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Hands-on Review: Hard cases for the Tungsten T
By: Steve Gingras (steve@gingras.org)
April 30, 2003

Indiana Jones had life easy. Oh sure, finding the Holy Grail was a little difficult with all those Nazis and that wrath of God thing, but at least Indiana knew that the Grail existed. I, on the other hand, have been scouring the countryside and battling evil in my quest and I'm not even sure that the object of my desire is out there - the ultimate hard case for a Tungsten T.

With all the excitement surrounding the release of the new Tungsten C and the Zire 71, you might have all forgotten about the best darn Palm model available. Built in camera? WiFi? Yeah, whatever. The Tungsten T still reins as the champion of PDA industrial design. Oh sure, more memory and on-screen graffiti out of the box would be nice, but a little shareware and a 256 MB SD card and Tungsten T owners are back on top. "Gosh, your new Tungsten C has only 64 MB of RAM? That must be rough." Okay, my insecurity has subsided...back to my quest.

If you read my last review, then you know that when we last met, I had settled for a Palm-branded hard case, but wasn't completely satisfied with the choice. While this case fits the TT quite well and features handy storage for two SD cards, it lacks a cutout to provide access to the TT's universal connector. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that the Palm-branded hard case's fit and finish just doesn't due justice to the TT. This case hides the TT's elegant design rather than complements it. While a rational man might just accept a couple flaws and actually start using his PDA, I cannot. I am not that man. I am on a quest.

A rose by any other name...

While scouring the web for alternative hard cases, one name kept surfacing above all others. Well, to be accurate, I should say three names. Innopocket, Saunders/RhinoSkin, and Proporta each sell a hard case for the Tungsten T that is based on a common design. In fact, the TT case sold by each of these companies is virtually identical with the exception of logo branding. Regardless of brand, users of cases based on this design have consistently rated the case design highly. Since such reviews tend to be somewhat subjective, however, I decided to test this case design myself and compare the results to the Palm-branded hard case. So which case did I buy? They are pretty much all the same...right? So what would a reasonable man do? Who knows. I bought all three.

I contacted each company on a Saturday evening (have I mentioned that I spend way too much time on these things?) and then moved outside to camp on my front steps waiting for the cases to arrive. Innopocket blew away the other two case manufacturers by responding to my e-mail Sunday evening and having their case arrive via FedEx Tuesday morning. I was actually pleasantly surprised when I accepted the package from the delivery man. A consistent thread that I noted with reviews of this case was that it was rather heavy and featured numerous sharp edges. I'm not sure what I expected. I suppose something like a brick with protruding razor blades. I'm happy to say that the Innopocket case was far less ominous.

My first impression of the Innopocket case was based solely on the case's appearance. While such an assessment is unavoidably subjective, I believe that anyone who appreciates the Tungsten T's design will immediately appreciate the fit and finish of the Innopocket case. The gunmetal grey color of this aluminum case matches the TT's color almost exactly. The finish is not as smooth, however, which is actually an advantage. Instead of the TT's smooth finish, the Innopocket case has a subtle powder coat, which reduces the chance of the unit slipping out of your hand - a frequent complaint of TT owners.

Impressed with the case's exterior appearance, I next decided to see how well the Tungsten T fit. My first surprise came when I opened the case. This case opens to the right, which is the opposite direction of the Palm-branded hard case. While I have been able to use the case without too much trouble, this design may provide a disproportionate advantage for left-handed users. The case is not available from any one of the three vendors in a model that opens to the left. Innopocket does, however, manufacturer dual versions of their cases for several other PDAs - one model that opens to the left and one model that opens to the right. In such configurations, Innopocket refers to the model that opens to the right as the version "for lefties". Thus, they may have a hard time explaining why this case isn't also a left-handed model. A close examination of the case, however, appears to reveal the motivation behind this design. Unlike the Palm-branded hard case, the Innopocket case's hinge does not significantly protrude from the side of the case. Instead, it is more tightly integrated into the case. While this design makes the case more compact, it appears to have prevented the designers from placing the hinge on the left side of the case without interfering with the cutout on the left side, which provides access to the TT's voice record button, microphone, and headphone jack. The result, however, is only mildly distracting when using the case and may even be preferred by some right-handed users. Regardless, all users will appreciate the access the lid design provides to the TT's side mounted controls when the lid is open.

