Casio G’zOne Commando 4G LTE (Verizon Wireless) review

The Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE is a super-tough smartphone for Verizon Wireless spelunkers, but of less interest for everyone else.
Photo of Casio G’zOne Commando 4G LTE (Verizon Wireless)

Do you enjoy long walks on the beach, poolside afternoons with a glass of sun tea, and moonlit strolls through the woods? That’s great, but none of those are particularly good places to bring your phone. Think about it—one slip into the sand, one dip into the water, or one flip onto a star-kissed pebble, and it might be time to replace your precious device. And the risk is even greater if you work in a physical environment or like to spend your free time hiking and biking. But you won’t need to worry as much if you carry the $99.99 Casio G’zOne Commando 4G LTE. The Commando 4G LTE is a super-tough smartphone, built for Verizon users more likely to go spelunking than to Sandals. It does what it sets out to do rather well, though it very clearly isn’t for everybody.

Design and Call Quality
Let’s get this out of the way: The Commando 4G LTE has a design you will either love or hate. I fall into the latter category, and I suspect many other people will as well—unless you like your smartphone to look like construction gear, that is. The phone is encased in a thick rubberized shell, with an angular chin, metallic red accents, and lots of exposed, stylized screws. It’s like the phone equivalent of an auto parts store. To each their own.

Rugged phones often get the hyper-masculine treatment, which I suspect limits their appeal considerably. I’m pretty sure there’s a way for manufacturers to design these phones more elegantly, and we’ve seen some sleek water-resistant phones lately, like the Samsung Galaxy S 4 Active and the Sony Xperia Z, but you’re still stuck with designs like this if you want to go the full monty. So first make sure the Commando looks appealing to you before you continue reading.

Of course, all that rubber would be put to waste if it didn’t serve up some serious protection. Thankfully, the Commando meets military standards for 810G certification. That means it can withstand drops, dust, shock, and water. I submerged it in a pitcher of water, and dropped it on the floor of the PCMag Labs a number of times, all without the phone getting scratched or waterlogged. For the water-resistance to work, you need to make sure all of the exterior ports are covered, and the back panel is securely locked in place; once it’s unlocked, the phone’s battery is locked in a second time for additional security. So you can take comfort in knowing this phone is built to handle a day at the beach or at a construction site in equal measure.

The phone measures 5.11 by 2.68 by 0.54 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.17 ounces. It’s pretty bulky, but it’s a good size for one-handed use. There’s a Power button on the top edge of the phone, along with a covered headphone jack. A covered power port sits on the right, with Volume buttons and a programmable Tactile key on the left. If you need to use the phone while wearing gloves, a Glove Mode app makes it easy to read text messages and notifications, check voicemail, make calls, and take pictures while wearing gloves up to 0.07 inches thick.

The 4-inch, 800-by-480-pixel TFT LCD is serviceable. It looks reasonably sharp and bright, but it’s got nothing on most new phones screens, which, at this price, are often larger and feature a higher resolution. The on-screen keyboard is a little small, but I had no trouble typing on it.

The Commando supports Verizon 4G LTE as well as dual-band EV-DO Rev. A. It also supports quad-band GSM and HSPA/UMTS so you can use it in over 205 countries across the world. It can be used as a mobile hotspot to provide a connection to up to 10 devices with the proper service plan, and it supports 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. LTE data speeds were fine where I tested the phone in Manhattan, but nothing to write home about.

Voice quality, on the other hand, is quite good. Incoming calls sound full and clear, though voices can distort a little at top volume. Calls made with the phone sound extremely rich and natural, with excellent background noise cancellation—great if you’re using this phone on a noisy worksite. The speakerphone was clear and loud enough to hear outside, even on a busy stretch of city street. Calls sounded good through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset, and the Nuance-powered voice dialing app worked well. Battery life was average at 9 hours and 5 minutes of talk time.

(Next page: Hardware, Android, Apps, Multimedia, and Conclusions)

Hardware, Android, and Apps
The Commando is powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor. Benchmark scores are on par with other midrange devices, which means this phone is fine for most applications other than high-end gaming. You shouldn’t have trouble running most of the 800,000+ apps available in the Google Play store.

