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.