An examination of the case's interior reveals a significant difference from the Palm-branded hard case. The Palm case is primarily a plastic skeleton with a thin metal veneer on the front and rear exterior faces of the case. No such flimsy structure here. The Innopocket case is made entirely of rigid aluminum, which provides a significantly greater degree of protection. While in the case, the TT's finish is protected by a thin layer of neoprene, which lines the case's interior surfaces. This neoprene also adds a limited degree of shock protection. The TT fits in the case by sliding downward between two rolled edges that girdle the lower portion of the unit. The case's neoprene lining helps ensure that the TT does not slide out of the case inadvertently. In fact, sliding the TT in and out of the case is rather difficult at first and requires a significant degree of force. Fortunately, the lining adapts to the TT after several weeks of use, after which, inserting and removing the unit becomes somewhat easier. After several weeks, however, inserting and removing the TT from the case still requires some degree of force...enough to know that the TT is never falling out of this case.

When inserted in the case, the user has easy access to all of the Tungsten T's controls and ports. The top is completely open so accessing the stylus, SD card port, and power button is a breeze. An opening in the case's left side allows easy access to the voice record button, microphone, and headphone jack while an opening in the bottom portion of the case allows access to the TT's universal connector. The case design does not, however, allow you to place the TT in the cradle while in the case. Instead, this opening primarily provides access for a portable charge/synch cable. If you want to place your TT in the cradle or use an accessory like the new Palm-branded ultra thin folding keyboard, you will have to wrestle the TT out of this case's neoprene grip. This limitation has not been a significant issue for me as my cradle sits idle for the most part. Personally, I prefer to use a portable charge/synch cable since they fit nicely in a laptop bag, backpack, etc. and are then always available. I do, however, wish that I could leave the TT in its case while using the new Palm keyboard. Oh well, I suppose that I'll cut Innopocket some slack and not mention how I cut myself while trying to get my TT out of the case during a meeting while attempting to use the keyboard. Whoops...I guess that I did mention it. It's not that the case has as many sharp edges as reports floating around the web might indicate, but the combination of a rugged metal case and the case's firm neoprene grip on the TT can be an issue if you are accident prone. I'm writing the incident off as more of an issue related to my hand-eye coordination rather than a flaw in the case design, but my lawyers are looking into the issue just in case. Did I mention that my neck hurts also?

Extending the TT in the case is a breeze. The top portion of the rear face has a thoughtful cutout that allows the user to grasp both the front and rear of the top portion of the TT to extend the unit out of the top of the case. Unlike the Palm-branded hard case, however, the case lid cannot be closed while the TT is extended. The top portion of the case lid has a lip that partially wraps around the top of the TT. I'm not sure what the designers were going for here. I suppose that this lip would stop the TT from sliding out of the case...that is, if the case didn't hang on to the TT like Anna Nicole Smith hangs on to a man with an AARP card, a pension, and a heart condition. This lip does provide a slight added measure of protection to the top portion of the TT. The lip also slightly recesses the TT's power button, which is welcome for those of us who have not yet installed shareware to defeat such inadvertent activations. The downside to this design, however, is that the user must ensure that the TT is retracted before attempting to close the case.

Another issue with extending the TT while in the case relates to the side opening for the voice record control and headphone jack. When the TT is extended, access to the voice record button is blocked almost completely. Access to the headphone jack is still available, but you must unplug your headphone cable prior to extending the TT and then reinsert the cable after the TT is extended. While I am not often tempted to extend the TT while listening to MP3s, I would have preferred a design more along the lines of the Palm-branded hard case's opening, which leaves the top portion of this side cutout open.

