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Long term group test of Nokia 9500 Communicator cases
Updated June 24 2005

Many, many years ago, I and my colleagues at Palmtop magazine were laughed at for doing a multi-page review roundup of cases for Psion palmtops. The criticism was that cases were so ubiquitous, trivial and (fairly) cheap that people could surely make up their own minds. But at the time, the decision to review the cases made a lot of sense. Remember, these were the days before the onslaught of Palms and Pocket PCs, for which cases would blossom at the rate of several hundred a year. A Psion then, and a Nokia Communicator now, is much more than an electronic address book, a diary or even a mobile phone. And the case you keep it in needs to be much more than your average leather pouch, it has to offer as much protection as possible, while keeping the device as accessible as possible. And if it can stop you looking like a geek in the process, then so much the better.

The importance of the 9500 doesn't seem lost on accessory manufacturers either, with a healthy response to my requests for review samples, and in a surprising variety of designs. It was always going to be interesting to see how each manufacturer coped with the full width clamshell form factor and I wasn't disappointed. For each case mentioned below, I've graded it out of 10 for Protection, Accessibility (how easy is it to get the Communicator out, how easy is it to use in situ), Bulk (how well does it do keeping the bulk down) and Style.

It's worth noting that there's no Quality grading, as ALL the cases reviewed here were finished well in quality materials. And I've commented several times on whether the Pop-Port is blocked when the 9500 is in situ in a case, because with it accessible you can play MP3s into the usual Nokia HDS-3 stereo headset.

Reviewed below are the:


CNT-628

Nokia CNT-628, from www.mobilefun.co.uk (and other outlets)

The CNT-628 is one of my personal favourites here, but only because it fits in with the way I use the Communicator. It's a very simple design, with a minimalist style, and it's black, of course. The CNT-628 is effectively a low slung holster, with a full length flap (with noisy Velcro), a rigid plastic belt clip for vertical mounting and an extra cutout at the very bottom for power, Pop-Port and microphone.

There's no pretence at using the 9500 in this case, you can't even answer phone calls, but then that's not it's aim. When you want to use the Communicator, you 'break' the Velcro and then slide the device out. This works well enough, but trying to sort out the huge area of Velcro and get your 9500 out with one hand isn't as easy as it could be.

Protection: 5, Accessibility: 8, Bulk: 8, Style: 8. Total = 29/40.


CNT-627

Nokia CNT-627, from www.mobilefun.co.uk (and other outlets)

Just to balance things out, the CNT-627 is my least favourite case here, getting just about everything wrong. It's a simple (forced horizontal, which I'm never that keen on) pouch with belt loop, with the usual Nokia NOISY Velcro closure. Curiously, one end of the case is made up of two poppered straps, for no apparent good reason other than to increase the case's bulk slightly. The 9500 is extracted by pushing up from the underside of the case, where there's a cutout, with your other hand grabbing the Communicator as it emerges. It's almost impossible to do this one-handed. And one end of the case has a more-or-less full width cover, which means it will either cover the speaker or Pop-port.

Protection: 8, Accessibility: 3, Bulk: 5, Style: 6. Total = 22/40.


Proporta pouch

Proporta 9500 series pouch, from www.proporta.com

Designed along similar lines to the CNT-627 above, Proporta's case also comes with a forced horizontal belt clip, but it scores more highly because of the magnetic catch (although the magnet could have been stronger) and the more intelligent end pieces. One end has holes in the leather to allow speaker sound out, the other is offset slightly to allow full access to the Pop-Port.

You still need to use two hands to get your Nokia 9500 out though, which may be a problem for some people.

Protection: 8, Accessibility: 4, Bulk: 7, Style: 7. Total = 26/40.


CNT-629

Nokia CNT-629, from www.mobilefun.co.uk (and other outlets)

A simple leather sleeve case, of the sort that should come in the 9500's box but doesn't. It's fairly protective but also fairly hard to get the 9500 out again. And the end pieces mean that both speaker and Pop-Port are blocked all the time. And there's no belt mounting option. Overpriced for such a simple case.

Protection: 5, Accessibility: 3, Bulk: 9, Style: 2. Total = 19/40.


Covertec Luxury case

Covertec Nokia 9500 Luxury Leather Case, from www.covertec.com

In terms of design, Covertec's offering is the cream of the crop here, and not just because it comes in a variety of different colours. There has been a lot of thought put into this case and most of it has been fully realised.

One of the few truly in-situ cases on show here, the case is designed so that you can use the Communicator in its case and never have to extract it, with the keyboard sliding into the bottom part of the case clamshell, restrained by a layer of thin but strong transparent plastic. Surprisingly, it's perfectly possible to type through this layer, and surprisingly (again) it doesn't seem to stop the 9500's lid latch from operating. The wrap around top cover is held closed by two small magnets and it's easy with practice to close the Communicator and case at the same time. The case top has a window in the same transparent plastic and you can use the cover phone functions through this. And all round the case there are cutouts, for power, Pop-port, speaker and camera.

One fly in the ointment is that you can't easily type with the unit flat on a hard desk. The stud mounting for the included (vertical, swivelling) belt clip system makes typing impossible. Even removing the stud itself leaves enough leather structure sticking out that the Communicator wobbles disconcertingly. The belt clip works really well, with true one-handed removal and allowance for hanging at any angle.

