Casio may be better known for its slim Exilim cameras than its mobile handsets in the U.S. The only Casio phones available in the U.S. have been the G’zOne series of handsets, all of which are ruggedized and built to withstand the elements. The G’zOne Type-V was the first, followed by the G’zOne Type-S, and most recently the G’zOne Boulder. While these phones are certainly tough, they’re not exactly slim and stylish, and they’re a little lacking the multimedia department, too.
Well, Casio has decided to combine the Exilim camera brand with its rugged handset philosophy, resulting in the Casio Exilim C721, possibly the country’s first high-end megapixel camera phone built to be water and shock resistant. Indeed, the C721 has a 5.1-megapixel camera with plenty of features that rival that of standalone point-and-shoots. It even has a rotating display that fold out to act as a camera viewfinder. On top of that, it comes with a music player, EV-DO Rev. A, and a HTML Web browser. If you want a high-quality feature phone built to withstand the elements, the C721 is certainly the one to get. Still, the C721 won’t be cheap–it’ll cost $279.99 with a two-year service agreement and a $50 mail-in rebate, which is pricier than most smartphones.
The Casio Exilim C721 does not look a thing like a ruggedized phone. Unlike its G’zOne brethren, the Exilim C721 has a sleek, smooth, and stylish exterior, which is more indicative of the Exilim brand. You would never think that the Exilim C721 is military-certified (under code MIL-STD 810F) to withstand immersion in water, blowing rain, shock, dust, vibration salt fog, humidity, solar radiation, and high altitudes. The chassis is a hard plastic shell, and the headset and microSD ports are protected with tight rubber seals. There’s also a slide lock mechanism for the battery cover. Though we didn’t submit the C721 to the same battery of tests as the military, we did dunk it in water and throw it on the floor a few times to test its durability. It kept on working without a problem. We even managed to take a couple of photos with the camera while it was still in a tank of water.
Measuring 4.06 inches long by 1.97 inches wide by 0.77 inch thick and weighing 4.76 ounces, the C721 is wide yet slim, and has a nice solid heft in the hand. The entire front surface of the C721 is clad in glossy black save for the Verizon logo at the bottom. However, if you activate the phone, you will see a monochrome OLED display that shows the signal strength, battery life, and a digital or analog clock (you can choose the clock format in the settings). It also displays caller ID, and if you have any new messages or missed calls. It even shows the currently playing track if you have the music player activated. Of course, it doesn’t support photo caller ID, and you can’t adjust things like backlight or font size.
On the left of the phone are a microSD card slot and a charging pad. On the right are a headset jack, a back button that doubles as a rewind or previous track key for the music player, volume controls that can be used to navigate the camera’s menu and act as camera zoom controls when in camera mode, a side control key that can only be used in camera mode for selecting functions and settings, and the camera shutter button. On the back of the C721 are the camera lens, a very bright LED flash that can also act as a flashlight, and an external speaker.
Flip open the phone and you’ll see a beautiful 2.3-inch display with 262,000 color support. It’s bright, vibrant, and colorful, which really shines when using the display as a digital photo frame. You can adjust the screen’s backlight time, the menu display, the clock format, and the size of the dial fonts. But there’s another very interesting thing you can do with the front flip; you can actually twist it so that the color display faces outward, and then close the phone, thus transforming it into a large viewfinder for the camera. In fact, doing so actually activates the camera and all of the controls on the right side of the phone become the aforementioned camera controls. This really makes the Exilim C721 look and feel like a regular point-and-shoot camera. For self-portraits, you can twist the display so that both the viewfinder and camera lens are facing you.
Of course, the Exilim C721 is still a phone, so when you twist it open again, you’ll find the typical navigation array and number keypad underneath the display. The navigation array consists of two soft keys, a round toggle with middle confirmation key, a dedicated camera/camcorder key, and a speakerphone key that doubles as the flashlight key (which just turns the LED flash on). The up, left, and down direction on the toggle can be mapped to user-defined shortcuts, while the right direction leads to a My Shortcuts pop-up menu, which you can customize with up to four more shortcuts. The Send, Clear/voice command, and End/Power keys are clustered together with the number keypad. The keypad is spacious, and the keys are separated by slight edges and indentations, so it’s easy to dial by feel.
The Casio Exilim C721 comes with a handy charging/syncing dock. When you dock in the C721 with the display facing outward, it will automatically trigger the photo frame or slideshow mode. We liked the dock because it’s convenient to simply drop the phone in to sync and charge. You can also charge the phone by plugging in the charging cable directly into the headset jack. However, you do need the dock to sync the phone with your computer, which can be rather annoying.
The Casio Exilim C721 comes with a generous 1,000-entry phone book, with room in each entry for five phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can then organize them into groups, pair them with a photo for caller ID, and one of 12 polyphonic ringtones. You can also choose not to have a ringtone at all if you want. Other basic features include a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a countdown timer, a world clock, a notepad, a speakerphone, a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, and voice commands.
More advanced users will like the GPS support with VZ Navigator, stereo Bluetooth, mobile instant messenger (AIM, Yahoo, and Windows Live Messenger), links to mobile Web e-mail (this launches the browser), and visual voice mail (which costs $3 a month). You can also get a mobile e-mail app so your e-mail arrives directly to your in-box, but the app costs $5 to download.