Unlike the Palm-branded hard case, the Innopocket case lid snaps shut firmly. When open, however, the case lid is free floating. Thus, the case lid tends to be either all the way open or closed. The case lacks the thoughtful hinge design of the Palm-branded hard case that allows that case lid to lock in the 45 and 90 degree open positions. While the free floating hinge design has not been a huge issue, I do miss the handy 45 degree stop position that was available with the Palm case. I also find the free floating hinge somewhat troublesome while reading an eBook for extended periods.

When closed, the lid provides excellent protection for the TT. Several reports floating around state that the neoprene actually presses against the TT's hard buttons. While I can see a slight indentation in the neoprene for the bottom portion of the TT's 5-way navigation button, no such markings are present for the buttons that actually power the unit on. Applying significant "don't try this at home" levels of force to the case lid failed to activate the unit.

So what about the weight? Well, this case is heavier than the Palm-branded hard case. In fact, it is a full TEN GRAMS heavier! Being from the States, I was convinced that this was something like four pounds, but several of my British friends convinced me that this is actually only a fraction of an ounce. They are generally trustworthy folks so I suppose that we can believe them. The highly scientific "balance a case in the each hand" test tends to back them up. I find the difference in weight to be negligible.

RhinoSkin arrives, Proporta still MIA

After I had finally managed to break in the neoprene on the Innopocket case, the RhinoSkin case finally arrived. A close examination of this case revealed that it was clearly the same design and, potentially, manufacturer. So is there any way that I was going to bag the Innopocket case and start wrestling with virgin neoprene that wanted to engage in TT tug-of-war? Well, did I mention the cool RhinoSkin logo?

The Innopocket case does not feature any exterior markings on the case. In this respect, the case is a simple yet elegant extension of the TT. The RhinoSkin case, however, features a subtle embossed RhinoSkin logo on the case lid. I suppose that the final assessment of which style is preferable is a personal matter, but I switched to the RhinoSkin case because I liked the logo. So what about the Proporta case? Well, I can't really say. That case has still not arrived. My research indicates, however, that the Proporta case is identical to the Innopocket and RhinoSkin cases with the exception of branding. The Proporta case has markings on both the case lid and the rear side. The marking on the case lid is an embossed version of the Proporta logo, while the marking on the rear is a silk screened URL for the Proporta web site. Once again, your preference will reign here, but pictures that I have seen would have me lean more toward an unmarked case than carry the Proporta case as branded. Your mileage may vary.

 

Conclusion

So...am I still using the Palm-branded hard case? Definitely. I am using it to protect a small portion of my bookshelf from gathering dust. It is unlikely, however, to grace my TT again. The hard cases from Innopocket and RhinoSkin provide substantially more protection and just look so much better than the Palm case. In my opinion, the Palm-branded hard case hides the elegant design of the TT while the Innopocket/RhinoSkin/Proporta case serves as an elegant extension of the TT design. In the look and feel department, there is no comparison.

From a pure functional point of view, the winner is not as clear. Both cases allow easy extension of the TT, yet only the Palm-branded hard case allows you to leave a headphone cable plugged in while extending. The Palm case also allows you to access the voice record control while the TT is extended as well as close the case lid - features lacking in the Innopocket/ RhinoSkin/Proporta case. The Palm case also allows easy removal (without Band-Aides) of the TT to utilize a cradle or other universal connector-based accessory. Of course, the Palm case must provide this ease of removal since it lacks a cutout providing access to this connector. The Palm case's lack of a death grip may also result in the TT becoming dislodged inadvertently. While I did not experience such an inadvertent dislodgement while using the Palm case, others have complained about this issue. The Palm case also features internal storage for two additional SD cards, which the Innopocket/ RhinoSkin/Proporta case lacks.

