to check the spec sheet to make sure it was a capacitive display. The bad touchscreen made typing difficult (even with the excellent XT9 keyboard), and some games, especially those controlled by a virtual joystick, were hard to play. Frankly, the poor responsiveness is extremely disappointing, though perhaps understandable given the rugged nature of the device.

Camera

Ugh. The Commando's camera isn't just bad; it's abominable. Seriously, I haven't seen shots this horrible since the epoch of flip phones. Don't believe me? Have a look for yourself:

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To add insult to injury, Casio hasn't tweaked the camera app at all; the stock Froyo program has been left intact and featureless as ever. Suffice to say, if you want a great - or even decent - cameraphone, the G'zOne Commando is not the answer to your prayers.

Software

The good news? Though Casio has included its own custom UI, Android 2.2 (Froyo) has more or less been left intact on the G'zOne Commando - aside from the praise-worthy G'zGear app and a few minor tweaks here and there. The bad news? Bing and a boatload of crapware.

I want to emphasize that there's nothing wrong with Microsoft's search engine; personally, I prefer Google, but to each their own. My beef here is that, on a Google device, Verizon has disabled Google search and hacked the software so that, when the search button is pressed, Bing is brought up. It's as option-less as that - there's no way to change the search provider, and voice recognition is done via Bing as well.

Oh, and then there's the bloatware. The situation is just as bad as it is on the DROID Charge - no fewer than 17 crap apps, several of which duplicate each other's functionality. For instance, why are there three separate search apps (Bing, stock Android's own Search feature, and Nuance Voice Control)? And if the video tutorials are already accessible via the Setup Wizard, why include another app (Guided Tours) which only serves as a link to said instructional clips?

Interestingly enough, the Commando does not ship with Gmail, YouTube, or Google Maps. The first two applications will download automatically when you sign into the Android Market, but the last item on the list must be downloaded from the Market manually. Not an intolerable nuisance, but I don't see why Verizon and Casio couldn't have been bothered to include the programs.

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Bloatware and de-Googlificiation aside, few tweaks have been made to Android 2.2. The lock screen has been altered, sure, and Casio offers a neat slide-up list of favorite applications (see above), but on the whole, not much has been changed - except for the addition of the splendiferous G'zGear app, that is.

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In a sentence, G'zGear is an outdoorsman's best friend. As you can see, the first - and perhaps most noteworthy - tool it offers is a pair of compasses: regular (a simple but useful earth compass) and layer. The latter of these is of particular interest, as it displays mountains, national parks, cities, or other landmarks near you. Its one major downside is the way it switches between layers, or types of public attractions - instead of choosing from a list, you must click a button repeatedly until you arrive at the layer of your choosing. Still, that's a insignificant issue in the grand scheme of things (especially given that almost no other smartphone even offers such an app), and - at least theoretically - it could easily be fixed via a software update.

G'zGear's other features - a walking counter, a thermometer, a constellation viewer, adventure training, trip memory, tidal graphs, sunrise/sunset/moonrise/moonset schedules - probably won't be used as much by hikers, campers, and the like, but they're definitely well made and worth a mention nonetheless. The walking counter provides walking directions for some of America's most popular wildlife trails as well as a standard-issue pedometer for measuring your steps. Adventure training, meanwhile, consists of tips and history related to your running habits, based on your height, weight, age, and gender. Trip memory allows you to plot your trekking, hiking, climbing, camping, cycling, paddling, skiing, snowboarding, surfing, running, travel, and "life" trips before sharing the deets via the usual smorgasbord of social services (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc.). The last two features of the G'zGear app - sun/moon schedules and a star gazer - do precisely what their names imply (namely, a way to identify stars in the constellation and a timetable for local moonrises/moonsets/sunrises/sunsets), so we won't bore you with a full rundown.

All in all, the G'zOne's software isn't anything to write home about, but it's not a complete train wreck, either. If you're an Android purist, this probably isn't your cup of tea - Bing should be reason enough for that - but if you are part of the phone's target demographic, the G'zGear app should be right up your alley, and you shouldn't find the rest of the software too annoying.

Performance, Battery Life, and Call Quality

Though the G'zOne Commando is not a member of Verizon's LTE arsenal, its 3G speeds are not only more than acceptable, but also far more consistent than those of Big Red's competitors. For example, the Commando regularly got two to three bars of reception, even in the woodsiest of woodsy locations. Speeds ranged from 2-3Mbps - not quite as mind-blowing as what LTE or WiMAX can provide, but nothing to scoff at, either.

Call quality, however, was a huge letdown. On every single one of my test calls, the person on the other end of the line reported subpar quality, and the Commando's earpiece is nearly inaudible - I could barely make out what the caller was saying. Big Red's network has, in my experience, been excellent, so I think it's safe to say we can blame Casio for the poor call quality here. Regardless, the G'zOne probably isn't a very good choice if you're into that whole "calling people" thing.

Battery life was about average for an Android phone - the Commando's 1460mAh cell easily made it through a day of moderate use (which involved casual game-playing, a few phone calls, and constant email-checking). When used more heavily, it died just after noon. Acceptable, but definitely not exceptional.

Finally, general smartphone performance was far from ideal - as you may have guessed from the title, the Commando can indeed get quite sluggish at times. Benchmark scores (1085 from Quadrant; 28.505 MFLOPS from Linpack) reflected that - but with an 800MHz processor, does this impotence really surprise anybody?

Conclusion

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The G'zOne Commando isn't for everyone. Power users will seek more powerful machines, while the average consumer will likely be turned off by all the excess junk in the Commando's trunk. But if you're a hiker, construction worker, or other thrill-seeker, the Commando can't be beat. Sure, at $199, it's not the cheapest G'zOne handset, but it's certainly the best. Whereas previous iterations ran proprietary Casio operating systems, the Commando is powered by Android, and it retains the G'zGear tools Casio fans have come to know and love.

In summary, if you're looking for a rugged, durable smartphone, you should take a long, hard look at the G'zOne Commando. For everyone else, however, I can confirm that this is not the DROID you're looking for.