Piel Frama Custom PDA Cases - Palm & Pocket PC

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, May 2004, send e-mail
Made by: Piel Frama, Ubrique (Cadiz), Spain, go to the web site or StylusCentral go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: $44.95

Every so often we get to review something which represents the best combination of functionality, quality and elegance. While you may think that we're getting a bit carried away with our praise, without any exaggeration it's absolutely true that Piel Frama's custom PDA cases are the best accessories of this type we've ever seen. Keep in mind too, that Kickstartnews reviews are not conducted in a testing lab. Rather, our reviews take place in the real world, under real working conditions, day-to-day, in our offices, in the field, at home and everywhere else technology takes us or is needed. All the better then when products hold up really well and impress us with their quality and functionality.

The three cases we tested represent custom fitted protection for a broad range of extremely popular and highly regarded PDAs: the Palm Zire 71, Compaq iPaq 3800/3900 series and the HP iPaq 19xx series. Model customization of the cases means that the leather and internal stiffeners or fusing material are cut, sewn and finished in a way that fits specific PDAs snugly and securely while also providing full access to all joysticks, hardware buttons, graffiti areas and screens, built-in cameras, headphone jacks, sync connectors and so on which are unique to those models. For purposes of judging quality and usefulness we had to determine how quickly and easily each of these cases provided full access to each PDA, how well materials and workmanship in each case held up to the rigors of day-to-day use, and how good each case looked with respect to its exterior and interior appearance. We also considered (and used) secondary case features such as additional storage slots and compartments. Also important, we judged the quality and ease of use of the belt clips and quick release mechanisms supplied with the cases.

Purely in terms of good looks and quality of construction the Piel Frama cases win the battle hands down. By comparison, we've used cases from EB Cases (very nice mid-priced units indeed), Rhinoskin (inexpensive aluminum or leather models), Body Glove (good if you prefer synthetic materials and zippers) and some really interesting and well designed InnoPocket aluminum hard shell cases. We've also looked at cases from Bellagio (low priced leather, reasonable quality) and Krusell (even lower priced leather models). The tested Piel Frama models are available in combinations of split cowhide and either crocodile or ostrich, all tough and highly durable materials. Close examination of the Piel Frama cases reveals perfect stitching, precise dimensions, perfectly selected leather (even grain, even gauge, stable and rich color), excellent quality thread in the stitching, a secure & fast-release belt clip which accommodates a variety of belt widths, full contrasting leather lining, perfectly placed magnetic tabs or snap tabs (on the Compaq model) and a durable and conservatively attractive finish on all materials.

In use, the cases are a pleasure to carry. I'm a dedicated belt-clip user and the Piel Frama clip uses a solid, well designed, one-hand press lock. Simply press and hold the release button with your thumb and pull the PDA upward with your fingers. While on the hook, the PDA is free to rotate level whether you are standing, sitting or reclined. Re-hooking the PDA is a positive event - the stud on the case back is well located (not too near the top of the case) and thus makes it easy to align by feel alone.

The front case flap which protects the PDA screen opens and closes using one hand. The magnetic tab on the Zire 71 and iPaq 19xx series is well placed and does not wrap around the bottom of the device too far. The snap tab on the iPaq 3800/3900 case releases easily while maintaining enough tension to secure the front of the case in all circumstances we encountered. The magnetic tab closure on the Zire 71 case flips open easily and the front case flap can then be flipped over to access the screen, digital camera, graffiti area, hardware buttons, SD card slot, headphone jack and sync connector. The iPaq cases are no different and additionally provide access to the voice record button on the upper left side of the case (3800/3900 models).

We carry at least one additional SD card and a few business cards along with all our PDAs. The inside of the front case flap on all models is configured with properly sized slots for this kind of storage.

Cons: Not really a con, but you've got to pay for this kind of quality, so the price is noticeably higher that competing models. Tabbed magnetic case closure occasionally opens in tight quarters, which is not a huge problem at all, but it's wise to check the tab from time to time to make sure the case cover is properly in place and protecting the screen. As usual with any good quality and truly protective PDA case, you have to remove the device from the case in order to use a sync cradle (but there is full access for sync cables without removing the device). Storage in the front case flap, as with all soft custom cases, is limited to a few business cards and one spare SD card - any more than that will fatten the front flap enough to prevent it from closing properly and protecting the PDA. We don't recommend carrying credit cards and other valuable stuff in PDA cases (which obviously contain PDA devices which are so attractive to thieves these days).

Pros: Piel Frama cases are designed to ride slightly higher on the belt clip than cases from competing companies which means the PDA is less likely to get banged around when you sit down (in the car, in the office and so on). Superb materials and workmanship. Clean looking design provides unimpeded access to all hardware buttons, controls, the screen, integrated camera and reset button on all tested models. Durable, well finished materials resist wear and weather, bumps and bangs. We've been using these cases daily for a couple of months, dropping, bumping and banging them as usual, and all of the cases still look like new - they appear to be able to withstand years of regular use and may outlast most PDAs. Notwithstanding my whining price 'Con' above, you absolutely get what you pay for in addition to unsolicited compliments from strangers who happen to notice the case while you're using the PDA. Excellent cases. Highly recommended.

Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to: whine@kickstartnews.com




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