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printed December 22, 2014
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Review: Casio G'zOne Brigade

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The Casio Brigade meets the military specifications 810F standard for water, shock and dust resistance; immersion; vibration; and low and high temperature storage. It can even withstand salt fog, a problem I hope to never encounter, but if you find yourself in a salty, foggy environment, there are very few phones on the market that can handle these problems, and only one with a full QWERTY keyboard.

The Brigade looks every bit the part. Besides the rubberized seals and larger buttons that you’d expect from a rugged device, the Casio G’zOne family tends toward flourishes like rivets and metal guard posts. I half-expected to open the phone and find steel plate, but Verizon Wireless saved this for the interface theme, not the exterior.

The Casio Brigade won’t fit in your pocket, unless you wear cargo pants and a flak jacket. It’s about twice as thick as your standard, svelte tablet phone, and the hinge protrudes from the top and bottom of the device. But it opens with a solid clack, like popping the hood on a Jeep.

There’s a full numeric keypad on the outside of the phone and a four row QWERTY keyboard inside, plus plenty of extra buttons all around. On the front, in addition to the d-pad, you’ll find shortcuts for text messaging, a favorites speed dial list, the camera and even a button that turns on the LED flash around back so you can use it as a flashlight, a very useful feature for this outdoorsy device.

The front keypad gave me some trouble during calls. Once I was done speaking, pressing the End key only woke the display from sleeping, it didn’t actually end calls. This was embarrassing when I left extra long voicemail messages, thinking I had already hung up.

On the side of the phone, you get a big, red button for push-to-talk (PTT). There’s also a volume rocker that could be a little larger; it’s difficult to press with work gloves on. You’ll also find a dedicated music button, which should give a hint that this phone is about play time as much as it’s about work. On the back of the phone, a lock switch holds the waterproof battery cover in place.

The QWERTY keyboard is surprisingly good for such a rugged phone. The buttons are just large enough to hit with covered thumbs, and the keys are raised nicely with plenty of travel room. Typos were few and far between, though I wish the period key wasn’t up high next to the ‘Q’. I found the ‘clear’ key to be a little close to the down press on the internal d-pad, and I sometimes deleted or quit an app when I wanted to move the cursor down. There are also some shortcuts paired with letter keys, so you can hold down the ‘C’ to activate the camera. There are also shortcuts for the camcorder, speakerphone and voice recording tool, as well as another text messaging key.

Usually I get annoyed to find the memory card slot hidden underneath the battery, but with its tight-fitting seals and stiff battery cover, I could forgive the Casio G'zOne this inconvenience. It's very difficult to remove the back cover, but the fit is nice and tight, keeping water (and salt fog) out. The headphone jack and the charging port are both on the left side of the phone, hidden beneath large covers with their own O-ring seals. You don't have to use the charging port, though, because the Casio Brigade comes with a convenient power dock. Just slip in the phone and it charges without having to pry any covers loose.

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