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Heavy Armor and Otterboxes : Protection for technology

16th February 2003

Review by Mike Barrett

Ever felt concerned that your PDA was vulnerable to the elements? Well Otter have come up with the solution: Armor for your PDA and Otterboxes for your other equipment. These wonderful containers are supposedly waterproof, dust proof and uncrushable.

Otterboxes :protection for technology Otterboxes :protection for technology

Memory-Map kindly provided us with Heavy Armor and an Otterbox 1000 for this review.

The Otter Heavy Armor on the left houses your PDA and retails for £49.95 or €78.42. The Otterbox 1000 is a perfect fit for the Emtac bluetooth GPS and retails at £9.95 or €15.63.

Did these containers live up to the advertising blurb?

Read on to see how they faired over a long weekend in the Cumbrian mountains exposed to typical British winter weather...

Otterboxes from Otter protection for your iPaq.
Click on picture for full sized image


Otter Armor stylus closeupHeavy Armor by Otter
The Heavy Armor is designed to protect your PDA in a variety of adverse environments whilst still allowing you to operate it in a normal manner.

The case has a number of foam inserts to ensure that the PDA fits snuggly and is held securely.

The range of PDAs that fit the case is impressive: iPaqs 3600, 3700, 3800, 3900, and 5450 with and without expansion sleeves; Palm m100, m105, m125, m500, m505, V, Vx, III, IIIc, IIIe; Casio E-125, EM500, BE-300, E200; Visor Edge, Deluxe, Neo, Prism, Platinum, Pro; Sony Clie S320, 610, 710, 760, 415; HP Jornada 520, 540, 560. Despite the large range of compatible devices I only have an iPaq 3870 so this is what I tested it with.

The front of the case has a screen saver which is made of a flexible clear plastic type of material fitting in the main case using a silicon gasket. Not only does this protect the PDA screen, but it also cushions the PDA in the case. The screen saver has been designed to allow you to operate the buttons and the touch screen without having to open the case, thus protecting the PDA at all times. There is even a place saved for your stylus (as shown to the right).

The Otter Armor case opened.A second silicon gasket runs around a recess in the case which when shut forms a water and airtight seal. In the picture to the left the gasket can be seen as the grey band on the left hand side. Click on the picture for a full size image.

On the Armor case I was given there was a elasticated neoprene hand strap. When I first saw this I thought it was a bit gimmicky however out in the field it was extremely useful.

Front detail of the Otter Armor with iPaq
Click on picture for full sized image

Side view of Otter Armor showing hand strap.

Click on picture for full sized image

The PDA is located in the case by turning it upside down and shuffling it about on the screensaver until it fits correctly. The base of the case including the foam inserts is then is closed and the two latches are clipped into place. When the latches are clamped shut the unit is ready to be used.

The Armor will take a PDA with an expansion sleeve, but it will not fit either the NavMan Sleeve, or the Co-Pilot/Emtac sleeve as these both have aerials which are too large for the case. It will not accept a CF flash GPS device either.The Otter Armor case in the wet.

OK that is the technical parts sorted the main questions are what is it like to use, and does it live up to the advertising hype? Is it useable? Is it really as tough and resistant as claimed?

Well the first day of our weekend saw us in typical British weather: horizontal rain. We went out for a 3.5 mile walk over about 2 hours in the pouring rain. The PDA stayed completely dry. Not a single drop managed to penetrate the case, which is more than can be said for our waterproof jackets.

The screen was readable, after the water had been swept away. This was where the hand strap was really useful, as it was cold as well as wet and you always had a confident feel when holding it.

Mike Barrett up on Fairfield in a white out.The next day we went up Fairfield on the Fairfield Loop. The weather was even worse that day, it didn't rain as much but we were subjected to low and freezing cloud and mists. Walking along a ridge we were constantly battered by gale force winds. My poor dog started out black and white, but by the time we got to the summit he was completely white covered in frost. The picture to the right gives a good impression of the conditions we endured 50 foot visibility and a virtual white-out. We are martyrs just to test the gear for you guys!! And I do this for fun???

