In our February 2000 issue, we did an article on the various things a personal desk accessory (PDA) can do to make itself useful on kayak trips. There are programs available for tide tables, navigation, note taking and games, in addition to the PDA’s built-in features. The big drawback to using a PDA aboard a kayak is its lack of waterproofing. A splash of water, and it’s bye-bye data.
This year, Otter Box introduced Armor, a watertight case for PDAs. Otter Box is best known for making small watertight plastic cases. Their cases have O-ring seals and sturdy latches and hinges. The PDA Armor is constructed in the same way, but it has a lid with a small, soft plastic window. The window is attached to the inside of the lid by means of a gasket that presses the perimeter of the window into a recess molded in the lid. To provide good contact with the PDA screen, the windows are molded to fit the contours of the faces of a variety of PDAs.
The lid has a rubber holder for a PDA stylus. (Take along a spare stylus or two. Small, untethered and black, they are easy to lose.) The window lets you use all of the PDA’s functions: both the push buttons and on-screen touch operations.
I made some errors using the Graffiti script, the set of stylus strokes for writing with the stylus. Since the contact with the PDA screen is “softened” by the Armor window, the strokes were best recognized by the PDA if I kept them large and a little less sloppy. The on-screen touch-type keyboard worked well, in spite of the small contact points for the keyboard.
The box is waterproof. With the case strapped on deck, I did a rolling and self-rescue session without having any sign of moisture inside the case. Good thing. The plastic case also protects the PDA from getting crushed, so you don’t have to worry so much about damage while you’re roughing it.
The case is as compact as it can be, but it does not fit in your palm as comfortably as a bare PDA.
A stretchy neoprene strap with Velcro attachments provides a solid grip on the box, even if your fingers aren’t long enough to wrap around the case. The strap can get quite soggy, so be careful not to get your hands dripping wet on it if you intend to open the case and handle the PDA.
The Armor case has plenty of buoyancy, more than enough to float a PDA. The bright yellow of the case I used is very visible (other colors include blue, green and black). The Armor case has an attachment point for a tether should you need to clip the case to the deck rigging.
Because I often combine writing and kayaking, my PDA has become part of my standard kayaking equipment. This review, as a matter of fact, began on the water. My notes were written on my PDA and were keyed in afterward using a PDA portable keyboard (which I keep with spare batteries and a PDA backup unit in a series 2000 Otter Box).
I have to admit I feel a bit odd taking a computer, albeit a very small one, out into the wilderness. But there are times when it make sense to go out into the natural world and bring a bit of the digital world along with me.
The Armor PDA Case is available directly from the manufacturer or from kayaking equipment retailers for $49.95.