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Review: Active Armor
Sun May 5, 2002 - 1:40 AM EDT
By Michael Ducker

Name Active Armor for Visor
Company Active Armor
Colors Graphite, Silver, Clear
Availability Unknown
$26.95

Introduction

Few cases are made specifically for the non-business Visor user. The Active Armor for Visor/Deluxe/Neo/Platinum/Pro case is one case that will survive every adventure, every fall down the stairs, and the everlasting everyday use of the Visor.

The Active Armor case is made by a company called Active Armor, and this is their first product. It is a rubber form fitting case with an open springboard slot, a removable flip lid, stylus holders, and cut outs for almost all the holes, lights, etc. on the Visor. It comes in three colors: graphite, clear, and silver. The corners are protected by more than half a centimeter of rubber which has been engineered to protect the Visor upon impact. More on this later.

Description

Inserting the Visor into the Active Armor is a cinch: just slide it in. Removing it takes a bit more effort as it fits in the case nice and snug - a benefit of designing the case from the start around the plastic shell of the Visor. The convex rubber buttons that are engraved with symbols for the four basic applications are surprising easy to push. The case aligns perfectly with all seven buttons on the Visor and the microphone and charging light holes. The case has an open hotsync connector at the bottom, and while it will not fit in a cradle due to the thick rubber, a Hotsync cable or a charger will fit just right.

My only gripe here is that the case does not accommodate a reset pin hole. One can be added however, with some careful cutting/drilling. On the back of the case there are two easy to use stylus holders, they are there because the case blocks the Visor's stylus slot. It really makes the case look cool if you have two styluses in there. Slide in the stylus at the top (upside down) and then push it into the molded holder. Unluckily, if you use a third party stylus, it might not be such a tight fit.

The Active Armor case has about every positive feature for a case - including a hard plastic flip lid. It opens up to 180 degrees, is easily removable, and stays closed by two small rubber tabs.

When the Visor is in this case it looks like it is an industrial Palm Powered PDA, from the likes of Symbol. All Handspring logos are covered up, and with such a perfect fit it really feels like a second skin to the Visor.

Springboards

One of the main features of this case is the open springboard slot. The design of this case enables it to accommodate almost every single springboard module in existence. If the springboard module doesn't fit the default arrangement, like the Eyemodule, there are pre-drawn grooves on which a razor can be used to cut the rubber off cleanly. I found for the top part that it didn't need to be cut all the way off, just the sides, so that it could bend out of the way when needed.

The basic guidelines for fitting a springboard into the case are here. If the module totally covers the top of the Visor from end to end, it will not work. It the module covers the top of the visor, but only the middle section, the top piece will need to be removed. If the module covers below the base of the springboard slot, the bottom section will need to be removed. Everything else should fit fine with no modifications. An example of why being able to use springboards with this case is the VisorPhone; The VisorPhone will just barely work with this case, but when it does you can close the flip lid while talking to keep the screen clean from face oils.

The tests: Intro

What makes this case stand out is the striking design of the molded rubber around the Visor. It has been specifically engineered to protect the visor from breaking when it drops. All corners are protected, along with the top and bottom of the case. The front has less shock protection, and the back has fair protection. The sides have minimal protection. This design makes sence, and while it makes the Visor longer it protects it from most falls. If Active Armor had put half a centimeter of rubber around the entire thing it would become pretty bulky.

VisorCentral wanted to test this case out to its limits for this review. So we decided to drop it in increments of one foot until the Visor broke. We also did stair tests of the Visor being thrown down, or rolling down a flight of stairs. These tests were done on wooden stairs/floors, and we cannot guarantee that these results will be the same for everyone.

The tests: Findings

The first test we did was a stair test. We attempted to roll a Visor in the Active Armor with two styluses attached down a flight of stairs as if it had been dropped. Over and over we did this by just rolling it, yet the case wouldn't go far because the rubber would stick to the floor and it would stop. Eventually we kind of threw it down the stairs and joyfully watched the Visor bounce in its case, shuddering at each thud. Results: No damage at all from the multiple times we did this. Case and Visor are fine, yet the styluses did pop out a bit.

Next we did a drop test of the Visor in the case with two styluses attached going up in increments of 1 foot. We tried to drop the case on its corner each time, but it did vary slightly each time. Realistically the Visor wouldn't ever be dropped more than 5 feet. In any way we did this we couldn't get the Visor to break in a fall of 5 feet. We did however see damage done to the digitizer in the corner that the Visor fell on at the 9 foot mark. The Visor still worked, synced, etc, except that Graffiti was dead and the digitizer was slightly off. Results: Don't drop your Visor in the case at 9 feet, and if you do, get out your backup module, backup, and call Handspring. Later, my fooling around with the broken Visor while demonstrating the case to friends (who winced painfully each time I dropped it), I did fully break it, but it is my assumption that this occurred due to the weakening of the glass in the digitizer from the first break. If anyone can think of a realistic way you can drop a Visor 9 feet please be sure to email me.

I myself have severly broken a Prism from the stair roll down (it fell out of my hands when I tripped down the stairs), and thousands of users have broken their digitizers and screens from dropping their PDA.

This case does not protect against crushes. It would need to be made up of hard plastic to do this. The Active Armor does provide some protection for the screen with the hard cover however.

Conclusion

The Active Armor Visor case is the best non-business case I have ever seen or even heard about in my life with a PDA. It protects the $199 Visor from the recklessness of a teenager, to the accidental drop from the careful father. If you tear the case or cut into it somehow, epoxy can fix it. It can accommodate almost any springboard, and has cut outs for every hole except for reset. Even so, you can add your own reset hole so no worries. The buttons are amazingly easy to press, and seriously, flip lids should be included on every device. More importantly, this case has an almost unheard of resistance to drops as shown by our controlled tests.

Accessories that will be available soon are different color flip lids to match every color of the Visor, and lanyards/carabineers that fit into holes on the bottom to make this into a belt clip case or a neck case. (Any mini-carabineer actually will do, it works great!)

Taking everything into consideration, I for my first time here at VisorCentral, award this case the VisorCentral Award of Excellence. It really does excel in all categories, and at $29.95, it is in no way expensive!

Features - 5
Usability - 5
Setup - 5
Cost/Benefit - 5
Final - 5

Pros
Cut-outs for everything, good looks, drop resistant, flip-lid, true springboard compatibility

Cons
No reset hole, third party styluses might not fit.
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