Once again the case worked perfectly. With the hand grip it also gave me a little protection.

Now was the time to really test some of the claims. The case was certainly up to everything we had thrown at it so far, so it was time to get inventive. I really wanted to test it's waterproofness. We had a stream running through the garden of the cottage we were staying at so one night I submerged the Armor in the stream. I had a bit of trouble as it is capable of floating with a PDA inside. I had to seriously weigh it down. Eighteen hours later I plucked it out again and after drying the outside I found the inside completely dry. Needless to say I didn't leave my iPaq in there!!

I also tried doing some drop tests (again without the iPaq) and once again the case stood up to the beating I was giving it. My only concern was if it should fall onto an uneven surface like rocks screen face down. That is really the only vulnerable part of the case, and you have to accept that if you want to be able to operate your PDA.

So any downsides? Apart from the potential vulnerability noted above the only other issue I found was that when tapping the screen near the bottom of the display (typically where a lot of applications have their menus) this would activate the rocker button on the iPaq. The first couple of times this happened I thought the application had gone mad, then I worked it out.

The real pity for most GPS users is that you are restricted to using this case with an Emtac/Socket bluetooth GPS device as the case will not accommodate the other sleeves or CF receivers. It would be possible to modify the case to allow a cable entry for users with traditional handheld GPS devices, but then this would compromise the integrity of the case. For this reason the Armor gets a rating of 90%.


Otterbox 1000 by Otter
The Otterbox 1000 is one of a range of completely enclosed cases for your equipment. Now I don't know if Otter knew about the Emtac Bluetooth GPS but the Otterbox 1000 seems to have been made for the GPS receiver. Well actually it is a little large for the Emtac, but that is really not a problem as I used some foam from the Armor to pad out the box. This holds the Emtac perfectly. Unfortunately no foam is supplied with the case so If you don't have spare from your Armor you will need to get some from elsewhere

One of the concerns I had was protecting the Emtac. I have a camera back pack and I put my Emtac in an exposed pocket. This is not waterproof and can often get damp. This is not a problem in nice sunny weather but in driving rain? The Otterbox was perfect. not a drop of moisture got anywhere near the receiver.

The other thing that bothered me was the affect that the Emtac inside the box, inside my backpack was going to have on reception. Well that proved to be a non-issue. As can be seen below despite the horrible weather we endured the Emtac still managed to fix on 7 satellites.

Seven Sats fixed

Otterboxes: Emtac BT GPS fits perfectly.
Click on pictures for full sized image

Otterbox 1000 with Emtac BT GPS

Otterboxes are uncrushable (Get those wheels cleaned!!)Otter advertise their cases as uncrushable. They even have a picture of a 4x4 in an advert driving over one. I am normally very skeptical about these types of pictures so I decided to put it to the test myself.

I don't own a 4x4 so I had to make do with my Chrysler Voyager, certainly not a small light car. Any problems? Not at all. Just a couple of little scuff marks on the outside, but the case was still fully intact and waterproof after the full weight of my car had passed over it. And it was not just a quick drive past I spent about 3 minutes taking photos. Click on the picture for a full sized image.

I really couldn't find any fault with this box it did everything I expected it to do and far more. I seriously expected it to break under the weight of my car. This scores 100% no question about it.

It is very difficult to fault these cases. If you work or play in extreme environments, or where atmospheric conditions prevent normal use of PDAs then these are ideal. The only drawback as far as GPS users are concerned is that you really need to use the Bluetooth GPS receiver to get real time moving map functionality.

I can see these being used in dry and dusty conditions such as in desert and wilderness environments, and also in wet or humid environments such as white water canoeing or jungle exploring, or as I did walking in our wonderful British weather.


Manufacturers Website http://www.otterbox.com

UK distributors Website


Pocket GPS Reviewer

Mike Barrett

Pocket GPS Reviewer Website


Overall Rating 95%

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