In my opinion, however, the Innopocket/ RhinoSkin/Proporta case is the superior hard case...and perhaps the best available for the Tungsten T. The side cutout limitations really haven't been an issue for me. Also, I tend to use a charge/synch cable rather than the cradle. I suppose the fact that I routinely go for days of extended TT use without ever feeling the need to remove the TT from the Innopocket/ RhinoSkin/Proporta case speaks highly of its design. If you use a cradle exclusively, however, and do not foresee purchasing a portable charge/synch cable, then you may want to take a closer look at the Palm-branded hard case. The same applies for anyone who uses a folding keyboard or other universal connector-based accessory. If you already own or foresee purchasing a portable charge/synch cable, however, there is no question that you should seriously consider the Innopocket/ RhinoSkin/Proporta. Since the TT hard case sold by all three companies is nearly identical, the selection of a particular brand is really more of an exercise in choosing a logo...or lack of a logo in the case of Innopocket...and going with a company that you trust. Personally, I have had excellent luck with all three companies (MIA Proporta case notwithstanding) so I would have a hard time giving you advice on that front.

Don't like hard cases? Well, in the future, I hope to bring you a review of the leading leather cases for the TT. Sick of case reviews for the TT? Well, send me a Tungsten C or a Porsche Boxter and I'll review that. Just make sure that you don't send me a left-handed Boxter...and leave a box of Band-Aides in the glove compartment.

 

SG.

 

 

PROS CONS
  • Excellent fit
  • Attractive finish that matches the TT closely
  • Very rugged
  • Access to all TT controls and ports when case is closed
  • Easy TT extension while in case
  • Rigid design prevents inadvertent hard button presses when front lid is closed
  • Access to universal connector for charging/synching with portable cable
  • Side access cutout optimized for retracted TT
  • Cannot close the case while the TT is extended
  • Must remove TT from case to use cradle or other universal connector-based peripherals
  • Somewhat of a struggle to remove the TT from the case, but gets easier with time

 

RATING: 9 / 10
Usability: 4
Appearance: 5
Value: 4.5

 

 

No actual AARP card holders were hurt during the writing of this review. Any mention of Anna Nicole Smith and her desire to hang on to such a man is simply recognition of her devotion and dedication to aging life partners. Please do not sue me Anna. Please. Did I mention that my neck still hurts?

 

© 2003 Stephen Gingras

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Sony got it right

mj6798 @ 4/30/2003 5:26:02 PM #
The extra weight and expense of an external hard case only makes sense if the thing it protects remains valuable by the time you need to replace it. Most handhelds are obsolete within a year or two and not worth much anymore. Sure, they may last longer, but you might as well buy a new, low-end one when your current one breaks. Sony is doing the right thing by integrating a hard cover into the handheld--no extra junk to carry around.

RE: Sony got it right
Gekko @ 4/30/2003 7:52:44 PM #
Agreed. I don't need no stinkin case. You only need one if you are clumsy or work on a construction site. I don't want/need any addition weight/bulk/cost.

RE: Sony got it right
JVUK @ 5/1/2003 7:50:02 AM #
I bought a Palm hard case when I first got my TT after having a Vx. Within a couple of weeks it had a visible dent in the front from something - probably keys in my pockets/bag etc. If it had enough force to dent the case, it would have been enough to break the screen without this protection.
Do you need a hard case ??? Depends how much money you want to spend on replacements!
JV

RE: Sony got it right
i2oadi2unnei2 @ 5/1/2003 11:18:20 AM #
I have to simply agree with you there. A few months ago I went to the coast with my girlfriend and she had my NX70V on her lap. When we got out of the car, she apparently 'forgot' it was on her lap and it fell slid down the parking lot approximately 15yards! It only had a few scratch here and there and didn't break, with a tough shell like that I still won't buy a case for it *GRIN*

...|3eep |3eep!!...

RE: Sony got it right
macfixer @ 5/1/2003 12:35:56 PM #
I agree -- my m505 had Palm's hard case and it's gotten MESSED UP while the tender nugget (the Palm itself) has remained damage free (knock on wood!)

K

Dead on Point

DWD @ 4/30/2003 6:25:44 PM #
The review is dead on point. The Innopocket/ RhinoSkin/Proporta case is great. I was really amazed how much better the build quality and finish was than the pictures even showed. Not a sharp edge in sight. Only real flaw is the inability to sync in the case.