The phone is running Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich), with a pretty heavy overlay from Casio. Again, the look here is dark and mechanical, with what looks like tire tread wallpaper on the Apps menu. But if you like the look of the phone, this will likely suit your taste as well. What I find troubling is the dated version of Android. ICS has been around for well over a year at this point, and it’s getting pretty creaky. There’s no word on an update to a newer version of Android (Jelly Bean), which gets you improved performance and access to cool new features like Google Now. Still, you get plenty of the features you exect from a Android phone, like excellent email support, GPS directions via Google Maps, and YouTube.

The lock screen gives you quick access to the Camera, and also has a compass around the time and date, though the screen will turn off it you don’t tap on it every couple of seconds. Once unlocked, you get five home screens. One is empty, while the rest are loaded with travel-themed apps and widgets, like another compass and a barometer. There’s also a full-screen Amazon ad which you can remove as you see fit.

The Commando 4G LTE has a bunch of bloatware, which is bad. The phone comes preloaded with three apps from Amazon, along with apps from Amex, Audible, the NFL, and Zappos, among others. Unfortunately you can’t delete any of these.

On the other hand, Casio has also loaded the Commando with a bunch of apps that are really cool, provided you’re into the outdoorsy thing. G’zGear, for instance, includes a compass, thermometer, tide calendar, pedometer, sun and moon rise and set times, and a barometer. There’s even an app that points out constellations depending on where you move the phone. And if you want to get social, G’zWorld allows you to record and share field activities with other G’zOne users via mapped routes, dropped pins, and photos. From my location in Manhattan, I was able to see that one user less than a mile away “ran” in their cubicle, while another “hiked” around Lenox Hill. Things got a little more physical out on Long Island, and I also saw some really nice beach photos that had been uploaded.

The Commando has NFC support, which doesn’t have many real world applications yet, but is nice to have. You also get DLNA, for sharing the content of your phone with compatible devices like HDTVs and Blu-ray players. And there’s a built-in FM Radio tuner that works when you plug in any pair of 3.5mm headphones.

Multimedia and Conclusions
You get 10.42GB of free internal storage on the Commando. There’s also the aforementioned microSD slot buried all the way underneath the battery, which is locked down like Fort Knox. My 32GB and 64GB cards worked fine it.

All of our music test files played back except for FLAC and WMA, and sound quality was great over both wired and Bluetooth headphones. All of our test video files also played back smoothly, at resolutions up to 1080p.

The Commando’s 8-megapixel camera is average. Shutter speeds are virtually instantaneous, and the camera captures some pretty good detail. But it falters in color accuracy, and photos look a little washed out no matter the lighting. Video capture is disappointing. The camera is able to record video up to 1080p, but it plays back at a shaky 16 frames per second, looks grainy, and has a halo effect around any source of lighting. There’s a 1.3-megapixel camera on the front of the phone, which is fine for video chat.

You probably already know by now if you’re going to get the Casio G’zOne Commando 4G LTE or not. If you’re a Verizon subscriber, and you want a rugged smartphone, it’s really your only choice. Verizon still sells it predecessor, the G’zOne Commando, but it lags behind the Commando 4G LTE in every possible way—it isn’t worth saving the $50. If you don’t necessarily need a rugged phone, there are lots of other options in this price range. The LG Spectrum 2 and the Pantech Perception are both free with contract, and each phone has a larger, sharper display than the Commando 4G LTE. The HTC Droid DNA, meanwhile, has one of the nicest screens on Verizon, as well as a blazing-fast quad-core processor, and can be had for half the price of the Commando. You can always fit one of these phones out with a rugged case, but none of these are particularly rugged themselves, and that may make or break your decision.

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network GSM, CDMA, UMTS, LTE
Screen Resolution 800 x 480 pixels
NFC Yes
Dimensions 5.11 x 2.68 x 0.54 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 b/g/n
Video Camera Resolution 1080p
Battery Life (As Tested) 9 hours 5 minutes
Available Integrated Storage 10.42 GB
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
GPS Yes
Service Provider Verizon Wireless
Total Integrated Storage 16 GB
High-Speed Data EVDO Rev A, LTE, CDMA 1X
Weight 6.17 oz
Screen Type TFT LCD
Operating System as Tested Android 4.0.4
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 8.7 MP Rear
1.3 MP Front-Facing
Screen Pixels Per Inch 233 ppi
Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 700
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 4 inches
Bluetooth Version 4

Verdict
The Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE is a super-tough smartphone for Verizon Wireless spelunkers, but of less interest for everyone else.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc