Two good gadgets ready for holidays

Plugged In

Near-indestructible cell phone, personal iPod viewer fill bill

December 14, 2006|By Mike Himowitz | Mike Himowitz,Sun Columnist

One of the perks of this column is the chance to try out electronic gadgets -- especially during the holidays, when gadget shopping reaches the frenzy stage.

After all these years, however, it takes a pretty good gadget to get my attention. Here are a couple that passed the test this year because (a) they solve real, if not terribly important, problems, and (b) they're fun to use.

By coincidence, each costs $299, which seems to be a popular limit for impulse-buying these days.

Verizon G'zOne Type-V Rugged Phone. Two years ago, I relayed a tale of woe from my son, the serial cell-phone abuser. It began when his phone was tossed into a swimming pool during a rowdy party (it was in his pocket at the time). The phone recovered after an extended dry-out, but my son wasn't finished. A few weeks later, he left the phone in his pocket and ran his jeans through the washing machine -- a shake-`n'-soak from which it eventually expired.

If this sounds like something your offspring, spouse or significant other might do, check out the new G'zOne phone, manufactured by Casio.

Verizon says it's built to "military specifications" for users with outdoor lifestyles. That means it resists impact, vibration, dust, extreme temperatures and, most importantly, water. It certainly stood up to our family's test regimen -- which was hardly scientific but highly entertaining.

The first thing you notice about the G'zOne is the Real Man aura it exudes -- the phone is big and rugged, with a gray techno-Neanderthal gunmetal design that makes it looks like a prop from a postapocalyptic sci-fi movie. It's bulkier and an ounce or two heavier than today's wimpy featherweight phones -- and comes complete with a heavy duty, bolt-on bumper. My guess: Women will buy exactly zero of these things. It's for guys who want a phone they can knock around -- and show off.

Now our tests. I'll concede upfront that the Himowitz Lab doesn't have what it takes to determine whether the G'zOne will operate in 140-degree heat, weather a desert sandstorm, shrug off a solar flare or survive re-entry in the nose cone of a rocket.

But we did drop the phone a lot -- from a variety of heights onto a variety of surfaces, including hardwood floors and concrete sidewalks. OK, I even threw it at a wall -- something the average male will do at least once in his life. The case showed some nicks and scratches, but the phone worked fine.

Now for the real fun. Verizon claims that the G'zOne will survive driving rain and immersion in 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. So I started by making calls from the shower. No problem. Then I chucked the phone into a bowl full of water for an hour -- no problem.

Finally, replicating my son's original stupid-phone trick, we stuck the G'zOne in the pocket of a pair of jeans and tossed it into our top loader with the rest of the laundry.

After a half-hour of chuka-chuka, whoosh-whoosh, hroom-hroom, we got curious and dialed the G'zOne's number. Listening closely, we could hear it ringing above the slosh of the rinse cycle. Cool! A half-hour later, when the machine finished and we dialed again, the phone rang loud and clear.

Finally, we put the phone in the dryer, but after 10 minutes it began clanging so loudly against the tumbler wall that that my wife said, "Enough!" So we gave up, wiped the phone with a towel, and it's been working fine ever since -- about three weeks now.

So, it's tough. Would you really want to use the G'zOne every day? Surprisingly, I would. Its heft actually makes it far more comfortable to use than most of today's skimp-phones. The large, color flip-up screen is easy to read, as is the circular, porthole-style screen on the outside of the case. The buttons also are big enough for ham-handed guys like me.

As far as features go, the GzOne is upscale, with voice dialing, Verizon's V-Cast news and video, GPS location service, games, text messaging and other goodies. It includes a two-megapixel camera with a flash, and if you subscribe to Verizon's wireless broadband service, you can use the G'zOne as a laptop computer modem. Most of these goodies require extra fees, of course.

On the downside, the G'zOne doesn't have Blue- tooth capability for wireless headsets, and it won't play MP3 music files. More to the point, it won't fall back to Verizon's old, but ubiquitous, analog network if a digital signal isn't available. That's a serious omission in a phone marketed for outdoor use.

Still, the G'zOne is a rugged, well-designed phone that's a pleasure to use. Avoid the temptation to repeatedly show your friends just how tough it is, and it will probably survive for a long time. Watch an entertaining online demo at www.casiogzone.com

MyVu Personal Media Viewer for the iPod. Watching video on an iPod is like watching a dog walk on its hind legs. It's not a matter of how well the dog does it, but the fact that it walks at all.

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