RE: Dead on Point
frauen1 @ 4/30/2003 9:19:08 PM #
When I had the T|T (I've upgraded to the T|C) I had the Innopocket case. What I did was buy a HotSync charging cable that I used while the T was in the case. Was very nice.

(Unfortunately, I have more of a need for WiFi than Bluetooth, but I like the C better than the T. I just want a hard case for this thing as soon as I can get it!)

***** : 5 stars

Palm_Otaku @ 4/30/2003 7:17:01 PM #
Great review Steve - very thorough and your sense of humor definitely shines through :)

Two quick questions:

Is there any price difference between the three rebranded cases?

Any plans for a "flip-lid" case review for the T|T?

Cheers,

Dan

Tungsten T the best?

kevdo @ 4/30/2003 8:31:30 PM #
>you might have all forgotten about the best darn
>Palm model available.

You're kidding, right?

Very good review otherwise.

-Kevin Crossman

I have said this before but...

palmgator @ 4/30/2003 8:23:15 PM #
I miss the slide connector from the side of the V series, this was a piece of design mastery in its simpliest form. All great design elements look so obvious, almost too easy. this is what we had with the V series, you could connect the case from either side, you could put the stylus in on either side. I think they blew it when they got rid of this. It seems they built the TT without regard to how the heck they would put a case on it, and now we have a case that puts rub marks on our beautiful TT. give me the old design with the new innards!!!! Who's with me???

Training sales and real estate professionals on effective palm use!
RE: I have said this before but...
cad @ 4/30/2003 10:23:07 PM #
I heartily agree with you. The slide would probably have made the development of this case a little smaller.
I find it difficult to open the Hard Case at present.

TT or not TT, That was the question.
When it was nobler in the mind to choose it over Sony, there was no question. To sleep perchance to dream...

Does it affect Bluetooth?

pfh @ 4/30/2003 10:03:15 PM #
The blurb in the Palm store for their T|T hard case says that it "maintains full Bluetooth™ range." Is the same true for this case?

RE: Does it affect Bluetooth?
AzureGuy @ 5/1/2003 12:15:24 AM #
it works fine for me :)

------
BLUE PUNCH BUGGY!!!!!

Sold mine - bought a VAJA case....

redriderback @ 5/1/2003 4:24:23 AM #
The Innopocket case is a great one, without doubt. I owned mine since it was announced. But meanwhile it is very uncomfortable to hold the Palm (in case) in the left hand and writing with right hand for a long time, I don't have a sure 'grip'. And, but that's just my humble opinion, it's not that stylish and beautiful.
I changed mine now for a Vaja i-volution case and I'm totally satsified with it.

RE: Sold mine - bought a VAJA case....
Xizor @ 5/2/2003 1:14:27 PM #
How do you like the Vaja i-Volution compared to the Innopocket? I have an innopocket and love it, but am not a huge fan of the side opening... prefer a flip case myself. The Vaja was pretty expensive though..

Back to Geometry 101

peitron @ 5/1/2003 8:30:40 AM #
[quote] ...the thoughtful hinge design of the Palm-branded hard case that allows that case lid to lock in the 45 and 90 degree open positions. [/quote]

Uh? Either my TT hardcase’s hinge is busted or someone napped too much in geometry class. A 45 degree position would be something like a V, which would mean that you can’t even look at your screen and a 90 degree position would be something more like a letter L. The TT hardcase is more like 100 degrees in it first open position and 180 degrees in its second position.

Other than that, I think the review is on point. I, however, sent my Innopocket back to the store. I just couldn’t get used to it and I missed the slots for the SD cards. I miss my old M515 hardcase.


_____________________________________________
"Why should I care about posterity? What's posterity ever done for me?" - Groucho Marx

RE: Back to Geometry 101
sgingras @ 5/1/2003 10:34:34 AM #
Whoops, meant to say 135 and 180 degrees.

(45 and 90 degrees off of an axis perpendicular to the plane parallel with the unit's major axis...how's that?)

