That’s a partial list of the various mobile devices surrounding me at the moment – the ones within visual range here at the office, anyway. The group represents a fairly average cross-section of today’s mobile landscape, ranging from the midrange to the high-end and including the four major platforms being sold in the US. They are all very advanced devices, more capable and more powerful than full-on desktop computers sold not that many years ago.
But in one (very specific and very narrow) sense, all of these phones pale in comparison to a big behemoth that’s been sitting in their midst for months now. A black-and-red brick custom-built for a single US carrier, and custom-made for a certain kind of buyer, with a nearly unpronounceable brand name and a nearly nonexistent mind share among “average” consumers. That device: the Casio G’zOne Commando.
Nothing about this device will impress traditional spec geeks. Despite the efforts of the most elaborate website ever to make you feel otherwise, the Commando isn’t what you’d call “exciting” under the hood: a single-core Qualcomm MSM7630 pokes along at 800MHz, driving Android 4.0.4 on a 3.6″ display. For a 2013 smartphone, the Commando is almost comically underpowered.
But hiding beneath the underwhelming specs and clunky exterior design is a suite of important features. They’re important despite their lack of broad appeal, and despite being filed under an obscure app folder called “Gz’GEAR.” (Seriously, Casio/Verizon, do something about this ridiculous branding.) These features are what make the Commando stand out from the pack as one of the more innovative and futuristic devices in the modern landscape – a kind of alternate-reality example of the “path not taken” in smartphone design.
That’s right, we’re talking about the Commando’s sensor package: alongside the typical proximity and ambient light sensors, the phone features a gyro-augmented accelerometer, compass, and a barometer/thermometer combo. You might say the Commando is very in touch with its environment.
“But so what?” you ask. Most of that stuff -namely, the accelerometer/gyro and light/prox duo- has been standard on smartphones for years. And even barometers and thermometers have started popping up in newer devices like the Galaxy S 4 and Nokia’s recent Lumias. So you could make a convincing case that there’s no real breakthrough to be found here.
Point taken. But the real key to the Commando’s win here is software: Casio has included excellent apps right out of the box to take advantage of those special sensors, just as it’s done for many of its G’zOne products back through the ages. And unlike Samsung’s approach with S Health, the apps aren’t dedicated to a single function like keeping track of the ideal workout environment. Rather, the sensor data is made available to a suite of custom apps built right in to the Commando’s heavily-skinned custom UI.
The result is a software package that lets you see things like atmospheric pressure, temperature highs and lows, steps taken, and compass heading – not just in their own siloed apps, but also right on your home screen via widgets. Granted, that’s not the most exciting thing in the world to most people, but when it’s augmented by the data-driven elements of G’zGear like star charts, tide tables, and solar and lunar cycle schedules, it makes for a compelling integrated experience for the nature-lover. This is an outdoorsman’s phone through-and-through.
But even if you’re not a tree-chopping, boot-clomping mountain (wo)man, there’s an element of futuristic excellence to the Commando. Because rather than relying on an external source, like a cellular network, for (most of) its outdoorsy goodness, the Commando takes local readings and gives you the results. That’s the kind of future I think many folks expected from handheld devices, thanks in no small part to the tricorders of Star Trek and similar sci-fi inventions. A device that can do all of its own sensing and thinking, without the need for outside help, counts for more than just raw capability; it provides a powerful sense of independence. Combined with the Commando’s mil-spec durability and waterproofing, it creates a feeling of near-invulnerability. That’s something not many handheld devices can claim.
So is the G’zOne Commando for you? Unless you’re a contractor or a boat captain moonlighting as a lumberjack, probably not. But what this device -and its entire product family- represents is something worth admiring: a niche category of phones built not just to stand up to physical abuse, but to provide useful features independent of outside help. That may sound like equivocation or prepper paranoia, but I actually find it admirable. And, for the sake of my childhood expectations of what my grown-up self would be carrying in his pockets, I hope the folks behind the Casio G’zOne line continue to churn out interesting stuff like this.
Preferably under a more-pronounceable name.
If you’d like a Commando of your own for use in the States, head on over to Verizon Wireless to snap one up. And be sure to stop by our forums afterward to let us know what you think of the black-and-red behemoth!