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Casio's G'zOne phones have been heralded as the most rugged mainstream phones on the market. I've personally tested out a few rugged phones and the Casio G'zOne device held up the best under rugged testing. Though most of them are basic flip phones, they are still excellent choices for anyone with an active lifestyle or ones or work a lot outdoors. The Commando, however, is a full-fledged Android smartphone that boasts 3G speeds, decent processing power, Flash 10.1, and G'zGEAR, a suite of apps designed for those whose lives take them mostly to the great outdoors. On top of that, it's still just as durable as any other G'zOne phone.

Design & Features

Being a rugged phone, the Commando is naturally chunky, but I was actually surprised by how slim it felt in my hands. Don't get me wrong, at 5.1-inches tall, 2.5-inches wide, and .6-inches thick, this thing has a large footprint, but Casio managed to design the Commando in such a way that it's not overbearing. There's plenty of angles, ridges, and red accent grooves to give the phone a robotic, futuristic feel. The exposed screws give it an added "rugged" impression.

With a shell that's 5-inches tall, you would probably expect a larger display than the 3.6-inch panel that the Commando sports, but remember that most of that length comes from "padding." The display has a resolution of 480x800, decent for a phone that most would brush off as just another rugged phone of no consequence. It's not quite mid-ranged like you would expect. The pixel density is much better than mid-range phones so it doesn't suffer from rough text that shows each pixel that makes up the letters. No, on the Commando, text is smooth, pictures are clear, and the display is pleasing to the eyes.

Casio actually decided to put the speaker grill on the front on the phone, situated right below the display. There's enough plastic molding there to make this work. The right side of the phone contains the dedicated camera button, the microUSB port, and the 3.5mm headphone jack. Interestingly, the notification light is also on the right side of the phone instead of the front panel where most manufacturers place it. I'm not sure why they decided to move it and this position does make it slightly more difficult to see when it's blinking, but it's actually larger than most notification lights so this seems to make up for its weird position.

The left side of the phone is where you'll find the power/screen unlock button, the docking port, a tactile key, and the volume rocker keys. The tactile key is basically a shortcut button that can be programmed for pretty much anything - Messages, Direct Dial, G'zGEAR, etc. By default, it opens G'zGEAR when pressed. There is a microSD card slot underneath the battery. The Commando actually ships with an 8GB card and supports up to 32GB.

Usability & Performance

In the introduction, I mentioned the Commando's "decent processing power." It ships with an 800 MHz Qualcomm processor. There are speedier processors out there, but this one is no slouch. I did noticed some lag here and there, mostly when in the homescreen. There were times when transitions were slightly choppy or there was a slight delay between actions. Some of this can also be attributed to the screen itself. In order to ensure durability, the screen is thicker than most so sometimes you have to press harder to get a response, making it seem unresponsive. I wish there was a way around this for manufacturers, but I understand the point so I'm willing to cut the Commando's display some slack in this regard.

For the most part, the Commando uses stock Android. (It ships with version 2.2.) There are a few custom Casio design elements, but these aren't quite custom UI features. Casio has added a few Live Wallpapers, several well-designed clock widget options, a new app drawer icon at the bottom of the display, a phone shortcut icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the homescreen, a custom keyboard, and a new pull out tab that brings up a customizable list of shortcuts. The previously mentioned G'zGEAR apps also have their own widgets. By default, the Commando uses Bing for search and maps, but you can easily download Google's apps and set them as the default services. I know I did. The keyboard that Casio has included works similar to the Swype keyboard. You drag your finger across the keys to spell out a word. The downside is that this is the only keyboard included and it's not the best. I had to swipe slower than usual and when I used it like a normal keyboard, with two-thumb typing, I also had to be more careful since the autocorrect function doesn't work very well. I wish Casio had included other keyboards, like the Android keyboard, but you can download others from the Android market.

Let's talk about these G'zGEAR apps. While most people would say that a rugged phone like this would be best suited for construction workers, contractors, and the like, I think that these GzGEAR apps really set the Commando's target user as the one who travels a lot, enjoys camping, backpacking, and general outside activities. The G'zGEAR suite includes Earth Compass, Walking Counter, Adventure Training, Thermometer, Tide Calculator, Trip Memory, Sun/Moon, and Star Gazer. Most of these are self-explanatory. The Adventure Training app allows you to select a pre-programmed trek like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or walking to the North Pole. Once you start walking it will tell you when to change course in order to follow the simulated path. The Thermometer app actually reads the temperature of your area with a thermometer inside the phone instead of simply pulling the information from the internet. Sun/Moon gives you detailed information about the Sunrise/Sunset and Moonrise/Moonset. All of these may seem gimmicky to some, but I honestly think they would be useful to a certain group of people. These apps are very well-designed, work well, and provide accurate and detailed information. They're not cheap "toy" apps. The widget for each app is also well-designed and useful. The weather widget that Casio designed not only tells you the weather for the current and next day, but it also tells you what to wear - a T-shirt, sweater, etc.

The Commando ships with a 5-megapixel autofocus camera and an LED flash. It also captures WVGA (480p) video. I didn't find anything disappointing nor exciting about the camera. It performed well and took decent pictures. The video captured by the camera was actually clearer than I expected, but it's still not much to brag about. The flash is very bright. In fact, the phone comes with a Flashlight widget that allows you to use the flash as a, you guessed it, flashlight. When turned on, it was bright enough to light up an entire room. One thing that did cause problems was the camera button. Whenever I pressed it to take a picture, no matter how still I kept my hand, the picture always came out blurry, as if the action of pressing and releasing the button caused a jolt even though the phone was barely affected. I eventually resorted to simply using the onscreen shutter key.

Now let's talk about how durable this phone is. The Commando meets military standards for immersion, rain, shock and dust resistance, vibration, salt fog, humidity, solar radiation, altitude, and low and high temperature storage. I decided to test out the durability of the Commando and put it through a few tests. I dropped it a couple of times, dunked it in about a foot of water for 30 seconds, rubbed it in dirt, and tossed it in the dryer for a few minutes. The result? The phone still works. After taking it out of the dryer, the screen was unresponsive but I was able to fix it and now everything works perfectly. Pretty impressive.

Web browsing on the Commando was pretty fast. The stock Android web browser gave me some problems and scrolling and zooming in and out was choppy so I downloaded an alternative browser and things were much smoother. The Commando is a 3G device and uses EV-DO Rev A. for data. Also, because it ships with Android 2.2, it supports Adobe Flash 10.1. Not only that, but the Commando can also serve as a 3G Mobile Hot Spot. Overall, I'm impressed with the data features and performance of the Commando. Average download speeds on Verizon's network were 1-2 Mbps and upload speeds hovered around just under 1 Mbps.

Battery life on the Commando is also impressive. On standby, the Casio's 1,460 mAh battery lasted nearly two full days and boasts over seven hours with constant use, an estimate that should easily give you at least a full day with normal use.

Conclusion

Before I tested the Casio Commando, I thought it would be just another rugged phone and assumed that performance would be sub-par. I was pleasantly surprised. Overall performance and speeds were adequate, web browsing and data speeds were impressive, and the Casio G'zGEAR is well-designed and useful. This phone is not just for people who drop their phone a lot. If you're the kind of person that goes camping on every available occasion, considers themselves a world traveler, or enjoys an active lifestyle, the Commando is the perfect phone for you.

What's Good: Durable; great data speeds; Android; decent camera; Casio G'zGEAR; great battery life.

What's Bad: Pre-installed Casio keyboard is not that great; thicker display means it is sometimes unresponsive to soft touch.

The Verdict: Durable, reliable, smart - not a whole lot to complain about.


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