:-)

RE: Back to Geometry 101
peitron @ 5/1/2003 11:58:07 AM #
That's OK. Heck, you were only 90 degrees off target. :)

_____________________________________________
"Why should I care about posterity? What's posterity ever done for me?" - Groucho Marx

Innopocket / RhinoSkin / Proporta alternative in Europe

LYs @ 5/1/2003 9:19:36 AM #
Just for curious readers in Europe. "ednet." is selling exactly the same hardcase for the Tungsten T here. You can either buy it as a standalone (for approx. 35 Euros) or in a "PDA Starter Kit" edition (for 49 Euros) which includes a hotsync & charger cable, 12 screen protectors and 3 plastic stylus. A fantastic price if you ask me.

You might want to check out the following links
http://www.ednet-ag.com

Or for a direct link (the Palm m500 model is shown)
http://www.ednet-ag.com/produkte/produkte_en?rubrik=116

Cheers,
.:LYs:.

RE: Innopocket / RhinoSkin / Proporta alternative in Europe
sandeman @ 5/1/2003 2:50:20 PM #
You can get the case for a lower price here:
http://shop.brando.com.hk/tungstentmetalcase.php
Including US$3 shipping, it is US$35, which is about
32 euro at the moment.
I ordered it there one and a half week ago and yesterday it arrived (together with a spare hotsync cable).

RE: Innopocket / RhinoSkin / Proporta alternative in Europe
fabi @ 5/5/2003 4:46:09 PM #
Hi Lys,I've visited the german site you posted but I don't understand how/where to buy their stuff....

Cradle modification

sandeman @ 5/1/2003 2:29:45 PM #
Has anyone succesfully modified their cradle in order to sync with this case?
I just got my case and want to modify it and now I'm looking for hints and tips.
RE: Cradle modification web page
tquinn @ 8/7/2004 12:19:11 AM #
I have modified my cradle to permit the Palm Tungsten to do a hotsync with this case. See

http://web2k.mtco.com/the_quin/

for instructions.

***** Review Addendum *****

sgingras @ 5/2/2003 12:12:54 AM #
Review Addendum

Well, the Proporta case finally arrived and the original review comments are accurate. The case is identical to the RhinoSkin and Innopocket cases with the exception of an embossed Proporta logo on the lid and "proporta.com" silk-screened on the rear face of the case. All in all, a pretty nice looking case.

I also ordered the Proporta portable charge/synch cable. Unlike other third-party charge/synch cables, the Proporta cable has a synch button - no need to trigger the synch using software on the Palm. The Palm-branded portable charge/synch cable also has this button, but is much shorter. The Proporta cable is 5 feet long as opposed to the Palm-branded cable, which is about 3 feet long. The Proporta cable is also less expensive (approximately $20 versus $39 for the palm cable), but does not come standard with the USB to auto adapter. That adapter is an option for the Proporta cable and costs approximately $10. The adapter is included with the Palm-branded cable

As requested:

Bluetooth support - cases do not appear to interfere

Pricing:

Innopocket case - $34.90 http://www.innopocket.com/EShop/Main/product.php?ID=58&name=Palm

RhinoSkin case - $34.95
http://www.saunders-usa.com/rhinoskin/prod.cfm?cat_id=5063&prod_id=5139

Proporta case - £24.95 (British pounds folks, not US dollars)
http://www.proporta.com/detail.asp?id=380&Curr=GBP

iConcepts case - Regular $29.99, but now on sale for $16.14
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B000092ZL4/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_sc_1/103-7585933-5168663?v=glance

While this review did not evaluate the iConcepts case, it appears to be identical in design.


Proporta USB HotSync and Charger Cable - £12.72 (British pounds again)
http://www.proporta.com/detail.asp?id=216&Curr=

SG.

RE: ***** Review Addendum *****
TheAfterHours @ 6/23/2003 5:01:13 PM #
Has anyone seen and held the iconcepts case? Looks to be the same case made by innopocket and is half the price.

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