In real world use though, I have some concerns about the magnet closure. Several times, the case edge caught on something and flicked open, followed a couple of strides later by my Communicator falling out the side of the case. 8-(

Protection: 1, Accessibility: 9, Bulk: 10, Style: 9. Total = 29/40.


Horizontic XL

Krusell Horizontic XL, from www.krusell.se

After the initial fiasco with a Nokia 9500 case that didn't actually fit, Krusell have sent in a couple of replacement designs. The Horizontic XL is designed along the same lines as the Proporta case reviewed above. As the name implies, it mounts horizontally on either the two belt loops supplied or with the Krusell Multiadapt swivelling system.

The closure's magnetic again and is rather fiddly to engage with the case on your belt. In addition, the pressure needed to make the catch 'engage' activates the number pad and navigator on the 9500, meaning that you're forced to use keypad lock all the time.

A cutout at the right place on one end means full access to the Pop-port and power connector, although the 9500's top loudspeaker is muffled slightly by leather at the other end. When you want to use your Communicator, it's again fiddly to extract it with just one hand.

Protection: 9, Accessibility: 5, Bulk: 7, Style: 7. Total = 28/40.


Dynamic Multiadapt

Krusell Nokia 9500 Dynamic Multiadapt, from www.krusell.se

This is a strange design, really strange. I was expecting a revamp of their original clamshell fold-out design, but instead we've got a patchwork of elastic, leather and plastic designed as a simple sleeve for the 9500 when in closed form.

With the 9500 in situ and with the top press-stud flap closed, the case mounts on the Multiadapt swivel (which makes sense) or via two extra press-stud belt loops that make no sense at all. You can't remove these either and they rather get in the way. If you try and mount the case using the loops, you've then got to undo the press-studs to get the 9500 up to your ear and then fiddle around doing them up again afterwards. Every single time. At least the large transparent front does a good job of allowing use of the 9500's cover phone.

Removing the 9500 to use it as a palmtop requires undoing the top press-stud and then pushing the Communicator out of its sleeve by pressing in on the bottom end while simultaneously gripping and pulling on the phone's top. With the 9500 Dynamic Multiadapt being a tight fit, this isn't a trivial process and make using the 9500 as a clammshell Communicator a hassle. Which kind of defeats the point of the whole exercise.

Sorry, Krusell, but it's back to the drawing board again.

Protection: 5, Accessibility: 1, Bulk: 7, Style: 7. Total = 20/40.


CNT-24

Nokia Original CNT-24 Vertical Leather Case, still available around the web, e.g. here or here

This may seem an odd choice to include in the round-up, as it's not actually designed for the 9500 at all, but rather for its predecessors, the 9110 and 9210. The slightly reduced bulk of the 9500 means that it's a distinctly loose fit, but this is more of an advantage than a drawback as it means that it's easy to pull the Communicator out with just the one hand.

The CNT-24 is made of extremely sturdy leather and it's very protective apart from the obvious small apertures at top and bottom. The top flap is yet again fastened with noisy Velcro, although at least the size of the patch is small enough that you can break the 'seal' with one hand.

The belt loop is again very sturdy, a simple extra layer of leather and seems almost indestructible. Finally, the aperture at the bottom of the case is large enough to plug in the Pop-port stereo headphones and (if needed) the mains charger as well.

Protection: 10, Accessibility: 9, Bulk: 6, Style: 6. Total = 31/40.


Brando Metal

Brando Communicator 9500 Aluminium case, from shop.brando.com.hk

Now here's something different, with looks straight out of The Empire's copybook - these are the cases used to house the 9500s used by Imperial Stormtroopers.

You could also use this case to knock in nails. Brando's case is made from terrifically strong (and light) aircraft grade aluminum. The Communicator sits inside a Neoprene lining that fits like a glove. In closed mode, there are cutouts for the numeric keypad, speaker, power button, camera and Pop-Port. The case is held tightly closed by a piece of sprung aluminium, and opening it reveals the 9500 ready to go, you simply open the clamshell in-situ and type away, with the case bottom sitting nicely flat on the desk.

The concept works a treat and, for someone working in a rough environment, this case could be the only one that keeps your Communicator from damage. The metal is super-strong and well finished all over and the lining should absorb the shock of any sudden drops. See the 11 out of 10 rating in this area!

However, style is a major part of the buying decision for any PDA case. Superbly made though the Brando case is, your 9500 looks like it's in one of those old medieval knight's helmets. The engineers among your friends will appreciate the security involved, but general acquaintances down the pub are going to laugh behind your back. There's also no belt mounting option, which may or may not be a problem.

A great case, but perhaps destined to realise this greatness in niche applications.

Protection: 11(!), Accessibility: 7, Bulk: 6, Style: 4. Total = 28/40.


Conclusion

In joint second place, with 29 out of 40, are Nokia's CNT-628, a good holster design only let down by the over-noisy and over-large Velcro fastening, and Covertec's Nokia 9500 Luxury Leather Case, with super design touches throughout, let down only by weak cover magnets.

But the overall winner, and the case I have chosen to house my own Nokia 9500, week-in, week-out, is the Nokia CNT-24, with 31/40. I want a case that's never going to let me down by dropping my Communicator, one that will protect it from knocks and the worst of the weather, one that I can open one-handed. I used the CNT-24 with my 9210i for two years and it's still going strong after six months with the 9500. The best twenty quid I ever spent.

CNT-24

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